No matter how wonderful a foreign holiday is there is always one place at my holiday destination that makes me feel glum and that place is always the airport on the way home. Sitting there waiting for some squeaky voiced, make up encrusted, fat arsed slapper from Slough to tell you that they hope you enjoy your flight to Gatwick is the most depressing thing I can think of in the whole wide world. The only way I can avoid being depressed is to switch my mind off and drift back to the days or weeks I have just enjoyed in my hospitable host country.
Usually while I am doing this I remember all the really unusual things, many of which I never got round to mentioning in my travel journal. The usual out-of-body experience took place at Budapest Airport today and these are just some of my favourite recollections that I reckon need a mention in a sort of appendix sort of way.
- Goulash is much runnier than I had expected it to be.
- Most Hungarian police cars are Astras. My car at home is an Astra. I reckon I could get away with posing as a Hungarian policeman if it wasn’t for the fact that my Astra is a Vauxhall and their Astras are all Opels … and they themselves are all seven feet tall and built like brick public conveniences.
- Central European cabbage tastes much nicer than English cabbage. I looked in a Hungarian phrasebook and discovered that there are no words for ‘boiled away to infinity’ which explains everything. Also, in England many of the staff who work in Argos are cabbages but there don’t seem to be any branches of the store in Hungary so said brassicas are in less plentiful supply and consequently more care is taken of them.
- At any time of the day or night, at the bus station in Balatonalmádi there is no one drinking cheap cider, it doesn’t stink of piss and there is a bus waiting to take people somewhere.
- In Hungary, as in Germany, there is a chain of supermarkets called Penny Market. I can’t speak for Germany but in Hungary you can buy a bottle of very nice wine for less than £1. This is a slight disappointment in one respect though as the shops’ name suggests that it might even be cheaper.
- In some places in Budapest it costs more than £1 to use the public toilets. Although this means that the toilets are kept clean and tidy and pleasant to use, it also means that it would be cheaper to buy a bottle of wine, pour the contents out and wee in the bottle. Doing a number two might be a problem though unless you bought some of that naff Californian wine that you used to be able to get from off licences in a carafe with a foil lid on it.
- When buying a cup of coffee in Hungary the choices consist only of an espresso or a tiny espresso. If you ask for ‘a long one’ you get what is about the size of an espresso in England, otherwise you get as much coffee as a waiter in an English coffee bar would spill in the saucer as he or she bangs it down on the counter for you. There is an advantage to this in that I always feel as though I must buy a drink before I can use the toilets in a café, which usually means that half an hour after I have left the barista’s premises I need to use the toilet again, thus perpetuating the situation. But if the coffee that you drink is only the equivalent of an egg cup full, as long as your bladder is bigger than an egg cup the problem will eventually disappear. In some countries the matter is overcome by the fact that the coffee doesn’t taste very nice so there is a tendency to not drink it all but in Hungary the coffee is always delicious.
- I was disappointed but not surprised that in Hungary there are many branches of Tesco. However, I was very surprised to find a number of branches of Mr Minit, the shoe repairers. I had a ticket in my wallet for some shoes that I had taken in for re-heeling months ago. I handed it in at the Eger branch. ‘Won’t be ready until Thursday,’ growled the assistant.
- In Hungary, what we call a convenience shop is called an ABC shop. There are Tesco ABCs, Spar ABCs, Lidl ABCs and small street corner ABCs run by people from ethnic minorities. I love the fact that they call them ABCs and I have vowed to call them that myself upon my return to England.
- Unlike everywhere I have ever been in the world, including Melksham, in Hungary you don’t get anything free to eat or drink when you are handed the bill for a meal. There is never even a sniff of a wafer thin mint, a biscuit, a chocolate, a small glass of liqueur or a bit of cake. It doesn’t really matter but it does seem a bit strange.
- Hungarian cake isn’t very nice. Apart from its human rights record and its history of polluting during the years under Communist rule, the cake is probably the only other thing in the whole of the country that isn’t very nice.
- In Budapest, near to the Soviet War Memorial and the statue of Ronald Reagan, there is a statue of General Harry Hill Bandholtz of the U.S.A. Army who intervened with a dog whip to stop Romanian troops from looting the Hungarian National Museum in 1919. When I first approached it I couldn’t see the word ‘Bandholtz’ on the plaque at the foot of the statue and mistakenly wondered where his large unbuttoned white collar, big shoes, bald head and big glasses were.
- Painted on the road surface in Hungarian bus lanes you see the word ‘Busz’ which means ‘bus’. According to my trusty guide book this word is pronounced ‘boose’, as in 'loose' and not ‘bus’ which actually means ‘fuck’. Imagine the fun Hungarians must have when they come to Britain and experience the joys of a bus lane, the children’s bygone television show Play Bus, the 1970s television sitcom On the Buses, the term Busman’s Holiday, bus stations, bus stops, bus terminuses, express buses, night buses, blunderbusses, bus tickets, The Who’s 1960s hit single Magic Bus and bus timetables. What must they think of us?
- Hungarian people seem to enjoy the flight to Gatwick. Ah well, the grass is always greener, as they say. The strange thing is that there isn’t any grass at Gatwick.