More Tales of Travel

Life has been awfully slow the past few days. Sarah left a few days ago, which leaves me without my closest friend in Romania, and as a result, things are less fun. In addition, the German team left at 4:30 this morning, and we stayed up all night before they left to send them off. I've been exhausted all day. I've been trying without success to put together some screenplays for the fall, but I find myself completely lacking creativity. I seem to be in a slump. I may ask for advice on such a topic in a later post.

On the other hand, we had an awesome lunch today (it was deep-fried... uh... meat, and something like french fries. It was unbelieveably good), plans to make a face-meltingly cool documentary are underway, and it looks like Chris, JA, and I can all get our own rooms by Thursday. So things are looking up. Plus, God's been teaching me cool things about faith and persistence through my exhaustion, so I've got nothing to complain about on that front.

I promised that I'd write more stories from Budapest and Oradea, and I meant it this time. Consistent readers would point out that I rarely keep my e-promises, but here's one more, just like I said. I've got another one partially finished, and that may surface soon, as well:

A Tax On Americans

I discovered in Budapest that Hungarians - or at least, Budapestians - don't really seem to like Americans. They put up with us, for sure, since they provide a steady stream of cash, but the sense seems to be that they'd really like for all of us to clear out and leave 'em in peace.

A clear example of this is the following tale. JA and I decided to take the subway across Budapest to visit Margarite Island, said to be a popular hang-out spot for Budapestites. So we wandered down to the subway station and looked around to see where we could find tickets. All the directions were written in Hungarian, but a helpful local Budapestonian pointed us to a small queue on the opposite wall of the station where tickets could be purchased. Thanking her, we sauntered over and JA purchased the tickets for us (I figured JA would be a good translator for me, since he used to speak fluent Hungarian, even though he's forgotten most of it. To my surprise, he didn't even attempt it, though, and instead communicated by speaking English in a Romanian accent to whatever Budapester we happened to be talking to, which probably didn't help matters any).

Having purchased our tickets, we followed the flocking queue of people, most of whom had not purchased any sort of ticket, down the nearby escalator, where we were accosted by subway employees specially trained to spot Americans. The head lady asked for our tickets, which we blithely handed over, not suspecting a trap. She took our tickets, put them in her pocket, and fined us each 2000 forint (about $10 apiece). It turned out that on the wall next to the escalator was a ticket punching machine into which we were to insert our ticket. We hadn't noticed the machine, since no Budapestalongs were using it, which assumable was part of the trap. We asked if we could go back up the escalator and punch our tickets now, since we simply weren't aware of the rule. Nothing doing. We tried to leave, since we figured that since we hadn't actually ridden the subway yet, there was no reason we should be paying the fine. They pulled out a cell phone and began to call the police. Since paying ten bucks in better than explaining ourselves in Hungarian prison, we paid up.

The helpful subway workers explained to us that the directions for punching the ticket were written in English and German at the top of the escalator (We checked. They weren't, of course), and written on the back of our tickets (ditto). They might have said more to us, but by then they had spotted a pack of Irish tourists, and were already excitedly explaining to them that each of them that they had better pay up pronto for their insultingly blatant disregard of subway rules. We tried to talk to the tourists to explain to them what the problem was, but we were informed that we had no legal right to be talking to anyone here, in the lobby of a subway, and wouldn't it be better if we left right now. And so we left.

Budapest is a truly beautiful city, a historical city, a well-maintained city, and everyone should see it eventually. But that story is just one example of the sort of treatment we got there. I don't know how many Budapestealites we met who interacted with us with the same charm and warmth you would an escaped convict who knocked up your teenage daughter. I was thrilled to leave.