Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweatpants Across Europa: Hungary

A decade ago, I applied for a work visa in Britain and used it to work and travel for several months. This is that story.  To begin at the beginning, go here.
 
As we left the European Union in search of Hungary, we could feel the security tighten. Our train was staffed by menacing Austrian and Hungarian border guards who requested to see our passports and tickets approximately fifteen times over the two-hour train ride. None of these guards had a problem with my black-market quality passport, bolstering my naive confidence.  

Nearing our destination in Budapest, we were approached by a very good hostel salesman. He was in his early twenties and effortlessly spoke English, German, or Hungarian as needed. He oozed smoothness and I didn’t believe anything he said, especially when he claimed to know the very short list of hostels in town with any open beds. He gave me his pitch, after which I thanked him and as nicely as I could, told him I didn’t believe anything he said. He then handed me his cell phone and let me call all the hostels in my guidebook. He was right. They were all full.  

Humbled, we took his offer and bunked at our friendly salesman’s hostel. It was very plain, full of large rooms, lots of noise-enhancing concrete, and non-stop action at every hour of the day. Our room contained several nutty people, including some Slovenians who liked to sing very loudly all night long and some very kind Chicagoans who really enjoyed talking to their new-found intoxicated foreign friends about how intoxicated and foreign they were.

After a few days of sightseeing along the Danube, we we ready to move on. Fearing that our upcoming trip to Croatia might provide us with lodging challenges, we tried to call ahead and book a room. As we found in all other countries, one needed an advanced degree in European Phone Prefixes to figure out how to make cross-border phone calls. We quickly tired of listening to the Hungarian your-call-cannot-be-completed message, so we went home, tried to sleep through the Slovenian folk songs and Chicagoan chatter, and left Hungary early the next morning.