Travel

24 Hours in Budapest

July 15, 2016

My 24 hours in Budapest started off looking like they would be a disaster, and or just never happen. I was flying in from Istanbul, Jasmine and I got up early to take a taxi to the airport. My boarding pass didn’t have my gate number on it, and so I looked at the screens to try and figure out where I was supposed to be. I didn’t see my departure time on the board and I looked around and didn’t see the check in counter for Pegasus Airlines anywhere. A feeling of dread slowly filled me and I took my boarding pass out of my bag. I looked at the departure airport and realized I was definitely not at the right airport. Commence: freakout mode.

Luckily, Jasmine was there to calm me down and think up solutions. We double checked that I was at the wrong airport: yup; saw if Pegasus airlines had an office at this airport: nope; tried to get on any flight headed to Budapest or directly to Krakow: too expensive. We headed downstairs to where the call center was. After a series of annoying interactions with the airport staff, some really friendly men who worked for a trip planning agency let us use their office phone, failed attempts to call the other airport, the non-existence of a number (or maybe even an office) for WizzAir (another airline with direct flights to Budapest), and more numbing panic, I marched myself back upstairs and bought the direct flight to Budapest through Turkish Airline. There was a cheaper one that would give me a long layover in Serbia, but….no thanks. I’m still cringing about the extra simoleans I had to spend, but in retrospect, I was really lucky that there was even a flight in just a few hours and that is wasn’t in the thousands.

After getting through security and grabbing a bite to eat and meeting a Nigerian lady (SO MANY Black people in Istanbul’s airport….where were they all in the city?!), I almost missed my flight! It turned out I was sitting BEFORE the gate and the gate was actually around the corner. If it was not for Jasmine seeing me and saying “oh you’re still here,” I would not have asked the people around me if they were all heading to Budapest: they weren’t. I grabbed my things and took my behind around the corner where they were boarding the final group of people.

1:00pm – I land at the Budapest Airport

My Pegasus airline flight was supposed to land at 11:15am, and despite my early morning set back, I was ready to hit the ground running. But first…passport control.
I used to bathroom as soon as we landed and so I somehow ended up being the last one in line. I was watched as other passports where quickly looked over and stamped. When it was my turn, the guy took more time than necessary to look over my passport. He brought out a magnifying glass and checked every section. He then flipped through every page and asked to see a second form of ID. I told him my driver’s license was back in Paris and asked what was wrong with my passport. He responded that it as just a routine ID verification. So you just routinely picked the only Black girl in this line? Because he definitely did not do that with anyone else. My French visa has my picture on it and I told him as much but he continued to berate me with questions about why I was here, who I was staying with and where, the length of my stay and where and I was going to next and why and how. He even asked why I had visa for France. I felt very annoyed because I know everyone else spent less than one minute at the window. He eventually stamped my passport and let me through. I can only imagine what would have happened if it wasn’t an American passport.

2pm – Trying to figure out the transportation system

Every time I tried to buy a ticket, the kiosk would ask me for my barcode. One guy I had met in line when we were boarding the plane gave me one of his tickets for the first leg – we were headed in a similar direction. He was in town for the Womack musical concert (link), one of biggest International music festivals in the world.
At the stop between the bus and the metro (Kispest) I was able to find an information booth and just buy a 24 hour pass from them. Some random guy who worked there started asking me about my hair and even asked if I wash it….do you wash yours? Idiot.

3pm – Sitting at Starbucks collecting myself

With some Wi-Fi, I was able to tell Jasmine, my Airbnb host and others that I had safely arrived. After some coffee, a cookie and breathing, I was ready to hit the town.

4 – 6pm – Budapest Sightseeing Bus tour

Hop-on-hop off did a really great job with this tour. It was my very first city guided tour. They had loads of information and history with some music. The staff was really nice and helpful. This was my first time doing a bus about tour and I didn’t take advantage of the hope on – hop off aspect of it since I was on a time restraint. No matter how much time you have (unless it’s less than an hour), I would definitely recommend it. Most of the tour buses left from the same area, so you had your pick. This company though took Euros and had Wi-Fi on board. There were also Free Walking Tours, which was my original plan, but I arrived too late for that.

6:05pm – Met up with Zsuzsanna

Hands down, the best Airbnb hostess I’ve had. Check out her page here for the next time you go to Budapest.

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6:30pm – Dinner with Zsuzsanna and her friends

Well, I ate. They drank. We are at Suelto Cafe & Grill. The place was very hipster-chic and they served delicious Hungarian food and local wines. I had a duck dish that had a chili pepper next to it in the menu too, but wasn’t spicy in any way, shape or form. It was still quite delicious though. I tried a dish that roughly translates to “Bird’s Milk,” for dessert. That was pretty good too, but a bit too creamy to eat on your own. It reminded me of eggnog and I’m not a fan of eggnog. Besides the great food, I had an amazing conversation with Zsuzsanna and her friends. We talked about Shell in Nigeria, the immigration crisis, American and Hungarian politics, language learning, love languages, and much more.

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8:30pm (I think….) – Left for Zsuzsanna’s house.

The two of us talked more and exchanged musical preferences and stories about our siblings. We had deep conversations about how people are raised, navigating ethics and reading people and living a fulfilling life.

11:00pm – Planned for the next day

11:30pm – Shower and sleep

5:30am – Woke up. Got dressed and pack.

Zsuzsanna woke up to make me breakfast and walk me to the bus stop. She’s honestly too sweet.

6:30am – Headed to Castle Hill

7:30 to – Explored Castle Hill

There’s two parts to Budapest: Buda and Pest. They didn’t become one city until 1878. Buda is the more hilly part on the West side of the Danube River. At the top of Buda’s main hill is a castle and other interesting sites and that area is known as Castle Hill.
I took a bus to the top of the hill and was half just walking around on my own, and half using a self-guided tour site known as Big Boy Travel. Being that I was there early in the morning meant that I beat the hordes of tourists, but it also meant that there was still lots of misty morning fog.

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There is a beautiful church on Castle Hill known as Mathias Church. I took pictures of it for a while and then decided I wanted to go in. By that time some Asian tourists had shown up and I saw them buying tickets, but I didn’t really care. There was a guy at the door who told me I had to buy a ticket, but I told him I wanted to pray. Since the airplane debacle, I’ve been on an even tighter budget so I wasn’t about to pay to go inside a church. Also I wasn’t about to PAY to go inside a CHURCH. I honestly think it’s a really ridiculous concept. Scared spaces should be just that. Of course there should be rules and regulations about entering. Ask for donations. Sell souvenirs in the church gift shop. Whatever it takes. But DO NOT make people pay to enter. That is just ridiculous. A church should first and foremost be a House of God, not some zoo with an entry fee. Besides, I went to Catholic school for 8 years, I think my parents have more than paid for my right to enter any church I darn well please. Ok, down from my soap box.

He let me in since I said I wanted to pray. I knelt and said my prayers, after all I had a lot to be thankful for. The church was so breathtaking, I couldn’t help but snap some pictures. As I was taking my last one, the guy who let me in came around the corner and said “Please don’t use your camera.” (I guess that’s reserved for those who pay…fair enough). I say oh, ok and tell him I’m leaving anyway. I genuflect and cross myself on my way out, just so he knows for sure that I really did pray and wasn’t just lying to him to get in. I walked out, feeling really hot with embarrassment. Does he think I lied to him? I really did pray!! I didn’t know why I felt so guilty. Then I realized that I was worried about the opinions he would form. Next time a black lady comes by with a camera and says she just wants to pray, will he let her in? I know it would be unfair of him, but that’s what happens in a society where people make assumptions about whole groups of people based on one person’s actions.
I tried not to let it get to me and spent the rest of my time trying to see as much of Castle Hill, as I could. But it’s huge and with the fog, I didn’t have the great view I was hoping for anyways.

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10:15 to 10:45 – St. Stephen’s Basicalla

This church on the Pest side was so amazingly beautiful. It’s probably the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. But it also made me wonder what would have happened if we spent the money helping the poor instead. There was just so much riches and splendor within the church walls, can you really concentrate on God while you pray or are you too busy looking at the pretty pictures. I feel like if I attended a mass here, I would be so distracted – there seems to never be a shortage of things to see.
There was no entry fee for this church, but places to “pay” throughout. It asked for 1euro at the entrance, calling it a donation. There was a guy standing there, and you could have probably walked past him, but it would have been awkward to do so without paying. Inside, there were prayer candles with a suggested donation amount…again, that’s pretty typical. I’ve seen that in churches everywhere. What WAS strange, was the sign next to them saying “video surveillance” as if they would know if you lit a candle without paying!! The h*ll? Then behind the candle space were statues of some saints you could pray to as well and yet again…you guessed it, a video surveyed donation box. I’m hoping that maybe the video thing is to make sure you don’t steal the donation money, but it really does seem like it’s to make sure you pay. Who knows.

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11:00am – Brunch from Crespre

I really just grabbed it and left, but the people there were really nice and the shop had a nice atmosphere. It was suggested to me as THE place to Hungarian breakfast.

11:13am – On the metro

I was in such a hurry by this time that I didn’t realize there was another black person on the metro with me. When I finally saw him, he smiled and saw me struggling with my suitcase. He offered to help and I just had to say yes – it was so heavy. As he helped me find my bus (so nice!), we had a hurried chat. He’s lived in Budapest the past 15 years (what?), he’s Nigerian – Igbo to be exact and he owns an African restaurant here (WHAT?!). He told me that there were lots of other Black people here, mostly Nigerians (why am I not surprised) I guess I must not have seen them. I saw a total of FIVE Black people – yes I was counting.

11:50 – The bus is underway

Ok, so it was really more like 23 hours , but 24 in Budapest sounds better in a header.
When it was my turn to get on the bus, the bus driver didn’t have my name. My ticket was clearly real and he took down my ticket number and let me on. I took Luxexpress and it’s an amazing coach bus! Megabus and GreyHound ain’t got nothing on Luxexpress. Your bag gets an identification sticker. You get free head phones and a water bottle when you walk in. Unlimited hot drinks – self service. You can purchase pillows and blankets from bus staff. Seatbelts. Personal in bus entertainment. Curtains for the window. It feels like you are on an airplane instead of a bus. It’s quite amazing.

And the best part, I had a beautiful view of the Hungarian, Slovakian and Polish country side as the bus made its way from Budapest to Krakow.

 

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Have you been to Budapest? What were the awesome things I missed by only being there for 24 hours? I know I definitely want to go back and check out the baths! And visit Zsuzsanna of course! New friends are the best part of traveling! So get out there and start traveling!

 

Yours,

Omolayo Nkem

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