After checking out a children’s concert at a Polish cultural festival, I hopped on a bus for Budapest. The road took us through Slovakia and was really a beautiful drive. I got to Budapest around midnight and eventually found a hostel with space.
Budapest was really gorgeous. The Duna River (what the Danube goes by in that neck of the woods) divides the Buda and Pest sections of the city, and there are benches lined up all along both banks. The light was always golden and it was wonderfully warm–perfect conditions for kicking back with an old paperback and some pálinka.
Ah, pálinka… A Hungarian specialty. Most people think this fruit brandy is just too sweet, but boy I couldn’t get enough. My favorite flavor was the apricot, which incidentally is called Barack. I picked up a bottle of this, as well as the plum variety, to share with my dad in Paris in 2 weeks. In my hostel was a 51 year old Iranian woman named Banash. She kept me and the Spanish couple in our room fascinated with her travel adventures from around the world. One night she and I went out for pálinka, beers, and some live local music. And then there were the souvenirs… the only time in Europe I bought that much stuff, but all those handmade crafts! I was like a sitting duck, and I can’t say I’m sorry about it. All in all, it was a very laid back time in Budapest.
I got up one morning and decided to split town, so I took a train south to Pécs. This is going to be the European Cultural Capital of 2010, so I figured I had to check it out before it became jaded from fame. I met a German girl on the bus to the hostel, and there we picked up an English guy, and the three of us headed out for some grub. I finally had some gulas, and the restaurant gave us all free shots of pálinka with our beers. Can you see where this is going? Afterwards Anna, Alan, and I went to a bar recommended by our hostel receptionist. When we walked in he was sitting at the bar, happy that we took his advice. Time for more pálinkas, the bartender’s favorite. Then Anna suggested that Alan and I try Unicom. It’s another Hungarian thing, and I can’t really describe it as anything but horrible. Beers immediately followed to wash out the taste. A few hours later the three of us stumbled back to the hostel while the receptionist stayed behind to hold down the bar.
The next day we did some exploring. Pécs is a small town, so there wasn’t much to do besides relax. After Anna headed off in her own direction, Alan and I grabbed 2 bottles of Hungarian wine and a frozen pizza and camped out on the balcony of our room. There was one other guest in another room, and the receptionist had disappeared again, so we blasted the Hungarian jazz and drank the night away. The resulting hang-over of 2 nights’ drinking was whiled away on an ancient Communist train through Hungary, across Croatia, and finally into Ljubljana around 3 AM.
So after a few hours’ sleep I headed out this morning into the bright Slovenian morning. I wandered around the center of this little city (about 240,000 people) and was about to grab a sandwich when I heard some music coming off the street. A group of 7 Hare Krishnas were strolling down the pedestrian streets, singing, playing an accordian, beating on drums, tinkling tinklers, and handing out literature. Now, there are two lessons I’ve learned well in my life. Number 1 comes from traveling, and that is to never pass up an opportunity, because even if the opportunity is still there tomorrow you may not be. Number 2 comes from growing up in New Orleans: When you see a parade of happy musicians coming your way, you join in. So we all made our way dancing and singing through the streets, drawing stares, smiles, and lots of people looking away embarassed. I was the only one not dressed up as a Hare Krishna, but I enjoyed my special walking tour of the city. Eventually we ended up at the temple, where the music continued and the dancing got good.
You can’t be a good dancer on an empty stomach, so next came my favorite part of the Hare Krishna, that delicious vegetarian meal. Today’s lunch was speghetti made by one of the devotees (and I mean he did more than boil the water) and it was all organic. I whiled away a couple hours at a picnic table with my host Petra and some of the other Kirshna ladies. Tomorrow they’ve asked me to return for another program and meal, and afterwards I will go north to Lake Bled, hopefully getting a ride from one of the devotees. Ooh yeah.
So Ljubljana is a nice little city. It’s very green–the huge park with open fields, the trees everywhere, and even the river is emerald. I had a great afternoon walking around enjoying the weather, passing street musicians and a couple weddings. I bought some new pants since my last pair split a few days ago, completely worn out. There was a plate of crispy calamari in there somewhere. And coming up next is a bar with a rock band. And I guess a drink or two.