I never really got comfortable with the Hungarian Forint (US$1 = 193.77Ft). Every time I bought something, I'd scrabble frantically through my wallet, unsure whether the banknote I eventually thrust at the cashier would be enough to cover my tab or too small by an order of magnitude. I was so overwhelmed by arithmetic that my practice of vigilant change husbandry lapsed into chaos: by the end of the trip, my coin purse was literally bursting at the seams with Hungarian shrapnel of every denomination. The dudes on the bills gazed 'pon my fumbles with frosty disapproval.
I updated my personal fruit taxonomy: turns out the gooseberry is not an imaginary cousin to the schnozzberry; it is a green and veiny reality, called egres in Hungarian. I bought a punnet of these bland little things, ate a handful, and guiltily averted my eyes as the rest decomposed in the fridge. Gooseberry schmooseberry.
My bargaining skillz were forged in the fires of China; the tedious "pretending to walk away in exasperation at the high prices" performance is necessary nearly every time you want to buy something in a market or on the street. It can seem melodramatic and silly, and it's difficult not to stalk off in a mild snit, clutching your purchases, kicking yourself for having paid too much. Dickering at the flea market in Hungary, by contrast, was surprisingly fun: business was conducted in English, not sign language, the vendors were foxy but not totally inscrutable, the prices were cheap, and I walked away with a feeling of accomplishment and a few new pieces of flair.
300Ft = US$1.55. You're worth it.
I boarded my first Budapest busz with my bulging change purse in hand, ready to pay the fare in coin. Horrors: the bus doors closed as I realized there was no coin slot, only a ticket-validating machine. Instead of nonchalantly taking my seat, I acted out the panicky charades for "idiot tourist without a bus ticket," swiveling guiltily to and fro, wide eyes darting between the empty seats, the ticket validator, and the driver's gaze in the rearview mirror. I didn't want to get off the long-awaited busz and venture into the rain in search of a ticket, so I spent the whole ride quaking with fear of getting caught, arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. In the end, nobody checked my ticket, and furthermore, none of the other passengers validated tickets either. The entire time I was in Hungary, I didn't see a shred of evidence that any one of my fellow riders was legit and paid-for on busz or tram.
For me, the most arresting thing about Budapest (warning: trite) was the Eastern European architecture. Every building on every street in the city center was an absolute megalith, set flush with its megalithic neighbor on either side, creating gapless canyon walls along the narrow thoroughfares. Many buildings sported ornate old features on the rooftops: brick arches, metal domes, spires, fat toadstool-shaped turrets topped with spikes, so the view down any megalith-lined street always included a few fanciful shapes bounding or bristling into the sky. None of my pics even comes close to capturing how good-looking it was.
At a stall selling lángos, deep-fried bread. Rögtön jövök = "coming soon," or in this context, "brb."
Lángos is like Indian frybread (New Mexico State Fair, anyone?) slathered with sour cream and cheese. When I ate this, I was not in the right (read: ravenous) state of mind and kept thinking of the remarkably similar Navajo Taco my high school cafeteria used to serve for lunch, and the way my then-boyf would douse the ground beef with a carton of milk to lubricate the thing enough to eat it.