An unmentionable hour sees three trucks hovering on a roundabout in Budapest’s suburbs. Namibian, Little Dick and I pore studiously over a map in the inky blackness.
The perennial problem with this vast metropolis, you see, is that, as you approach, road signs indicating truck transit routes resemble hieroglyphics. We pause, ever so slightly unsure how to proceed.
Namibian’s satnav packed up before even reaching Slovenia, so he’s stumped. That was to be his only contribution to the proceedings. Whereas I think it’s far better to use old-fashioned cunning – well, maps – and so I’m almost enjoying myself.
Shoot me down in flames if you like, but the good thing about maps is that you can see where you are in the general scheme of things. Satnavs, conversely, lead people unwittingly to their destination, oblivious to how the land lies.
Now then, with a map… Erm, we’re not in the right place, but at least we know we’re not.
Satnav or no satnav, we falter at the last hurdle. Just 300 yards from Papp Lazlo Sports Arena, we’re faced with our old friend: the low bridge.
And, despite being able to see the venue, there still isn’t a single signpost to it. Conflicting signs do however point out that there are weight limits in every direction – but what’s a 26-ton discrepancy between friends?
If anything, we ought to have been pulled over by now for a different offence entirely – Namibian’s colour blindness, where traffic lights are concerned, has been readily apparent.
I certainly advise spending more than three hours exploring Budapest, but then I’d also advise arriving by air, not 1033 km by road from Milan. Last time I was here it was a question of the airport, a hotel and a 72-hour monstrous roller-coaster of a drive to Moscow, but that’s another story.
Next door to the gig is a metro station – not just any old metro station, but a station of a bygone era. Did you know that, in 1896, Europe’s first electric underground system opened in Budapest? No, I wouldn’t have guessed Hungary either.
Well, at any rate, it looks like the rolling stock is original. It appears safe enough, though – in fact it’s certainly safer than trying to cross a road here. Pedestrian crossings are simply window dressing, bearing no practical purpose whatsoever. This is worth remembering if you’re actually expecting cars to stop.
It is places such as Budapest – I suppose that Paris, Hanoi, and Lagos, Nigeria would be equally fine examples – that one begins to ponder statistics for road fatalities. That said, there is order concealed within the bedlam; one simply needs to spend long enough acclimatising.
I floated around Cairo a number of years ago – for three months or so, chiefly to avoid a United Kingdom winter – and I learned the system. There, not only are pedestrian crossings meaningless, but so, too, are the traffic lights. This, quite naturally, fogs the average visitor.
The only way to get from one side of a road to the other in Cairo, I discovered – after dicing with dismemberment – is to follow an Arab. Blindly. There is a finely-tuned system in place where cars will avoid you if you maintain a steady amble, but all sorts of problems arise if you try and predict a motorist’s intention – death being one of them.
Budapest must have a similar arrangement, but I still prefer the British system where cars actually come to a halt at a black and white crossing.
That’s enough about traffic. Let’s look at another annoyance: graffiti. Graffiti are prolific in Budapest; in fact, one could say that they are rather a pest in Buda.. (You all know that Budapest comprises two cities – Buda and Pest – on opposing sides of the Danube, yes?). If you didn’t, my little play on words falls rather flat.
And notice that I say ‘graffiti are’ and not ‘graffiti is’? Well, I’m being a trifle pedantic but, as few people seem to realise that “graffiti” is the plural of “graffito”, I’m mentioning it. Call me pernickety, by all means.
Anyway, the Chain Bridge, the old subway, and numerous architectural gems are rather marred by them.
Ooh, I forgot to tell you: Grandpa presented me with a moleskin notebook back in Italy – just the thing for an intrepid reporter. He seemed to think scribblings like: ‘Grandpa, aged 83. So old that he doesn’t buy green bananas any more’ ought to be preserved for posterity, rather than scrawled on tea-stained scraps of A4. What a splendid chap, my grandfather is.
Laying the trusty moleskin to one side momentarily, I drink in the view of Budapest and dig in my pocket for some local currency. Oh dear. With just a smattering of Hungarian “shitters” (approximately 300 to one euro), I have only enough for entrance to the citadel.
OR a cup of hot wine. Well, the man (photographed in Arctic apparel) already had the ladle ready..