Day 11: Budapest to Sighisoara Part 1

Posted: July 30, 2014 in Budapest, Getting Around, Sighisoara
Tags: , , , ,

Today we needed to be up and out of our apartment by 10am so we reluctantly roused she-beast junior around 8:30 and set about packing and tidying up for our reluctant departure. We left the apartment at exactly 10am and headed a couple of blocks away to a building where the landlord had said we could store our bags in the doorman’s office… The old dude shamelessly extorted us… Our landlord had said that the arrangement was 1000 HUF (about $5) for any number of bags for any amount of time… The old porter wasn’t having any of that. It was going to be 3000 HUF (1000 for each bag) or we could go elsewhere. Not wanting to hump our backpacks around all day we paid the increased fee… Even at $15 it was a pretty good deal – the office was secure, the place was centrally located to things we wanted to do and to the subway station we’d be using later in the day to get to the train station. But it rankled to part with the extra $$ – Marie grumbled about it for blocks.

After dumping our bags off with the extorter-porter we headed for the Grand Synagogue… And promptly walked right past the intersection we needed to find (that’s what happens when you use one of those crappy tourist bus route maps to navigate by). We figured it out fairly quickly (namely because we ended up back at a place we’d been before and there was no synagogue there) and doubled back to find it with no trouble the second time around. Once there we paid the extortionate entry fee and kind of wandered around a bit… Highlights were the Tree of Life (a very innovative and effective Holocaust memorial that is a metal weeping willow tree with each “leaf” inscribed with the family name of Holocaust victims) and the synagogue itself (2nd largest in the world).

After the synagogue we made our way to the Hungarian Parliament buildings (with much cursing of the crappy bus route map we were using and a few double backs and dead ends along the way). Eventually we found the parliament buildings (Budapest held a contest to design the parliament buildings and the 1st place design became the parliament while the 2nd and 3rd place designs got built across the square as government offices) and kind of wandered around a bit. We thought of doing a tour but the next one wasn’t until 4pm and we needed to be getting gone by that point… So we hopped on one of the historic trams and made our way along the waterfront to the Central Market Hall (we never did find out how or where you were supposed to buy tickets for these trams – we know you needed them because there were posters all over the cars warning of the $80 fine for being caught without a ticket – but we never figured the system out).

We made it to the Central Market Hall without getting pinched by the transit police and made our way into what can best be described as the first level of Hell if you don’t like crowds. The first floor is all food – lots of produce and a wide, wide variety of animal parts (as in some you didn’t know you could buy) and sausages and what have you… It was pretty cool. Would be a cook’s dream if you lived here. The second level is all tourist schlock… And super crowded. The highlight for us had to be the woman who lost a sale because she wouldn’t put her sandwich down… Marie wanted to leave the money (the exact change no less) on the counter and just take the object (a Budapest mug if I remember correctly) because it was stupid busy… but the woman was having none of it… So Caitlin bought a t-shirt instead… We fought through the crowds for a bit but it became apparent that most of what was for sale was the usual tourist crap we’ve seen in markets from Siem Reap to Bangkok to Rome… There must be one factory in China that does nothing but churn out identical mugs and bags and mirrors and keychains, etc. with the names of  all the major cities of the world inscribed on them.

After the market we headed back to the building where we’d left our backpacks… Along the way we stopped at Cafe Alibi… Source of some of the most humour we’ve seen on this trip so far… First there was the waiter who said “we don’t have that” to almost everything we ordered off the menu… Sort of made you wonder why they put it on the menu in the first place but… The real humour, though, came at Marie’s expense. If you’ve ever traveled to places where there’s not a lot of English on signs you may have experienced this – that point where signs in English don’t make any sense ’cause your brain tries to see it as a foreign word… I remember looking at a sign for Cafe Nostress in Vienna trying for the longest time to figure out what the heck that could be in German… Anyways, Marie said to Caitlin at some point that Cafe A-lee-bee (note the phonetic spelling) wasn’t that bad – they were out of a lot but the food they did have was pretty tasty… Well Caitlin cracked up (you see it’s Cafe Alibi – as in what’s your alibi for last night). Caitlin and Marie continued to laugh about Cafe A-lee-bee for a full city block and it still cracks Caitlin up… Guess you had to be there.

When we got to the building where our bags were being stored. the old dude recognized us right away (of course he recognized us… he probably took his girlfriend out for a nice lunch with our extra money…) and we grabbed our bags and headed for the subway stop. Along the way we realized that our subway stop was right by a pub that was offering a free glass of beer (another coupon in our hop-on bus tour booklet!) so we stopped and had a couple of cold beers before hopping on the subway for the train station.

When we arrived at the station we realized 1) we were more than an hour earlier than we needed to be and 2) the English translation system on the departure boards was kaputski… We’d read (on http://www.seat61.com) that the train would leave from platform 7 but we’d been burned by bad information from the “man in seat 61) in Vienna so we hunted down someone who could tell us… Like all the trains we’ve taken thus far, the platform wouldn’t be revealed until about 20 minutes before the departures so Marie and Caitlin hunkered down while I went out foraging for food for dinner… I ended up grabbing some drinks and snacks (a couple of chocolate bars and a cheese baguette) from a Spar store (they’re everywhere) and some chicken from KFC (don’t judge – you should see the size of the drumsticks they sell in Budapest… our only hope was they weren’t goose legs they were so big)… While I was rummaging for food, I thought – once again – how sad it is that train stations are always in a sketchy part of town and frequented by a host of scam artists and other low rent sorts of people… It used to be such an elegant way to travel and is still – all things considered – my favourite way to travel, but there’s no doubting that many of the main train stations we’ve arrived at have been less than savoury places… It’s a shame. In any case, when I got back Marie went foraging for some pastries (after spending the whole day talking about how she was completely pastried out and didn’t want any for the trip so we bypassed at least 30 bakeries through the day) but came back with just one lonely croissant… Apparently there had been a whole bunch of fluffy delicious looking pastries there just a few minutes earlier but someone beat her to them… We’ll be working on Marie’s foraging skills as the trip progresses.

Eventually the departures board confirmed that our train was indeed leaving from platform 7 so we set about looking for the specific car – 422. We found signs on every car but one so we figured (logically of course) that must be ours so we showed our ticket to the first guy in uniform who confirmed that yes indeed the unnumbered car was in fact 422 and our sleeping compartment would be waiting for us.

We piled on the train and started looking for our numbers – 56 54 52… Turns out they were the first sleeping compartment on the train (good planning Dad) and we piled inside… One at a time and very carefully because while there was a whole lot more room than we had on our overnight ferry from Split to Italy on our last trip, it was still pretty crowded. We stowed our bags, laid out our meagre food for the journey, Caitlin practiced some Cirque de Soleil contortionist moves to get into the top bunk, Marie commandeered the one “seat” (the covered sink) and we settled in for the 12 hr or so trip to Sighisoara, Romania.

I’ll describe the journey itself in tomorrow’s post so that’s it for now. We’re sad to be leaving Budapest – it’s a crazy busy, party-central, hectic kind of place but it’s got a lot of charm, the architecture is beautiful, the scenery is beautiful and the prices are pretty reasonable- we’d all come back in a heartbeat!

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