More Land Travel
The train to Bucharest departed at 2200 hours and at 0230 we were roust from our sleeper to clear immigration at the Turkish boarder. We actually had to leave the train and stand in line to clear. Back aboard and underway at 0439 we were again asked to clear into Bulgaria although this time the official came on board and stamped our passport without our leaving the car. We questioned the wisdom of a sleeper car with all the visitors we had during the night because we also went through Romania which meant two more visits. Anway all this in and out gave us the opportunity to meet our compartment neighbor, Gaston Bewckerich. Gaston is a retired Parisian living in Turkey the last two years. He was traveling back to Paris to visit his sons and to renew his Turkish visa. So even if you own property in Turkey you still have to leave every 90 days. Gaston is a pleasant and cordial guy who has many lady acquaintances as a result of computer dating. Ah the French.
Arriving in the Bucharest station we went to reconfirm our reservation on to Budapest only to find that we would owe another 80 Euros to have a private sleeping car. We grudgingly agreed, since we thought we had already paid for a sleeper, but then neither of our credit cards would work, uh oh. So we boarded the train and talked to the conductor who is able to arrange a sleeper. We paid in Turkish lira but he was unhappy about getting a currency with such a high inflation rate. Finally we arrived at a price which was considerably less than what the station ticket office wanted. You can bet that money never saw the till.
Now what do we do about the credit cards when we reach Budapest??
Arriving in Budapest in the morning we were back in business since the ATM spit out plenty of local currency. We quickly found a hotel which was located on the promenade and headed out to the Opera House to see about tickets for the night. Budapest celebrates its Spring Festival during this week and musical and theather events fill every available venue.
The city of Budapest is divided by the Danube River and in fact at one time it was three cities and yep that's right one was Buda and another was Pest. With 80% of the city damaged during WW II, Budapest has been rebuilt to its original splendor. Even the bridges were replicated from orginal designs. The city center, where historical landmarks and tourists attractions abound, is an architecal wonderland. As you walk in the city you will see that at street level you could be in Chicago walking down the "miracle mile" with all the familiar international shops but raise your eyes and you will see the ornate carvings and baroque window casements on almost ever building. Every square in the city displays a bronze statue of some historic figure. You don't need to visit many museums since the city itself is a museum.
We did visit the museum of fine art and again the building itself is fine art. The collection is broad with a great
deal of religious art and the artists of the 1900 are represented by Claude Monet, Toulouse Latrec, Renoir, Gauguin and others but the collection in this period is rather thin. The museum is located in "Heroes' Square" where there are gigantic monuments to Hungarian heroes and a tomb for unknown soldiers. The next day we visited St Stephen's Basilica, a monstrous and unique domed cathedral as ornate as you will find anywhere in the world and inside you will find its treasure, "the hand of St Stephen". Since most religions are based upon faith why is it necessary to preserve and enshrine a human hand?
Okay so lets get back to the opera.
We were able to purchase isle seats on the fourth row , expensive but this will be our first and possibly our last opera. The production was Turandot by Puccini who also composed Madam Butterfly and Leboheme. The opera is set in Peking and tells a story of unrequited love which eventually has an happy ending, a rarity found in operas. It contained one very recognizable aria.
Recognizable that is if you grew up watching after hours TV when there were only infomercials and they were marketing the greatest moments in opera. These ancient commercials are the totality of my operatic knowledge. Well anyway the opera was stupendous. The female lead could project a song from the very front of the stage that could bring tears to a grown mans eyes, that is if he really had to pee bad (just kidding). The stage was usually filled and the chorus of singers and you could feel the power of so many trained voices.
The opera house itself could have stolen the show. It is magnificently baroque with gold leaf everwhere and is worth a visit even if you don't see a performance.
We throughly enjoyed our visit to Budapest but now it was time to return to Turkey. Having searched every other form of transport we found that the train still offered the best and most economical fare. We doggedly plowed through the three day trip which included 13 hours in Istanbul awaiting the next bus to Fethiye. This time in Istanbul we had beautiful sunshine and the tulips were in bloom. Upon arrival back to Shiraz everything was fine and our stove top was waiting for us (see below).
For a quick look at a few of our pictures from Budapest please click on the slide show below. To see the entire Flickr set of our trip just click on the "smiley face".
If you're headed our way:
- During our visit we found a certain amount of money fumbling. Here is an example. At the subway station the attendant would slide the tickets and some change under the glass to you and then turn her back. If you walked away as we did you were out 500 Hungarian forints. If you stopped and stayed she would eventually give you the 500 she owed you. At the train station in Bucarest we bought a bag of chips since there were no dining cars and the lady showed us 70 Romanian new leu on her calculator. That would make the bag about $25. We tossed it back and she quickly changed the price to $2.50 and we bought. In the next store we saw the same bag for $1.50. No body has change and whatever currency you have is the wrong currency. So face it, you look like a target, just don't act like one.
- Since we had only one day to see Budapest we opted for the "Hop On/Hop Off" bus tour. Without stop the tour would take two hours. Headphones are provided for educational information. As the name indicates you stop at 14 of the most important tourists locations where you could get off the bus and explore and then hop back on when you were ready. A new bus shows up about every half hour. Although it was a rainy day we still had a great time exploring the city. We would suggest you to take the entire tour first, listening to the audio and then return to the sites that were of interest to you.
- Never ever ship anything to Turkey over $100. First there are no duty free ports and a stiff import duty. Also you must utilize a broker or show up in person which can be very inconvenient. Here's how we got in the jam. Our ENO stove had seen better days and we decided to replace it . The ENO web site showed no distributor in Turkey so we tried to email ENO directly in France and no reply. During our trip to the US we found that ENO had purchased Force 10 in Canada and it was through them that we had the unit shipped to our son Brad. This way he could stuff our mail and a few other small parts into the same package. The package made it to Fed Ex in Istanbul and stopped there waiting for an authorized broker. After several telephone calls to FedEx, then to local customs and more telephone calls, we still received the same message, "Not possible." Since we were headed to Istanbul anyway we believed we could expedite matters with a personal visit.............well at the end of the day the paper work was done, we paid our fees and the package was forwarded to us in Fethiye. Ipek Navdar who worked at Fedex gave us this departing thought.......next time ship UPS.