The cities of Buda and Pest had sat, utterly divided by the Danube river, for all the long ages. Then one day some crazy naked dude crossed the river on stilts yelling about badgers, and everyone sighed together: “Ah shit, here come those a-holes from Pest.” And so they decided right then and there they might as well just blow the whole thing up and call it all Budapest. This may have been an overreaction on their parts, but I was grateful because I didn’t have time to visit two cities.
The outskirts of Budapest are kind of surprisingly shitty. During the long bus ride in from the airport, rusted and decaying billboards lined the road, interspersed with an overgrown tangle of skeletal wintery trees and random garbage. I felt a little like I was headed back into Chernobyl.
Huh. I guess this is why I don’t hear about a lot of people going to Hungary on vacation. A thick vibe of stagnant energy hung in the air as the gray landscape rolled out all around us. We cruised by two guys in the distance who had set something on fire for no apparent reason.
I was on yet another “You’re crazy to leave the airport!” 2 hour layover and was eager to see how much of a taste for the land of “You got Pest in my Buda!” “You got Buda in my Pest!” I could sample in that small island of time, before hauling ass back to the airport to catch my onward flight to Israel.
We drove past a road sign for Hungexpo, which I’m sure was the name for a Hungarian Exposition of some type but I couldn’t help but imagine they were having some kind of porn convention over there. You do you, Hungary!
The houses reminded me a lot of the ones I’d seen in Central Asia, especially throughout Kyrgyzstan. It occurred to me that we group places together in our minds in neat categories, but reality isn’t always so neat. There could be a cultural or at least architectural continuity between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, even if we imagine some big dividing line between them on the map.
Thankfully for the sake of my visit and the people of Budapest themselves, things started to look up as we rolled into the city proper. First a nice little church, then an intriguing Children's Hospital rolled by.
Then suddenly there were pretty and tall historical buildings towering above us and streets snaking off in every direction.
I got off the bus when most everyone else did, just in case it rolled into a volcano after this.
Spilling out into the street, I was immediately amused by the struggle between light and dark taking place all around me.
What the hell is… some kind of bar? Or maybe Budapest just has separate restrooms for devils and angels?
I whistled Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” as I wandered up the street. I liked that the statues in Budapest were prepared for any kind of weather.
Fresh off the bus, I immediately stepped in kakas.
Thankfully there was also coffee for when your weed energy runs out.
While I was snapping this photo a middle-aged dude approached me and said a bunch of Hungarian. I eventually realized I was standing next to his car and he wanted to get into it. I liked that I seemed to be able to pass for a local, but also was intrigued by the fact that in spite of there being many dual-language signs in the city, no one I encountered in Budapest seemed to be able to speak much, if any, English.
I was amused thinking of how many times they must have had to replace this sign, every time some goofy new form of transportation was invented. What even is that thing in the middle?
I crossed the street and wandered into the legendary Fashion Street Budapest- I’m kidding, there is no such legend. With the blown-out cloudy sky behind it, the sign did have the strange effect of looking like it was a CGI title superimposed over reality.
I felt safe knowing The Thing and his crow buddy were keeping Budapest safe from any and all existential threats.
Nearby, a statue commemorated the time that piper came to town and got rid of all of those pain in the ass sheep that were overrunning the city and baaing everywhere.
Really overly nude statues looked down over us, looking quite embarrassed by their predicament. Does she have a present for me? This is so confusing.
This part of Budapest is dominated by a huge Ferris Wheel that draws you to it like a giant tourist bug zapper. I didn’t have time to ride it, but I did enjoy standing in the mud and looking up at it with a handful of other people as we all agreed: Yep, Ferris Wheel.
Hungarian teenagers zipped around a skate park while I photographed the striking street art lining the sidewalks.
On the other side of the street, sad trees did their best to celebrate Hungary’s Olympic hopefuls.
Oh, hi Merlin.
Busts of mysterious soldiers let us know this street was safe. I tried to explain that The Thing was already on the job but they didn’t know who that was.
Oh shit, I have to get back to the airport. As I hustled toward the bus stop, I was stopped in my tracks by this bizarre glass tube full of barber shop dip.
A British couple and I wordlessly giggled like schoolchildren as the guy cranked the handle faster and faster, causing a vortex of barber shop dip to swirl and climb up the tube like an underwater tornado.
Well okay then Budapest! Thanks for that. I hustled onto the bus and spent the trip back to the airport taking terrible blurry photos of the opposite sides of buildings I got terrible blurry photos of on the way from the airport.
By the time I got to the airport I knew I was hella late, but after I’d hustled through security I discovered that my flight had been delayed anyway. I was flying on Hungary’s ultra-budget carrier, Wizz Air, which I had marveled over when I was on my way to Belarus last year. Now I was living the dream.
The logistical challenge of this overall trip was that I was taking something like 15 separate flights all over the world, and many of them were on cheap-ass budget airlines like Wizz that charged you a fee even for bringing a carryon bag. At an average of $45 a pop, this was going to add up preposterously fast, so I’d developed an aggressive traveling-light strategy based around living for three weeks out of a backpack that would fit underneath the airplane seat and thus count as a free personal item.
The biggest hitch in this plan were those pains in my ass at Wizz, whose official personal item bag dimensions were about the size of a loaf of bread. Wizz was really determined to charge you that bag fee, as their revenue model was dependent on it. Challenge accepted, ridiculously-named airline! After spending too much time considering several preposterous packing options that involved wearing a photography vest that could be stuffed with underwear or buying a huge trench coat filled with drug-smuggling pockets, eventuality I figured out a system of packing cubes I could quickly pull out of my backpack at a moment’s notice and stuff into my various clothing pockets, allowing the backpack itself to squash down and fit, just barely, into the bag-sizer.
In the end it didn’t matter, since they took one look at me and decided either that my bag looked small enough or that I was the kind of person who was going to start stuffing packing cubes down his pants if they said anything. Several other people with slightly-larger bags were pulled out of line and made to either attempt to jam their bag into the impossibly small sizer like they were trying to stuff a dead body into a Fiat, or else pony up for bag fees. I felt for them as I drifted by in line, glad both that I had bought a bag in a nondescript color and that it probably looked smaller on my 6’3” frame that it would hanging off the back of a 4’10” Asian woman.
I ambled down the jetway, and braced myself to take a Wizz.