Wednesday, 29 March 2017

In Budapest, day three...

Thanks to airport security restrictions I invariably find myself in a foreign hotel without toothpaste or shaving foam. Normally, I've had to hand in such dangerous substances prior to reaching the X-ray machine and it's not until the following evening that I realise I can't clean my teeth. A phone call to the front desk follows and I often end up with a tiny tube of tasteless putty that will have to suffice until I find the nearest chemist or, as they often refer to them outside of the UK, pharmacy.

Budapest's Liberty Bridge
Yesterday I found myself searching the streets for a Lidl, which I never found, but I did spot the familiar pharmacy green cross logo and bought my toothpaste there. It's odd how, whenever I enter a pharmacy abroad they seem like much more sacred places than they are in the UK where companies like Boots and Superdrug have lessened the experience of visiting the chemist, a bit like modern churches – there's nothing worse – have taken something away from the religious experience one gets in a proper old church with its cooling stone floors and rickety old pews.

But here in Budapest (and elsewhere in mainland Europe) it's still pretty sacred entering a chemist. Invariably I'm the only customer, as I was on this occasion, and behind the counter there was a quietly spoken woman dressed in a white uniform not dissimilar to those worn by nurses. There was a certain hush about the place and, of course, a pleasant smell of talcum powder. All the products were behind glass and when I asked for toothpaste the woman in the white uniform behind the counter led me to the back of the shop and a wooden cabinet with glass panels behind which were a variety of different toothpaste brands. She unlocked the cabinet and ran through each brand one by one explaining their various attributes and in the end I opted for Sensodyne (it was the only brand I could recognise). I made my purchase back at the counter and left the store, which, I'm guessing, reverted back to its hushed silence blended with the smell of the talc.

Yesterday I switched my flight and I'll be flying back today instead of tomorrow. There was no point staying until Thursday when it looked highly likely that I'd be able to catch the Wednesday flight home.

Alföldo Vendéglo – unpretentious food
Something I do a lot of is walking and yesterday I put in the miles through the late afternoon and into the evening. In the end I tired myself out so much that I felt strangely low and depressed as I searched for somewhere to have an early dinner before hitting the sack. I found Alföldi Vendéglo, a traditional Hungarian restaurant with some other English guests. It was a fairly basic, no-nonsense sort of place with a friendly old white-haired waiter and offered unpretentious food at reasonable prices. Because of all the walking I'd been doing I had a lentil soup with bread to start followed by a Hungarian beef stew with dumplings and a draught Hungarian beer and finished with apple pie and ice cream.

I headed back to the hotel using the SatNav on my phone, which can be confusing when I'm tired, but I got back fairly quickly and went straight to bed, although I did clean my teeth with my new Sensodyne toothpaste first. I needed the sleep having walked around the streets for miles and miles prior to finding Alföldi Vendéglo. My trekking prior to dinner took me across the Liberty Bridge to Buda (or was it Pest?) and back across the Danube and the further I walked the more depressed and despairing I got. Drinking that beer in the restaurant prior to getting my beef stew was wonderful. Now I know how John Mills felt when he downed that glass of Carlsberg in the film Ice Cold in Alex.

This morning I resumed my walking and went over a lot of old ground, eventually stumbling across Alföldi Vendéglo, but it was miles too early to be considering lunch, I'd only just finished breakfast. On Sunday or Monday, or even yesterday, I can't remember which day, I went out in search of a Starbuck's. I wanted to chill out with a cup of tea, a cake and a book, but I couldn't find it. Needless to say I'd been putting in the miles on foot prior to using the iphone's SatNav to find the place and was having no joy. I was getting that despairing feeling of complete hopelessness that I tend to get when I'm abroad after a couple of days away from home and it's because I get lonely and bored when I travel alone. I gave up on the Starbuck's and went back to the hotel where, I realised, that my despair and hopelessness was little more than tiredness. My problem is I don't know when to stop walking. The up side of this story is that when I found Alföldi Vendéglo yesterday I also found the Starbuck's, but it was too late for chilling with a book and besides, it's fine when it's spontaneous, but take my word for it, when it's not spontaneous it becomes little more than a poorly put together sequel of previously good times.

So right now, as I write this, I'm moments away from leaving the hotel. Outside there are blue skies and sunshine. My bags are packed, I've asked reception if the taxi drivers take credit cards and they do and while I was going to take the metro and then a bus to the airport – like a real traveller would – I decided that a last walk around town would be a better idea.

Budapest's Bike Share Scheme
Just to say that the bike share scheme in Budapest was far too complicated, meaning that I couldn't simply take a bike out. The process involved logging on to a website or getting hold of some kind of access card so I didn't bother. The hotel receptionist told me it would be easier to simply hire a bike from the many companies offering the service. Time was running out so I didn't bother.

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