I left Alanya at 11pm, riding a shuttle to the Antalya airport with a Turkish couple cuddled in the back and a loud, well-perfumed Turkish businessman riding in the front seat of the minibus. Once at the airport, I napped on a bench until the Turkish Airlines desks opened – after standing in line a while, I finally was able to hand my ID over and check in. Even though I heard the guy speaking English to the woman in front of me in line, he spoke to me in Turkish – I’m guessing because I have a Turkish residency permit. In the afternoon when I’m wide awake, my Turkish skills aren’t fantastic; at 3am in an airport setting, they were miserable. I was shuffled off by another Turkish Airlines employee through an empty security area and into an elevator, where I was plopped down in the business class lounge. The women working there took my passport and tickets, clicked around on the computer, and told me I would be flying out on a later flight. The panic of missing my connection to Budapest wasn’t enough to keep me awake, and I slept in a leather chair that overlooked the gates on the floor below. In a sleepy daze, I boarded my flight, made it through transfer in the Istanbul airport, and landed in Budapest. There, I waited in line for an hour to get through passport control, after which I waited in line again for a bus, to buy tickets for a train, and then for said train. It was a lot of waiting, but I finally arrived in downtown Budapest – any dragging feelings of sleepiness vanished in the cool air, and I walked to the hostel without harboring any hard feelings for the man selling train tickets who had absolutely no change.
Catherine, Bowen, and Andrew – the friendly Hungarian hostel owner – were waiting for me, and I was greeted with hugs and shrieks from Cathy (a very welcome change from the brisk formality of Hungarian customs officers). There was no time to waste, so we scurried out to a grocery store to find a snack before hopping on a bus tour of the city. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the Parliament building, which was receiving a makeover with Hungarian flags and murals for a national holiday, and a large square that featured many serious-looking, spear-wielding statues of famous men in Hungarian history. We strolled through a park, wandered through the grounds of a castle-turned-agricultural-museum, and peeked into a Turkish-style bathhouse. One of the buses we took lacked a ceiling, which made for a dangerous drive down a tree-lined boulevard. I was reminded of elementary school warnings against putting one’s head or arms outside the bus window, lest a rogue tree branch snap off a limb. Fortunately, no tourists were seriously harmed by flailing branches.
That evening, after a few rounds of cards, we piled on the sweaters and warm clothing and set out for a boat tour that we thought was included with our bus ticket. When we finally got to the boat, the woman taking tickets seemed hesitant to let us on the boat, but the loquacity of our trio ensured us a spot on the boat trip. We sailed down the Danube, admiring the Parliament building and statues nestled in the hills lit up at night.
We spent the next day walking around castles, admiring Hungarian statues of deer, men with braids, and giant eagles. The afternoon was slow, and we took our time wandering the grounds of these castles or climbing up mountains to look at even more giant statues. Exhausted by our hike, we treated ourselves to a lazy dinner in a Hungarian restaurant – the food was incredible, the beer light, and the service slow. After we finally managed to flag down the waitress to get our bill, we retreated to the hostel to play a few more rounds of cards until we had to make the trek to the bus station. Catherine was very responsible and made sure to check every few minutes whether we were sure that the bus left at 11pm, not at 7.45 – in the end, we made it to the station with plenty of time, ready to set off for Transylvania.