ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

My First Night in Budapest: I Meet László

Updated on April 12, 2015
I admire the Buda Castle from a Danube River Bridge. I later lost the hat, which a friend had described as "horrid".
I admire the Buda Castle from a Danube River Bridge. I later lost the hat, which a friend had described as "horrid".

A mysterious Hungarian man named László wanted to talk to me. He had given me his number.

I had spent an entire day and night getting to Budapest by air, connecting at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and going from there to Liszt Ferenc Airport, about twenty miles south of central Budapest. I crashed in an airport hotel, slept till nearly noon, and wandered through cold drizzle through an industrial park to hop on a bus to the nearest subway station. László would have been proud of me.

A subway car full of Hungarian people, looking uncertainly at the tired and fierce-looking American man in their midst, gave me little encouragement. Was it possible that one of them knew László? I wanted to ask them about the guy, but I was a bit shy and still very tired.

Finally I emerged from the underground at Ferenciek tere, a station near a town square of the same name. Evidently I had gone through a time warp of some kind. Except for the Japanese cars on the street and a few spoilsports jogging in spandex suits listening to their iPods through earbuds, I had taken a great leap 130 years back in time! I had always wanted to know how it felt to live in the nineteenth century. Now, for four days, I would have the privilege. László would make or break me—if I could ever find the guy.

A throwback to the 19th Century: the view from the subway portal at Ferenciek tere.
A throwback to the 19th Century: the view from the subway portal at Ferenciek tere.

László owned several flats in a complex called the Central Budapest Apartments, and he had kindly agreed to rent one of them to me for the tidy sum of around $220. Actually, it wasn’t $220, but some ungodly sum in Hungarian Forints. Something like sixty thousand of those worthless little Forints would change hands between László and me if I could ever find his elusive place.

I walked up and down the streets, but I found nothing familiar about the year 1880. I was forced to do something I didn’t want to do: whip out my cell phone, start using an international global plan for what would surely be several thousand dollars a minute, and actually call László since I couldn’t figure out where the hell his place was.

“Meet me at the Catholic church,” László instructed me tersely. A man of few words, this László. I began to suspect that maybe he was a spy. I’d end up with a good hotel deal, but by tomorrow night I’d be floating face-first down the middle of the Danube.

I was sorry László had been so quick to press the “end call” button, because when I looked around me I saw about six churches. I decided Budapest must be a very religious place. I did some quick math and determined that for every ten living beings in the town there was one huge cathedral.

“Must be some really big bills in the collection plates,” I surmised.

When I finally reached my accommodations I had this view as I swung open my window.
When I finally reached my accommodations I had this view as I swung open my window.

I saw somebody waving at me by one of the churches, the one that was Catholic. I hadn’t noticed the denominations of the other churches, but I imagine one was Southern Baptist, one was Jehovah’s Witness, one was African Methodist Episcopalian and one was Latter Day Saints.

I knew the man waving at me had to be László. He really did look like a spy. I was scared.

“Good aff-tair-noon,” he greeted me in a thick accent and a mischievous smile. He was wearing a coat that I suspected had a gun in one of its interior pockets. “Follow me and I vill show you to your apartment.”

This was how the arcade looked when László opened the first gate.
This was how the arcade looked when László opened the first gate.

He had laser-like blue eyes, a pasty complexion and a receding hairline; about forty years old, of medium height. He pulled out a hornet’s nest of keys from his pocket and led me to a large black wrought iron gate which opened into an old arcade covered with small floor tiles.

“Zees is open during veekdays,” he promised me. Today was Sunday. He fidgeted with his hornet’s nest and within five seconds found a key which opened the gate. He yanked it shut behind us and we walked to a creaky elevator which had room for two thin midgets.

“Tight sqveeze,” László admitted and then László was pressed against me and I could smell in his breath all the spicy goulashes he had been eating for the last three days. On the fourth floor I peeled myself off of him and limped out of the elevator. He whipped out another key from his large collection and opened a black gate in front of a door to a suite of rooms. Then he selected yet another key to open the heavy wooden door.

“You vill only need von key,” he instructed me, then leaned his shoulder into the bulky door to push it open. “You dun’t need to lock zee gate.”

The interior of the apartment was in keeping with the old-world ambiance of the neighborhood itself.
The interior of the apartment was in keeping with the old-world ambiance of the neighborhood itself.

As soon as we got inside and László began showing me around his place, I saw that he was really a great big blue-eyed Hungarian teddy bear. He whipped out maps of Budapest. “Dun’t go there,” he circled one district with a pen. “Too ex-pen-seev. Turr-eest TRAPS!... About zee bath spas… My personal favor-eet is Széchenyi. It’s right here. You take zee Metro train. Gellért Baths, you can walk zhere, but not as exciting and costs more.... Király is smaller…”

“You’re a good guy, László,” I admitted to him, and I jerked out my wallet, turned it over, and emptied all the bills in it onto the table for his immediate consumption. Suddenly I became László’s best buddy. American Turr-eest Extraordinaire!

“Sank you very much, Meester Craw-ford,” he shook my hand. And then I was off to the races. It was almost dark already! I needed to explore some of the town on foot.

Buda Castle from the Elisabeth Bridge across the Danube River.
Buda Castle from the Elisabeth Bridge across the Danube River.

Within a few minutes I was crossing the Danube River on the Elisabeth Bridge and admiring the romantic charm of the old town as it prepared for evening. “Budapest” is a misnomer of sorts. It is actually a combination of the names of the original towns on opposite sides of the river: Pest, on the left bank, which is today the more populated and developed side; and Buda, on the right bank, which is hilly and less commercial. Not until 1873 were the two consolidated into a single municipality (along with a smaller town named Óbuda). Once I had crossed to the Buda side I wanted to scale the hill to the Buda Castle (Budavári Palota), where I hoped to enjoy the nighttime view of the Hungarian capital city in lights.

It was misty now, and cool: the first week of December. The wet stones of the fortress glistened under the lights. I climbed to the top of a long flight of stairs and there in the chilly mist beheld a wondrous sight: the nineteenth century reincarnated, full of cathedrals, palaces and museums. The Castle itself, originally built on its current site in 1265, is now a national gallery.

View of the Pest side from the Buda Castle, with the Chain Bridge in the foreground and St. Stephen's Basilica in the distance.
View of the Pest side from the Buda Castle, with the Chain Bridge in the foreground and St. Stephen's Basilica in the distance.

The mist became rain and with umbrella-less determination I went back down to the Danube again and crossed it to Pest on the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Originally built in 1849, this was the first permanent span over the Danube in the entirety of Hungary. It was destroyed by the Nazi army in 1945 and rebuilt after World War 2.

Nearby I saw a Christmas festival in Elizabeth Square and nearly got mesmerized by all the festivity underneath the shadow of the city’s largest Catholic church, the 1905 St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika). At an unguarded moment I lost control of my senses and began to reach for my wallet out of sheer carelessness.

Then I remembered. László had circled this district on the map and told me not to get suckered here.

I kept my wallet in my pants and hurried back to my flat. The smiling spirit of László hovered over me.

A holiday festival, popular to international tourists, was being held near St. Stephen's Basilica.
A holiday festival, popular to international tourists, was being held near St. Stephen's Basilica.

© 2015 James Crawford

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Rana Pecarski profile image

      Rana Pecarski 

      3 years ago from Texas

      I plan on visiting Budapest this summer. Thanks for the info, it is information I needed!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)