One by one, we say goodbye…

Day 13: 30 July 2004

Friday. When my alarm goes off just after 5 o’clock in the morning, I know that today of all days I must get up. As 5.30 approaches we are all carrying out our bags to the yard. The sky is grey but with hints of brightness to come and the air is fresh. There is no sign of Attila and Babor, and Helen begins to worry about how we wil get our bags to Kelemer to catch the early bus.

For a few of us it is not necessary, but rather preferred by way of sociability, to catch the early bus, but for most there are afternoon an early-evening flights to catch. For Louise it is even tighter; the arrival time of the bus in Budapest is her check-in time.

In the end, Gabor does wake, with minutes to spare, seriously hung over from the party the night before and we stash the bags into the green monster before setting off on foot at a pace.

Listening out as we leave Gömörszőlős for the last time, we don’t hear any of Irene’s tape of Hungarian folk music playing as she promised, but we haven’t got time to linger.

Steven, Jessica and I break out ahead, walking fast along the road to Kelemer. The green monster overtakes us only to stop a short way after. Gabor gets out, slow and unsteady. He’s clearing his head, taking in some much needed fresh, clean, north-Hungarian air. He really shouldn’t be driving in this condition, but there is no other option.

The bus arrives right on schedule. After finding corners to stow our bags in the already full luggage compartments, we pay the 2080 HUF (approximately six quid) fare and settle down to doze; or in the case of some, to sleep…

Three and a half hours later we are pulling in through the Budapest suburbs and all too soon we are saying goodbye to Louise. She has a taxi dash to make check-in (which will probably cost a fortune). For the rest of us, we have a few moments to regroup and stand around aimless and exhausted and uncertain, each one of us, not wanting to be the next to leave, but knowing that one of us must.

As it turns out the next, is Ewan – his Oxford friend now living in Budapest has arrived they go off to lunch (most likely a good salad) before Ewan’s flight out. The girs need to stow their bags at the left luggage, and Steve, Martin and I must find our respective hotels. Whilst Helen and Jessica want company to wander in Budapest – maybe visit the indoor market – Zoë has decided that it is the statue park. Leonie and Jessica decide to join her and explore the outside museum of Soviet statues – their final resting place after being torn down from the steets of the city.

Soon then, we are five, and on the M2 metro-bus-replacement into town, at Blaha L. tér, Steve and I disembark and head round the corner to check-in to the Marco Polo and do a quick change in day packs before heading back out to meet up again with Martin, Helen and Jessica.

The luggage room at Marco Polo is opposite reception, and, as I stow my bag, the friendly receptionist, Dori, who first greeted me 14 days ago recognises me. Obviously surprised to see me again so soon, I explain about how I have spent ten days in Gormorszolos – near Kelemer? – Eger then – ah, yes…

Walking down to Astoria we get the tram down to the river and meet outside the grand multi-coloured brick fa¸e;ade of the indoor market. First though, we settle for a coffee in a café on the street – though we actually settle for iced coffees and tea. Whilst stopped here, Jessica buys a Budapest ‘secret’ box hat she has been looking for ever since her first visit to the city. She beats the storekeeper down to 2100 HUF by sympathising with him about the loss of Hungarian land to the surrounding countries.

What we find in the market are isles of good produce in grand surroundings of brick and wrought ironwork. There are stalls of fruit and vegetables aplenty that leave us wondering why, this being the case; the vegetarian food is so woefully dull. Tucked in alongside are stalls selling every conceivable kindof spicy and sweet paprika – seasoning no doubt for the butchers shops opposite with their cuts of meat and slabs of lard (ready for the roast).

Upstairs, we explore the many stalls selling traditional Hungarian lace, and hand sew clothes on the wood stalls we some goblets like the one’s I bough in Eger , and lots of the small wooded trowels for serving salt and paprika yet none of the shallow wooden bowls that accompany them.

From the market, we take a walk along the banks of the Danube from Green Bridge to Elisabeth Bridge before cutting into town to explore the main street. We divert past the oldest church in Hungary; built and rebuilt about four times, this catholic church has two clear styles within. The old, traditional, steep sided arches, and the new smaller arches of the later knave.

Making our way towards the metro stop at Deák F. tér, I take Helen and Jessica to see the grand St Steven’s Basilica. After the churches we have visited up in Northern Hungary, we find the stately grandeur of the basilica a bit much – a bit overly ostentacious. Jessica asks to borrow 60 HUF, so we giver her the, what would be 3p, so that she can light a candle whilst the rest of us process around the rear of the alter to the gold case containing the mummified right hand of St. Steven himself.

On route to see the Budapest Opera House we pass the stately frontage of the British Embassy, where, it is revealed Jessica played violin with her youth orchestra on her last visit to the city five years ago.

And so, returning to Deák F. tér it is time for another goodbye, and to loose another two from our company; as Helen and Jessica board the M2 Metro (bus replacement) back to Nepstadion to reclaim their luggage, meet up again with Zoë, Leonie and Judy and catch airport minibus.

The girls departed, Martin, Steven and I find our way back to the centre for a last “group” meal – a greek sald on a streetside restaurant (with toilets that you have to ride a glass elevator eight floors up and cross a roof garden to reach).

Whilst we lunch, thunder rumbles in, and the rain comes down. When we decide at last to leave, it is a mad dash from shop doorway to shop doorway round the corner to where Martin has earmarked a classical music shop and where peruse the traditional Hungarian folk music on offer.

With the rain eased off we wander back across town, and find ourselves on the corner of one of the main streets and outside of Martin’s hotel. He decides to go and check-in to his room, and have an early night – in minutes there are only tow of us left where once, a few short hours ago, there were thirteen.

Tiredness begins to catch up on me and we decide to wander slowly in the direction of the Marco Polo. At a small supermarket we collect snacks for the evening and upon returning to my room, I shower, write up my journal, and go to bed early.

Day Fourteen: The last breakfast; cold meats and cheese…


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