Being that in my online journal world I have just arrived in Budapest is exciting, mainly because it is my last stop before I arrived in Greece.

Not that there was anything wrong with Budapest, but after only a couple of days in Budapest I found myself tired of visiting cities. After a month of storming through bustling capitals, I’ve done every free city tour on offer, gone into a surprisingly high amount of cathedrals and churches despite my religious disposition, visited even more locations related to Hitler and the Holocaust, ate enough pork to last me until Christmas, drunk beer worthy of my Irish heritage and ticked off every major tourist attraction along the way (whether sober or not).

Now I know what you’re thinking – tired of visiting cities after only a month’s inter-railing through Europe? What’s wrong with you man, I thought you were a seasoned traveller?

Truth be told, I’ve always found (capital) cities to be draining when trying to experience all that it has to offer because it always has more to offer than you can handle. Especially more so when you have a time limit of 5-7 days. And because I am the way I am, I will try to soak it all in!

The Great Outdoors (I liked how it’s always prefixed with ‘Great’ because it really is) is personally a lot more invigorating and never ceases to amaze me. When I travelled with Itxaso in the Philippines and the Americas for 10 months, our time was largely spent in the outdoors: visiting the various Philippine beaches, trekking the Macchu Picchu in Peru, spending time in the Amazon, freezing our butts off in the Uyuni Salt flats, dying of heat exhaustion in the Death Valley…. every experience filling us with a sense of wonder of nature’s beauty, humility towards it’s power and reminder of what is really important in life.

Okay, major digression from what was meant to be a prelude to Budapest. The conclusion I was trying to arrive at was that my stay in Budapest only lasted 3 days and I did not continue to travel through trains or buses heading south, because I suddenly got a sudden urge to jump on a plane and head straight to Athens where I can travel back 3,000 years in time, drink greek wine and bask in the famous beaches of the Cyclades.

Following that superfluous introduction, I’ll keep the rest of the day brief.

I was particularly looking forward to meeting my host in Budapest when I arrived because he is a wine journalist! So after getting off my bus and being surprised that another country in the EU hasn’t adopted the euro currency, I made my way to meet my Hungarian host Mickey. His real name I cannot pronounce, spell or even remember, which is why he quickly asked me to call him Mickey (“like the mouse” , he said).

So very quickly after our short introductions, I confessed that I was indeed excited to meet him because I consider myself a wine lover. I also told him that I had just come from Vienna where I attended a wine festival and after sampling a good amount of Zweigelt, Blaufånkish and Blauer Portugieser, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Viennese grape varieties by themselves and that I only seemed to appreciate them more when they were blended with a different grape varieties (mainly Merlot or Cabernet).

He seemed suitably impressed with my impression and opinion of Austrian grape varieties because he then proceeded to open a bottle of Hungarian wine for the two of us, followed by an invitation to go out and meet up with his friends to drink some more wine, which then concluded with all us of coming back to his flat to be welcomed by a bottle of dessert wine. By the time the day was over, he succeeded in convincing me that Hungarians do damn good wine!

Guess what? Yes that’s right, The Budapest Free City Tour!

Not another entry on a free city tour (you say)! Well then, I won’t get into too much detail (which is convenient because I have forgotten most of what our Hungarian guide told us). One interesting thing I did learn was that Budapest used to be two separate tribes separated by the Blue Danube: Buda and Pest (pronounced “Pesht” as our guide informs us, as to not be confused with the destructive insect). They were two military frontier fortresses that were only recently united to form Budapest. Until this day however, they still refer to one side as the Buda side and the other as Pest. Old habits die hard, I guess.

As what usually happens in situations like these, solo travellers tend to gravitate towards each other and I found myself in the company of a Chinese girl who is now living in Zurich studying law and an American chef. The Chinese girl is dressed like a princess and the chef is dressed like a bum. Not a very important detail, but it helps to paint a picture of what a curious bunch we must have seemed together. There was originally a French guy with us as well, but he was one of those guys who spent more time chatting up girls during the tour then actually trying to pay attention to our tour guide intersperse history with bad jokes, and I think he realised none of the girls were biting his bait so he quickly left (you’re either thinking that’s quite the run-on sentence or that’s quite a quick judgement of character, and although I’m not normally one to jump to conclusions I know a wolf when I see one).

So, the Globetrotting Trio (that’s what I’ve decided to call us) had a cheap lunch together in a canteen after the tour ended and continued getting to know each other. Chef announced at some point (while he was shoving food down his throat almost without stopping to breathe) that he was thinking of going to Cafe New York, which has been marketed for a long time as one of the most beautiful cafe’s in the world. I then proceeded to get quite excited and told him of my affection for cafe’s and my exploration of the Coffee Houses in Vienna. The Princess of China also got quite excited, probably of the thought of visiting a cafe befit for royalty because, if my memory serves me right, she didn’t even drink coffee when we got there. It was though this shared appreciation for gastronomy that kept us together for the next 10 hours.

Walking to Cafe in New York took us a good 30 minutes in the early afternoon heat from the Castle district where we ate lunch. By the time I got there I was more in the mood for a refreshing fruit smoothie than a coffee, but after sitting down in what was definitely a beautiful cafe and looking at the menu everything changed. First of all, we all only just realised upon arriving that it was a Michelin Starred cafe (and it had been several years running). The place itself looked like it could a been a royal palace before it became the New York Hotel + Cafe. And there was a pianist playing old jazz tunes on a grand piano in an elevated platform. All very fancy!

Chef took a photo of every page of the menu (and I thought I was weird) and proceeded to order a ravioli dish with a coffee. It started dawning on me more and more as to possibly why he didn’t have a job back home… I ordered what I can only best describe as a chocolate sponge cake, with three layers inside of dark chocolate, white chocolate and a biscuit. Princess only had tea.

Is it bad that I can remember the different layers in my cake and not the names of my Globetrotting Trio companions?

Anyway, the cake was definitely delicious and the double espresso tasted like it should. The others were also pleased with the whole affair and we all agreed that the price we paid for that experience was about our normal budget for a day, but at least it warranted 4 paragraphs here so it was worth it I suppose. 😉

We followed this by going to a ruin pub called Szimpla, where we spent a couple of hours just lounging about and drinking Pålinka, Hungarian fruit brandy that is packed with 40-60% alcohol. A what bar, you ask?
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Ruin Bars were once tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. Equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, they were converted to retro bars. The result is absolute genius! It’s like a playground for bohemian folk… Szimpla had old (working) cathode ray tubes stuck on walls, tiny cars split in half and fashioned as chairs, a life-sized giraffe statue hanging from the ceiling… it was absolutely a bar like no other! Since pictures paint a thousand words, there are some from the website gallery here.

We continued this culinary spree by having dinner in a Hungarian restaurant that our tour guide had earlier recommended. Aside from having the typical beef goulash dish that was aplenty with paprika, this is where I also had the classic sour-cherry soup.

I had spotted a promising looking wine bar called Doblo en route to our restaurant and suggested to Chef that we herald in the evening with some wine tasting. I had <a href=”/egri-bikaver/”>Egri Bikavér or “Bulls Blood”</a>, which is the most famous Hungarian red wine made from the Eger region. Bulls Blood has to have at least 3 grapes blended together and two of which will usually be the local grape varieties. Sounded like a wine cocktail to me, but the tasting notes said to expect a full-bodied dry red wine (which happens to be my favourite) so I ordered it along a with a wine of the year from a single local grape variety (Kékfrankos) to compare the taste.

Tyrone, a British backpacker I met in Amsterdam twice and now has hitchhiked his way to Budapest, met us at Doblo for a glass of wine too and we finished the night off by going to a second ruin bar called Instant. Not anywhere near as good as the first, and completely packed with tourists!

The fragility of life

Ominous title I know, but I witnessed something rather shocking today.

Being the market lover that I am, I headed there first thing in the morning to see if I could find some good fresh pastries and a coffee for breakfast while I peruse their stalls. I ate something that was very similar to a mung bean pastry that we have back home and a double espresso (as always). Quickly seeing that my only amusement here would be seeing the various forms paprika could take, I didn’t linger too long and left to find a supermarket to buy some provisions because my money was running low.

After crossing the street and taking only a few strides east, I saw a man lying on the floor with a big pile of blood around his head. His twisted body was lying face up on the tram tracks right by the sidewalk. There were only a few people by him at the time so I think I arrived only moments after he met his misfortune. I slowly walked towards the incident out of sheer concern mixed with curiosity, and just when I got close enough to see everything clearly I could hear the sirens of an ambulance in the distance.

A few Hungarians jumped out and immediately came to his aid and the very first thing they do is administer CPR because he wasn’t breathing. I stare at them continue this for at least another 5 minutes and despite their efforts nothing has changed. A crowd begins to gather now and a couple of people asked me in Hungarian what I can only imagine was “What happened?” and I just tell them I’ll offer whatever information I don’t know if they speak English. One of them DID speak English and the only thing he chooses to say to me was “He’s dead. It’s been too long now”.

I think to myself that’s a pretty pessimistic way to look at it, but then I realised I was thinking the same thing too.

Nonetheless, I keep on watching in hope that something might happen. How long I watched is hard to say because the passage of time becomes somewhat distorted in situations like these…. it felt like half an hour but it must have been less. After their first attempts didn’t bear any fruit, they stuck a tube down his throat to supply him with air in a different manner, while never ceasing to pump his chest (there were two guys alternating just doing this).

There was a homeless man whom I first thought was shouting beside me but later found out he was explaining to the curious bystanders what happened. I didn’t understand a word he was saying, but he was gesticulating and re-enacting the incident so vividly that I was able to work it out: the man simply just stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street when his right foot twisted in the process causing him to slip, fall and bang his head on the pavement.

I bet everybody hearing this story and looking at what was happening before their eyes were thinking the same thing I was: that could have happened to me!

After what seemed like forever, something very unexpected happened: the man started to breathe. I, for the life of me, don’t understand how that was possible; he wasn’t breathing for too long to recover from it. Maybe it had something to do with the paramedics constantly pumping his chest to supply blood to his brain? I dunno… I will have to ask a doctor some day.

His breathing seemed very weak, but it was stable nonetheless. Whether this means he will live or not I also don’t know, but at least now he has a fighting chance. Seeing as they could finally move him to the emergency room of the hospital, the paramedics put him on the back of the ambulance and sped off.

Kinda puts things in perspective when you witness something like that…

At this point everyone started to continue getting on with their day, myself included. I knew I had to plan my next move as I only had 1 night left booked with Mickey and I didn’t quite know where I was headed the next day. So I picked up some provisions in a grocery store and headed back to the flat where I had a look online on where I could go.

The plan I always maintained from the beginning on my European trip was to jump on trains and buses until I reached Greece. So naturally I checked out the bus and train routes from Budapest to Athens, and what I found was not encouraging: the most direct route to get to Athens required 3 bus rides and 1 train ride travelling through Serbia, Macedonia, Thessaloniki and finally Athens. They were all long trips as well, taking between 7-13 hours each. On top of all that, I found several horror stories online on the Police extorting money from tourists on the Egyptian border.

At this point in my travels I didn’t have the time, energy and money for any of that, so a few clicks later I purchased airplane tickets to Athens and accommodation for the very next day. Looking back now I’m so glad I followed my instincts; they don’t normally lead me astray.

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