A late post (on a train to Warsaw) about the rest of our time in Budapest — what, you were expecting something as mundane as linearity? Seriously, from me? Okay, I’ll back-date it so it appears in the right place in the timeline, eh, that should just about do it.
On our second day in Budapest, and on Dayna’s sage advice, we bought tickets for the big red “hop on, hop off” tour bus. It was 12:30 and too hot to be walking about by the time we boarded, and so we did a full circuit — through Pest, along Andrassy Utca to the Heroes Square, then back and across the river to the “old town” of Buda and our first glimpse of that half of the city. An icecream at the Citadella gave us the opportunity for some amazing panoramic views from the hill (I’ve taken photos and will attempt to stitch them together with some software). It also gave us a chance to plan what we would do on Thursday — the palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, Citadella and the medieval township itself.
The interesting bit actually started when we went looking for a late snack, although we didn’t realise it at the time. Wandering around Pest we found a place called the “SMS Cafe” — innocent enough from the outside, with a cool looking dragon logo and cheap Hungarian beer (yes, sensing a theme?). But once inside we noticed little details: the heavy black drapes, impressive bar, skeletons on the door to the toilet, the other customers … this was a gothic night-club! Tamed by the day, sure, just a cool, dark place for the Creatures of the Night to have a coffee and smoke skinny foreign cigarettes — but in our backpacker costume of cargo shorts, sweaty t-shirts and floppy hats, we couldn’t have looked more out of place. No wonder our smiling, well-pierced bar-tender was grinning as she served us Dreher and mineral water … she was hoping we’d stay ’til dusk turned to night, and the feasting would begin!
(Actually, she WAS really nice, just like almost everyone we met in Budapest. In fact, the only mean person was a disgruntled, middle-aged ticket woman on the tour bus who wanted us to know our 24 hour tickets had expired — they were valid from purchase time (10:30am) not time of first boarding (12:30am)!! Which we actually asked about when we bought the tickets — “all day tomorrow is fine” — but as she let us board anyway we let it slide.)
After a little more wandering, dinner at a (fairly non-descript) restaurant. We joked about the goth place — I’d wanted to go to a Goth club in London with Dayna sometime, fully “cyberdogged” — and suggested that when Andy visits Australia (on his way to, or from, New Zealand for the world cup) we should all go “goth/emo/cyber” in a club in Sydney. “Yeah, me as a Goth,” quipped Andy sarcastically, “I can really see it.”
“I don’t know, man,” I replied, “Pale skin, white hair — dress you all in black and I think you’ll look awesome!”
“Or all in white,” Dee suggested. “You could be a kind of anti-Goth.”
“They’ll probably make you their king,” I mused.
“Beating the ladies off with a stick,” added Dee.
“Not sure you want THOSE kinds of girls … or maybe you do?” And so on; the teasing was remorseless, but Andy gives as good as he gets and we were all laughing as we walked along the streets in search of a local bar like that we’d discovered yesterday.
Which is probably why, when we saw Cafe M, we didn’t notice some of the telling signs that we should have. We went in and the over-enthusiastic bartender had us come sit at the bar — despite the rest of the (admittedly tiny) place being quite empty. He chatted non-stop, played a weird mix of classical opera and too-loud pop-electronica and generally just fussed about behind the little bar. “You want to see some video?” he asked, and we turned around to the wall-mounted flat-screen in time to see the full name of the bar — “Cafe Mystery – Gay Bar”, in rainbow-coloured letters — disappear and be replaced with a movie where half-naked football players covered themselves with balls. “You want leaflets?” he continued, distributing the local gay magazine to us and two Americans who had just arrived.
So we finished our drinks with some amusement, and decided to go somewhere a little less “hetrophobic” (just kidding!). The music was too loud to really explain, “Oh, we didn’t know it was a gay bar. Oops,” or get into conversation with the American couple, so we smiled and waved goodbye instead (“Do you think we scared them away?” asked one of the men). Both Dee and I have been in gay bars before — she used to frequent one in Brisbane when she lived there, and I’ve even been chatted up in Manchester — but Andy hadn’t so it was time for more teasing.
For our second, and final, drink we tried to be a bit more careful, and picked a place where a tourist family sat with their kids on a table out front. More teasing: “I don’t know, look — there’s two men there, two women sitting there, it might be a gay bar too! Our waiter is slim, with very well-groomed hair!” We sat and laughed and tried a fruit cocktail, then just sat back and watched the world go by for a while. “Seriously,” whispered Dee when Andy was away to the toilet for a moment, “This actually might be an ‘alternative lifestyle’ type bar. Don’t tell Andy, okay?”
I headed in to use the same facilities, and on my way back out passed a large man in drag, with curly blonde wig and immaculate makeup. I grinned — the more diverse the culture, the better as far as I’m concerned — and was about to tell the others when a stretch limo arrived and five young transvestites sashayed inside, negating the need altogether. “Must be a show on!” exclaimed Dee, but we agreed we were all just too tired to try to get tickets. “Okay, let’s hope Bangkok is safe by the time we get to Thailand,” Dee relented. “I’ve always wanted to see the Lady Boys show.”
With that glamorous end to our evening, and a good story to tell here on the journal (and, for Andy, on the next football trip), we headed off to our respective hostels/hotels and promptly fell asleep, the theme from “Priscilla” playing in our minds…