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Monday, July 2, 2012

Buda and Pest


You make the most of it. You are not where you expected to be, the visa requirements for Romania are much huger than you have time for. 60 euro to apply, there are hostels right here in Budapest that would cost about the same for 6 nights plus you don’t have the invitation letter. Romania was a dream and it stays like that. So you become practical, you wake up from the dream and exchange some money, you walk into a bar and have some beer. Then you go to the cyber and begin looking for a place to sleep. At the same time you talk to all the Hungarian you know, maybe he has a house you can sleep in, maybe some advice. The thing you don’t do is panic. It can be worse, it can always be worse. I can’t imagine how right now but it can be.

We finally ended up staying at a place called 11th hour hostel. A name for people just like us. I was knackered, travelling for almost 30 hours and not reaching your destination, in fact being told that you can’t ever get there is one of the most exhausting things in the world, but I showered and went downstairs, there seemed to be a miniparty going on and I just looked around and immediately made some friends. The hostels in Budapest are amazing. The culture of the place, the laidback-we-are-all-friends culture has an effect on the people staying there. Everyone has time for everyone and invites you for a seat and asks how you came to be there. Maybe it’s just a traveller’s culture but the people at the hostel were also some of the most friendly I had met. The hostel provided a bottle of vodka for its guests to begin the famous Hungarian pub crawl nights. I sat down amid 5 British girls (6 days in Hungary taught me that it’s a favoured destination of the UK met more English people than Hungarians.) maybe because of living in Norway my mind is now attuned to seeking out English, trying to find out what group of people isn’t Norwegian and won’t cut me out with a smattering of the local language, it’s different here than in Kenya. In Kenya everyone has heard their friends speak English, school requirements make it compulsory and we are all anglophilic in Kenya having forgotten the sins of colonialism we embraced so much English culture that tea at   4 pm seems the most Kenyan thing to do, we spice it with milk of course but it’s an inherited habit. So it’s easier for Kenyans to tone down the Swahili when in the presence of one who can’t understand I can see Norwegians try sometimes but it doesn’t come as easy to express themselves in English to one another, they can to people who can’t speak Norwegian but among each other they revert to the default setting immediately. So my inner ear pricks at English and I could at this point identify the English accent from a mile away.


We played games with some Dutch guys and Swedish girls and then began the pub crawl. Walking from destination to destination, stopping long enough for a beer and a piss before we walked on to the next one. Ending up at this club that really doesn’t close. Upstairs was an open air flat roof and when you went up the sun had risen and it was daylight but downstairs it was still night. The dj was riling people up singing along to the songs like we were at concert and the crowd loved it answering back and buying drinks way past Norwegian closing time. I found myself trying to find my way back to the hostel walking around Budapest asking for directions at what felt like 10 in the morning, I hate being geographically disabled sometimes, never finding my way to places as if my mind doesn’t hold a map of any sort. There is no internal GPS with me and the thing I can assure people of is that I get lost, I will, I have and I will again. Finally I slept, the sleep of the dead.

The thing about Budapest as we were told is that every night is a Saturday night, “the city is very rock and roll, like berlin in the 90s, foreigners are always trying to settle here” a local guide told us. It was true one night this American guy, old, in his 50s couldn’t get enough of telling us how much he loved this place. The women=beautiful, the culture=friendly, the attitude=permissive, myself=buying land here as soon as I can.

And I could see why. I think Eastern Europe is the best, I love it, I am so enamoured by it. Was talking to this other American and he loved Western Europe, he liked the sense of order and accomplishment. And I think for most people the part of Europe they like the most is the part that reminds them of home. I like the noise and chaos of the eastern part, life almost fraying apart because we have a government we don’t trust and so we have to depend on society a little more for our needs. The warmth, friendliness and hospitality reminded me of Kenya, so did the uncross able roads, the dilapidated buildings falling apart one stone at a time and the walls looking like someone had forgotten to clean up after a fire.

On one of the walking tours(the walking tours are a great, great invention- a group of independent tour guides got together and every day they walk people around their city telling them about various places and the history associated with them, the tours are in essence free but even scrooge would scrounge up a tip at the end.) the guide points to a luxury hotel and said, “that used to be a prison but things change after communism.” It’s weird when you think about it. That little metaphor could tie up all the difference between attitudes and ways of life in communism and capitalism. When before people were physically imprisoned and had their rights taken away by things that were huge and much more than just a symbol, an actual place, actual handcuffs, actual censorship, now we are imprisoned by other things. By the seduction of luxury. The promise of material gain. Fear of the place we don’t want to go has been replaced by a lust for the place we do and these  do the same things in essence, they are both tools that could be used by a corrupt power to completely subjugate a people, maybe I had had too much beer when I made this connection though.

I had no feel of Hungary though, nothing of the Hungarian people, I met some but I met more brits, I met more people on holiday, more tourists than I did citizens. Even the people living there that I met were not Hungarian and it felt ghost like. Passing through a place without it leaving a mark on you feels more like a spirit than passing through it without you leaving a mark on you. It’s the great conundrum of staying in all these cheap hostels. You get to meet great people, one Norwegian guy had been travelling around Europe alone for 5 months. Wandering from country to country on an interail ticket. Weird thing is that was not that uncommon. Many more people just get their backpacks, track their itinerary and go. It’s one of the best places to travel in, a few kilometres that way and you have a new language and a completely different culture. The people look different and sound different. They are Nordic, Slavic, Germanic and a whole slew of other terms I couldn’t get my fingers on. They are warm and cold and friendly and distant and all it takes is a few kilometres. The borderless existence makes life much easier. You don’t ask yourself about much more than train times between. For example we were going to Romania to visit my housemate’s friend and when he heard that we couldn’t make it he got on a bus and came to see us, simple.

He came along with a friend of his, a Romanian girl who had the most affecting beauty I have ever been in the presence of. I’ve been around beautiful girls before but this time it was like an overwhelming presence. A ticker tape just kept running in my mind, she’s so beautiful over and over again. And I finally understood how guys get tongue tied. Nothing else seemed to matter except her and a small part of her to be honest because she was a lot of other things, she was funny and spontaneous enough to get on a train for 7 hours on a whim, she owned her own wine shop at 20 no less, she was ambitious and genuinely fun to be around but for the first five minutes a fog descended over my sense to comprehend anything else. and like some tennis beginner playing Federer at his height the stakes in my mind began lowering, if only I can make one point, return one serve I will be happy. Scoring is meant for better men than me people who have studied this game and put in more hours of practice, world professionals, the bests in the world. And when she left and I studied what effect she had on me I wanted to ask her if it was the same on other people. If it was how could that feel? Being that universally beautiful, having everything else subordinate to that aspect of your life, she obviously hadn’t let it determine her character and path since she seemed sufficiently ambitious beyond that but once in a while it must be a hindrance to be seen as your beauty first. Or to be seen as only your beauty as no doubt happens. The whole world has pains  and though it’s a silly habit to get into sympathy for the beautiful because of their beauty once in a while it’s a good thing to consider that side of things. The side that means all your other hard work is shielded from all but the most inquisitive and persistent of eyes, I guess am saying, oh I wish I  had gone to Romania, damn!