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A Little bit of Buda in my Soul, A Little bit of Pest in my Heart: Or what not to sing when you’re in Budapest. Part 2.
By Nicole R. Hermatz

All right, Loyal Readers, when I left off last month I was experiencing what one might call Heaven on Earth. Lee my gentle Thai Masseuse turned my proposal of marriage down. She said she and I would never be happy as we both wanted different things in life. Lee was very wise for a masseuse. So, we went our separate ways, as did my ambiguously gay Canadian friends, Pete and Trevor, and I.

There is one thing I’ve noticed about Budapest that I’ve been dying to get off my chest since I got here. There are more fast food restaurants here than anywhere else in the world. Probably more than half the world combined. I’m sure of it. And I don’t just mean McDonalds. They have Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendys and even (gasp) Kentucky Fried Chicken. Don’t you think that’s weird? The only good thing about these places is that you can purchase humungous sized coca-colas with, of all things, ice. Such a freakin’ luxury in a world that doesn’t believe in ice. I confess I did go to McDonalds one day, but only for research purposes, I swear. I was told that Budapest is the last remaining city to deep-fry their apple and cheery pies. I had to see this for myself. I can now tell you, dear readers, that the rumor is true: They’re deep-fried and they’re magnificent! Jealous now?

Ok, on to more pressing matters. On the whole, Budapest is an interesting city. I spent the day wandering through several museums, most notably, the National History Museum and the Jewish Museum, which has a Holocaust exhibit. I’m a morbid person by nature as you can attest to in my earlier column about discovering the horrors of Auschwitz, so I have to admit that the Jewish Museum blew me away. There were so many pictures of people suffering. It was almost too much to bear. The only disappointment was the hordes of people who made it impossible to wander in solitude. Oh well, that’s the tourist season for you. So, I skipped out and headed to the National History Museum only to find half of it closed for renovation and the other half filled with dusty pictures of people I’ve never heard of. It didn’t help that the captions were written in German and Hungarian. Sigh…I did find a temporary exhibit of famous National Geographic photographs taken during the wars in Africa. My morbid curiosity won out and I passed a lovely two hours staring at kids with machine guns and families dying to protect their homes. Fun, right?

Nightlife. I’m sure you’re wondering what I did for nighttime fun while traveling solo. Well, I can honestly tell you, not much. Since I didn’t get to stay in a youth hostel I didn’t meet too many young people to hang out with. I went to several bars on my own and drank several beers till I could sort of make my way home but, all in all, I spent the evenings alone in my room writing postcards or in my journal. I did go out one night and see a Folk dancing show. I got all dressed up for it and made my way to the theatre hoping to be seated next to someone interesting, but sadly, everyone around me spoke only German. The Folk dancing show was beautiful though and I took a ton of pictures. Does that count as nightlife?

I mentioned last month that I went cave spelunking. I bet you’re all dying to know what that was all about, right? Well, it’s supposed to be this cool thing where get dressed up in waterproof gear and a helmet with a headlight (think mining hats) and you troll around in a cave with a rope attached to you so you don’t fall into a pit leading to the center of the earth. That’s what the guidebook said and that’s what I was expecting. I even called ahead and made my reservation.

When I got to the cave, which by the way was not an easy thing, considering I had to take three subway trains, two buses and walk a mile (uphill), just to get there. So, you can imagine my eternal disappointment when I discovered that they were not doing spelunking tours that day. Wha?? Chalk it up to miscommunication, I guess. I wasn’t the only confused and weary traveler to have made this mistake cause there were about 6 Canadians standing around looking as upset as I was. After arguing with the lady (in several languages I might add) at the information booth, we found out that a walking tour of the cave was starting in a few minutes. So, off we went and joined up with, I’m not kidding, about 50 school children and their one harried teacher. The tour guide decided to do a bilingual tour, where he spoke for about 20 minutes in Hungarian and maybe 4 minutes in English. I couldn’t help feeling gypped.

I guess I could say that my adventure ended there but it didn’t. It wasn’t until I had walked the mile, taken the two buses and three subway trains back to my apt. when I noticed something missing from my person. My camera. My faithful, expensive camera filled with pictures of Budapest. The only thing I can feasibly say is I freaked! I rode the three subway trains and two buses back to the dirt rode where I ran the mile and frantically searched for it. I knew just where I left it. Yes, dear readers, I left my camera sitting on the edge of a well while I filled up my water bottle. I don’t know what possessed me not to put the camera back in my bag after taking a picture. I will never know what became of my camera, whether it is at the bottom of the well or in some lucky school child’s hand, and all I can say it that I cried. I cried in utter frustration at my own stupidity and rotten luck. I was leaving Budapest in the morning and now all my pictures were gone and my camera as well.

Again, I could say that the story ends here but thankfully it didn’t. Because as I was walking back to my apt. I turned the wrong way and got lost. At first I didn’t realize but then out of nowhere I saw the international sign of commercialism, a Kodak symbol. With all the dignity I could muster I went in and bought the cheapest camera they had (which was still expensive) and walked out of there with a smile and a lighter heart. I immediately went back to as many places in Budapest I had been to in the last few days and in the waning sunlight and gathering dusk I snapped two roles of film. They are the most beautiful pictures I have. I am suddenly grateful for the westernization of Eastern Europe and the fact that camera stores are open late.

The next morning I was saddened by my departure. I was off to Siofok, Hungary, a resort town on the banks of Lake Balaton, the largest Lake in all of Europe. I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. Lessons were learned here in Budapest and one was not to judge a place on initial appearances. I will never forget this city. Budapest will always remain fondly in my heart, even if only for those delicious McDonald’s deep fried Apple Pies.


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