Award ceremony for my trip

Just for fun. Please don’t hurt me.

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Bests/favorites/whatever

Alcohol – Bozzante (house-made) from Zeller Bistro, Budapest, Hungary
Bread – Cozonac in Timișoara, Romania
Castle – Peleș Castle, Sinaia, Romania
Donut – from the popular Stara Paczkarnia, Wroclaw, Poland
Exhibit – European Art Gallery at MNaR, Bucharest, Romania
Friendliest local strangers – Romania
Group convo with locals – Belgrade, Serbia
Heartfelt goodbye – Győr, Hungary
Ice cream – personal recommendation in Győr, Hungary
Just curious how long it takes everyone to rush home for the Easter feast after the penultimate Easter church service – INVITED!!! in Cluj, Romania
‘Kidnap’ experience – family car trip in Racoș, Romania
Laughing with a stranger after exchanging a single look – Sibiu, Romania
Music performance – Thalia Hall, Sibiu, Romania
Nature – Romania
Overview of a city – Mount Tampa, Brașov, Romania
Peer pressure – partying in Krakow, Poland
Quote – “young and stupid,” in transit to Wroclaw, Poland
Restaurant – the Artist, Bucharest, Romania
Soup – Jókai bableves at Paprika Vendéglő, Budapest, Hungary
Train comfort – Poland
Unexpected conversation – “hello” near the end of a long train ride, Budapest, Hungary
View from bus/train – across Slovakia
Where on earth am I? – waking up in Kecskemét, Hungary
XD – being lost 10 seconds after saying I know the way in Budapest, Hungary
Yummy confectionary – anything from German brand Haribo, Hungary
Zipline / obstacle course – Parc Aventura, Brasov, Romania

Unfortunates

Creepy “Egyptian eye” windows – German buildings in Sibiu, Romania
Deliberate trolls on social apps – Romania
Destroyed – Badminton klub Beograd, Serbia
Homeless people
– Budapest, Hungary
How did this happen? – struck on the head by a descending barrier gate, Sibiu, Romania
Ice-cold shower – Brasov, Romania
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the ride from Pécs to Budapest that three sources state is a bus and three sources state is a train. Where the hell do I find it? (Hint: follow the “train replacement bus” signs within the platform area.)
Is there more to it than trying to make people feel depressed? – Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Poland
Most beggars
  – Belgrade, Serbia
Rudest customer service – pizza place in Belgrade, Serbia
Street racism – feinted for laughs in Pécs, Hungary
Too strong – homemade Rakija, Belgrade, Serbia
Tours in English  – Romania
Train tickets give zero info about trains? – Hungary

Unhealthiest cuisine – Belgrade, Serbia
Worst accommodation – hotel in Győr, Hungary
Worst upper-tier restaurant – Belgrade, Serbia

Personal highlights of Budapest

Probably not what you were expecting.

Although I inevitably enjoyed my time in Budapest, I didn’t really ‘like’ the city that much. I’ll admit, I was intimidated by how industrious the whole place was. Regardless, here are some things I liked, didn’t like, and the things in between.

Top three things

1. Dining at Zeller Bistro

Possibly the most recommended restaurant by locals, it’s fine dining at a very affordable price. Their welcome drink is a house-made elderflower sparkling wine called Bozzante. It is absolutely amazing; I’ve never felt that about any alcoholic drink before, and this drink alone is one of the highlights of my whole trip. (I bought two bottles to take home.)

Aside from that marvel, their food is delicious and service is also excellent. Although reservations are required, the restaurant is far from full at the opening hour (lunchtime) and the staff are friendly and attentive. They’re sensitive to the fact that some people may want a more personal interaction with the staff, and they’re quite happy to answer questions that no fine diner should have to ask.

To add to the list of ridiculous things you’ll read on this blog, I realized that:

Going to a restaurant isn’t always just about eating; it’s also a human experience.

2. Gellért Hill / Citadel / Liberty Statue

Watching the Chain Bridge from sunset to late was underwhelming for me. Looking out from Gellért Hill over the city was much more significant. That’s how I felt, anyway.

3. Walking around

At the start of my trip I vowed to reevaluate all my hobbies. It took me all this time to realize how much I enjoy walking alone. Mentally, my time is spent: navigating; looking at the surroundings as if I just woke up from a long coma; trying to figure out why something is the way that it is; daydreaming; and involuntarily recalling cheerful memories from throughout my trip.

I’m not an architecture enthusiast, but I enjoyed the streets of Budapest a lot. The buildings looked good somehow without necessarily… looking good.

Honorable mentions

Milka shake (with Milka chocolate instead of Oreos) at McDonalds. This is amazing, but for some reason there’s no McDonalds at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD)… o(TヘTo)

EPIC Burger (Dohány u. 12). Their Oreo shake is the best I’ve had in its category (including the Milka shake above). Their sweet potato fries are also great. Burgers are good. Exceptional customer service for a ‘mere’ burger place, almost good enough for me to go back just for that. (But of course it was the Oreo shake.) They really pay attention to the small details that no one else does.

Free Budapest Walking Tour. Three other cities and a Budapest city tour later, I finally started to understand why Hungarians have such an attitude that’s evident enough to be detected in their everyday mannerisms. Or in terms of something more normal, as with any great walking tour, they’ll leave you with at least one fact you’ll never forget.

Mentions

Danube river, Chain Bridge, and other bridges.  Generally great views, but I’m sure that the best places to chill by the Danube are not in Budapest.

Cafe Vian. Both restaurants are pretty good.

Szimpla Kert. OK, it is pretty unique.

WestEnd City Center. One of the larger shopping malls. The layout of the mall is more practical than those I saw in Wroclaw and Bucharest, but somehow the selection of stores was too normal (lacking in extravagance or tourist appeal) for me.

“Other” mentions

Jewish District Walk (Free tour, run by same company as above). I found it boring. The content and route really threw me off. Other people seemed satisfied, although maybe that’s because we ended at Szimpla Kert, the celebrated ruin pub.

Rudas Bath. I get the impression from online sources that Rudas Bath is probably the second least touristy thermal bath in Budapest. [Veli Bej is the least touristy one with the genuine naked men experience (optional frontal loincloth, rear coverage is possible if you’re desperate, and trunks are allowed if you don’t mind looking out of place).] It’s meant to have six thermal baths and a swimming pool, but I only found one large thermal bath and four smaller thermals. I’m not sure if the swimming pool was closed or where it was hiding, because no one else seemed to find it either. Not that I would have swum anyway wearing glasses, which thankfully didn’t get fogged up except in the steam room. While I’ve never been in anything like this thermal spa before, my reaction after spending 10 seconds in the large bath was “What was I expecting? This is literally all it is, a big spa like in the picture. I’m bored already.” I like watching and listening to water, but not really being in it. Things only got more interesting as I subjected myself to various degrees of torture between the cold spa (28°C?!), saunas, and steam room. Maybe that’s the whole point? I don’t know. Ever been curious about how it feels to be roasted alive? Try the 60-70°C sauna.

Other

Photos. It’s difficult enough to take good photos in Budapest (you’ll find out), but to make matters worse everyone has a way more expensive camera than you, every tenth guy looks like a professional photographer whose only purpose is to take pictures, and when you finally find a perfect frame there’s guaranteed to be one or more tripod campers in your way; if there aren’t any, then trust me one will appear and set up right in front of you. You might as well set out to take pictures of tripods and photographers… and make an exhibition out of that…

Photos. Have you seen those photos? They look amazing, and then you go see the real thing and it looks dull in comparison. Chain Bridge. Hungarian Parliament. New York Cafe. These photos don’t capture reality, and they’re probably heavily edited too.

Photos. The general standard of Budapest postcards are pretty good compared to postcards from the other cities I went to. The main drawback? The photos (if one can even call them that) are definitely not real, but that’s the reason why they look good…

Locals. The people of Budapest are even less friendly than Hungarians in general. I admit they’re generally civil, but ‘thanks’ seems to be absent from everyday vocab and I was surprised to hear “leave us 5 stars or nothing” in speech. I figured that nine full days in Budapest would be more than enough to meet up one-on-one with locals. Not so; only travelers, expats, and newer residents were willing.

Budapest snobs. Despite my limited tools, I think I did figure out what makes a Budapest snob. It doesn’t have much to do with what attracts tourists. Rather, it’s in the normal hustle and bustle. Busy by day and active at night. The freedom to be selfish while having a healthy social life. Favorite places to eat or get away. Options for whatever you’re into.

It’s about niche.

Restoration work. It’s mind-blowing how much restoration work goes on in Budapest. It feels like an unstoppable feedback loop of tourists, reputation, investors, and restoration.

I’m scared

I’m scared.

This could be my third day in Budapest spent hiding in my room.

I’m tired of people. I don’t want to meet anyone new. I’m tired of going out and seeing things. I was ready to go home a month ago.

It’s like when I first landed in Bucharest again. Have I learned nothing since then?

No, this is different. I’m socially exhausted and tired of analysis and I can feel this two-month Fe grip soon to crash.

And I’m afraid for different reasons. I’m scared that I won’t like Budapest when everyone seems to love it. I’m scared that I’ll like it. I’m scared that I won’t have enough time to decide how I feel. I’m wary of making new friends while I’m all too aware of the oncoming crash. Will any of my new friends from this trip stand the test of time and distance?

To get food

Outside is not so bad. What did I feel so overwhelmed by that I had to hide?

It must be that I have really high activation energy thresholds lately. There must be a way around it… I can lower them by manipulating my mood.

Budapest is my oyster

I’ve spent almost two weeks in other parts of Hungary, and Krakow was part of my training too. Why should I feel unprepared?

It’s a matter of confidence. I own this place. I’m not visiting Budapest so much as Budapest is having the privilege of hosting me. Focus less on what Budapest has to offer and more on how it can serve my needs.

Soup

My friend has ‘reminded’ me to get Jókai bean soup from Paprika Vendéglő in Budapest five times over the last month. Okay okay. This time I’ll order the right soup. How good can it possibly be though? Soup is just an appetizer to warm your stomach.

I was shocked from the first mouthful. Soup isn’t meant to be this good. It really made me reflect on my life views.

Try Jókai bean soup at Paprika Vendéglő. Their Gulyás is also better/different to other places. I do not recommend any of their other dishes—just too salty.

A walking tour to ease the discomfort of not knowing anything

Look at these humans doing their normal human things. I can barely stand it. It seems difficult for me to mimic their behaviors.

A public meetup

My gosh, people are so easy to talk to. And so adorable. Humans can be really surprising sometimes; I didn’t expect this at all. How can such simple and relaxed conversations be so fun? Freaking Fe… whatever, just let it flow.

Realizing the fatal flaw

I know why I’ve felt overwhelmed about Budapest. There’s too much hype and expectation surrounding the place. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to understand something that is not actually supported by facts.

Travel is a subjective experience. There doesn’t have to be a logic behind whether we enjoy something or not. Trying to analyze Budapest as a whole is the wrong approach. I should be feeling my way around information, the buildings, and the city as a whole. This would make things less overwhelming and less stressful. It requires a certain kind of bravery for me to use a skill I don’t often rely on: introverted intuition. But it works even if I don’t understand it. Throughout this trip I’ve stumbled upon as many good things unintentionally than through planning.

How do I know my intuition is correct when it doesn’t leave a trail of logic? Four terrible pizzas in a row doesn’t mean all pizza is like that in this part of Europe. How can I possibly form a ‘fair’ impression of Budapest in just a week?

That’s the problem: objectivity.

A fair impression. It’s pointless—what do I need to justify and for whos benefit? Trying to reserve judgment in this context is exhausting. I like embracing my inner child, so why I do I try so hard to resist forming uneducated opinions? It’s a necessity sometimes, and most people seem to enjoy it. I’m taking everything too seriously, like usual. Why must I form a coherent opinion? Why can’t I just enjoy and think nothing? (I’m often surprised how many people my age can have so many opinions on everything. It makes me wonder how they can know so much more than me. It’s impressive, even if it’s an illusion.)

I want to be silly. I want to have the comfort of doing that. Doing.

I’m almost sure now that forcing myself to try and be impartial is one of the main reasons I’ve maintained such a long Fe phase. Trying to make sense of all these unfamiliar things using logic is draining. That and probably all the writing I’m doing. I long to be home, to have a familiar place to play, to have privacy away from people, and figure out how to fix my life. Some things definitely need fixing.

Why do I find it so hard to let go?

Traveling should be about doing what you want to do. In my case that means doing ‘nothing much’. Why do I keep pushing myself? I have nothing to prove, although I am curious about the great things other travelers talk about. Then again, I don’t care about any of it. (Or, I don’t want to care.) The history of Hungary has nothing to do with my life. Most of this ‘great architecture’ will get overwritten from my memory within days, if not seconds. I don’t want to enjoy myself right now. Happiness is irrelevant; the future is more important. I should be planning my return and reading books.

Lingering insecurities

A part of me from the past wonders whether I deserve this experience. I want to come back some day to some of the places I’ve been to. Partly to bask in some of my favorite places, to explore some aspects that weren’t particularly accessible, and mostly to [re]connect with the people I met. I’d be curious to see how they’re doing in a few years time.

But I’m worried it will all get swept away. The richer my experience, the more I have to lose. I’ve never had so much to lose before; it’s the first time I’ve truly felt I had so much worth holding on to in life. And what if this isn’t real or genuine? Is it really okay to allow myself to be vulnerable and wear these experiences on my sleeves? Or should they be locked away like forbidden treasures?

Worst of all, my future at home feels like a coin flip in terms of where it will lead me. With so much riding on luck, am I meant to make one hard logical decision or risk trying to feel and adapt?

Favorite thing in Pécs, Hungary

Life in Pécs is slow enough to enjoy the occasional panic and indulge in the mediocrity beyond the colorful buildings.

Whenever asked what my favorite thing in Pécs was so far, my answer was always the clouds. I’d then get confused looks, and trying to explain why would prove to be futile. When even artists think I’m crazy, I guess that’s something. Is it so hard to believe that clouds can differ by region?

If one local asked another what their favorite thing was in Pécs, would their answer really be any less arbitrary than mine?

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy some more conventional stuff:

  1. Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul (or just “Basilica”). Honestly, the only real contender to the clouds in Pécs, but then I went up the tower and saw clouds. I felt like I couldn’t be impressed by churches anymore this trip but was instantly proven wrong after I entered the cathedral.
  2. Zsolnay Kulturális Negyed (Zsolnay Cultural Quarter). Most of the exhibits close at 4/5/6pm, but I think it’s enough to just enjoy it from the outside. Colorful buildings.
  3. Pécs TV Tower. The view is nice. It can get really windy up there; don’t underestimate that factor. The restaurant is warm, and I found their ice cream reasonable (and it matches the pictures on their website). By the way, locals might try to claim that this tower is the tallest building in Hungary, but that’s wrong because it’s classified as a structure, not a building. (It’s taller than the tallest building in Hungary but not even close to being the tallest structure.)
  4. Homemade food. Any homemade food is always good. Except burnt rhubarb cake.

As for my favorite thing from Pécs:

Handmade bunny
A little expensive, but how could anyone resist? ;D

 

Traditional Hungarian folk music

Here’s a recording of Hungarian folk music from one particular region/village.

Unfortunately my transcription of the name seems to be a complete failure when I search online. And let’s skip the part on how I obtained it. Traditionally, this music is for a young man to dance to and show off to the girls. I believe it might also be common to have some singing. The instruments in this case are four Transylvanian violas, a double bass, and a classical violin. The Transylvanian instruments have three strings instead of four, a flat bridge to facilitate playing chords, and optionally use a folk bow that offers less precision but more volume than the classical counterpart. The viola players rest their chin on the side/rib instead of the usual place.

I’ll let you judge the music for yourself, but I will remind you that alcohol probably makes a good accompaniment in a real scenario.

Hungary, you only have Budapest and a superiority complex

I should start by warning the reader that I’m writing about my delayed first impressions of Hungary, and that this post is extremely partial (though not necessarily inaccurate). Why then, do I bother to share what may well contain a fair portion of misinformation? (How can I even talk about Hungary as a country if I haven’t spent more than an hour in Budapest?) My gosh, the internet lied to me and Hungarians lied to me and I can’t believe I was naive about it for so long. Of course, I can’t say that without acknowledging that I made an incorrect assumption somewhere along the line. All the dependent calculations… I could not possibly have known it could skew things so much.

Based on my research, this is roughly what I expected of Hungary:

To the foreigner, Hungary is basically a better version of Romania in terms of its attributes. The most notable downsides are that it’s more expensive and Hungarian is much harder to learn than Romanian.

This expectation was the core reasoning for my initial plan to spend one and a half months in Hungary after one month in Romania. Build up some confidence and skills in Romania, where it’s cheaper, then go all out in Hungary. Save the best for last.

Now on just my fifth day in the country, that whole idea has come crashing down. I’ll start by talking about the good things I’ve noticed in Hungary (mainly compared to Romania):

  • The everyday architecture and streets are much prettier (but less interesting) than in Romania.
  • Jaywalking is easier and feels safer.
  • The standard of living is better. I’ve almost had a good shower.
  • Better economic standing and less political corruption, though is this really a pro for a tourist?
  • Menu aside, the average restaurant serves better food.
  • The customer service is much better, though I still get the “What are you doing in this restaurant?” thing sometimes.
  • The process of paying the bill, giving a tip, and receiving change is streamlined into one step so you don’t have to wait anymore.
  • I find the clouds interesting and picturesque. Some of the pastures on the train ride look quite nice, though the view is blocked a lot of the time.
  • People are generally more polite and the look of depression seems to be replaced by something like arrogance.
  • The selection of pastries and cakes is more foreigner-friendly than those in Romania.
  • Ice cream (especially gelato) is cheap and popular, although the consistency/taste usually feels a bit artificial.
  • Shopping malls are smaller but more accessible and closer to the center.
  • City centers seem to feel more well-defined, compact, walkable, and yet less crowded. This might have to do with the major cities (other than Budapest) generally having noticeably smaller populations than the major cities in Romania. Kecskemét, for example, has a real toy place feel to it (in more than one way).
  • Wider range of electronic goods.

And some of the bad things:

  • Everything except ice cream is more expensive. We’re talking about the cheapest reasonable stuff; places to stay, food, public transport, etc. Ballpark figure 50-100% more expensive. That’s quite a bit when you’re often paying for roughly the same level of quality/comfort as in Romania. Those cost-of-living websites I’ve been relying on… pretty off the mark here, at least in terms of my “lifestyle.”
  • The train network is lame. It’s a star; everything goes through Budapest. That sucks for going from one non-Budapest city to another regardless of the population/size of the cities.
  • Train transfers are confusing. I bought a ticket from Budapest to Pecs with no instructions given on what transfers I needed. I transferred twice at major transfer stations only to be told that I couldn’t go to Pecs on the unlimited transfer ticket I bought. I ended up illegally riding the InterCity direct train from Budapest to Pecs (which I had missed by a couple minutes at the station in Budapest) for the last leg, but I maintain that it wasn’t my fault.
  • Prepaid SIM cards and all the prepaid plans are not cheap. They also have pretty strict rules on acquiring an active SIM card. I went to Telekom and the guy said “I’m sorry, you cannot buy a SIM card in Hungary without Hungarian ID.” He went on to explain how new laws in 2017 were stricter and so on. I’d done my preparation for this so I was pretty sure he was wrong, but either way he thought he couldn’t sell and activate a card for me. I went to Vodafone instead and there was no such problem, except it was way more expensive…
  • Hungarians are less rude than Romanians, and thus it could be considered that they’re more polite. But Romanians are way friendlier towards foreigners, which makes so much more difference. Largely irrelevant, but one Hungarian guy pretended to come and attack me when I looked up from reading Maps just to make his girlfriend laugh…

Let’s talk about the downright disgusting stuff

Hungarians have a superiority complex. I’ve heard stuff like Hungarians think their neighboring countries (e.g., Romania) should be a part of Hungary as they might have once been. At least that can be explained by attitudes based on the past or lingering propaganda. What really sets me off is that Hungarians all talk about how the food is better and there’s really great nature spots and the villages are just as good as in Romania, and then no one can recommend a single city or village or hiking scene outside of Budapest. Not one fucking name. You wonder for a second whether everyone lives in Budapest or they don’t know the geography of their own country. The same is true of travelers; no one will be able to mention anything other than Budapest. Which brings me to my next point.

Budapest carries the entire reputation of Hungary as a tourist destination. My fatal mistake was the assumption that like Romania, Hungary had many good things to offer other than its capital city. Boy was I wrong. Budapest usually appears in the top 10-20 cities in lists of European destinations, whereas Bucharest wouldn’t even make it to a top 50 list if there was one. If Budapest and Bucharest didn’t exist, Hungary wouldn’t be popular whereas Romania would still be a great (and unpopular) country to visit. When people compare the two countries, they’re usually just comparing one really attractive capital city to a whole country with a far less attractive capital city. It’s going to be a very skewed comparison.

There is nothing particularly worthwhile outside Budapest. This is the only explanation I can think of that accounts for why no one has heard of any other place in Hungary. Look at the map of Hungary and its four regions. Read up on every major city except Budapest. Note the absence of things to do in each city like hiking or visiting a nearby village or any other highly recommended tourist attraction. Go to the city or save the trouble and just browse the audio walking tours for it. Look up all the waterfalls in the country. Ask the locals what you can do.

That superiority complex again. The locals will tell you how nice their city is while admitting there’s nothing to do except be there. Nothing to see in the villages and no nearby nature attractions. It’s embarrassing. People just want to share how good things are rather than share what those things really are. And often, those good things don’t even exist! Read the descriptions of each city. No matter how fancily you could describe any of the cities, there’s simply no substance behind it.

“Grand McChicken” burger. ^