Being in Vienna is like staying over at your grandparents house – everything is calm, and orderly. The TV is always playing the history channel or the news, the music is all classical, and everything is very predictable. But then you go to Budapest, and it’s like going to your big sisters house. The channel is turned to MTV, the music is cool, and nothing makes any sense.
Vienna is only a couple hours away from Budapest by train. Traveling in Germany or Austria via train is probably the best train experience anywhere, but there are common mistakes that are easy to make. You NEED to know that seats cost extra with OBB and DB because there is always the chance that you can snipe an unclaimed seat for free. We decided to pay the extra cost for seats, just incase. I’m glad we did because the train was over-packed. When this happens you will see people standing in the aisles, leaning uncomfortably against the occupied seats. There is a really easy way to tell if you can sit in the seats or not, and newbies are never aware of this.
At the top where the seat numbers are is an electronic indicator that says when the seats will be occupied. The photo above shows that the seats will be occupied from Budapest to Vienna. If it’s blank, then the seat is free and you can sit there. You have to be a little familiar with the route you’ll be going on because sometimes you can sit in that seat for half the time (someone will be getting on later who has reserved the seats).
Of course none of the American tourists could look at this simple and obvious indicator of seat-reservations. They all sat down, got comfortable, started making a mess around their seats – then we or some Austrian family would arrive and say “that’s my seat.” They were appalled, “no it’s not, I’m sitting in this seat, it’s mine.” The people we kicked out of our seat pouted the rest of the trip and ended up standing right against our seats rather than go find new ones. Americans – stop acting like assholes when you go abroad!!!!! This happened on both legs of our journey. The thing is, I paid extra (like 7 euros extra) to have the comfort and security of a seat. You didn’t so you have to move. Also it’s SOOOOOO easy to tell if the seat is reserved. Grab one of those and it’s your seat for the rest of the journey!
Pretty quickly after leaving Vienna we crossed the border into Hungary. What a lot of people don’t realize is you have no way of knowing. It’s the same as going from Colorado to New Mexico. If you needed a passport check they would’ve done that before you even got on. Once you’re on, the only clue that you’ve entered another country are the signs suddenly being in a different language. Also Chris’s phone’s GPS told us.
Train stations are never great, there are always a lot of homeless and weirdos who hang out there. This was no different in Budapest. It was super creepy. All the women were, uh, dressed like ladies of the night. There were pot bellied Russian men chugging vodka amongst the remains of 5 or 6 empty bottles on the ground. The road was more cigarette butts than cobblestone. My first impression was: my god this place is still Russia.
We walked the 20 minutes to our hostel and things stayed about the same. The German attention to detail we had seen in Austria – clean streets, repaired sidewalks, a respect for traffic law – had all been abandoned in a bleak, gray sense of lawlessness. All the reviews online had said the people were terribly rude. Almost every review on TripAdvisor for everything is “employees were rude/cold/assholes.” I became very nervous we had “picked the wrong country” when we planned this trip.
We checked into our hostel, but not the way we used to. We’re (internally screaming) too old to use hostels. The days when we could pay 9 euros a night to sleep in a room with 16 other people are now over. Now we have to stay in the private rooms. It’s the same hostel furniture and beds but shoved into a tiny room, and there are usually private bathrooms. It’s still loud like a hostel and you still have to lock your stuff up – but it’s much much cheaper than a hotel.
Hostels don’t give out free toiletries and because we only had carry on bags we didn’t bring our own, so we went to a mall to buy some (malls have supermarkets in them). At the mall we became fascinated by the language. They don’t use the Cyrillic alphabet but half the letters have accent marks or are combined (SZ to denote an S sound rather than SH sound). Things look a little messy to us. It’s also the first time since we were in Taiwan that we’ve been in a country where we couldn’t read the language at all, and that was three years ago. Ordering off a menu? – yeah I’m going to have to point at it while Chris translates it on his phone. Everything had so many accents and looked so long (I’m guessing compound words like German?).
The words weren’t even loan words or something you could even guess the meaning of.
forralt bor = mulled wine. Beef = marhahús. Those don’t look anything like Spanish or German. It’s impossible to guess what things even said. Even goulash was spelled gulyás. And modern day inventions, that usually everyone uses the same words for were messed up. Computadora, der Computer, 컴퓨터 [com-pyu-teo]), nope its számítógép. The thing is, Hungarian has 0 linguistic relatives, except for maybe Finnish (and only distantly), and it is one of the hardest languages for outsiders to learn.
The mall on a Friday night was crazy busy with weirdness and a big city attitude. Vienna had been so quiet and calm and it was a huge shock, even the sweet old lady who rung us up grumbled endlessly (in Hungarian) when we tried to pay with a large denomination bill.
We left the mall quickly and went out for dinner and everything got better. The owner/waiter was crazy nice and wanted us to write our names on his big map to show where all his customers came from. He humanized all the people who had been glaring at us and trying to hit us with their cars. This place wasn’t weird or strange at all it was just a bad first impression near the train station.
While Hungary is a part of the European Union they don’t use the same money, and it’s just as hard to figure out as the language. In Korea and Japan it was always so easy to translate the money in our heads. Korea you take 3 zeros off and Japan you take 2 zeros off. So 4,000 would be the equivalent of $4 in Korea or $40 in Japan – roughly. But here nothing was ever zeros, it was 3560 or something arbitrary. It wasn’t easy to translate 4590 or 500 into Euros in our heads. It turned out to be 3000 Hungarian Forints (HUF) to about 10 Euros. 500 HUF was about 1.50 Euros. Messy math to do in your head – and easy to make a stupid mistake and buy something really expensive. Or miss out on something cheap because you think it’s unreasonably expensive. Is 1200 a cheap drink or an expensive one (it’s 3.86 for a glass of wine).
Even with the different money, the extremely different language, the seemingly rude people, and the hostel bed, it was really nice to be surrounded by the “super” unfamiliar again. This day had been dedicated to travel and orienting ourselves, so we really didn’t do too much. However, the next six days were a whirlwind, and ended up being fantastic.