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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BUDAPEST DEATH MARCH

Note: At the time of this writing, $1 = 182 HUF.



CAFE COLONE

At a very posh cafe, Pete and I had "100 grams of marinated duck breast with apple salad with sour cream and cranberry sauce." 169 CZK/ea. Despite the run on sentence in their description (I can do that too!) it was the only small meal I have ever had that I would consider 'refreshing'. Both Pete and I enjoyed it. It was served with white and brown bread. This was served at the cafe 'Colone'.

The service was actually good and helpful there. Overall, a very nice experience.

The total bill for two weird coffee and kaluaha drinks (and a tea for Pete) plus food was about 530 CZK (about $31). Note, this is about the same as lunch for two in Blacksburg, VA and those were served in a much less posh environment.

Cafe Colone, Palacko 7 40/1, 11000 Praha 1. 420 202 518 816, www.cafecolore.cz.



CURRENCY CONVERSION

Remember, when you are trying to get currency exchanged, shop around. Even at 0% commission places, the posted rates you see might be confusing, misleading or in the local currency as opposed to the one you want. Shop around. Take notes and stuff. When I was working on getting Hungarian Florens, I drug Pete around to three different places and got three very different rates. I'd suggest keeping it simple - instead of asking the rate and all of that, pull out (for example) a hundred dollar bill. Have them show you on the calculator (a normal European thing), write it down and move on. Don't let their shocked or saddened faces dissuade you. When you are getting your currency exchanged, get a receipt and (this is the important part) their business card. Take a picture of their store if you want. Let them get the wrong idea. It may help or perhaps I do it to nurture my sadistic tendencies.

The third place I went to that had the better rates is:
Salsid - Smenara
vodickova 30, Praha 1
tel 02 / 24220611 or 777223400 kadi



CORRECTIONS

Note - the beer festival at the pub I went to at the 'Village of Rabbits' was actually an Easter Festival at a winery. Apparently, Ivan's wine is so good that if you drink enough of it you don't know what the hell is going on any more.

Before and after the Village of Rabbits, we had been talking about staying at Jana's house but Marianna generously allowed us to stay at her house. As people who have played or listened to Heroic Cthulhu know, Sanskrt (Jana) had rocking internet from Marianna's house. When I was there I was able to get my photos uploaded. Thanks again Marianna!

Thanks Pete for pointing these out.



WELCOME TO STARBUCKS, BITCH!

I'm not sure what percentage the mixture between Czechs and tourists was, but the place was huge and packed. It was confusing given the Czech mindset of 'penny pinching' I'm wondering if it wasn't mostly tourists. Here's the baffling part:

Chai tea latte, 115 CZK ($6.76)
Frapicchino (my usual drink), 135 CZK (7.94).

This makes Starbucks in Europe about 50% more expensive than in the States. I'm not planning on going again, but I wanted to drag Pete in so that I could report on the prices. End result, stay the fuck out of Starbucks unless you want a really overpriced, overrated cup of coffee. The posh coffee cost less, tasted subjectively better.



MORE CZECH MEETINGS

We also met up with Anna's boyfriend Fanta who gave me a good quote: "I think people (in the Czech Republic) need to learn to use freedom." Interesting stuff that.



REFLECTIONS ON THE CITIES

I had asked Pete (forgot to ask Jana) what he thought the major reason to go to some of the cities were. We really couldn't think of some simple reason to go to Munich. It will always be one of my boyhood homes but to travel there now- I'm not really sure why someone would want to unless they had a keen interest in Bavaria.

Pete's:

Prague: Old buildings, architecture, history.
London: History.
Amsterdam: Feels safe.

Logan's:

Prague: Stuff to photograph.
London: Least scary for people who only speak English as they kind of speak English there.
Amsterdam: Drugs and whores.



AN EXPAT PLACE

While we were at a coffee shop (a proper one) Pete found that the back was some sort of 'expat place'. I went in to check it out so that I could report on it. There was one guy on a computer who didn't speak any English or German. There were four women talking at a table who completely ignored me. After a few minutes, I thought that it was the typical bad Czech service I've come to expect and left. I have no idea what their deal was nor how they made money.



DISCLAIMER ON BUDAPEST STUFF

It may sound like I'm hating life and such but I am actually greatful to be here in Budapest. The first day was just really amazingly hard on me.



BUS TO BUDAPEST

Due to getting only three hours of sleep before leaving - or my bad memory - I had forgotten to offload my Czech coins to Pete. It turned out to not be a horrible thing though as the bus hit me up for a 10 CZK charge to keep a bag under the bus. Later on the bus, I managed to convince the lady in the seat next to me to accept 150 CZK of change for a 100 CZK note that I could trade for HUF later in Hungary. She seemed really well disposed toward me until I had nodded off for awhile then she changed seats claiming that the sun was shining on her too much. Such odd behavior! It is a complete mystery to me.

Even on the yellow 'Student Bus', I'd highly suggest taking your own food and drink as the guy who deals with that is a good example of the stereotype of bad Czech service. Plus, the coffee and water he gets come from very near to the stand up coffin they call a toilet so there is just no telling what happens with that. I believe you could even bring your own alcohol and it wouldn't be a problem if you are the kind of person that likes to initially arrive in a foreign country drunk.

In general, the countryside of the Czech Republic is fields, with a few trees. In Hungary it gradually switched to pretty much forests with some copses of wind towers. A shitload of wind towers.

One of the places we'd stopped in was Bratislava and my first impression was "Holy shit, Eurotrip was right!" In the same way that Prague is a lot of old and new, Bratislava seemed to be decrepit and new. Although where we were at looked like a shithole, a brother and sister (Germans) in Budapest told me it was a great party town with a lot of hiking and nature stuff. No, that tends to not help Logan's opinion but I put it in for completeness. While we were in Bratislava (the bus was on a smoke break) I did chat to a lady from Budapest who was confused as to why anyone would want to visit it after seeing Prague. My initial impressions confirm this but more on that later.

And, naturally, by the time I arrived in Budapest I sure was Hungry! That joke never gets old to me.



BUDAPEST DEATH MARCH

What a fucking day I've had so far. Pete would say that is my fault but I prefer to think of it as 'not my fault'. Pete is probably right.

I had gotten about three hours sleep plus a couple cat naps and I've been hobbling and standing for almost four hours since. My back and legs have given up complaining after the first two hours. I didn't even have anyone to complain to.

I had the wrong impression of what would happen in Budapest. I figured the bus would drop me off in or near the city center and there would be some hostels nearby. I was so wrong.

Although English has become the 'international language' (Czech use it here, for example) the people I have encountered in the so called 'tourist information booths' in the subways don't seem to speak much of it. They also attempt to appear closed and are annoyed when the ticket seller two windows down refers you to them. They have no useful information or maps for you. Several people (Hungarians) I talked to have nodded sadly when I mentioned this to them.

The subway cars I've encountered look like they are from the communist days and are pretty run down. I've since seen new clean modern street cars, but the subway system cars I rode on were not new at all. Avoid getting trapped in the doors as they look to be able to take off an arm. This appears to be a sport for the subway operators.

I got dropped off near the outskirts. I met up with an older Czech couple. The lady was asking me for directions. In her ability to approach random strangers and ask stuff, she was my equal. I decided to go along with them to see if there was any rooms free in the hostel (it wasn't) they said they had booked into. After watching her use the same method I use when trying to find directions to places (keep asking people enroute as you get closer and closer) we at last made it to their strange hotel. The manager wasn't around but the building security guard allowed us to use his cellphone to talk to them. No vacancies. I departed from the happy and nice Czech couple and started walking around asking people where a hostel was.

I don't recommend randomly asking for directions without having a map handy in Budapest. There are three possible reasons why and I don't know which, if any of them is true: a) the people didn't know what I meant by 'hostel'. It's the same word in both English and German. I used both. b) the people were ignorant of what was in their city. Note, this reminds me a lot of Jana. One guy I asked for a street location was a street sweeper. He said he didn't know and it turned out to be the street he was sweeping. I wonder how he gets to work? c) the people I talked to thought 'there is someone who can stand to loose a few pounds - lets give him the run-around.

All of the directions I got were confusing, misleading, bad, false, etc. I did manage to find a place that wanted 14,000 HUF ($54 or so) for a double room but that was out of my price range. I even got physically accosted by a homeless and/or crazy person. I was very close to saying perhaps I should just move on - but I wanted to give Budapest a chance.

But I found some nice people at a hotel that was charging around 50 euros per night (very much out of my price range) but the good people at the Ibis hotel took pity on me. They found me a place, called them to verify they really did have a room, gave me a map, got me directions and off I went.

Logan's advertisement for the wonderful people at the IBIS HOTEL. Stay there. They won't know who I am. Ibis Hotel, H-1134 budapest, dozsa Gyorgy ut 65, phone number (36-1) 392-0200. Nice folks. They sent me to 'Colors Budapest Hostel' Veres Palne utca 14, tel 361 266 8153, near the Ferenciek tere metro stop. Colors is a so so (for people I have been teaching English to, 'so so' may be replaced with 'meh') place but does nearly fit into my price range. And that's what counts.

In all of the other countries, Hostels want your business. They buy a big obvious sign to stick on their building to show you how much they want your business. Not so here. The custom in Budapest seems to be to try to hide a small business card somewhere on the building you are in of your establishment and try to avoid getting found. This has been the case of three different hostels I've been to. I don't know why.

Note that Budapest thus far does NOT seem to be easy for tourist to find their way around but I am still learning it.

While I was writing this, I am drinking overpriced German imported Weiss Beer (white beer, made of wheat) at 760 HUF ($4.22) each.

While I was sitting there, a group of five Germans and I fell into a discussion about Jaegermeister. They liked my comments about it so much they filmed a video clip of me pointing at one of their party and saying "Jaegermeister - he will die!" I doubt that it will make the German equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival but if it becomes part of a movie there, you'll get to see me in it. I am doing my part in German. Joy.

Anyway, after being fortified by two Weiss beers and two cigarettes, I attempted to stand up. I am sure that nearby people thought I was drunk but even on a really empty stomach (so hungry!) that doesn't happen. My legs had locked up. Like when you exercise but don't cool down and stretch afterward. So I slowly hobbled off cursing in several languages and vowing revenge on God for my pain.

Costs: One day ticket for all public transportation, 1550 HUF. Unlike in Prague, they write down on the ticket when you get it rather than allow you to stamp it as entering the subway. This is less convenient as you can't stock up on tickets and burn them as needed. Interestingly, the ticket checkers also stand where you are going to enter to look at some of the tickets. Not very sneaky of them.



DISTANCES IN HUNGARY

"Not far away" - under one hour walking.

"Five meters" - "I don't speak English. Please thank me politely and quickly leave."

"Five hundred meters" - Up to one kilometer away.

"Twenty meters" - Up to one kilometer away.



COUCH SURFING

Due to the high cost of lodgings even here and being reminded by a nice German girl (whose name and the name of her brother I sadly did not get though they may be reading this some time) that it exists, I will be checking out couch surfing. I'm not sure how that will work out but you will find out after I do.



PAST REFLECTIONS - SHAWN O'MALLEY

I can use this guys name because a) I might be spelling it wrong and b) there are so many of them it is almost like saying 'John Doe'. I've tried to look this guy up since and been overwhelmed by how many others there are. Unfortunately, he was someone from the times before Facebook or I'd still have his contact information.

So, I now give you a couple of stories from a long time ago (before Jana was born!) about when I was about eighteen and new someone named Shawn O'Malley.

We initially met up at in Germany. I remember the first meeting well because it was at an unusual Halloween. I was in the military at the time and a bunch of us decided to throw a big Halloween party. I think I contributed something like $200 and it was the smallest individual contribution of anyone. Others contributed up to like $1000. I'm not sure of the exact numbers but there was at least a half dozen people. I remember hearing some or many (not me) of the people actually made their money back by charging a dollar (or a couple of Deutsch Marks - back in pre-Euro time) for admission. There were so many people there it was amazing. We had taken over two large apartments across from each other and the people kept coming and going. Many alcohol runs were made.

I remember meeting Shawn and immediately knowing who he was dressed up as - bathrobe and towel. Arthur Dent? He seemed pleased that I was the only one who knew. Strangely, after he said that I said something along the lines of "That's because all of these other people are idiots" - which is close to the line used in the film. Unlike in the film, the music didn't accidentally cut off just before I said it. No comeuppance! That's what I like!

After the party, the carpeting that was in the apartments was deemed trashed beyond saving, rolled up and thrown out. The carpets weren't cleaned and everything - cigarette butts, spilled drinks, vomit and a human body were all rolled inside and thrown into a big dumpster.

I met Shawn in front of the dumpster - he was still dressed the same aside from a large reddish spot on his bathrobe where someone had probably spilled a drink on him. He still had half of his drink. We fell to talking while the guy who was rolled up and literally trapped within the carpet slowly became conscious and took new stock of his surroundings. Without discussion, Shawn and I ignored his piteous whining and feeble cries for help (I guess you can't get all that much air in your lungs when rolled tightly in a carpet with about 20 kilos of trash) and decided to wander off to go find food together. Later that day as I returned to my home, I noticed the dumpster had been emptied. I speculated how noisy the back loading, fully automated German garbage trucks were and resolved to never pass out at a party.

We never saw that guy again. I'm sure he is living happily in a landfill somewhere.

After that, Shawn and I became friends. And one thing that friends do for each other is to keep lookout when one of them wants to go commit a crime. Asking a new friend to actually help commit the crime is a bit much but 'yell if you see anything bad like police' is still within the acceptable range.

So, Shawn had decided he wanted to rob a church for some reason. During the middle of the day. He was just that kind of guy. I personally figure God has enough shit and wasn't going to miss whatever Shawn could make off with. I figured robbing from a church was a bit much but you must remember that at that time I was a mere eighteen years old, slitting throats for our country and making a decent living at it. So, I was more dumb than now. Many people who currently know me well would object that me being dumber than now is not possible to which I reply 'Shut your stinking holes!'

So, we went to rob a church. It wasn't actually that unusual of day for that time in my life. Anyway, the church was unusual in that it sat in the middle of a large and fairly spooky graveyard. Which was having a funeral. With a couple hundred people.

I felt smug in this because I really didn't have a big interest in seeing if there was a God and I could anger him by robbing from his minions. No, I wanted McDonalds instead. But I could console Shawn.

"Looks like you're fucked." I said, being the consoling, caring Logan.

"Nah. I'll just think myself invisible and go rob it." Shawn replied.

A couple interesting points to make. Shawn had an unusual dress sense. He normally wore a brown leather jacket and (for some reason) a black scarf with silver piping. And black pants. He wasn't well enough dressed to fit in with the mourners nor was he poorly enough dressed to fit in with the grave diggers. In other words, he'd stick out. A lot.

The second thing to know about Shawn - he thought he was a ninja. Not a movie or TV show ninja but a real live ninja. The fact that he was of Irish descent and had never been closer to Japan than eating with chopsticks didn't seem to impact this belief pattern.

"OK." I replied. I thought about it and said "If we get separated, we'll meet at the McDonald's." My evil plan was fiendish in it's intricacy. Shawn thought that was a good idea and waded into the crowd. After waiting for a minute to see if crowds of angry machine gun wielding German policemen would pop up from behind the tombstones, I hurried off to McDonald's. I figured Shawn would scope it out, be defeated by way too many people and join me in McDonald's.

So, I'm at McDonald's justifying not ordering Shawn and trying to figure out if the reason was that he gets to eat prison food or that I just don't know what he wants. Shawn showed up to McDonald's and seemed disinterested in the food. I grunted and he sat.

"I thought it would be too hard." I said around a mixture of fries and Big Mac in my maw. Shawn smiled and placed a gym bag on the table. I eyed it and said a common American expression - "What the fuck is this shit?"

Shawn opened it and showed me the priests clothing.

"You stole his clothing? Really??"

"While he was in the next room in the shower." Shawn smiled.

At this point, I began to suspect Shawn might not be lying about being a ninja. Later, when Shawn was sparring with my Hapkido instructor, Bob Spear, and they both came to mutual destruction using the same blow, I was taking his outrageous ninja related claims more seriously.

It feels weird sitting in a hostel in Budapest reminiscing about someone I met in Germany.

3 comments:

  1. Enjoyed this blog post, bro.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm a bit late in my reading, and maybe there is more on it later that I haven't gotten to yet, but my friend did couch surfing and had luck with it. That was plan too before being impregnated. What a great idea; I wish I had told you about it sooner. Unless of course in my not having read more recent posts yet you have tried this and it worked out horribly....trying to catch up!

    ReplyDelete
  3. As far as staying at someone's residence, I've done twice thus far but also CS works for 'hey lets get together for a drink' as well. Even with your busy life and such, you could still do that part if you had an interest.

    ReplyDelete

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