My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (12) Hungary / Yugoslavia
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Monday, July 5
We traveled only a short distance before we reached Hungary’s border. Lakis pulled up to a building, and we all got off. The building was very crowded. We advanced towards the counter, but some guards waved batons and yelled at us in Hungarian, so we stepped back. This was the first time I had encountered any form of brutality on the tour, and I found it highly unnerving. I thought of Elie Wiesel’s account in his book Night, when the Hungarian police rounded up his village of Sighet for deportation to Auschwitz, and how as a result, he hated them to this day. I wondered what lay in store for us, entering this country.
In a corner, I saw a money exchange place, and went there in an attempt to exchange for Hungarian Forints. A guard yelled at me and waved his baton! I considered skipping this part of the trip, and looked for Johannes to say something, but he was nowhere to be found.
“He’s dealing with our visas,” Mary, Chris’ mother, explained to me. “Apparently, there’s a problem with them.” Maybe, I thought,they’ll decide to skip Hungary, just as the boat ride down the Danube replaced the trip on the Orient Express. I certainly wouldn’t mind spending more time in Austria!
Long story short; we sat around for 2½ hours. Finally, we were waved through. It was as simple as walking through a gate, after they verified our passports and checked some of our luggage We re-boarded our bus and headed off.
I haven’t said anything about driving in Europe since we left Denmark. That’s because while it’s all been crazy, nothing has stood out. Things definitely stood out here, though! Lakis’ driving skills were tried big time. He kept getting sideswiped, and people kept cutting in front of him. Whenever he passed the offenders, he made a fist with his thumb and pinkie extended, and shoved it towards them, saying, “Malaka!” Then, as the rest of the bus passed, to my mortification, the other tour members would yell out the window, waving the paper flags they’d gotten from the Fourth of July cake yesterday. I just knew we were going to be arrested, taken to Siberia, and shot at sunrise tomorrow!
The landscape very quickly went from mountains and gray skies to bright sunny weather and flat tawny land. It was mostly farmland. Very few buildings were around, but I noticed there were some that were ancient and ornately beautiful, and next to them were cheap-looking copies with the stucco cracking and peeling off.
We soon pulled up to our hotel, with was several one-story buildings in a forest. They were made of wood, and had large glass windows. Johannes stepped off the bus to take care of the necessary business, then he had us file off the bus, naming our roommates as we did so. As one of the last ones off, I got stuck with Gayla.
“This trip has been absolutely awful, hasn’t it?” she complained in her monotone, as we moved our things in our room.
“Well – I have to admit, I don’t feel comfortable in this country,” I agreed.
“They’ve all been bad! The people on this tour are so mean and cliquish; haven’t you noticed?”
“Uh – not really. I haven’t been paying attention.”
“One guy left because everyone was so mean. He joined the tour group coming behind us.”
So it was that bad? At least he got an extra day in Europe for free! “Really? Who was he?”
“I forget his name, but he couldn’t take it anymore. He left us yesterday, in Vienna. Johannes has made no effort to break up the cliques, and since Lakis can’t speak English too well, there’s not much he can do.”
“Speaking of Lakis, what was he doing and saying while he was driving? Do you know?” I asked.
“He was saying ‘bastard’ in Greek. Also, that gesture he made is the Greek way of flipping people off.”
“Wow. I’m really beginning to feel nervous, here. And then those kids waved American flags out the window at those drivers… I think I'd rather skip this part of the tour.”
“I want to go home! Everyone’s so cold, all they want to do is get drunk, and the places we’ve stayed have all been terrible!”
“Well,” I said, looking around, “Except for Holland, I’ve liked all the hotels. Especially this one.” I’ve always loved wood and glass architecture.
Gayla rolled her eyes. “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
I had just finished settling in when she returned. “Don’t be too quick to give this place a good rating,” she said. “The bathrooms are at least a 5 minute walk from here, and there’s no toilet paper. Also, there’s no hot water for the showers. Do you still think this is a nice place?”
I shrugged. “At least it’s pretty.”
“So what if it is? Anyway, we better get ready. They’ll be starting a tour of Budapest in a few minutes.”
I took the roll of toilet paper I’d bought in Riverside and looked for the bathroom. Another thing I haven’t talked about yet is the type of toilet paper used in Europe. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories, which is why I bought some before leaving the US. It turns out it’s not that bad; everywhere we went, it was this rough, wrinkled, brown stuff, but it did the job. So this was the first time I was using the roll I’d brought.
We soon re-boarded the bus, joined by our local tour guide, a woman who was in a really bad mood. Johannes told us it had something to do with our visa mix-up, but I couldn’t understand why that would affect her. We crossed the DanubeRiver on an ancient stone bridge, then entered the city of Budapest. It was supposed to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest, but I couldn’t understand the significance of that. I did notice the sharp contrast between the beautiful ornate 17th century buildings that had withstood World War II and the poor excuses for replacements next to them.
The people wore richly embroidered clothing; I was glad the Soviets at least hadn’t taken away that part of their culture. Perhaps Hungary wasn’t so bad after all; they did dress better than the citizens of East Germany.
At one point, we got off the bus and were allowed to exchange money. I bought a Hungarian doll for the equivalent of $3 US. Donna bought a heavily embroidered blouse for $12. Though no one spoke English in the shop, it was really interesting how we were able to communicate using body language. Hungarian sounds similar to Spanish, even though the languages are in no way related, and the way they dress and some of the architecture reminds me of Mexico in a way. The people in the shop were very friendly, and I began to relax.
We returned to our hotels and dressed up for dinner. We all gathered at the edge of a small lake, and a boat ferried us over to an island that held a classy restaurant that was wood and glass, just like our hotel rooms. While we sailed over, the song, “Morning Has Broken” played over the speakers. It added a really special touch.
Once at the restaurant, we were each given a shot of liqueur. “Yeesh, this stuff’s nasty!” whined Gayla. “They should give us something with this.”
“Actually, I noticed it tastes a little like cherries,” I said.
Chris’ mother Mary gaped at me, surprised. “You must have a really sensitive tongue, to pick up on that!” she commented.
“Are you gonna get drunk again, like you did at the castle?” sneered Gayla.
“I don’t know – it depends on what they serve here, and how much,” I coolly answered.
“Everyone’s so immature here!” snapped Gayla, to Mary. “Look at Donna, in that off-the-shoulder blouse! I’ll bet she’s trying to catch a Gypsy!”
“She just bought that here,” I said. “It seems to me she’d be wearing a lot less, if she wanted to do that. Either that, or drink 2 ½ glasses of Austrian wine like I did a couple days ago.”
“You really went overboard, with that old man!”
“That’s what vacations are for!”
We filed into the restaurant, and were seated. While we ate dinner, an ornately-dressed dancer whirled into the room, balancing a bottle on her head, to Gypsy music, and we all clapped. She was joined by an equally well-dressed singer, who played the violin. The entertainment continued throughout dinner, and after that they held a dance. I got to dance and flirt with a good-looking male who was one of the waiters. He couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Hungarian, but in spite of that, we managed to carry on some semblance of a conversation. We even exchanged addresses, at the end of the evening! I wonder if, as a Soviet citizen, he’s allowed to accept letters from the US. This is going to be interesting!
Gayla didn’t dance. She was silent on the trip back to the hotel, and went to bed immediately. I stayed up and talked with Chris’ mother and aunt. I noticed Chris disappeared with a local girl soon as the boat docked, and made a point of saying nothing about it.
“Gayla’s right,” Anna said. “This group is very unfriendly. The only good clique is the one with Chiara, Jennifer, and Donna.”
“The worst one is Robin, Leah, and Garnet,” added Mary. “How are you doing? Are you having a good time on this trip, in spite of this?”
“I’m having the time of my life,” I answered.
“Even though you keep getting stuck with Gayla? She whines way too much; that’s why she’s left out.”
“Yoleen is a very independent person,” Anna answered. “She doesn’t let other people drag her down. Do you?” she asked me.
“I guess I don’t. To tell you the truth, I haven’t really noticed. I’ve been too busy meeting locals.”
“That’s what I mean.”
I had to admit, part of this was my fault, too. I hadn’t been very social with the group. I didn’t even learn all their names. I decided to make an effort to get more involved with them, from now on.
Tuesday, July 6
The next morning, we set off to Yugoslavia. The flat dry land gave way to the Yugoslavian alps, and the quality of the architecture improved. I’d read Yugoslavia is the least oppressed country in the Soviet Union; apparently this was true. I was relieved to pass over the Hungarian boarder, especially since we had no problems there.
We went to tour the Postonja Caves. They looked a lot like the Mercer Caverns in California; stalagmites and stalactites everywhere, and various cathedral-like chambers.
That night, after dinner, Johannes assigned our rooms. Gayla was nowhere around, and I was the very last person. Leah, Garnet, and Robin were before me, and chose each other as roommates. So I wound up in a room all by myself.
This wouldn’t have bothered me, except I noticed a creepy-looking local man staring at me as I went to my room. It frightened me, so I wound up sleeping with the lights on – and needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.
Wednesday, July 7
I finally fell asleep at dawn, and when I woke up, breakfast was already over. I grabbed my luggage and ran to the bus.
“Wait a minute,” said a waitress. “I didn’t see you at breakfast.”
“That’s because I just got up,” I explained.
“How about if I make you a pastrami sandwich?”
“Sure, that would be great!”
The others looked at me enviously as I ate my pastrami sandwich on the bus. They’d had the same monotonous continental breakfast they’d been having for nearly 2 weeks; my being late had gotten me a reward.
Yugoslavia was supposed to be the easiest Soviet country to exit, but it made leaving East Germany look like a breeze. We sat on the bus for three hours while poor Johannes haggled over our visas. Some of the guys passed the time by getting off the bus and playing Frisbee. I couldn’t understand how they could do that; I was too worried to do so. However, they had the right idea; at least their minds were occupied.
Finally we were able to leave. We headed off to Italy – and Venice.
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas