I’m in Hungary! I forget if I mentioned this before, but I am on an exchange-like program between University of Manitoba (U of M) and Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME). I will be studying here until mid-late May and will be traveling from then until the middle of June. This whole program will be counted as my final year group design project required for my Computer Engineering degree.

Many people have told me that I should be keeping a journal of my time here, and I just decided I might as well share it on my blog. It might be a bit lengthy, so feel free to skim. I have included the first 2 entries in my journal as part of this post.

Entry 1 – January 23, 2010

Flying to Budapest was relatively uneventful. Our transfer in Frankfurt was a little hectic. We dis-boarded the plane onto the tarmac and a man with a sign saying “Budapest flight 3444” directed us away from the rest of the passengers onto our own bus. Somehow the other two Manitobans didn’t make it onto the bus, but we caught up with them later. We first got shuttled to a building where we went through security and got our passports stamped. I somehow set off the metal detector so I got patted down and had to take off my shoes so they could go through the x-ray machine. By the time we cleared security, the plane should have been boarded 15 or so minutes prior, according to our boarding passes. We next got shuttled off to some other building where we went up a flight of stairs, had our boarding passes scanned, and were sent back down the stairs to catch another bus that sent us straight onto our final plane. That last bus had the other Manitobans on it and they apparently had to sprint all over the Frankfurt terminal while we were getting bus rides. All in all we were only in Frankfurt for maybe half an hour before we got on the next plane.

Frankfurt was also our first chance to experience any kind of language barrier. Since it was an international airport, most people spoke pretty good English, but they definitely preferred German. On the last plane, run by a German owned airline, most stuff was in German, though the flight attendants spoke pretty good English.

Touching down in Hungary, I felt the nervousness start to sink in. I hadn’t really given much thought to anything after that last plane ride. I was now in a foreign country, did not speak the native language, and I had to find the hotel that was reserved by someone I didn’t know. We ended up catching the MiniBusz and got to our Hotel alright, after a small amount of confusion from the first MiniBusz ticket booth.

Once at the hotel, there was a small bit of confusion about the reservation. We first told the lady at the desk our names and she seemed a bit confused. She asked if we had been redirected from the Hotel Griff Jr., which we had been, so we said yes. We signed some forms and were given a key. We were under the impression that Sunny Sandhu, the guy who had booked the Hotel Ventura room, would either be there already or shortly after. By Supper time, we still hadn’t heard from him, so we went to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner.

While at the restaurant, we were talking about how we might meet up with Sunny. Matt mentioned that he was probably the only brown guy we would see there and we happened to look over and there was a brown gentleman across the restaurant sitting by himself. He got a text, left the restaurant, and about 5 or 10 minutes later, he came back and walked straight to our table.

What happened was that we introduced ourselves to the lady at the front desk as Benjamin and Matthew while the reservation was under Ben and Matt and they were unfamiliar with the nicknames. Somehow, Sunny’s sister contacted the Hotel and was told that Sunny was not in his room but that his two guests had arrived. She texted Sunny to check in on him and he was confused about the guests thing. He checked with the front desk and they were confused about the guest thing, so he came to the restaurant and noticed us sitting there, not looking like Hungarians (plus Matt was wearing his U of M hoodie) so he asked if we were us.

After we realized we were in different rooms, Matt and I went back to our room after dinner and decided to wait for Sunny to finish his dinner before we sorted out the room. About 30 minutes later, Sunny came to our room saying that the front desk was somewhat upset that we had somehow sneaked into a different room. We went back with Sunny to the front desk and the guy behind the desk just about popped when we told him the three of us were supposed to be in the same room. He just started rambling in Hungarian and we caught the odd swear word, then he stormed off to the back room where he proceeded to smoke a whole cigarette in about 30 seconds. The lady at the desk was also pretty upset and swore a few times. After looking through the records a little, they sorted things out (turns out there were no names on the Hotel Griff Jr. reservation, so that may or may not have been intended to be ours, but our short names were on Sunny’s reservation). The rest of the night was pretty uneventful and we got to bed around 9pm, Budapest time.

The next day was much busier. We started the day with a Hungarian buffet breakfast and then just checking email and such. At the end of that session, I went to unplug the laptop and the charger slipped out of the Europe adapter I was using and I touched a live power prong; my first taste of 240V, 50Hz AC!

At 1:30 we went to university to meet with Dr. Hermati Istvan (surnames and given names are listed opposite to how they are in North America). He showed us the lab and introduced us to a few of his grad students. He also showed us where a bunch of the other buildings owned by the university are and also a fairly nice Chinese restaurant where we had a late lunch.

At this point, we had only seen the Buda side of the city (the part west of the Dunabe river). Cam and Andy, the other two students from the U of M, invited us to their hostel while we waited for to see some flats with Pierpaolo (the first picture of this post was taken from their hostel window). They had tried to meet up with him the day before, so they asked to join us that evening. We hopped on the tram as it was just pulling into the stop when we decided we were going to go with them, but we didn’t have tickets. Apparently it is all run on the honor system, so you can just do that. On the tram there was a man that had a rat on his sleeve and he was talking to various people. He came up to me and said something and I asked if he spoke English. He said something to the effect of “I’m homeless and if I don’t get help, I will end up like this guy” and he pointed to the rat. The hostel was in a pretty sketchy looking building along one of the major streets, but once we got to the floor that was the hostel, it was actually pretty nice.

At 6 we hopped on the tram again, this time buying a ticket, though not fully knowing the rules, and met up with Pierpaolo and his associate. We had been given two different locations, so we decided to go to the one most recently given to us. Cam and Andy had been told to meet Pierpaolo at the same time and they were given the address we were given first, so they went to that location and we hoped at least one of us would find him (Cam and Andy had somehow missed him on their first attempt, so we were a bit concerned). After waiting for about 15 minutes, Pierpaolo’s friend showed up and said they thought we would be with Cam and Andy at the other location, so we went over there with them to start looking at some flats.

The flats we saw were pretty nice and in a good location (the first was right above a unicycle shop!). They had been newly renovated and were fully equipped with furniture and kitchen stuff (pots, pans, etc.). The second flat we saw had better bed rooms, but the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms were smaller (the main bathroom had a slanted ceiling and you could barely stand). Both flats just had sitting showers, but that is something that I think is pretty common here. Pierpaolo’s friend said that the advertised prices for each flat were €800 but could likely be brought down to about €650. With utilities and internet likely not costing more than about €150/month, that means rent should be under €300/month per person, which I think is alright for a 4 month stay. At the time of this writing, we haven’t said yes to either as we haven’t seen anything else. We are leaning towards the first one, though.

When we got back to the hotel, we were too late for dinner at the restaurant, so the guy at the reception desk recommended that we order a pizza. We decided to walk down the street a couple of blocks to check out “Dr. Pizza” which we saw on our various commutes down that road. Actually visiting the place worked out good because we discovered the Manhattan pizza: ham, cheese, corn, broccoli, and sour creme, no tomato sauce. It was really good and quite well priced. We also discovered that coke and beer is less expensive than the bottled water served there.

Today, Jan 23, we woke up kind of late and decided to check out the local grocery store, Tesco, to see if they had breakfast food, such as muffins. There was a Tesco Expressz near the hotel, but we decided to go to the full Tesco. It turns out that the full Tesco is about 8 or so blocks further than the Expressz. We found some muffins there as well as some cheap water (2L for $0.50 CAD) that turned out to be carbonated, which apparently is common here. Most restaurants have asked us if we want “still” or “sparkling” (or “with or without gas”).

In the afternoon we went to check out the Allee mall. It was quite big and had lots of shops. None of us really needed to get anything, but now we know where we can. While there, we saw they guy who served us at Dr. Pizza the night before at a restaurant in the mall. He appeared as though he might be serving people in there as well, but it was kind of hard to tell. We went to Subway for lunch and, while the food was familiar, it was one of the first places where the person we were dealing with didn’t really know English, so it was a bit tricky. Eventually we got our meals (and figured out a cash exchange place) and were off to rest at the hotel.

Matt has spent some time trying to figure out transit. The tickets seem to get more and more confusing the more we look into them, but the weekly and monthly passes are pretty simple, so we will probably just pick up a week pass shortly and when school starts, we should get monthly passes for pretty cheap.

Entry 2 – Jan 25, 2010

On Friday, Cam (one of the other Manitobans) mentioned that someone posted on the ESN BME Facebook group that they had a 3 bedroom flat available for quite cheap that was super close to BME. On Saturday she told us that one room was already claimed but that the other two were still open. I asked her if there might be any more flats in the area that would be suitable for us and she later replied saying that she would be willing to give us the entire flat if we could use it as it would simplify her billing. On Sunday we went to take a look at it. The location was beautiful and the distance to BME was walkable in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, the flat itself was not so great. One of the beds was in pretty rough shape and the common room was quite small, probably half the size of our hotel room (which has 3 single beds). One of the bedrooms was about 3 or 4 times bigger, and the other two rooms were about the same size as the common room. The place also felt a little dingy, so we decided to pass on it.

Today was kind of adventurous for us. We started it off by going to Tesco Expressz for some pastries, none of which were we really confident about the contents. Those panned out alright, though. We thought mine was labeled “farmer’s cheese” but it ended up being lemony. It may have also been a bit cheesy too.

Later, we tried to meet up with someone to see a flat at 1pm but didn’t realize quite where it was or how long it would take to get there, so we missed him by about a minute (he waited about 18 minutes after, we got there probably about 19 minutes after). Next we hunted down a place with internet and eventually found an Apple repair shop that was kind enough to let us use one of their computers to find the guy’s phone number so we could reschedule. Next we tried to use a payphone and it didn’t take any coins and none of our Visas/MasterCards worked. We tried going into a couple stores to use their phones, but no one wanted to lend them. We then went to the metro station and found pay phones that used coins. We tried dialing the number we found in the email but it either didn’t ring or gave us that “your call cannot go through” beeping sound.

We then went back outside and found a hotel and asked the receptionist how to dial the number and she explained that the area code we were using was for calling into Hungary (or Budapest, I’m not sure) and that we should change the 36 to an 06 if we are calling the number locally. That was very helpful, but we couldn’t use the phone there, so we went back to the payphones in the metro station. We called the guy and he agreed to meet us at 3pm (buy the time we finally got a hold of him, it was probably already 2pm).

After we got the meeting rescheduled, we noticed the transit ticket booth right next door, so we decided to get ourselves 7-day passes which allow unlimited access to public transit. This helped clear up the confusion we were having with the single use tickets (which apparently are no good for transfers). Once we hit orientation week, we should be getting monthly passes at a serious student discount, so that will help a lot.

We decided we didn’t want to leave the area in case we took too long to get back again, but we needed to use the washroom and the metro station washrooms seemed kind of sketchy, so we walked around a bit. We found what we thought was a mall and went into the basement, which looked like a happening place, but turned out to just be the opposite corner of the metro station, which was alright because there was a Burger King there with bathrooms that seemed less sketchy.

So I go into the Burger King restroom and they have stalls, one of which I enter. This stall contained only a urinal. I unzip and just as I do so, the thing starts to flush and I figure it is just doing so because there was someone in there just prior to me, so I just wait a moment. It slowly fills more and more until it is at the brim (it started off essentially empty) and I figure it is just one of those things that nearly fills before it drains. Next thing I know, it is pouring onto the floor so I zip up and run out of there. I probably should have told one of the employees, but the language barrier had me concerned, so we just left. We then found a different hotel (we didn’t want to bother the lady from the previous one twice) and it had very nice washrooms, so we used them and then just wandered around a bit until the guy showed up. Just before he got there, though, I decided to make sure we were at the right place and, sure enough, we were one building over, so we relocated and a few minutes later Péter showed up to show us the flat.

The flats were alright. Definitely in a good price bracket, but not the best shape. The second last one he was going to show us looked great from the outside, but the current tenant wasn’t moving out until mid Feb, which he only found out once we got to the door, so it wasn’t going to work for us. The last flat he showed us was pretty big and had 10 single beds in it. I think that it had 4 bedrooms and a living room, each with 2 singles in it. It also had a stand up shower stall with jets in the wall. The downside was that it flat felt kind of run down.

When we got back to the hotel, we checked my email and we had a reply from another flat search site with some options listed. One was a two floor flat with 4 bedrooms, 5 beds total, that had a stand up shower AND a separate tub with a sit-down shower. It also had a killer looking stairway and view. The only major problems are that it was more expensive and not in the exciting part of town. We really wanted to check it out, but didn’t want a repeat of the earlier meet-up and so we left super early and were a full hour early for our meeting. We went and got some tea and just chilled there (Sunny slept) until about 10 minutes before we were to meet up. Seeing the apartment, it felt really awesome, but chatting about it after supper, I am not so sure about it. Oh well.

When we got back to the hotel to discuss the flat situation, I was playing with my 5x5x5 Rubik’s Cube (aka Professor’s Cube) and solved it. Yay!

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  1. In formerly communist Hungary, urinal pees on you!