We had specifically planned NOT to do a Budapest stopover, but being unable to get seats on the directly-connecting bus, forced us to spend two days in the Hungarian capital. As we pulled out of the bus station at 11:30pm, I contemplated what a perfect two days we had had – not because anything grand occurred, but because there were many small mercies to be thankful for.
We had arrived late at night and were pleasantly surprised to find the Metro entrance a mere ten metres from the bus stop. The train was easily negotiated and after only nine stops we emerged from the well-sign-posted underground, and a friendly local lad offered assistance. He was able to point us the right way up the street without consulting a map and our trudge-to-hostel was underway. It was over before we’d even got into a rhythm, being only 100 metres.
In the morning we would realise just what a fantastic location the hostel was in – smack bang in the middle of anywhere we wanted to walk to. (We would also look with some disbelief at streets we took the motorhomes along – we truly were insane, driving in the very centre of Budapest, through the impossibly narrow lanes!)
In the morning we would discover our room was not only enormous, but was graced with two balconies and a living room. Not only that, but the hostel staff urged us on our last day to bring the children back for an afternoon nap, allowing us free use of the room for a full twelve hours past check-out time. You could argue that the hostel was empty and so it did not matter to them, but they were under no compulsion to be so generous! For their kindness we were grateful.
Our time was also made enjoyable by the fact that it’s a magnificent city, the weather was wonderful for walking, we were aware that all too soon we will not be taking historical-city-strolls on a Thursday or Friday morning, and we found delicious food.
To top it all off, instead of being crammed on a full bus, there were only 15 people occupying the 61 seats on the bus we ended up having to take. This was a blessing in no way disguised, although we cannot say any of us had a good night’s sleep. At least we were comfortable, even if not rested.
Unfortunately our store of memories for the first few hours of Romania is more extensive than we would have liked; it would have been preferable to sleep through those first miles, but, as it happened, we were wide wide awake.
Being the middle of the night, it was dark. But not so black that you couldn’t gather an impression. The roads were surprisingly smooth, although morning light would reveal that anything OFF the main highway tended to be nothing more than wide dirt tracks. Piercing the darkness, lights glowing in occasional towns brightened the way. An enormous white cathedral(?) gleamed in Arad. A young man rode his bicycle along the dirt path in front of the row of houses. An old lady hobbled along the edge of the road tucked under her headscarf. I wondered where they were going, and why at four in the morning. Houses seemed to be surrounded by high concrete fences, and looked army-barracks-like, positioned in straight rows perpendicular to the road. Sunrise would prove this observation to be true. Very few houses stand alone – most come complete with chicken-filled courtyards, all surrounded by a high fence, shared by two closely-set neighbours. The houses themselves tend to be more decorated than their Bulgarian cousins. Most have a strip the running horizontally around them at window height in a contrasting colour or concrete pattern. Different again. A new country, and yet again we find something we have not seen anywhere else.
Rectangular apartment blocks, also standing quite close together, reached up into the darkness. And in every village a huge array of banks, each with neon signage, heralding the east’s embracing of….of what? consumerism? capitalism? credit?
About midday we arrived in Brasov.