Bulgaria and Turkey

Sheesh, it seems like ages since I’ve posted. Time to jot down the broad strokes…

– From the High Tatras, I caught a train to Budapest, which took a very very long time.
– Stayed in Hostel Vamhaz, groovy apartment-style place on Vamhaz Street, south of Pest old-town.
– First night just grabbed food and slept.

– Budapest is extraordinarily grand and beautiful. The Hungarians themselves are kind of grumbly and bitter in that post-Communist hangover kind of way.

– Second day, morning, went looking for coffee but not much was open. Found a market which sold tourist trinkets and amazing looking candy. Walked around town and saw grand synagogues, tucked-away student bars, and miles and miles of brilliant and beautiful streets.

– Walked through the Jewish quarter to a large park.

– Saw, but didn’t enter, the famous baths. Rode Europe’s oldest underground from Heroes’ Square to the center of town. Stations are elegantly tiled but ticketing system is weird and ungainly – eventually I was fired by a bored inspector.

– That night, ventured out to find a bar or some music. Missed out on catching Kid Koala by 15 minutes – d’oh! Went to station to find my way to Piaf, a recommended club. Ran into two canadian/hungarian girls who said that Piaf was a disaster area, so they helped me to find another (Much. More. Expensive) bar. Afterwards, we walked around town and they offered to show me the sights the next day (Sunday, I think).

– Met up with Eszter next morning, Dominique slept in I think. Had a delicious breakfast/lunch of spinach gnocchi. I can’t stress enough how delicious it was. It was really, sumptuously delicious. Such is the quality of food one can find when hanging with the locals.

– Met Dominique later after an hilarious (or stressful, depending on your temperament) series of cock-ups getting there and communicating. Spent 8 dollars on 200ml of Orange juice in Rip Off Central, near the Budapest castle overlooking the Danube. I guess I was paying for the view. Got a laugh from a nearby ad for a beer called “Unicum”. Well, I guess students have a lot of it.

– That night, we made good progress walking to St Stephen’s Basilica (an awe-inspiring cathedral decked out in red marble and flickering torches, with small musical ensembles and booming sermons echoing off the frescoed walls)

– We also made it to Heroes’ Square (which I hadn’t examined in detail the previous day) which is a great place to learn the history of Hungary really quickly, provided you have two hungarians to translate the inscriptions for you. Neat!

– That night, back at the hostel, I made a rapid decision to fly to Sofia, Bulgaria at 3am, since the alternative was staying an extra 2 days, which would have screwed up the timing of the rest of my trip a bit (basically, it would have eaten into my prized time in Turkey).

– Arrived at Sofia very very very tired.

– Went to Hostel Mostel, in central Sofia. Noticed an awful lot of sex shops and people trying to scam me on the way. I like this place. Perhaps at last I’ll accumulate some backpacker kudos by not travelling to places that are all safer and cleaner than Australia.

– Hardly slept a wink. I will hereby paste a story that I sent to Sal at the time, by way of explanation.

I arrived at the hostel around 6am, after a couple of hours on a plane, bus and walking through the deserted city wishing I could read cyrillic road signs. The person at the desk showed me to my dorm, and the first thing I noticed was a low rumbling. A nearby metro?

Then a snort. And a sniff. And another long wet snorting rumble like a old rhinocerous complaining that his gazelle is overcooked. At a rhinosteraunt. This was the loudest, most obnoxious snoring I’d ever heard. But it doesn’t end there, oh no. If only. Oh, Lordy lordy lordy.

The snorer woke up. Then the scratching started. Not in a mind-blowing, Grand Master Flash on the Wheels of Steel kind of way, but in a chunks-blowing, incessent, skin-under-the-fingernails-oh-my-god-has-he-scratched-an-entire-LIMB-OFF-YET kind of way. The scratching went on for maybe 10 minutes, maybe 15 minutes, maybe 45. Time lost all meaning in the Land of Scratch. And it was LOUD. And INTENSE. In my mind, I could feel a breeze from the window blowing diseased flakes of skin from the man’s top bunk into my hair, and onto my skin. I wrapped the pillow around my head and huddled in the blanket.

Then, at last, after a seeming eternty, he slept again. And we wished he hadn’t.

This time, the snoring took on the character of an ancient bus driving too fast along a road covered in skeletons.

Every 15 minutes or so, I could hear a frustrated New Zealander below me whisper loudly “For fuck’s sake! Give it a rest asshole!”

Every breath that wasn’t accompanied by the sound of oscillating mucus brought anticipation that it would end. And finally the end came!

And then the scratching began again. This time, out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he had sat up. He was the size and shape of Ron Jeremy, and he was scratching furiously at his INNER THIGHS. After about 15 minutes of scratching, he knelt to one side and BRUSHED THE DEAD SKIN OFF THE BUNK WITH HIS HANDS. Oh, man, I would not want to have slept directly below him and accidentally breathed in his DENSE CLOUD OF INNER-THIGH SKIN.

He slept again, and snored impossibly loud this time. People got up and wandered in and out of the room, presumably to puke. I was afraid to move. I tried to meditate, to go to a happy place with clean mountain air and where everybody’s skin is a pure, soft, pink, impermiable surface made of indestructible kevlar. Eventually, after 3 or 4 cycles of the snore-scratch, I got to sleep.

I woke up around 10:30 or 11 to… the sound of snoring! Same guy again. And again, more scratching. I saw him, now sunlit, in his flabby, neanderthal man-mole glory. He knelt up and, again, nonchalantly brushed his dead skin off the bunk and onto the floor. He decided to get up, and descended from the bed, wearing nothing but saggy maroon underpants. He started to walk in small, mumbling circles while scratching intensely at his mottled belly, thighs, crotch and butt. He seemed to think he had lost something. He kept inspecting a bag on the floor, grunting, standing up and walking in his little scratch circles again. From his accent, I think he may be French.

I wanted to get up, but I was afraid to touch the floor because I knew that his skin would be on it. I wanted to be sick. I forced myself to get dressed and almost run to the kitchen to get breakfast.

After a few minutes, he joined me. I was sitting down to a hearty meal of bread, cheese, meats and jam. He pointed at the table: “Ah, still breakfast?”. Me: “No, I think it’s finished. You just missed out.” (thinking: please God don’t touch any of the shared things on this table or I will be forced to stop eating)

He sat down anyway, and surveyed the scene. “Heh… too much Vodka last night. Oh well. Tonight, again, more Vodka! I love Vodka”. He scratched, just a mini one this time – 30 seconds or so – and got up. “You want a glass, for orange juice?”. He was going to the kitchen to get one of his own. “No thanks”, I smiled. I would rather drink liquified rat out of a cup fashioned from my own poo and hair.

He got his glass and sat down again, by which time I had collected a substantial portion of every kind of food on the table (bread, cheese, cold meats etc) into a small quarantine area on my plate. I finished eating and left as soon as I could, and wrote this all down.

– Later the next night, I moved to another room when all this happened again. The following night, when he saw that I’d moved, he asked “Why did you move”, and I immediately answered “Because you snore like the Winds of Hell”. He slammed the door on my room pretended to beat me up. He is a weird, weird man. Also, he spent most evenings soliciting Sofia’s famously inexpensive prostitutes.

More later!