Now, on to Budapest! Apparently about a million years ago, there were three cities and two of them were called Buda and Pest. About 500 years ago, they decided they were so close, they may as well join up. And that is how we come to be in Budapest.
Well actually we came to be in Budapest by train. 3 hour ride, felt like 600 hours. And funnily enough that is the same math we will be doing today to figure out the money here in Hungary! Come on kids, grab your thinking caps because money is funny in foreign countries.
Oh, and apparently, as much as we want to call it Eastern Europe, they firmly believe they are Central Europe and can get testy when being called Eastern. So Robb Looked a map to see just what the heck is left to be “east of Hungary”? Apparently places like, Romania, Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Fascinating really as some others think of Hungary as perhaps Southern Europe. Oh hell, from where I sit (in my gracious hotel room) if it used to be communist, it’s Eastern Europe!
To get the US equivalent on what price something is here in Hungary, you take the price listed, say 600 Forint (Ft.), drop the last two digits (00 in this case) then divide in half = $3.
So when we arrive in Budapest we are trying to figure out how much a taxi will cost to get to our hotel (Le Meridian, once again). We have been warned by all four travel books that we each read on the train that there are shyster taxis waiting around every turn to rip you off. Beware. BEWARE!
We are approached by 4 different women offering us places to stay in apartments, hotels or bed & breakfasts. Normally we would just use the local language and tell them “non, nein, no, etc...” But we have yet to master Hungarian, “nem.” So we just hold up our hands and continue. Then there are about 6 different taxi guys.
We have been told by all guide books that we are only to use taxis marked “city cab” and every single guy who approaches us has an official looking badge saying he works for “city cab” but as the almighty invaluable guide books have told us, they are all lying.
Lyle goes to the tourist info office and they suggest we hire a minibus for the four of us and all our luggage. Uh, we don’t normally appear in mini-buses, but Lyle checks in to see what the fee will be. They can take all 4 of us AND our luggage for 3200 Ft. (about $16).
Now off to the taxi line outside to see what they are offering and willing to bargain for. They offer to take us for 8000 Ft. And we will need two cars. Lyle and Robb scoff. They drop to 4000 but still two cars. Lyle says, No thanks and walks away. They holler after him, 4000 and all of us in one car! Lyle turns around and tells them he can get us all in one car for 3200 Ft. already. Fine, they’ll take us all in one car for 3000 Ft.
But here’s the thing, now Lyle is insulted that they thought he was some rube to be taken advantage of. Now he’s angry. So there is no way we are getting in any of the taxis. And really for the $1 in price difference, we arrive in gracious (albeit, unsightly) comfort.
We are staying at Le Meridian in Budapest. When we checked in they told us that the hotel was very full and offered to give us a complementary upgrade. Oh, if you force us, I guess we’ll have to take it. The bathroom floor is heated and when we got home from dinner Lyle laid on the bathroom floor for a while claiming it was like a big heating pad for his back. The building was a former Insurance company headquarters that has been gutted and completely redone. Over the top gold gilding and glamour. Ow, my eyes.
Everything here used to be something else. The Four Season's hotel used to be a hotel that hosted royalty then became a squatters subdivided apartment complex, the Hitlon Hotel used to be a 13th-century Dominican monastery... after communism, there were a lot of unused abandoned gorgeous buildings. Thankfully the city seems to be in a state of repair.
While out on a walk in the neighborhood, Robb, Lewis and I stopped at a beautiful coffee shop in the hotel Astoria,
The historic Hotel Astoria is very conveniently located in the heart of Pest, a fact which must have greatly attracted its notorious former residents. The Gestapo made it their headquarters, as did the Soviets during the 1956 revolution and it is easy to see why. The dimly lit reception and café are ornately furnished and decorated with marble statuettes giving it an air of exclusivity.It's history, come to life!
Robb & I had coffee and cake. Lewis had the Hot Chocolate and cake. It was amazing hot chocolate.
For dinner tonight we went to the Castle District. Unbelievable views. We drove across the “chain bridge” and all the building and bridges were lit up for all the glory of photography. Robb will be in charge of getting some in focus.
So, first impressions are “faded glory,” Crappy Men’s section at H&M, cheap goods if you shop right, and shysters out to rip you off if you let them. I love travel!