Ok, let's get the incredulous looks and eye-rolling over with first: yes, I left Lorna in Scotland on Valentine's Day to spend a couple of nights with "the lads" in Budapest. Right. Let's say no more about it.
Unfortunately when I booked my bargain Ryanair £70 return tickets (including "priority boarding"...) I foolishly thought that a 9.05am flight from Prestwick would be easy to make on time, only travelling from Edinburgh and Scotland's travel infrastructure being so good. So, cut to 3am on the 14th of February to see me catching the night bus into Waverly to make the 3.30am bus to Prestwick, arriving at 5.30am. Any other way would have got me there after check-in had closed. I was vindicated when the bus passengers were more Hungarian than Scot. Still, plenty of time to check in and bask in the early morning light. Of WHSmith's fridge.
Priority boarding worked a treat. It was worth the £3 just to see the poor people being shunted out of my queue. See ya, suckers!
Calum was due to pick me up at 1.30pm in Budapest, so when Ryanair announced with a trumpet fanfare (really) that they were 25 minutes early and Calum's text revealed he would be a half hour late, this left me an extra hour in the airport to...well, hide. It was only once on Hungarian soil that I realised my complete lack of any knowledge of the language or culture, a combination which in many places can get you shot. Apparently blowing your nose then checking the hankie can get you kneecapped in Turkey, and wars have started in Eastern Asia over the "pull my finger" joke. I thought it safer to sit clutching my bag and avoiding eye contact for the time being. I guess international sign language was always available to me but hungry as I was, I just couldn't bring myself to point at a piece of pizza while rubbing my tummy and offering my wallet. Not only would that require three hands, what if he asked me whether I wanted a bag? It was unlikely he would reciprocate by rubbing the bag seductively while winking at me.
Calum arrived in time to save me from an international incident and set about showing me the city. Unexpectedly one of the highlights came a few moments later - the appropriately named (by me) "Porn Guy". Where some people were begging from the cars as they sat in traffic, and others tried with little success to sell flowers, Porn Guy had gone one further and was selling roadside dirty magazines. He was draped with them, hanging from strings round his neck, filling both hands and surrounding him in grubby piles. I would have taken a picture but traffic was flowing freely and Calum unkindly refused to reverse back up the dual carriageway.
We then spent a cultural, relaxing afternoon visiting some of the sights of central Budapest, including...
The Basilica of St.Stephen
The Chain Bridge
The Parliament, and also spent some time dwelling over
this Holocaust memorial on the banks of the Danube.
(I had decided to go all out on the tourist thing so clicked away with my nice new camera with carefree abandon. Then came home, deleted 80% of the guff and crowed over the ones I liked.)
Jon and Mark's journey from Toulouse to Paris to Munich to Budapest (makes me seem a little petty for moaning about the early bus, doesn't it?) had encountered fog, and after a short spell worrying they might not make it at all we learned they would actually be a couple of hours late, allowing Calum and I time to eat before picking them up. His Hungarian is very good after 4 years in the country which made me remarkably more confident, even smiling at waiters and visiting the toilet on my own.
Having collected them from the airport we headed back to Calum and Zsanett's flat, politely ignoring the bulldozer knocking down the house next door. That evening the five of us went to a very traditional little restaurant hand picked for its authenticity where we ate soup (very big in Budapest) followed by a stew with rice and roast vegetables. And pickled cucumber. Mark made the mistake of tasting his cabbage garnish first and was not allowed to forget it. Making tiny mistakes and getting hammered for it is a running theme when we get together, so much so it's a wonder anybody dares talk at all. Many beers later we returned home to sort out sleeping places, Zsanett having wisely gone to her Mum's for the duration to leave us to it.
I'll do the day 2 write up tomorrow. To rush it now would be a true injustice to a most enjoyable and surreal day. Until then you can read Jon's take on events here...>