Wednesday the 3rd of May, I awoke to an overcast morning with the threat of more rain. The air smelled fresh as it does in a clean place with the air recently rinsed. I had planned to take the 13:59 train to Budapest, so I rose late and fixed myself a leisurely breakfast. I rode to the station (only 600 m away) with almost an hour to spare, just to be sure that I had not read any signs wrong. The station had walk-on access to the platform from the street. Leaving my bike locked on platform 5, I walked downstairs to the ticket lobby to check the schedule. I did not see the train on the departures board in the station. Feeling rising panic, I asked the ticket agent if she spoke English. She did, thank goodness, and quickly explained that the electronic board only showed the busses (the station doubles as a bus station). The printed poster that I had read yesterday was still good.
The train arrived on time, and the conductor helped me find the bicycle car and load the heavy bike with its cargo into the train. The rain started in earnest as we ambled along the north shore of the lake and the broad, flat plain to the west. The small, diesel engine did not work up any speed between stations, as this was a local train. After an hour, we stopped in Székesfehérvár, where we swapped the diesel for a full-sized electric locomotive. Another hour later, we pulled into the Budapest-Déli station. I took my time getting off the train and finding the exit. The OsmAnd app that I have been using ever more since Olginate did a wonderful job of leading me to all the bike paths and bike lanes from Buda to Pest, over the Elisabeth Bridge, where I got my first view of the mighty Danube River. I expected to be impressed, and I was. I reminded me of the Mississippi, and, indeed, both rivers are in that league.
The Maverick City Lodge proved to be the ideal base for a solo traveller in the city. Recently renovated, it boasted a full set of modern features and conveniences, exceeding HI (Hostelling International) standards, such as individual outlets, lights, and blackout curtains, and the biggest lockers that I have ever seen in a hostel. With my bicycle safely, and easily, stowed in the luggage cage in the basement, I ventured out to the nearby ATM for some florins. At almost HUF 300 to the dollar, it reminded me of the familiar LIT 625 to the dollar of my youth. That made mental conversions relatively easy. I still made a mistake with the zeroes, and ended up with USD 500 in florins instead of USD 50. Not a big problem, because it is easier to use cash than a credit card in most places.
The hostel adjoins a restaurant called Fat Mama’s Eatery, which supplied good food at reasonable prices. By now, I was getting the impression that Hungarian cuisine is basically comfort food: lots of meaty soups and stews, potatoes, cabbage. Fish was on every menu, but more often than not, it was frozen and unremarkable. The meat options, however, were always tasty and filling: deer, elk, mutton, pork, and duck. The only beef I had was the goulash.
I tarried over supper with my computer, checking email and getting focused for the BP-17 Conference on the next day. I turned in shortly before midnight, grateful for a lower bunk for a change.
On Thursday, there was no sign of the rain of the day before. The air was cool in the sunshine. Both the hostel and the Danubius Arena Hotel, the venue of the conference, lay a few meters north of an east-west stretch of boulevards with a protected bike path running five kilometers from the river into the countryside. I passed all the places that I would need to visit on my way from the hostel to the hotel: the Plaza Arena shopping mall, the Urania Theatre, the train station, and the post office. Probably the most conveniently laid out downtown I have ever encountered.
I was not ready for the welcome at the Danubius Arena Hotel. It looked like a typical international conference hotel with bellboys, bell captains standing guard over the polished lobby. I usually get instant harassment when I ride up to such a place on my bicycle, but this gang came out with big smiles and enthusiastically led me over the shining marble to the luggage room, where we unloaded my bike and stowed it. I have never had such convenient parking in a regular hotel. The bike was secure, and the bell captain gladly opened the room anytime I showed up to ride somewhere, which was often.
Because I was so early, I left my bags in the luggage room and rode 600 m to the Plaza Arena shopping mall, because I had been collecting a growing list of small things to buy and replace. The mall had the layout and branded stores identical to an American mall, including Starbucks and McDonalds. There were a few Hungarian brands, but the stores looked the same as any fashion mall in America. I quickly determined what they had, and resolved to come back for that later.
Back at the hotel, I checked in and looked around for others at the Conference. Familiar faces started showing up (Judy and Dagmar Jenner, Michael Farrell, etc.) about 17:00, after the Master Classes let out. Judy told me that Csaba Bán, the organizer, was meeting with the speakers doing the Friday Ted-X talks in the lobby at 18:15, to go to the Urania Theatre for an orientation. I showed up, too, and met Csaba as well as Henry Liu, the President of the International Federation of Translators (FIT), to which ATA and almost all the national associations belong. We walked to the metro and then to the theatre. The belle époque building pleased the eye and the ear. After a tour of the venue, we sat in the auditorium while Csaba and the moderator, Konstantin Kisin, went through the format for the Ted-X style talks and answered questions.
From the theatre, Csaba led us on an impromptu walking tour of downtown Budapest. There were some surprises, like the club that I compare to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. It pioneered rock and roll in Hungarian during the Cold War, becoming an icon of the cultural scene. At the Dohany Street synagogue, I saw memorials to historic members of that congregation, including Herzl, the father of Zionism, and Joseph Pulitzer, for whom the Prize is named. The Rumbach Synagogue, a Moorish-style, 19th Century building, was undergoing renovations financed largely by an American whose family had worshiped there before emigrating: Tony Curtis. I had also forgotten that Erno Rubik was from Budapest, but his unforgettable cube was immortalized in a mural on a building not far from the Anker Klub, where we joined those who had already arrived for the Welcome Dinner. I collected my badge and enjoyed the company of familiar faces – and dozens of new colleagues. I had never been in the company of such a high percentage of translators from Eastern Europe or of translators working out of English, or even working in pairs that did not include English. It was stimulating to meet them all, so much so that I don’t even remember what we ate.
I made my way back to the metro while the party was still in full swing. Nick Rosenthal had generously given me a ticket for the metro to the theatre, and I had exact change for a return ticket.
Back at the hotel, I noticed that the fitness center offered sport massages, something that I knew would do my over-tight leg muscles a world of good. I went down to the fitness center to make an appointment for the next day. The place was packed with guests working every machine in the place. Most were healthy, young athletes, not the usual collection of overweight executives. Back in the lobby, I read the jerseys and sweat shirts and realized that Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, and other Slavic teams were at the hotel for some international sporting event.
I had one more piece of business before bed: voting. I used the business center to print out my absentee ballot, but the hotel employees were afraid to witness my signature on the envelope. I waited in the lobby until some of my colleagues came back from the Welcome Party. I voted, and then sealed the ballot with tape from the front desk. I knew that I could leave my ballot at the Embassy and that it would be sped by diplomatic pouch back to the USA in plenty of time for the 13 June election in Charlottesville. But Budapest would be my last chance to use the American postal system in time.
My presentation was not scheduled until 14:00 on Saturday, so I could attend the Ted-X style talks. Csaba had a full scheduled planned, from first thing in the morning to late at night both Friday and Saturday. By midnight, I was curled up in the clean sheets of my luxurious room and sound asleep.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,