Warm winter weekend in Hungary
At the start of 2008, there were only a few European countries I hadn't been to. My aim for the year was to go to them all, and I started off by visiting Hungary. I'd wanted to go to Budapest ever since I was very young, because I grew up in a town on the Thames with an identical bridge to the Széchenyi Bridge over the Danube, but somehow after years of travelling in Europe I didn't make it to here until almost the end.
On my first morning in Budapest, I headed for the river. Soon I caught sight of the bridge. As I walked across it, I kept on expecting to see people I'd known when I was young.
I crossed over from Pest to Buda, and walked up Castle Hill. It was windy, but only on the Buda side. Looking back over to Pest I was sheltered by the castle. A contender for my favourite film of all time is Kontroll, which is set on the Budapest Metro. All my expectations for Budapest were based on the film. But Kontroll was filmed entirely underground, so from up here on the hill I was reevaluating my ideas about Budapest.
I walked north, to Margaret Island. There in the winter sun I watched the heavy river traffic churning past on either side, as hundreds of joggers pounded the trails through the woods. I walked back to Pest, via a graffiti-covered underpass.
I walked back along the Pest embankment to the hostel I was staying at. I stopped at a cash point, where I made a major miscalculation of the exchange rate. Pressing the number 0 one too many times, I found myself carrying over three hundred pounds worth of forints. Unaccustomed to carrying this much cash, I hurried nervously back to the hostel, where I eyed my fellow travellers with suspicion and paranoia.
As night fell I headed out to take night photos. As I got to the river bank, the sky was deep blue, Castle Hill was lighting up, and the city looked good.
I went out to a club with some people from the hostel. It was fun but I had to leave after an hour: I'd broken a rib playing football a few days earlier, and the music was loud enough that every beat was giving me chest pains. I went home and slept badly, not realising at the time that my rib would be painful for weeks.
The next morning I went to Gellért Hill, just across the river from my hostel. At the top, in the warm morning sun, I looked out over Hungary and thought I would never get bored of going to new places.
I crossed back over to Pest. It was a warm sunny afternoon, and I walked the long, long walk along Andrássy út to Városliget park. I bought some bread and cheese on the way, and had lunch in the middle of the park.
I walked towards Nyugati station. I didn't have much time left in Budapest, and I wanted to try and get hold of the soundtrack to Kontroll. But I was out of luck - none of the shops in the huge shopping centre by Nyugati station had it. I would have to come back.
My flight was not until the morning, but it was leaving at 6.30am, so rather than pay for another night in the hostel and get up at 3am, I decided to go and sleep at the airport and get up at 4.30am. I got a late train out to Ferihegy, but when it got to the station I almost didn't notice. We stopped for only a few seconds, and by the time I'd spotted the sign and got to the door, the train was already accelerating rapidly. I had to make a split-second decision - jump or not? I jumped, landed with a jolt but intact, and didn't even have to do the combat roll I'd been planning mid-air.
It was an uncomfortable night at the airport. Sleeping on a hard bench would have been tiring even if I didn't have a broken rib, and even if one of the cleaners driving around throughout the night hadn't crashed into my bench with his floor-washing machine. Feeling injured and exhausted, I headed back to London.