I arrive in Budapest to no security staff. There is not one single person checking passports. How interesting. For a major airport in Europe, it certainly seemed odd. But I withdraw some cash and set about trying to locate public transport to get me from here (the airport) to where I need to be (my hostel).
I have a three minute, confused “confrontation” with the train conductor. The stop I got on at had nowhere to buy a ticket, and when I try to pay him on the train he tells me the smallest note that the ATM gave me is too large. Which results in us awkwardly staring at each other and me looking confused and slightly sad and bashful. Eventually, he holds up his hands and says “Don’t worry” before moving on. I think our lack of a shared language made him feel sorry for me. Perhaps it was also my heavy backpack. Either way, it reminded me how useless I am that I only know English with limited Spanish.
I thank the lady who helped me to get the train in the first place and begin the walk to my hostel – 13 minutes, apparently. There is so much green space in Budapest, something that I’m quite unaccustomed to in densely populated cities. There are flower markets on most corners and women shout out, presumably about the bunches of lavender they wave around. The scent hangs in the air. Men deliver baskets of fresh produce to cafes as I walk and locals exchange pleasantries in the street.
It may be a city but it doesn’t feel like it. I arrive at my hostel. Or rather, I arrive at the place where my hostel should be. There is no sign. After twenty minutes of wandering, Googling and messaging my mum, I find it and my phone is on 19%. It is where I stopped originally, only I didn’t notice it as the HomePlus Hostel (Budapest) is only marked by a doorbell with the words HomePlus Hostel on a tiny, laminated sign above it.
Inside, a female staff member greets me and excitedly annotates a map telling me everywhere I should visit in the city. Later in our stay, she tries to point somewhere else out on a map and has to turn it around to face me, jokingly explaining “Because I always do it upside down for the guests, that’s what I’m used to!”. Free breakfast… every morning. Free dinner…three nights per week. Pub crawl…every night.
My room is brightly lit and you can hear the sounds of the pub from the street below. There is a big game on that afternoon, and Hungarians gather to watch the Euro 2016 Hungary vs Austria game at the pub. There is a TV facing the street, and the hostel staff let a bunch of us from our room take chairs downstairs to join in the festivities.
We don’t stay for the whole game, but later in the evening a Hungarian jubilantly tells us that they won.
“Forty-four years…that’s something like a revolution! It’s something that will be written in the history books…We are writing history NOW!” He slurs to us. The trams are packed that evening and the normally strict, public-drinking laws seem to be relaxed as Hungary celebrates beating the Austrians.
The city is buzzing and the air is balmy. The eight of us in our hostel room bond beside the Danube, looking out at the city lit up in all its glory. I’m thrilled to have finally made it to the city so many of my friends have told me to visit and I can’t wait to explore.