It has now been just over five months since I moved into Caisteal na Ialtag Gaileach. Before anyone wonders if the place is finished: no. It isn’t. Not remotely.
However, by February I was fortunate enough to have all the ceilings plastered and painted, a literal half-ton of flooring delivered, the bedrooms all stripped and the walls fixed and painted up, and even carpets in some of upstairs. Bathroom door’s still hanging on one hinge, but my mate had come over and helped me transform the kitchen from a dingy square room that, for some reason, had neither cupboard space nor room for actual appliances, to a slightly larger, dusty-ridden square which, um, ditto.
(Originally, the lack of space was largely due to some sort of what we think was supposed to be a pantry. It took up half of one wall, the back half of it couldn’t even be reached, since it was six feet by one, the sliding door only went three feet, you had to reach in at an angle, and it had a solitary shelf at the top that… yeah. I have no idea who designed that. And yet, presumably, every single one of these houses had one!) She had a plan for the electrics, drawn on the wall like some sort of charming modern cave-painting, and had plasterboarded some of the other walls. I was extremely grateful.
Not that that stopped me fecking off to Budapest for five days. I had realised back in the autumn that the winter in this place was going to be one long grind, and I would probably need something to look forward to. In fact, the “building a new life” part of that title is woefully misleading. After a miserable month in October when just none of the feelers I put out to find extra cash came up trumps, November finally let loose with both all the overtime I could handle at work, and a home audio-typing gig which, while paying somewhat less than minimum wage, was better than a poke in the eye, and at least didn’t have any overheads. My life from that point on had been a) work, b) some more work, c) a slightly different sort of work, d) packing, e) unpacking and f) DIY. Never let it be said that I’m a joyless cow, what.
Plus, I had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for months, because the bed frame has only so many turns of the screws left in it, and with the plasterers chasing me and my heap of possessions from room to room every couple of days, it seemed folly to waste them. Budapest, by comparison, had a hotel room. With a bed. With a shower! And also (this is the major draw) Gloryhammer were playing. I know there is a considerable risk in trying to recreate the most amazing gig of your life, and it’s never what the first time was, and expectations are notorious for killing what would otherwise be perfectly lovely experiences, but screw it.
There was even wi-fi in the hotel I had chosen for its proximity to the venue (no trying to flag down a cab in a foreign language in a city I don’t know on a Friday night, I’m walking) so I could spend some time on holiday at work! Wooooo! Business travel! Or, you know, something.
So, first things first, I was all, I have not been to Budapest in over twenty years! I wonder if you can still go in that cave? I wonder if those big, crablike, armoured spiders are still all over Charles Bridge?
That was Prague. Budapest is the one where I discovered I had come down with mumps.
It was a slight consolation that all my colleagues got them mixed up too. I even had to explain that Bucharest is an entirely different city, with nothing to do with either of them. Mind you, and I love all my colleagues dearly, I have been told I am regarded as being a tad Exotic in the office, on account of having lived in both Glasgow and Aberdeenshire.
It is worth saying that they all, also, thought I was absolutely off my rocker to be going on holiday abroad alone. As did all my relatives. I was a bit surprised, it being 2020 and all that, and Budapest is not, say, [name of place expunged so as not to cause offence] but I ended up faithfully promising that I would really, really try and scare up at least one friend to accompany me. Gloryhammer narrowed that down somewhat, admittedly. To one friend, who actually really, really would have, but her finances are actually more dire than mine right now. (I’ll PAY for you! I said, recklessly ignoring fiscal reality. AND your hubby! It’s GLORYHAMMER!
Mercifully, she declined.)
Budapest is apparently a haven of pickpockets in the touristy areas, so I was repeatedly informed. It’s off season! I said, though admittedly I was unsure whether this meant they had all closed up shop or if I would have a whole horde of them to myself; possibly wandering gormlessly down the street, camera in hand, gawking about, while fifty or so would-be thieves jockeyed for position.
(Nothing like that happened. The closest it came was when my city pass fell out of my pocket onto the floor as I was getting up to go for a smoke, and someone pointed it out to the waiter, and the waiter came sprinting out to the terrace and gave it back to me).
So I had five days in Budapest, if you count the ones spent mostly travelling, and was worried this would not be anywhere near enough time, honestly, since the list of “things I wanted to see” had overrun onto the second side of a page of A4. Also, while it had been freezing rain, sleet, and ice in Central Scotland, making the short days even shorter, for approximately, ooh, forever, from the moment I arrived in the continental weather system, it was bright, straw-pale sunlight and bright, biting winds as far as the (watering) eye could see.
I had brought thermals. I always do.
I also, to my great sense of personal accomplishment, managed to get the city pass in the first place (and miserably failed to tan the crap out of it, thereby getting my money’s worth, but it did provide the peace of mind of all public transport being pre-paid, and you can’t have everything), and then navigate public transport all the way to nearly-the-hotel. Even though this involved quite a series of busses and underground trains, some of which were off. Since the bags were much more annoying than I had anticipated, I was glad I hadn’t stuck to my original plan of just walking half way there.
I can’t really remember the last time I was properly Abroad, let alone Abroad Alone. Ten years? As usual, the first thing that struck me was how many of the signs and billboards were in English. The second thing that struck me was how much of the graffiti was in English. The third thing that struck me was how this is always the first, and second, thing that strikes me about being Abroad, but hell, there’s not much else to look at on the bus from the airport.
The hotel has a bed. The hotel has a hot shower. The hotel has a buffet breakfast that features almost everything you could conceive as breakfast, and a few that nobody but me would (salad, olives, pickles) and yes, my colleagues, who I love dearly, are also horrified by my habit of eating quiche or, god forbid, pot noodles for breakfast. I shall be single the rest of my life. It shall be awesome.
The hotel also has a pleasing selection of goth/electronica crossover playing in the lift. I have no idea why.
The first morning, I got up early, took advantage of the city pass and went a wander into town. Now, I was lucky to not be on so much of a budget as I have been in the past (being way too old for hostels, a fact I discovered, erm, ten years ago, in fact), so knowing that I could do almost anything I wanted and not have to regret it until I actually got home was very freeing. I went on the funicular up to the castle, for instance, though I could have walked it instead. (Free with city pass on weekends only, it turned out). I wandered around the castle, I wandered along the river, I wandered around the Fisherman’s Bastion, (which is amazingly pretty, think Rivendell if a bunch of Middle Earth dwarves had seen Rivendell and said, You know, lads, we can do twee better than that. I spent literally five whole minutes unable to get leave down a flight of white stone stairs, as wide as a bus is long, for all the people taking selfies on them.)
Having finally escaped down the stairs, I discovered there was an actual nuclear bunker, with an actual hospital in (called the Hospital in the Rock, appropriately enough) only five minutes back the way I had come. Sigh. Sorry, fellow tourists, coming through.
I had just missed a tour, but it was also late enough in the morning that I could go have a mulled wine to take the chill off, in an adorable little family-run cafe. I practiced saying, Thank you, and so forth in Polish. It is not pronounced anything like the phrase book claims.
The Hospital in the Rock is awesome. If a tad alarmingly NOT underground by very much at all, I mean, there wasn’t even a lift we had to go down. I could pretty much turf over my roof and have the same amount of effect. Lots and lots of history, though, and they had scads of the original stuff left there, and lots of mocked up history, and a big display on nuclear war at the end that was really a bit traumatic (as it should be, frankly). My one regret was not buying a gas mask, as they were cheap and totally worth it. (What would I use it for though? I said, Coronavirus being a blissful month off in the future.)
Let’s see my notes from it at the time.
Me: “Things have been a bit stressful recently. I will go see my favourite band in Budapest! But FIRST, I will take a few days and go to things like this nuclear bunker, because I am sick of blowing my nose black on account of living in a building site that hasn’t been renovated since being built in the early sixties!”
Nuclear bunker tour guide: “This nuclear bunker was completed in the early sixties. Also, be aware of your health! It is full of dust since it is being renovated!”
Plus ca change.
Yeah, I still agree with that sentiment.
I wandered into the centre of town, found a Ruin Bar (I had heard fantastic, amazing things about Ruin Bars), found it did not take cards, found a cash machine, went through at least three apps trying to load up me Monzo card so I could withdraw cash, finally went for a drink in said Ruin Bar and discovered it was very much like, say, The Thirteenth Note in Glasgow. Which is a perfectly good place to drink, I’ve been doing it off and on for years, and seen a lot of awesome gigs there, but, yeah.
Well, it was a thing off the list. While in there, I took advantage of finally being abroad with some sort of smart phone worthy of the name, booked a ticket on a “cruise of the river with a Free Mulled Wine”, finished my drink and sauntered over to the docks.
There was not especially any free mulled wine, but the drinks were a whole quid each, so I could not complain. Also, it was a bit of a sit down, which was nice. I do appear to be approximately the only person in the entire city holidaying on my own, I did notice, but I chalked that up to the sort of paranoia people who aren’t yet entirely comfortable in their own skin feel about that sort of thing.
And after that, I wandered the other way along the docks until I found a metro station, and went back to the hotel for dinner, drinks and some work. And bed! In an actual bed! LIVING THE DREAM!