Saturday 2 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Five - Travelling to Budapest

So my first impressions of Hungary weren't all positive! 

Let me recap... 

Our travel day started with a 5:00am wake up and a rush to get ready and outside by 6. Our train wasn't until 7:30 but we had seen how large and confusing the train station was and figured it was best to have some extra time built in. We got there fairly quickly and grabbed a table at a cafe. Breakfast was coffee and pastries (Dad's diet has slipped a bit!) and Brian and Dad grabbed some sandwiches for the train. Naturally all the options were pre-made with butter or mayo so I just got some chips. As with Greece, I have been seeing some strange chip flavors here (they too have the paprika ones!) I went with Onion - which ended up being a mild version is sour cream and onion. The people at the train station were pretty rude - which was strange since everyone else we had encountered in Prague were so friendly and helpful.

None of the shops were open so I didn't get to hit Sephora or Claire's like I wanted but it's probably for the best. I did manage to get a few post cards so that made me happy! 

When our train was announced a nice man led us there - I guess he was being helpful in the hopes of getting m a tip or something. But it's a good thing he helped us as we didn't realize there were North and South tracks and likely would have gone to the wrong place. I had booked first class on the train after reading that it offered a bit more room. That's pretty much all it offered - and a free bottle of water. Anyone who has done the Via Rail first class would laugh at this version - it was a train car with two seats an aisle and then one seat. That was it. The only difference was that second class cars had four seats across. There was a "bistro" car but the options were limited because it was a morning train, plus there was a huge language barrier as the man working there didn't understand anything I said. I didn't know this then, but it was foreshadowing the Hungarian portion of the trip. 

The train from Prague to Budapest took about 6.5 hours. It was okay at first but by hour five all of us were getting restless and uncomfortable. Dad and Brian slept and listened to audio books, and I just read. I'm officially at 50/100 books read for my 2014 Goodreads Goal. Overall the train was fine, but pretty boring. There wasn't much scenery on the route and while it made stops they were no longer then two minutes. One strange thing about the train was how the ticket stamping worked - they came through three seperate times and stamped our tickets. I think it had something to do with the countries we crossed. From Prague we crossed though Slovakia and then into Hungary. 

Booking on points helped save a ton of money - and make this trip possible - but it did mean that geographically it wasn't the best planned route. Plus the timeshare for Hungary was located two hours outside of Budapest which logistically speaking wasn't the smoothest plan. 

We arrived at the Budapest train station just before 3:00pm. The train station was old and nowhere near as modern as the Prague one. It was also full of backpackers sitting/sleeping on the floors - both Prague and Budapest stations seemed to have limited seating for some reason. Both Czech and Hungary are countries that most of the time charge you to use any bathrooms in public places or buildings. This used to be common in England (Dad and Brian had never heard the expression for using the bathroom of "Spending a penny" which originated in England because of the attached fee) But isn't something I really encountered much in England, Scotland, Ireland or Greece. Maybe occasionally someplace would charge a few coins, but in these two counties it had been everywhere! Usually it is beneficial because it ensures the "water closet" (washroom) is clean as there is typically an attendant. But this wasn't the case at the Budapest train station... The bathroom was disgusting! I can get behind the idea of paying for a clean bathroom but paying for an awful one? That was annoying! 

My first impression of Budapest could best be summed up by the word "meh". The train station was in the city but away from the main sights and in an area that looked a but run down. The taxi we grabbed went some strange back way through side streets and industrial areas so my impression was nothing like what I had expected. Our taxi ride felt like we were in a NASCAR race, as the driver was speeding in and out of lanes, cutting off people and being insanely aggressive - which is common with Hungarian drivers as per Fodor's. At one point I made Brian buckle his seat belt because I thought we may crash. It definitely made me dread getting around the city. 

We had to pick up our rental car at the airport and there was no way to get directly to the car rental kiosk, so we had to haul all our baggage through the jam-packed airport, down a flight of stairs and into the arrival area. The Hertz agent took one look at our bags and told us we would need to upgrade our car.  European cars tend to be pretty small compared to the vehicles in North America. In our defense it's not like we (well mainly me) even overpacked. We each had one large suitcase and a carry on bag - that's not an unreasonable amount of luggage especially for a three and a half week trip. 

It took awhile to get the car rented and sorted (Dad needed to make sure it had a pass to allow us to drive on Hungarian highways (you have to pay) and that we would be able to drive into Croatia). Once everything was in order we had to trek outside to where the rental cars are kept (their method isn't as easy as most airport car rentals in the US/Canada) and load the car. We had a bit of a panic when we couldn't find our GPS chord - we had the actual GPS but no cord for it. Thankfully it ended up being in Dads suitcase so a crisis was adverted. We had tried to load our GPS's with the maps of Europe but weren't able to due to space issues, but Dad managed to find a GPS listed on an auction site for $35.00. This worked out great as it was empty and I was able to load all the Europe maps. 

It was a two hour drive from the airport into Heviz where the timeshare was located. It was a bit confusing getting out of the airport area, but once we were on the main highway it was a great drive. We stopped for lunch/dinner at a small restaurant located to the side of a gas station. Dad initially didn't want to eat there, but I had only had a croissant and chips, and it was nearly 4:30pm. The food ended up being really good! Brian and Dad had traditional Hungarian pork which is done like a schnitzel and I had a breaded cheese thing with a greek salad. 

We reached the timeshare Club Dobogomajor without any issues. But the place was strange. It was this large resort spread over a large amount of space with clusters of apartment accommodations. There is only one main parking lot, which is about 15-20 minutes from the furthest building. In order to get stuff to your unit they provide carts which resemble wheelbarrows that you can roll. There is a large pool in the middle which was packed full of adults and children. 

It's a little hard to take this place seriously when this is the logo! 

I had noticed that morning that only one of our reservations had a confirmation number and was a bit concerned. I was right to be as when we checked in they only had us booked for one room despite us booking - and paying fees - for two. The manager came out to sort it out, but even that was done with a bit of a language barrier.  Being two hours from Budapest, English isn't too common. Surprisingly German is really popular here - as most the staff spoke it and about 85% of the guests were from Germany. The manager was great and ended up sorting it out giving us the two rooms, but Dad was in the furthest building and it ended up taking us 25 minutes just to find it! While his unit was far, it was newer and a bit nicer then the older one Brian and I had. 

The rooms are basic, a small kitchenette, with no air conditioning and overall not a ton of space. The bed felt like a table, and the sheets didn't look very clean (I ended up remaking the bed with better looking sheets I found in the closet). Our room had an extra bed in the closet -  but I have no idea how that would have worked had we lowered it, I think the beds would have over lapped. There were screens on only one window so our room had some moths/bugs inside. The room reminded me of a much lower version of the resort in Chios, Greece last summer as it was a similar layout but no where near as nice or comfortable.

The three of us had just got our stuff unloaded in time to meet Ivan and his wife Iva. Ivan and Iva are from Croatia, and Ivan and his father work for my dad. Their families live in Croatia but for 9 months a year they work in Canada. My dad had gone over to Croatia with them last fall, and when he learned they would be at home while we were in Hungary he invited Ivan and his wife to come for this portion of the trip. They live about five hours from the Hungarian town we were in, and hadn't ever been to Budapest so it worked well. This was all decided only a month ago, so I couldn't book then into the same resort we were at - instead they were at a smaller timeshare 10 minutes away. They drove over and met us at our resort at the pool bar.  We spent a bit of time catching up/getting to know each other. Dad and Brian know Ivan well from work, but I had only met him once, and only Dad knew Iva from his trip to Croatia. We also went over plans for the week - which were deferred to me the designated planner. 

I went up to the room early hoping to use the internet for a bit and found that it barely worked. The our safe malfunctioned and locked all our valuables in. We had also been counting on this resort to get some laundry done and found that they had no self-laundry area. The housekeepers could wash our clothes for us, but they didn't have a dryer so it would be up to us to hang our clothes outside to dry. (Thankfully all three of us packed enough to get us through to our next stop!) 

I won't lie - it wasn't the best travel day and I ended up being uncertain of the Hungarian part of our adventure. Between the crazy drivers, awful bathroom, strange and uncomfortable timeshare and the overall industrial look of Budapest it wasn't making the best impression! I went to bed hoping the coming days  would be better. 

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