A Gypsy Budget PT II : Austria and Hungary
3 Weeks. 6 Countries. 8 Cities. 500 Dollars.
GERMANY. CZECH REPUBLIC. AUSTRIA. HUNGARY. ITALY. FRANCE.
~ Berlin. Prague. Vienna. Trumau. Budapest. Milan. Florence. Paris ~
A Gypsy Budget PT II: Vienna, Trumau, Budapest
Oliver is a strange man, stranger than strange, with a catcall laugh that makes my skin crawl. Somewhere in the dead of night on a road I can’t follow, I sit behind him as he whizzes through the darkness, cackling at every turn. Nige is asleep on my shoulder and I am now positive that Oliver is on drugs. Bla Bla Car wins again.
On the outskirts of Czech, rising up from nowhere, lies a seedy line up of casinos and strip clubs. This, Oliver explains, is the future according to the Czech Republic. A mass attempt to squeeze every last euro (or more specifically Koruna) from weary travelers before they cross the border into Austria. I offer up a silent, panicked plea that this mad man doesn’t count this as a usual stop and let out a sigh of relief as we pass the neon lights, whizzing through the vacant border control and into Austria.
Hidden amidst the snowcapped Austrian Alps; on the outskirts of sleepy Trumau, lies an ancient, forgotten castle from 1138. After 5 very grey days; the sun has finally decided to show her face and at sunrise today, she’s never looked better. Pouring pinks, purples, and oranges over the old, majestic stone; reminding the schloff that he is yet to be forgotten.
How we found ourselves here at a Theological Institute an hour outside of Vienna is another story entirely, but somehow we had arrived - a British boy and an American girl, strangers to each other only 9 months ago. The Catholic dormitory rules were only to be expected and I laughed at Nige’s bewildered stares that first night at everything from the separate floors to the Jesus cowboy serenading us during dinner. The days creep by in frozen darkness and we cling to every last penny we have, eating boxed granola and wondering what we are supposed to do here in this desolate little town.
The bitter January air is slightly less offensive that last morning and even the horses are prancing in the sunrise, their mahogany manes dancing behind them as they welcome the sun’s return. Gone is yesterday’s black hole, its grey sky draping the dead earth in gloom. Today the sun is triumphant in her waking, piercing the past and rejoicing in a new day, illuminating every oak branch and blade of grass in its presence, and I’m thankful for having seen Trumau like this before we leave.
Back in Vienna, the city comes alive for us on our last Austrian day, and we are like new people. Former shell casings of human fragments on that first day in the bitter cold, surrounded by grey and eating makeshift ham sandwiches in the shelter of the underground subway. Today, the city is full of life; daylight dancing playfully off of every grandiose building and peeking out of each cobblestone alley. We hate to leave now when we’ve only just begun to appreciate the place in our last hour, but impulsive decisions had been made the night prior and instead of heading to Munich and Switzerland, we were eastern bound. This close to Budapest, we simply couldn’t pass it up.
Salvo is a simple man and it strikes me as odd again that we are traveling across country borders alone with a man who can’t understand our language any better than we can his. But we are and it’s actually not weird in the slightest. The road is long, vacant and dark, blanketed in a sheet of snow and we wait out the 4 hours between this country and the next.
We arrive in Budapest all at once. Roads bordered by spectacles of nothingness suddenly open up to a city draped in gold. Refracting light showcases each majestic building on the Danube, lest you forget in darkness who rules this place. Excitement floods our veins again and we are like giddy children in the backseat, oohing and aahing at every building we pass by.
Salvo drops us off at some sort of decaying glass castle that parades as a train station. Below the earth, we await the metro, Nige proudly leading the way, some sort of metro genius whose directional skills apply only to underground railway systems, no matter what language. A rickety rail cart rattles its way to a stop next to us and my jaw drops observing the rusted pale blue exterior. It cannot be any younger than 220 years old and looks as if the last maintenance it endured was in 1820. At 11pm on a weeknight, we stand crammed in-between exuberant Hungarians as the train rumbles along the underground.
Arriving at a small and seemingly vacant guest house atop a long winding hill, we are met by the owner. A Helga-type, small, round woman with a face permanently set in disapproval; she leads us up the stone staircase and into a back room only big enough for a bed and then disappears. I drop my bag and let my body hit the mattress. The blanket on the bed feels like a cheap napkin and the pillowcases which had only been laid atop the pillows fly off under my weight. Well, it’s a bed at least and a private room which is more than we can say for the previous part of the trip.
The “common kitchen” is actually Helga’s own, hidden in the basement where her entire family lives. Her teenage daughter lay groaning on the couch as we make our soup in silence next to her, eyeing each other and trying not to laugh. We are the only guests here. Just the two of us and Helga’s family. None of them speak a word to us, feigning ignorance that we have invaded their home.
I love arriving new places by night, the mystery that lies in the darkness is discovered all over again the following morning. Reluctantly, I allow Nige to wake me before the sun on one of our last days and drag me outside into the silent chill of a January sunrise over Budapest. Sat atop the highest castle somewhere far above the world below; a grey indistinguishable city is doused in light, slowly, gracefully illuminating its peaks and domes in all their glory.
Way up here, observing with the birds, I can imagine the crawling hustle beginning below. The street cars screeching to a stop as the people busily make their way to where they need to be. The smell of chimney cakes as the bakers wrap their sweet dough around coal cylinders. Goulash wafting under wooden doors and the joyful shrill chatter of Hungarian children.
But not up here. Here – this place is mine. Before the tourist busses flood in and the cafes open. Just me and my castle peering down on a world far below.
We awake on our last day to the realization that our ride – Ragu (yes, like the tomato sauce) – has utterly screwed us over and we now have no way out of Budapest. Our gypsy budget lifestyle hits its first snag and we are forced to book a very expensive, last minute train back to Vienna and then a subsequent one to Milan. An unhappy Helga awaits us as we pack up and without a word escorts us out the front door, promptly locking it behind us.
The 14 hour overnight trek is straight out of the Polar Express. White sky. White earth. White wind. I don’t sleep much. Actually, I don’t sleep at all. I watch silently as the falling snow whips past in the darkness, blanketing the train somewhere on European terrain. I listen but there is no sound other than the steady rumble of the wheels against the track beneath me and I feel further from home than I ever have, small and insignificant on this night train lost somewhere in this whiteness.
Okay, so here are the overall / average Poverty Numbers:
€30 London to Berlin (Ryanair)
€40 Milan to Paris (Ryanair)
€5 per day
(Can easily get by on €1.65 x 2 meals + box of cereal for week. However, add to this what you may to factor in restaurants if you desire. We relied on cheap groceries and food stands.)
€6 – €10 per day
(Assuming BlaBlaCar averaged €18 a trip, and €72 in total; roughly €4 a day plus an average €5 day travel pass on metros whenever available)
€126 - €210 Total
€5.14 per day
(Mix between hostels, hotels, couch surfing, and 3 nights of charity. However, if you couch surfed the entire time your accommodation expenditure could be nil.)
EXTRAS (Wine, coffee, ect.)
€1.25 per day
TOTAL AVERAGE COST
Per Day :
€20.59 - €24.59 = $22.40 - $26.75
(excluding the 2 flights)
€422.48 - €506.48 = $459.57 - $550.95
.... Road trip continued in subsequent post.
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