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Corey's trip to Budapest

In mid-May 2003 I attended WWW2003 in Budapest, Hungary. Not one to miss an opportunity to travel, I spent four days in advance of the conference walking about and touring Budapest. I have photos, of course, and a complete album and a more brief collection are elsewhere in my web site. Here, though, I've put up the journal I kept during my visit. Hope you enjoy it. 8)


I rolled out of bed around 8:30. The airport shuttle isn't scheduled to arrive until 10:30, and I figured I have about an hour's work to go from in bed to ready to go. Still, 8:30 seems like a good time. As I'm getting up, Mom and Dad call and I talk with them, and Casey calls and we chat for about 20 minutes. I even get to say hi to my Grandparents as they stop by Mom and Dad's while I'm on the phone. After all the calls I finish getting up, check mail, then wait. At 10:11, the shuttle calls (early!) and I grab my things and head out the door.

The trip to SFO isn't long (just two stops at Stanford, first) and soon I'm at the international terminal at SFO. The interior space is enormous — perhaps four stories tall (but no actual floors other than the ground floor). The line for Lufthansa is short so I wander around a bit before checking in. I've packed all that I need into my backpack and a very modest piece of luggage, and I'm very happy with this minimal approach. Others on the shuttle and in line to check in, have three and four large bags. I'm much more mobile than they.

After exploration I check in. I'm in line less than 5 minutes and have no problem. There are no upgrades to be had so I remain in coach. Also in line are several Indian families, with lots of bags. Germany must be a popular layover point from SFO to India and the Middle East.

The international terminal at SFO is large, clean, and unmemorable. I pass time by reading John Wyndham's "Out Of The Deeps" and grab a sandwich for lunch. Soon it's time to board. The inbound flight was late so we're late in boarding. It's 2:20 (the time we should have been taking off) just as I have my boarding pass scanned. A few quick questions by a U.S. Customs agent and I'm on the way to the plane. As things turn out, I'm among the last 10 or so folks onto the plane (my seat was just in the "wrong row"), out of 360 or so on the plane. Before I get to my seat there's a hold-up — someone with a too-large bag is having trouble finding stowage. I stand patiently and wait, but then notice: we're moving! Despite a dozen passengers (including me) not yet in their seats, they pushed the plane back and began taxiing. Wow. I guess Lufthansa didn't want to count my flight as "delayed." Fortunately, everyone was seated by takeoff, and I even was able to find room for my backpack in the overhead bin above my seat (so I could have as much legroom as possible).

The flight was long but not exciting (besides the early pushback). The seats were tightly spaced — tighter than Alaska's domestic equipment. But, with no bag at my feet, I had enough space. I took off my shoes in flight and that felt good (someone suggested such to me some time ago, for long flights). I mostly read Wyndham, and then napped when that was finished. I didn't care about "Two weeks notice" and I figured I'd watch "Catch me if you can" unmodified, on DVD.

The couple sitting next to me were also going to Budapest. He's going to a raptor conference. I couldn't think how to inquire about more details.

The flight path went North, over Canada, then down through the North and Norwegian Seas. We averaged 600mph. On the descent, the pilot put the flaps all the way out (or whatever) and we dropped altitude fast — faster than I've every experienced. 1000 feet in 12 seconds and 20,000 feet in just a couple of minutes. I was sitting in an aisle seat over the wing, though, so I couldn't really tell where we were, until we finally touched down. Then, in a reprieve of the start, people got up and opened luggage bins even before we were at the gate.

I had no problems in the Frankfurt airport. At SFO I was checked through to Budapest and I knew my gate number. So it was just a matter of waiting. I wandered a bit — a culture shock to see so many people smoking. I had a burger at McDonald's and paid with US dollars. I got two Euro cents in change. At the gate I read my Budapest book and napped for about 45 minutes. The nap felt good. 8) [As I write this, I've been up for 27 hours.] When the flight was finally ready to board, we had to take a 4-mile bus ride to where the plane actually was. Then, we had to wait for the second bus load of people. I had a window seat, but overwing. So I slept through most of the flight. Including the snack, but that was okay; I'd had a burger.

I ran into the Raptor man at BUD baggage claim. He works for a research firm safeguarding (watchdog-ing?) environmental issues for power companies. Thus, the raptor interest. He asked and I said I worked for Google. "That's my favorite search engine; it's great." After my bag appeared I gave him a Google pen before we parted company.

Oddly enough, Customs at BUD was a snap. One person looked at my passport and handed it back (no stamp or anything). I went through the "nothing to declare" door and ended up at the exit. That was easy.

I found an ATM in the airport and had no trouble extracting cash. Following all the advice I'd heard, I signed up for an airport minibus to go to the hotel. We left presently and drove for about 20 minutes. The places outside looked run-down: graffiti everywhere, dirty buildings, nothing shiny and new. It would be a frustrating living for me. One building looks to be 50 years old but is covered in black coal soot. Yech.

Bara Hotel Presently I was let out at my hotel, Bara Hotel. It's a minimal place and the room spartan but serviceable. It's a long and winding path from reception to my room (#112). I took a brief nap then left in search of bottled water and dinner. I found water ("still water"), but it's mineral water. Tastes sorta awful. I also found dinner, at the hotel restaurant. It was an easy choice and the dish good. My room comes with complimentary breakfast, but I'm aiming to be more adventurous in finding a restaurant tomorrow.

Before dinner I visited another hotel down the street, which has a business center. I checked my e-mail. Back in my room, I've planned the next day; it's time for a long-overdue sleep. 8)


I was awake this morning at 7:20am but didn't get out of bed until 8. I figured, I was up about 50% longer than usual the day before, so I should sleep 50% longer that night. 8) The sun was creeping around the edges of the blinds in my room, so it helped get me up.

Even in a foreign country, my usual routine took me an hour. I headed down to breakfast at 9 and the restaurant looked little different from yesterday. Mostly empty, with a buffet at one end. This morning the buffet has food, and there's one other group (elderly locals, I think). The restaurant is one star. The napkins are one-ply small squares. The table cloths aren't replaced, much less laundered, between uses. The difference between smoking and non-smoking seats is a little placard on the table. (No one has yet smoked while I've been there, luckily.) So, low on amenities but high on convenience when one is staying at this hotel. I can't help long for Hong Kong restaurants, in hotels or otherwise. Bright, clean, attendant service. But, this is why one travels — to see that cultures vary by locale.

Anyway, breakfast was eggs, cold cuts, and dessert sweets. Apple juice and pear juice. I dropped in to the Charles Apartments Hotel for 20 minutes of e-mail. Nothing big at work. I won't check there again until Tuesday morning (there's usually very little e-mail traffic on the weekends). Back to my hotel to gear up and head out. It's 10am.

St. Gellert My first destination is Gellért Hill. It's a big park and I wander around for a while. I'm heading generally toward the statue of St. Gellért, whom the local pagans thanked by sealing him in a barrel and pushing him off this hill. I think the barrel may have been filled with nails. After a while of wandering I find it. I'm sure that it's not a coincidence that the statue is square overlooking Erzsébet híd, a bridge over the Danube heading into Pest. I stop several times for water breaks and to snap panoramas. The morning is clear and the view is great from up here. There's another statue I'd like to see in the park, Liberation Monument, so I follow my nose in the general direction it ought to be. I continue around and up the hill and finally see it ahead. And, wouldn't you know, there's scores of people there. Mind you, I've seen perhaps 10 folks in the last hour anywhere else in the park. Turns out, there's a road up to the statue and the tour buses stop here. Heh, oh well. I get some good pictures anyway, because the statues are on pedestals. I head back down the road the buses came up and out of the park. I look at some of the trinkets the locals are peddling. Junk. And pricey. I'm sure I could do better elsewhere. So off I go.

Eventually I'm on the road that runs the length of the Danube, and I head up Erzsébet híd. Looking back at Gellért's Statue is a nice view, there's a waterfall below it. It looks best in morning light, but I'm on the wrong side of the read to take a picture. I'll come back tomorrow. Instead, I head across the river into Pest.

Vaci utca Although it's all "Budapest", Pest feels different from Buda. To me, Buda is a Westerner's view of an Eastern European city: dingy, anarchistic traffic, nothing clean or inviting along the streets. Pest, on the other hand, is an Eastern European town that impresses as a city worth visiting. The buildings are old and have interesting architecture. Sure, they're dirty, too, but there's storefronts that invite admission. Vací utca is a pedestrian mall that welcomes ambling and shopping. I walk down Vací utca to the south, with the plan to head toward the National Museum at the end. I take lots of pictures of building facades, as they often have bass relief carvings. Again, this feels much different from Buda, which (in my district, at least) feels like a Soviet Bloc place of existence.

Anyway, I duck in to a number of the antique stores along Vací utca. In the second one I visit I find a cute penguin porcelain figurine. 1500 forints, or about $5. I decide to buy it. I ask the shopkeeper about it; it's Hungarian, and has the mark of the manufacturer. It dates to around 1910. Neat! And all for 1500 HUF. My only worry is that "antiquities" over 50 years old must have paperwork from the Hungarian government in order to remove them from the country. But for $6?? I don't think it counts as an antiquity — it could have just as easily been made in Austria. It's not like it's a royal treasure or anything. 8)

I check out a few more places, but nothing exciting. I buy a German math book of notes from a class on Maxwell's equations. Dated 1940s, but with partial differential equations. A much older Geometry text (German) was 12000 HUF (~$60). Too much. A few other books, content unknown (German) dated into the 1700s. Wow. Too bad I don't read German. 8/

Club Verne Lunch I found at Club Verne, a music club / restaurant built like Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Pretty cool. I had a chicken dish which had baked brie on top. Tasty! It was just me in the place. It was good to sit and rest for a while.

On down the road, little else on Vací u. At the end I came across the Central Market Hall, a farmer's market housed in a really big, er, hall. It was closing down then (1:30) so I'll try to catch it tomorrow. On my way out I saw a big group of runners going across Szabadság híd. I ask a guard there what was up. "Filming a movie," apparently. Neat. I watch for a minute and snap a picture. Well, at least I wasn't missing the Budapest 10K & half marathon. 8) On down the road.

Shortly I come across the Calvinist Church. It's nothing exciting, really. I guess the Calvinists don't have any special ornamentation on their churches. Finally, I reach the National Museum. I find it a bit odd, but perhaps normal, that there's a fair going on around on the Museum grounds. Each booth is for a different museum somewhere in Budapest (or anywhere in Hungary?). There's also a music stage at the steps of the museum. Er, hm. A large banner across the front gives a clue: something or other (in Magyar, the language in Hungary), May 17 & 18. That's today. Inside I find it's "May Day" of sorts, hence the party. Also, hence, admission is free. Whee! It's only 400HUF or so, anyway, but neat.

I wander around the place. Archeology — nothing exciting. Lots of Roman stone and metal artifacts. Hungarian history, 11th - 20th century: neat, but only overview text was in English. Per-item descriptions were in Hungarian. Oh, well. I enjoyed looking. I also enjoyed ditching my bag — in fact, I had to check my bag and camera. I got both back safely.

Brass band Outside, I sit listening to a 5-piece brass group toot. Classical work. The announcements are in Magyar but I catch "Rossini" and the music to the William Tell Overture. They play nicely and sitting on the steps (sitting at all!) is refreshing. I plan to the rest of my day: toward Parliament and the Chain Bridge. I head out.

Most roads have crosswalks, but some can be portaged only by metro station. I venture into one for the first time. It's like a whole little world down there! There's a few shops, a glass partition and doors that can be locked that can close the Metro access without closing the station. There's not too much to see, though, so I keep on going.

I get to about my turn, but spot a church. I take a few pics — oh, I'm almost out! I had about 30 left at the Calvinist Church and now have about 9. I walk around — it's St. Stephen's Basilica. Oh. I walk by a tour group and listen to the English-speaking guide. Nothing memorable. It's 5pm, which is a blessing and a curse. Blessing, because no one is taking admission fee anymore. Curse because the Holy Dexter, King István's embalmed right forearm, has been put away. Oh, well. The Basilica is enormous inside. And gorgeous. Gilded. Stained glass windows. Marble(?) flooring. Very impressive. When the Basilica is open, you can climb to the top for a lookout over the city. Perhaps I'll return later. But, time to split. By the time I recover my bearings, I'm on Vací utca again and moving away from parliament and the chain bridge. No matter — I had only four exposures anyway. I'll see those on another day.

There's not much on Vací u. still open. I wander through and see a lot more people than before. I have a cone of kiwi ice cream. Eh. Not a very big cone. But real kiwi in it. I'm back at Erszábet híd and begin to cross. A helicopter flies low overhead , toward Szabadság híd, then up. I see a camera mounted on it. Sure enough, they're still filming the running scene. 4 1/2 hours later. Yeesh. Maybe they are running the Budapest 10K. The helicopter is making circles around Gellért Hill, flying low over the Danube on one side. I walk on and it disappears. I pause in Gellérthegy (Gellért Hill) to plan dinner. I pick a place not far and head for Szarvas tér, about 3/8 of a mile away. Aranyszarvas, as my guidebook recommends. I have the venison with peach sauce and it's great. I eat outside. Very pleasant. I still haven't mastered the art of paying yet; I had to ask for the check. Is that proper? I don't know. I haven't been refused yet, but I get some sort of odd looks from waitstaff. Anyway, I seem to be tipping okay (10-15%).

I walk back past the 'net station then to the hotel. As I wrote this entry I heard explosions outside — many, for some minutes. Great, a gunfight near my hotel. I finally peek out through the bathroom window and see — fireworks. Oh, well; at least it's not guns. Maybe they're for this May Day? Or it happens every night at 10, yet I slept through it last night? I am a good sleeper, and I was tired. I guess I'll find out tomorrow. And, speaking of tomorrow, I believe the plan is: Castle Hill, Margaret Island, the Metro, and the train station. I'm planning for Eger for Monday, but I need to see the train schedule. And find the station. 8)


I was up later this morning than I'd planned — 9:30 instead of 8 or so. No matter. I dressed and such hurriedly so I wouldn't miss breakfast. I got there just in time, at 9:58 or so. On cue, at 10am, the waiter closed the door. Why so Draconian, it's hard to say. I have a theory or two (later). There wasn't much of breakfast left, anyway. Kashi with room temperature milk (ick) and juice. A few cold cuts and — what's this? A carafe of milk. I draw a class — oh, it's warm. It's rather like drinking cocoa, but without the chocolate. Actually, it's surprisingly not bad. [A few days later, I discover there's been a bowl of cocoa powder next to the warm milk canteen the whole time; that's even better.] After breakfast I toddle down to the Charles for e-mail then return to #112 to prepare for the day.

Iron gate with raven My plan for today (which I end up following) is: Castle Hill, Margaret Island, the Metro to the train station, then the metro back. I set out walking to Castle Hill. It dawns on me how I've been taking sidewalks for granted. There's one on every street, usually on both sides. The same is true on my path today. This is great for pedestrians, and they double as parking spaces for any of the small cars that are ubiquitous here. I walk for awhile and eventually reach the edge of Castle Hill. Up the stairs, then follow the path of tourists to and from their buses. The place is divided roughly in two: the (old) Royal Palace (now the Hungarian National Gallery) and Old Town. Back in the day, the walled city on the hill was Buda. Today, it's residences, art studios, tourist trappings, and a few museums and churches. The streets are cobbled stone, which is cool. I eavesdrop on a few tour groups and find only one, of a guy speaking to two people, speaking English. They're walking and I pace for a few minutes. "The ring the raven's holding is a symbol of the Renaissance ... the web on the gate likewise ...". It's bright and sunny so I sit in the shade occasionally, and try to compose my photo opportunities for optimal lighting.

All over Budapest there are bronze statues and busts, and bass relief friezes on buildings. The first few are novel, but after a while, the novelty of photoing them, or even looking, wears off. This is especially true of those that have no English language description (not, of course, that I expect such descriptions). So I start looking more (quickly) and photoing less.

It's half-past noon so I look for a cafe. I stop at one, but I don't see many folks eating there. That's been my litmus test: look for other people eating food. If everybody is just drinking, then it's probably not the best place for a meal. There's a couple of mid-20 backpackers who check out the menu there and leave, too. I follow them a few doors down the road and inspect the next menu. It looks satisfactory, and I order the something or other. No, they're all out; would I like pork goulash? Only 500ft more. Okay. I want goulash, but I do think it's suspicious the item I want is out, and a more pricey one is used instead. Anyway, the meal's fine, but service slow. That's a hallmark of Budapest (Hungary?) service: slow. I'm gone before the backpackers.

The next stop is Margaret Island, which is in the middle of the Danube. It's a long walk there, about a mile, but all along the river. Up the Margit híd and over to the island. At the end of the island and about 40 meters below the bridge there are folks sunbathing, including a few women who are topless. A small crowd of guys is on the bridge trying not to blatantly stare, but getting good looks in. Topless sunbathing is not uncommon in Hungary, but I guess that doesn't lessen the leering.

Before I head up the bridge, I stopped at a public water closet. The public toilets are staffed: there's a crummy little desk with a guy at it who takes your 60 ft in exchange for three squares of toilet paper. You use the stall, which is adequate, then leave. Toilet aunties, or nenes in Magyar. What a crummy job it must be. There's a lot of people who work crummy odd jobs here. The toilet attendants. The bell hop at the hotel (he's not in a uniform or anything — he could have been a guest). Ticket marshals at the subway. Most could be replaced by cheap automated systems, or lost altogether. Why not? I guess unemployment must be high or something. Dunno.

Margaret Island Anyway, back to Margaret Island. I wander about and take photos. The island is one big park, and lots of people (who look like locals) are there. Walking dogs, playing with kids, sunbathing, etc. (Everyone in the park itself had more modesty than those near the bridge.) I see several statues and such, but don't take pictures. They're meaningless to me, anyway. I'll keep my exposures for recognizable buildings etc.

At the end of the island is a Japanese Garden, which was the least serene garden I've seen. It was full of people and kids, going all about. I just breezed through and up off Margaret Island.

The plan now is to head to Keleti train station, for Eger tickets, by way of the Metro. The walk to the first station is longer than I thought — perhaps half a mile. I enter the Arpád híd M3 station and find a ticket machine. But, which side of the station do I want? I get in line at the info desk, but a different queue forms off to one side. I try at the newsstand (pushing my way in front of a latecomer who also tried the alternate queue strategy) but he didn't speak English. I finally find a little diagram showing the previous and upcoming stations and confirm I'm where I need to be. I validate my ticket, as the guide book warns, and wait. Two minutes later I'm on a creaky old subway car flying beneath Vací út. I get off at Deák Ferenc tér where the M3 and M2 and M1 converge.

The plan is to switch to the M2 and head to the train station. I need a new ticket, but the machine on the platform is out. So I go up to buy a ticket. A ticket checker asks for my ticket, and I say I'm off to buy one. On I go. At the top I find a machine, a newer one, and buy a one-way, one-line fare (120ft). On the platform there are validating machines, so I head back down to validate and ride. At the bottom of the first escalator the ticket police are checking again. I show my new ticket; "No, it needs to be validate. 1,500 forint fine." What?! I'm heading down to validate. No, validate at entrance. One-thousand, five-hundred forint fine, now. I know I'm going to be out 1500 ft. but I inquisitively protest. I lost the argument so I won't repeat it here. I'm just glad I had exact change for 1500 ft. Having paid (in cash, no receipt) I was back to validate, then back past without examination.

One key question I had in my protest was, can I just go up and validate now? The reply was half the lady's English vocabulary: no, 1,500 fine, pay now. And, the lack of forgiveness struck me, with a new theory on attitudes in Hungary. The whole point of the fine is not to ensure ticket sales. It's to bilk tourists and foreigners who happen to not know better out of ignorance, not malice. The locals all use fare passes, so only tourists care about inoperative ticket machines, unclear procedures, etc. If it's anything but trying to squeeze money from foreigners, then why not let someone correct their honest mistake?

So, I have a new theory on the prevailing attitude among Budapesters: they tend to place their self-interests before others' interests. The interests of fine collection for the city (and pocket change, perhaps) comes before nameless foreigners. On the streets, people tailgate, honk, and drive very aggressively. One's own need of transport can't possibly be less or even equally important to anothers', apparently. In the queue at the Metro station: the person knew she arrived after me, but her self-interest was more important than my interests. Of course, there's nothing wrong with pursuing self-interests. But what I find disappointing is that pursuit at the cost of others' happiness. Does honking at someone serve any constructive purpose? Would itemizing a restaurant bill to show that service is already included, negate the interests of the waiter? No — they generate only unhappiness.

So, in any event, I'm not enthralled by the hospitality of Budapest. The people of Hungary have had a long past of oppression, and pent up pursuit of self is to be expected. But it's too bad that it comes at the cost to visitors who likely had nothing to do with this oppression.

End of soapbox.

I arrive on the M2 at the Keleti station and find the ticket counters. There's a time schedule, of sorts, showing destinations and departure times, but no times for arrival along each route. Three trains appear to go to Eger, leaving here at 7am, 8am, and 11am. The two early ones take two hours and the 11am takes 3.5, if I recall correctly from the online schedule. I ask for more information at the counter but the lady doesn't understand more than a few words of English. A German next to me in line knows English, apparently, and rephrases my question ("is this a direct train, or do I have to switch trains") in German. That, the info lady understood, and the (translated) answer was direct. Too bad I don't speak German. I stare at the time schedule more and finally decide to bag Eger. I figure that I'll have only more trouble trying to negotiate the platform, and the Eger station, without knowing Hungarian. The times of the train are also poor — the fast trains are too early, and the train at the good time is too slow. So I'll spend the day visiting Parliament and St. Stephen's Basilica (again). I absorbed rays on the station entrance for 10 minutes then took the Metro back to the hotel. No run in with the ticket police this time.

It's too early for dinner so I play Gameboy and nap in my hotel unit. At 6:30 I head out to a restaurant the DK guidebook recommended. 10 minutes of walking and I'm there. Soup, entreé, and iced tea for $10. Not bad. I finally decide to test the bill theory — when will a waiter present the bill? After 10 minutes of waiting I began writing this entry. 8) Another 5 - 10 minutes and the waitress (owner, perhaps — she was the only waitstaff) asked if I was ready and I asked for the bill. Answer: they'll wait arbitrarily long, but give in when people arrive at the restaurant who'd like the table. Unfortunately, with having only a few waitstaff, one may not get many chances to ask for the bill early. I'm still learning.

A walk at dusk to the Charles Apartments, 45 minutes of 'net access, then finally back to the hotel. Some Gameboy, this entry, and now it's finally time for bed again. Tomorrow, less walking (I have a callus forming on my foot) and no Metro. Maybe I'll find the coin shops. WWW2003 registration opens at 2pm.


Western music is big in Hungary. I'm at La Biére Pub and Restaurant for lunch now, and "Heart of Gold" is playing in the background. At the Pall Mall (convenience store) I heard a local rendition of "Stand by Me." I wonder if this is how folks learn English. 8) If not Western music, though, what would be playing? I presumed something more European — or, more to the point, I didn't expect American tunes as often as I've heard them.

Cars in Budapest are almost invariable dirty. Many cars are not new, and only the new ones are shiny and waxed. All cars are small. They have short engine compartments, no trunk, and only 2 or 4 seats. The smallest ones make the Mini Cooper look like a minivan. Hand-in-hand with the small size, cars park anywhere and everywhere: sidewalks, medians, etc.

The weather today is overcast, compared to the clear skies of Saturday and Sunday.

I had a late start this morning — I looked at my watch at 8am, rolled over, checked it again, and it was 10:20. Well, so much for breakfast at the hotel. Not like I'll miss much. And, just as well I wasn't planning to go to Eger, either — I'd have missed the late train. I shower and such and hit the road at 11:30. Brief e-mail and I'm heading toward Pest by noon. The plan is an early lunch supplemented by a bottle of fruit punch from Pall Mall. I get a 1 forint coin in change. It's worth about 1/3 of a U.S. cent. I get the feeling they don't change hands often (most prices are rounded at 10HUF), and the coin shows it — it's shiny and crisp.

St. Gellert monument The day is overcast and cooler, but more humid, than the days before. I head down to the base of St. Gellért's monument and get the picture I missed before. Far fewer people are out today, probably because it's a work day for locals. I head across the Elizabeth bridge and in to town. My first goal: lunch. I find Vací utca and wander along. There's a sign for a Briére pub so I duck in. Good food. It's deep back and down from the street — the only front is a doorway. Some English and French folks are at one table, and they're later replaced by two French men.

After lunch I head out in search of the coin shop. I find it, but it's closed (contradicting the posted hours). *sigh* Oh, well. St. Stephen's Basilica is within sight so I head there.

The Basilica is being renovated, or reconstructed, or what have you, presently. It's an odd clash to see what looks like a centuries-old building being torn up and manipulated floor tile and doorway arch at a time. I pay 500 ft. to climb to the observation tower. It supposedly closes at 2:30 and it's 2:15 now. I head up the stairs (my aversion to elevators) and hope they don't lock me in! The first 40 or so stairs are up a spiral stairway. This leads to a modest sized chamber with a concrete floor, somewhere in the front, center of the church. On up the next 90-odd stairs along a spiral-esque climb. Finally at the top, I'm just above the interior dome roof of the assembly on the ground, but below the exterior dome roof. It's a pretty big gap — who knew they weren't one in the same? The exterior dome is wood (or has a wooden underframe).

Budapest panorama I pop out the final steps and find myself very near the top of the Basilica. There's a comfortably wide path all the way around, so I walk the circumference. It's a neat view. There's only one other person up here, and we comment on the interior and exterior dome, and it being wood. Sounded American. I head back inside, not wanting to be locked outside on the tower.

Back downstairs I pay another 200 ft. for entrance into the Basilica. A guy sitting next to the cashier opens the door to a little room off to one side. It houses gilded relics from the Basilica and from modern use. It also has the (porcelain reproduction of) the Holy Hungarian Royal Crown, the one with the bent cross on the top. I head out and into the church.

Only two, small groups in the church today. I wander about looking for the Holy Dexter but the signs lead to a work area. I retreat, but then follow a German tour group along the same path. Ah, go left — of course! The Holy Dexter room is modest in size with pews facing the right hand. For a 100 ft. coin I could turn on the lights inside but alas, I have no such coin (just now, I found I did have one - d'oh!). A few more pics, then off again.

I decide to look for a few more coin shops the guidebook mentions, and end up walking through the Jewish district. I must have just missed the places (the book gave neither names nor addresses) and give up. I can return to the other place on Tuesday if I really would like. I'd also forgotten my Bicentennial quarters which I'd planned to barter with or sell. I reoriented and vectored toward the Central Market Hall. It was just closing on Saturday, but today I should have two more hours yet before closing.

Central Market Hall The Central Market Hall was built around the turn of the 20th century, along with four other halls elsewhere in Budapest. There's (now) two floors of produce and shops, meat shops, and folk art bits. The produce is nearly all the same: strawberries (sort of grungy looking), peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, and other miscellaneous bits. Some things are imported (bananas). I pass on all of it. I stop at one place selling paprika and buy a 3-pack and some saffron for Dad. The meat counters sell red meats and other bits of the animal. I pass on salamis, too; I didn't foresee an opportunity to enjoy it, but perhaps it'd last for when such popped up. I may return and buy some yet. A few more arts and crafts and I'm done with souvenir shopping. And running low on Hungarian cash. I got 50,000 HUF at the airport and have paid cash for everything so far (I figured I'd have used a credit card for some things). I'll find a bank machine tomorrow and get another 30,000 ft. That should be enough for the rest of the trip and to have some souvenir bills.

I was at the hotel early (around 5) so headed over to the conference center to pick up WWW2003 materials. The bag's crummy and the free pen is generic (no WWW logo). $900 and this is what I get? Hmm...

Back finally to the hotel, nap, and dinner. I dine at Aranyhid, near the conference center. Slow service, but good food. Neither waitress spoke English, but pointing at menu items worked. I couldn't get small change for a tip, though, so left with having paid only the service fee. Another 100ft. would have been nice, but I couldn't make change. Oh, well. Back past the Charles for e-mail, then finally back to the hotel.

On the docket for tomorrow: Chain bridge, and reading technical papers in Gellérthegy. All the walking in the last few days has given me a callus on the ball of my right foot. So a day or sitting and reading (and the conference) is a welcome change. 8)


Time for lunch; I'm at Fatál. No, the locals didn't consult English before naming their establishment. I've been eating at restaurants listed in the guidebook more than I'd expected. Unlike Hong Kong, where you couldn't turn around without seeing a restaurant, here in Budapest, they're fewer and farther between. Even if the guidebook doesn't "recommend" a place it's nice to see a few words about a place before walking in.

This morning I'd just slipped in to breakfast before closing — 9:45. They had cream puffs today — tasty. I then headed right out to the conference center for e-mail and cash. There's a row of PCs along the windows on the second floor that are US-user friendly. I walk over to the shopping mall (Mom Park) and easily find an ATM. It's now time to begin my day's activities.

The portions here at Fatál are huge — bigger than I've had anywhere else in Budapest. I can't finish all the kebab I ordered! It's good, too. I particularly like the cold fruit soup. It has a cream base with fruit puree, has cherries, and is topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Very nice. Anyway, the waiter just took away my uneaten portion. The bill should arrive shortly.

There's no direct route from Mom Park to the chain bridge, so I walk in the right direction and follow my nose (and the map). I walk around just the outskirts of the wall around the Royal Palace. I have to hop off a ledge at the end of the path, and continue around. All through the trip I've noticed the rubber eyepiece on my camera is half-off. The technician didn't glue it back on properly after service. As I walk though the old library I notice the rubber piece is gone. Drat! No big loss — it'll function without the rubber — but it's nicer with it. I retrace my steps all the way to the ledge down which from I jumped. There it was, lying on the ground. All the sticky is gone now, of course, so I just put it in my bag. I have only 30 exposures left on my camera, and I'll make do easily until at home. But, at least I won't need to buy a new one.

Down more stairs and along a cobble stone path or two. It's odd how some roads are very busy, but it's not hard to find walking paths with no one else around. A strange dichotomy. Such a path I follow and arrive at the foot of the híd.

Chain bridge The chain bridge is interesting because it's the first permanent bridge across the Danube (in Budapest?). The chain is a series of very large links, much like a bike chain, that suspend the bridge. Just like a cable suspension bridge, but with links instead of cables. There's two lion statues at each end of the bridge. Their paws symbolically hold the towns of Buda and Pest as one, linked by the bridge. Cute. A few photos and I'm on my way.

Pedestrian/car interactions here are very European: each side is aggressive, and any concessions made will be ignored by those behind the lead car or group of pedestrians. The fascinating bit is that the result works without injuring anyone: cars and people interleave at intersections with neither breaking stride much. In some ways it's rather beautiful, although intimidating at first. It helps that the cars are so tiny.

The Pest end of the Chain Bridge is Roosevelt tér, and very near the Basilica and coin shop. I find 5 Nador i. and someone's there, but the iron gate is down. (Every door and window at ground level or near it has a usually elegant but very obviously stout iron gate to keep out unexpected guests.) There's an explanatory sign, but in Magyar. I look though the window; the shopkeeper shows no interest in letting me in. My enthusiasm over coins is waning, anyway (the shop appears to have really old coins, not shiny mint sets), so I head down the road.

Vací utca is a fun street to walk along; perhaps the highlight of my visit to Budapest. I see a sign for "Fatál" in an alley and recognize it from the guidebook. The prices seem reasonable so I duck in. It has an English pub-like atmosphere. I order the cold fruit soup (very tasty) and a meat kebab (also good). I reemerge at 2 and arrive at the Central Market. I wander just a bit and buy more gifts and a salami for me. I'm through. I'm now pretty much done with Budapest. I cross Szabadság híd and walk back to the hotel.

There's still a few hours 'til dinner so I gather my WWW papers and head to Gellérthegy to plan my next few days. About 45 minutes later I note the wind picks up. I look up and see a front moving in (though, not like in Edmonton). I go back to the Bara and continue to read, and nap there. Dinner at 7 at the Bara restaurant. Better than before, so that's good.

The last errand of the day is e-mail. I go to the Charles, because the conference center net access closed at 6pm. It's windy as I head in. Half an hour later, the streets are wet. Then, lightning in the distance. I leave at 9:15 in what turns out to be the thick of it. It's dropped 15°F and is pouring. The traffic is backed up and the streets are low rivers. I bravely walk into it armed only in my dockers, a T-shirt, and this notebook. As I cross the last road, it begins to hail (5mm - 7mm diameter). I dash inside — hail hurts! I'm drenched. And I've been out for only 80 meters. Two other Americans run into the Bara — hey, it's hailing! I ask for my room key (it's huge, and the guest book says, to leave it at the desk as you leave each time) and make my way to my quarters. I can hear the hail peppering the hallway skylights. In my room I peel off my wet clothes (ie, all of them) and change to my sleepwear (shorts). I turn out the lights and watch the rain and lightning outside for 15 minutes. It slowly dies down, but leaves its evident mark. The clerk at the Charles says they don't usually get the warm weather or the rain and storms like this. Heh, lucky me. 8)


Surreal. That's how I'd describe the scene this evening at Fat Mo's Speakeasy. A local band is playing cover tunes of the Eagles, Sheryl Crow, the Beatles, and others. The place is modeled after a speakeasy in 1927 U.S.A. It's very "cozy". The Americans at the table behind me down margaritas and dance to the band. At my table are Natasa Milic-Frayling from MSR Cambridge, Steve and Jenny Lawrence, and Ingemar Cox from University College, London. Aside from the occasional Magyar words spoken by the band between songs, you wouldn't know you're in Budapest. Two women in pink dresses with "Jaegermeister" printed on them walk by and ask if we'd like a drink. I think she actually asked something else, but the band's loud and I can't heard clearly. Surreal.

The conference has been good so far. Monika's talk went well, and I met and conversed with two nice students at their posters. I saw Alon, Oren, and Zack and caught up with them. I should send Alon a shirt for two-year-old Karina. Two talks are delivered by pre-recorded video — seems MSR Beijing is absent on account of SARS. I meet up with other Googlers and Steve proposes dinner this evening. A long evening, but now back at the hotel. And I didn't even need the umbrella I bought earlier today. 8)

For tomorrow: more conference, and the conference banquet.

Corin Anderson |
Last modified May 26th, 2003