I didn’t set out on this trip to reinforce any particular stereotypes, but I’m pleased to say that the German transport ethic – in the form of Lufthansa – is considerably better than the Italian one.
My journey to Budapest is in two legs, via Berlin Tegel airport. As I check in at Rome, I’m a little apprehensive. Several angry Germans are shouting at the Lufthansa staff for only having two bag drop desks open. There are two flights ahead of mine, and they’re cutting it fine as it is.
“Don’t worry,” reassures the girl patrolling the queues, “The aircraft will wait for you.” The Germans aren’t impressed, and demand that they open more desks. So they do. And the efficiency doesn’t stop there. On board to Berlin we’re kept fed and oiled with sandwiches, cakes and drinks. Even on the one hour flight from Berlin to Budapest, we get the same service.
The second flight also produces a stunning sunset above the clouds across Central Europe. I manage to take a picture of the top of a rainbow poking through the canopy.
I’m meeting up in Budapest with my mate John from back home in Nottingham. Both of us love eastern Europe, but John easily trumps me in the Bonkers Country Stakes, because of his love of Eurovision. Now I don’t mind admitting it, I like to ramp up the camp as much as the next guy, but this isn’t just a love of Eurovision, it’s a religion. John goes to the final each year – but he’s also an addict for each country’s own contest and final. And yet despite this, he’s never been to Budapest.
The arrival process is one of the quickest I’ve ever experienced. No passport control thanks to an EU agreement between Germany and Hungary, and my case is second on the baggage belt. My hotel, the Gellert, is equally impressive.
A quick check in, and then it’s into town for a quiet Sunday evening beer. And it all starts in a fairly civilised fashion. First, we find an open air food and drink market with live music. Then, in the Jewish Quarter, it’s a beer at the Simple Garden.
This is known as a “ruin pub” – a bar established in a disused building. Yet despite the name, there’s nothing shabby or simple about it. In fact, it’s vast, and this picture does nothing to give you a true idea of its scale.
Room after room continues, spread over two floors and a sprawling garden. This music is a combination of a DJ playing low key stuff, and a chilled out jazz band at the back. It’s the perfect way to end the evening.
Had we gone home.
Then we found another bar, which looked like it was serving last orders – until we heard noise from the cellar.
If this were a horror movie, we’d find piles of rotting corpses in a pool of blood. The reality was pretty similar. A Canadian guy introduces himself and tells us that this is a party from the nearby hostel. Beer flowed, and then a small band invited open mic singers and performers to do a turn.
Initially, I suggest Crocodile Rock. It’s got an easy singalong chorus. I end up doing a duet of Stand By Me with an English girl. After several beers, I knew none of the words apart from “stand by me”. But everyone’s so hammered that my performance goes down a storm.
Then, in another moment of sheer randomness, John meets Alison – and Australian scout leader he knows from his trips down under. Every euphamism intended. This combo of his old friend and a hundred of my best new friends leads to further performances on stage, most notably the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me. This time, I have more luck, remembering almost the entire first and second lines of the first verse. The remainder of it is just a blur. Or, more accurately, a slur.
John’s engrossed in conversation with Alison, and it’s approaching 2am so I decide to head home. Getting there should have been easy – turn right at the end of the street and head in a straight line to the bridge over the Danube. I manage to find a bridge, but not the correct one. A frantic five minutes studying Google Maps on my phone suggests I’m somewhere in Sovakia. The size of the river just confuses matters more, but I eventually spot the bright facade of the Gellert and get into bed at gone three.
This blog is a result of The Morning After, which largely consisted of breakfast – because it’s free – and slowly moaning in bed with the fan turned up to full speed. I’m just about ready to face daylight.
Wish me luck!