a fools guide

I’ve wrote a number of times during this blogs life that I’m not a huge fan of the guidebook. There’s something quite condescending about being told by Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide writers what you ‘must do’ or ‘must see’ whilst in a country or a city. They usually include obvious tips such as a visit to the Eifel Tower if you are in Paris or that curry is a must eat whilst in India. Basically it’s the inclusion of the damn right obvious things to do whilst visiting a new place that annoys me. Anyone with half a brain cell has heard of France’s number one attraction and that eating spicy delicacies whilst in India is a done thing.

When you have stepped foot in thirty odd countries buying a guidebook for each country or territory is an expensive thing to do at £15 a time. Usually I just book a hotel with good reviews on location, accessibility and confirmation a lively nightlife scene is nearby before letting the rest take care of itself. Sure, if I’m visiting somewhere I know is not renowned for being touristy I will take the plunge and purchase a guidebook. But for this trip involving four major European tourist friendly cities I didn’t see the need. Besides with Fred in tow, complete with his marvellous sense of direction, even a map isn’t always required.

Bratislava was so small you couldn’t fail in your attempts to find the so called ‘must see’ attractions before stumbling upon numerous cheap, atmospheric bars. But on first inspections in both Vienna and now Budapest we both agreed that a guidebook would have aided us greatly in finding the livelier parts of town. Take Vienna for instance, we found plenty of bars and pubs that seemed to be all much of a muchness – middle class Austrians drinking overpriced pilsner beers in pretty characterless watering holes. A quick look online soon pointed us to ‘dirtcheap.com’ Vienna and we stumbled happily into ‘Landsknech’ which was a bar that will go down in the memory bank as one of the best nights on this mini trip. On our first night in Budapest we naturally assumed all the nightlife would be down by the Danube. After an hour’s walk in sub-zero temperatures we gave up on our search and retired back to the hotel feeling slightly disappointed with what the Pest part of Budapest had to offer. Again, checking online at a travel website we soon realised that the one area in our part of town we hadn’t looked round was notorious for those charming, stay in the memory style pubs we had been looking for. Perhaps a guidebook has the clue in the title; a ‘guide’ book is what it is, no more or no less. Maybe I should embrace it more? After all it would certainly stop redundant freezing cold winter walks through Central Europe’s elite cities!

I’m making this week sound like a booze cruise (or a booze train trip) so I better let you know what else has been going on besides drinking copious amounts of our new favourite drop ‘Borsodi’ whilst in Hungary’s capital.

Our train from Bratislava to Budapest was delayed for more than two hours so we ended up catching the next scheduled train as opposed to our original timed train which, incidentally, had still yet to pull in on the adjacent platform when we finally pulled out of Slovakia’s capital. I’m not sure the 13.54 ever did get in…..The arrival at Budapest train station was again like something out of a film set. The tannoy was overawing in an almost Soviet manner. I’d imagine the station hasn’t changed since the day it was erected such was the dated feel to the place.

Budapest was a much more attractive city by night. On our long, cold, fruitless walk looking for something resembling an old town drinking scene we had the fortune of walking along the banks of the Danube long after the sun went down. Hungary’s capital is very beautiful by night; the recently developed castle hill area and grand National Museum located high above the river were stunning pieces to view after nightfall from the other side of the river. The Parliament building located round the corner from our hotel was an almighty structure, again lit up magnificently at night.

Budapest is actually named after two ancient cities, Buda and Pest – both separated by the mighty Danube. Makes sense I guess. By day the city felt like it could do with a lick of paint and a clean-up. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an ugly city by any means. It certainly wasn’t an eyesore like parts of Calcutta or Jakarta – some of the architecture was superb. It just felt a little dated. We were also discussing the lack of greenery in the Pest in particular, especially when viewed from the top of castle hill, home to, you guessed it – Budapest castle.

Eating here was dirt cheap – our favourite eatery was almost soup kitchen meets student pub in character. The table cloths, walls and chairs were a nasty green colour and the cheap crockery made an awful echoing sound with every cutlery meets plate situation. This didn’t detract from the awesome nature of the food dished up alongside Budapest students that ate alongside us, with their vouchers and all.
Back to the drinking scene (didn’t take long did it?) and I can happily report the findings of a bar called ‘Café Haverok’ that served Borsodi in pint draught form for the bargain price of 280 Forint (about 75p) This was a tiny bar in the Jewish quarter, just opposite the synagogue. Its landlady was almost Peggy Mitchell-esqe with her bleach blond hair and layers of make-up. The bar was home to a couple of old boys sharing cigarettes in between played cards and supping cheap booze whilst the landlady herself was busy making jam sandwiches for an even older guy who seemed to around for the company as opposed the booze. It was a cracking find, not suggested in the Lonely Planet – unlike the ‘Instant’ nightclub that wanted 200 Forint each to hang up our coats that was suggested by the backpackers bible as being a ‘must do’.

Confirmation of it only being a ‘guide’book.
Postscript – I’m posting this on the 25th November and realised it is one year ago to the day that England started their successful defence of the Ashes down under. For those of us lucky to have been present in Brisbane last year, then latterly the other four venues, I’d love to take this chance of thanking the England team for those brilliant memories they gave us in convict land! Not that any of them will read this but hey, who cares!! We won the Ashes!!!


2 Responses to “a fools guide”

  1. November 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I like this latest Blog very much…conjured up strong images and brought a smile to the face…really does sound wonderful.

  2. November 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I think you should eventually write a book entitled “Watering Holes of the World”! Or maybe “Boozy Planet Guide to….” or even “Duff Guide to ……” (as in the beer!).
    See ya soon!

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