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Last updated : Nov 2009
Chapter 50, Budapest and Dalmation Coast
Rating: (4.7) (30 votes)

Budapest, Hungary
September 19, 2003

Pros : transportation was a dream
Cons : none

The train ride from Sighisoara to Budapest was surprisingly fun. Scott, Rebecca, and I were dismayed at first that we were sharing a compartment with 2 grizzled-looking Romanian guys and a somewhat manly woman, but they cleared out before the border crossing so we had the place to ourselves for most of the trip. Scott and I decided not to sleep, so we entertained ourselves with the worst vodka ever, some Romanian candy (wish we'd bought the "Cancer" brand of chocolate bar... you'd think someone would have vetoed that name), the movie "Cube," and lots of music. Soft Cell's "Sex Dwarf" becomes the funniest song of all time after enough alcohol. By 5am keeping our eyes open was a struggle, but we arrived at Keleti Station in Budapest at 5:40.

We jumped on a tram immediately, and I received my first lesson on Budapest's public transport from Scott and Rebecca, who'd both been there before. Never pay for a bus ticket is rule number one. I was skeptical at first, but I never saw a ticket collector while I was in the city, so I relaxed quickly. They make the rounds occasionally and fine freeloaders 2,000 forint (US$10), but generally you can hop off the trams/buses if you see them coming, and jump on the next one. Rule number two, incidentally, is don't try the same thing on the metro. Scott took a 2,000 forint subway ride on Sunday.

We rode to the Station Guesthouse, which is a little out of the center of town, but the public tansport is so convenient that it doesn't matter much. Both my friends had stayed there before. Scott and I grabbed spots in "the Attic," which is pretty much what you'd imagine: a big grubby carpeted room on the top level with a bunch of thin grungy matresses on the floor and the perma-stench of unwashed hippie backpackers. It was cheap, tho'.

We slept until noon, and then went on a shopping trip to the West City Center Mall. I was so excited to be back in a modern and cosmopolitan city! I splurged on turkey with roquefort and rice for lunch, picked up some contact lenses, and treated myself to a good-looking pair of Gas jeans (half off, but still US$60). I figure it'll be good to have some warmer (not to mention more fashionable) clothes for Europe as the fall approaches.

Next we walked around the downtown area and along the Danube River. The opera house, parliament, and the Buda Royal Palace all looked spectacular, and I was impressed with the feel of Budapest in general. The streets were clean, people were nice enough, the buildings were well-kept, and as I mentioned, transportation was a dream. The Magyar language is a bitch, though. There was a big celebration in the city that weekend for National Day; we missed most of the action the night before, but there were still free concerts (bad cover bands) going on by the waterfront, so Scott and I wandered down there for some beer. Well, I had beer... Scott mistakenly ordered Schlossgold "alkoholfrei" beer, which he was pretty ticked off about.

I was pretty exhausted by 7, so I napped, missed out on a few dinner opportunities, and had to set out by myself at 10:30 to find food. That meant trekking all the way back downtown in the rain and asking in 3 different restaurants (all a tram ride away from each other) before I found a pub-type place where the kitchen was still open. After I downed some chicken strips I went in search of some good clubs, but that was kind of a bust. The only place I found looked to be frequented exclusively by sketchy old men, so I stayed away and headed back to the hostel.

Scott met a cool Australian girl named Catherine at a hip hop club that night, and on Sunday morning the two of them took the tram towards the mall with me. I was on a mission to find new shoes (which I did - yay!), and then I walked on my own for the afternoon taking photos around the city. The best part was crossing the river and hiking up through the beautiful park to the citadel for awesome views over Pest. After I got back to the Station, Scott, Catherine and I had dinner down the street at a nice little Italian-Hungarian place. The seafood pasta was quite good. Scott took off on the train that night for Belgrade, so we said goodbye and made plans to try and meet up in Dubrovnik. Rebecca and I, meanwhile, decided to head straight for Croatia the next day via the overnight train through Zagreb to Split.

The next morning after we packed, we took the tram into the train station and bought our tickets to Split (round-trip was cheaper than one-way, but it was still expensive!). Our train wasn't until 3, so I meandered around the city and checked e-mail for a few hours before meeting Rebecca back at the hostel at 2 and taking off. We found the train easily enough, but getting in the right car proved difficult. The first compartment we settled into was in a car that wasn't going to Split, so an hour into our journey we moved up four cars. Unbeknownst to us, that car was 1st Class (hell if I could tell the difference). The conductor in Hungary didn't seem to mind that we were there, and the first Croatian conductor just grumbled at us a little... but the third one (after Zagreb)freaked out and tried to make us move to the crowded second class car. Rebecca speaks pretty good German, and Croatians seem to also for some reason, so she convinced him to let us pay for upgrades so we could keep our private compartment for the night. After that the trip was OK, and we even slept for a few hours despite the fact that it was freezing.

We arrived in Split at 7:30, found an ATM to withdraw some Croatian kuna, and boarded an 8am bus to Dubrovnik. The 5-hour drive down the Dalmatian coast was excellent - stunning hills dotted with little white red-roofed buildings plunged down into the sparkly blue Adriatic Sea. I never imagined Croatia as much of a vacation destination before, but now I understand why it's suddenly such a popular stop on the backpacker circuit! The tourism board is certainly doing their job... Rebecca told me that there's even advertising for the Dalmatian Coast on Aussie TV!

When we finally got to Dubrovnik after almost 24 hours of traveling, it was a relief to find beds relatively quickly. A nice older Croatian woman approached us as we got off the bus, and offered us a room for 120 kuna (US$20) each. We talked her down to 100 kuna, and then her husband drove down, picked us up, and brought us up the steep hill above the bus station to their home. He was a hilarious large guy who walked around in a wifebeater and boxers, and he spoke fluent German in a big, bellowing voice. He seriously overestimated how much I could follow, but Rebecca managed some convo very nicely. The room was really cute, with a great terrace overlooking the bay.

We relaxed for a little while, and then walked into the old city center. Dubrovnik is absolutely gorgeous, and we fell in love with it immediately. The water is incredibly blue and clear, the town wall is massive and in perfect condition, and the cobblestoned/marble-paved maze of streets lined with beautiful medeival buildings is charming and picturesque. We walked around the top of the wall for an hour, taking photos from every angle. It's hard to imagine that the city was shelled in the war just a few years ago! We browsed some shops, ate some delicious gelato, and had a nice seafood dinner on the waterfront.

Yesterday started lazily. We got breakfast from the corner store, sunned ourselves on the terrace, and eventually motivated to go downtown. Scott arrived in the afternoon on the bus from Sarajevo with a girl named Erin; our hosts were out for the day but told us that if we collected our friends, they could use the second bedroom for the same price. Luckily I ran into Scott on the street, as I had no idea what time his bus would show up.

We all agreed to have a picnic dinner, so we bought some bread and cheese and olives... and 4.5 liters of red wine from a bizarre little wine depot. The shop guy poured red wine from big steel tanks into empty 1.5 liter water bottles, and it only cost 12 kuna per liter! The best part is that the stuff was actually drinkable, and very fruity. Anyway, we took all our loot half-way to the old town, and then walked down a trail through the trees half-way to the water.

An hour into our meal two Scottish guys (Duncan and Tom) walked by and recognized Rebecca from having met her in Budapest weeks ago! They'd been sleeping on the rocks below us for the past few nights. They joined our little party, and pretty soon we were all enjoying a really drunk and silly conversation. Someone mentioned that the Croatian greeting sounds like a chicken's "bok bok" (don't know if that's true or not), which of course we found waaaay too funny, especially since we had to cry it out to everyone who walked by.

At midnight we walked Rebecca part of the way home, and then the 5 of us who remained thought it would be a great idea to split a liter of vodka. Oops. We polished that off in a matter of minutes in a park. Somehow I managed to not embarrass myself, although Scott had a rougher time. He provided comic relief by basically passing out on the street, and at one point he tried to pee and ended up standing asleep, bent over with his pants open and his head in the bushes. I'll spare his ego any further damage and let the photos speak for themselves when I finally get them posted. We carried him all the way back up to the house at 3 or so, and the four of them crashed on Scott and Erin's bed.

My tolerance is getting scary. There was no real hangover this morning, which I'm not going to complain about. It's definitely been a mellow day, though. Duncan and Tom snuck out early to avoid being caught by the old Croatians, and we met up later. I hung out with Duncan for a few hours by the water... he's such a cool guy. He's only 18, but he has a great energy and a healthy, outgoing outlook on life. We sat with Rebecca in a street cafe for a while, and then rounded up Scott, who was looking worse for wear. We had an early dinner of pizza, and then trudged back up the hill to meet Tom and Erin at the house. Our hosts were understandably grumpy about the two random Scots hanging around their house, but Rebecca did an excellent job of pacifying them (and lying to them about where Duncan and Tom had slept) auf Deutsch. Instead of kicking the boys out into a fierce and unexpected thunderstorm, they rented some basement rooms to them. Tomorrow Scott, Rebecca, and I are pushing on to the island of Korcula, which sounds beautiful. Hope you're having a good day, wherever you are .