I mentioned at the end of my EuroTrip 2007 series that although I missed out on most of my planned Eastern European itinerary in the summer of 2008 due to deciding to apply to Master’s programmes in London, I did manage to visit Budapest and Krakow. I didn’t keep a journal this time around, so although there were plenty of memorable events, I might have them out of order since the chronology is a bit harder to keep straight without daily journal entries to guide me. I flew directly from London to Budapest, and I remember getting money out of a cash point at the airport and being fascinated by forints, as it was my first travel outside the EuroZone in Europe, apart from Britain (the first time I went backpacking, I took some traveller’s cheques, as advised by most travel guides at the time, only to realise that almost no one used them anymore. This time, I got smart and got a debit card for cash withdrawals, even though I’m sure the fees were astronomical).
I was staying in a hostel called Carpe Noctem (which looks like it’s still around), which I initially really liked because it was run by a bunch of chill British people and had a comfy couch and little library in the reception area where you could curl up with a book. However, I had an incident fairly early on in my trip when I was hanging out on my bed in the co-ed dorms reading a book during the day, and some guy from California came in and started talking to me. He was kind of creeping me out, but we were alone in the room so I was trying to be friendly so he didn’t turn all angry and rapey (because this is the kind of shit women have to do), but it didn’t really work, because he suddenly walked over, scooped me up onto his lap, and started trying to slobber all over my neck. I had to physically fight my way out of his arms and push him off of me, and as I left the room, he made some creepy comment about catching me that night. Now, I don’t remember why I didn’t report this to the people who ran the hostel, or if I did and they didn’t do anything about it, but regardless, I now had to spend a night in a room with this guy, and I was absolutely terrified (I don’t know why I didn’t just change hostels, but my mind worked in weird ways back then). So I befriended this British guy in the bed next to mine, and begged him to keep an eye out for me in the night in case anything happened. I ended up going to a bar with this British guy and a few other people from the hostel until late (I remember he kept talking about how much he loved British milk, and how much better it was than milk anywhere else, and I don’t even like milk, so I wasn’t disagreeing with him, but he still wouldn’t shut up about it), even though I was quite tired and I just wanted to go to bed, since I was trying to avoid creepy guy. I stayed up late the next night too, and ended up getting sucked into reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, since it was one of the books on the shelf in the reading nook, which led to me becoming obsessed with Murakami for a number of years afterwards (which probably made me insufferable to the people around me). Fortunately, California creeper left after the first couple of nights, and I was able to avoid seeing him again by staying up late enough that he was asleep by the time I went to bed, and getting up early and staying out of the room during the day, but I really should not have had to deprive myself of sleep because of that jerk.
Fortunately, after Cali creeper left, he was replaced by a nice Welsh guy named Jamie and his friend (maybe girlfriend?) Cassie, and I spent a fair bit of time hanging out with them. We went to the House of Terror together, which is a museum about the horrors of communism in Hungary (I don’t remember much about it, other than it being really depressing), and to Body Worlds, which happened to be in Budapest at the time, and ate a lot of Wok to Walk, which Jamie, a fellow vegetarian, was obsessed with (they just did takeaway stir fries, hence the name. I think there’s a few in London). They were both there to attend Sziget, which I had never heard of, not being much for music festivals. However, after listening to them rave about it, I decided to give it a go, and bought a day pass for a random day, since I had no idea who was playing.
Sziget takes place on an island in the middle of the Danube, and I got a tram there with a couple of people who worked at the hostel who were also going (I became MSN Messenger friends with the guy, and he sent me increasingly pervy messages that I eventually stopped responding to for a year or so after). As soon as I got there, I realised had made a huge mistake. I had only been to one festival before, which was a punk festival that took place in the basement of a Unitarian church in Philly, and that was ok because you could stay in a hotel and just wander around the city if you didn’t like the bands playing that day, but Sziget was the full muddy fields festival experience, and I was so not into it. Also, the headliner that day was REM, who I loathe, and before them were bunch of crappy NuMetal bands, including the singer from System of a Down, and it was not my scene at all. Still, I tried to make the best of it, and split a bucket of Jagerbomb with the woman from the hostel, which was fortunately pretty weak, so I didn’t have a repeat of my usual Jager experiences (like in Munich), and found a tent of obscure ska bands that were at least playing a type of music I liked, even though I didn’t know any of the songs. I was starving, and the only vegetarian option seemed to be langos, which they were selling at a load of stands (basically a savoury elephant ear), but they were all topped with sour cream, which makes me gag, and I was worried my attempts to tell them I didn’t want it would be lost in translation. So, I was thrilled when I found a kurtoskalacs stand instead, which was frankly the highlight of the whole day (if you haven’t had one, it’s basically like a sugared cinnamon roll-esque bread that’s cooked slowly on a spit so all the sugar caramelises on the outside. So delicious). I haven’t been to a festival since, though I have eaten kurtoskalacs every chance I’ve gotten!
I also went to the castle in Buda one day by myself, and I seem to remember it taking hours to walk there from where I was staying in Pest, so that I’d pretty much lost the will to live by the time I arrived. I mainly wanted to see the labyrinth, but it was not where my map indicated it should be at all, and whilst I was looking for it, some obnoxious American tourists started making fun of me. I don’t know if they thought I couldn’t understand English, or if they just didn’t care, but I wasn’t bold enough at that stage in my life to tell them where to stick it, so I just gave up on the labyrinth and wandered away from them so I didn’t have to listen to their jerkishness. I do remember the castle being fairly empty apart from them, though, which was definitely different from when I was in Budapest a couple of years ago and it was absolutely heaving.
I’m sure I must have done more, but that’s really all I remember from that particular trip. On a positive note, I did stay friends with Jamie for a number of years afterwards (we’re still Facebook friends, but he moved to Sweden a few years ago, and I’d kind of fallen out of touch with him a while before that) – he stayed with me once when he was visiting London, and we shamelessly cheated on a pub quiz and won a bottle of wine, which was a blast, and though he and Cassie weren’t together for long after that trip (actually, I was never totally clear on whether they were dating, or just friends. It may have been the latter), I did meet up with her once shortly after moving to London to see a Jack the Ripper exhibition at Museum of Docklands, which was also really fun. On the whole though, I enjoyed Budapest much more when I went with Marcus in 2018, since I didn’t have to deal with any creepy guys, and we ate a lot more cake! I’ll talk about Krakow next week.