It saddens me to say that today I was almost, but only almost, the victim of two crimes on the streets of Budapest. I’m often accused of wearing rose tinted glasses on my travels as I come home with nothing but tales of what wonderful places I have visited and how lovely the people were. Well this was the case for most of my wanderings around Hungary but I really don’t hide the truth (unless there’s a risk of me being arrested or embarrassed myself) and I did come away with these two moments of unpleasantness lodged firmly in my mind.
First of all, on the way to my evening at the theatre, a man who claimed to be from Istanbul, who claimed to be a Beşiktaş fan, who claimed to have a deep loathing for Harry Kewell and who enjoyed a drink (he didn’t tell me the latter but it was easy to guess) started chatting to me in the street. He was on holiday too. He was looking for the shops. I told him that you could find everything imaginable in the shops over the river in Pest but in his slurred pigeon Turkish English he came out with words to the effect that they didn’t quite have what he was looking for.
It turned out that what he was looking for was a wallet full of money and credit cards and, rather than buy one, he decided to help himself to mine. I didn’t understand what he was doing as he pulled at my shirt and pointed at his own rather expensive looking one. He did this a couple of times and I told him he was really getting on my paps but he continued. What he was really doing was distracting me. As he pulled brusquely at my sleeve he was gently sliding his hand into my pocket and I just caught him as my wallet came into view.
I snatched it off him; he immediately stopped talking and turned round to walk the other way. I was a bit shaken up and didn’t react as I wished I had done. I couldn’t stop thinking how relieved I was that I had avoided a disaster by a split second. Had I thought faster I would have punched or kicked him but it was probably as well that I didn’t because he may have had a knife and it may have appeared to witnesses that I had started the confrontation. I wished I had taken his photograph and sent it off to their telly show, Crimewatch Hungary, but I didn’t have a TV Quick magazine so I didn’t know on what night it would be broadcast. I wished I had at least said something to him.
Instead I went for a cup of coffee at the little café in the public garden opposite the theatre. To cheer myself up I had a piece of cake as well. The waitress said she only had marzipan cake which I agreed to only because I had recently visited the marzipan museum in Eger and had developed an enthusiasm for all things pertaining to marzipan. The table was wobbly and I spilt my coffee. The marzipan on the cake wasn’t really marzipan. It was that horrible soggy icing you get on kids’ Manchester United or Power Rangers birthday cakes in Sainsbury’s. By now I was really angry. I wanted to go back and find the pickpocket and ram the so called marzipan that I had peeled off my cake to make it edible and ram it down his throat. That would teach him!
But, unknown to me at the time, my flirtation with the Budapest underworld was by no means over. The attempted crime that took place next flattered me for a couple of days before I realised that it actually was a crime.
The incident took place on the evening of the ninth as I was walking home from the theatre. It was late and I had no idea what time the last tube train would leave for the place where my lodgings were located on the Budapest ring road. To hasten my journey to the Metro station I walked along the ever-so-trashily-touristy street, Váci Utca which my guide book had told me to avoid because it was the trashiest, most touristy bit of the city and awash with high priced cheap bars, fridge magnet shops, Starbucks, McDonald’s and pissed up people in hen and stag parties from England. In reality it was only like walking down a street in an English city late at night. In fact it was better because although it was cheap and nasty it had a bit of a vibrant holiday atmosphere to it.
As I weaved my way through the gently swaying people singing songs about Coventry City having won the F.A. Cup in 1987 and giving graphic accounts of the pain that must be endured during a bikini waxing treatment, I was approached by two very attractive, very young girls who spoke English with a Central European accent. There was a particular bar, the name of which I cannot recall, that they wanted me to help them find. I said I hadn’t a clue. They were surprised because they thought I lived in Budapest. I was surprised that they were surprised and told them I was knackered and just wanted to get back to my hotel on the ring road. They asked me repeatedly to go with them to a bar, sometimes suggesting that we could all have a good laugh together and sometimes with an air of desperation in their voices. With an air of impatience in my voice I told them to sod off because I was going home but I continued my journey with my ego inflated by the fact that they had approached me, a bloke more than twice their age, in the first place.
A couple of days later, whiling away the time on my flight home, I looked the pages of my guide book that I had not already read and found this passage:
Parts of Budapest, notably Váci Utca in the Belváros (city centre), are notorious for ‘consume girls’, who target solo male foreigners. A couple of attractive young women (they’re not difficult to spot) will approach you, get talking and, without wasting any time, ‘invite’ you to a bar of their choice. A few drinks later you’ll find yourself presented with a bill somewhat bigger than you bargained for and be strong-armed into paying up. The bars, and the waiters who work in them, are an integral part of the scam, so bids for escape or complaint are futile, but if you ever do find yourself caught up in such a situation then report it to the police.
So twice in one evening I was almost a street crime victim. It was bound to happen to me sooner or later. I’m glad of these experiences as, without actually suffering from them I skirted with disaster and they taught me a lesson or two. Phew!
The Hungarian Parliament Building and the Danube.
The nice bit about walking back through Budapest to the Metro Station
late at night . . . in between crime incidents!