Denver: Thanatos Themes

Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.

After witnessing this beautiful and omnipresent infrastructure gone awry, we fled the mall. In retrospect, there’s never been a time in my life that “flee the mall” wasn’t the best move.

On the bank of the river, we encountered more modern art. It was less explicable than the factoid cow.

View this post on Instagram

Kinda cool bridge #Denver

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

Even before we saw the bus run that dude down, even before my knee-jerk reflex to tear that bald kid’s ribcage clean out of his body, and the subsequent herculean force of will required to repress the urge, the shadow of death had been firmly ingrained in the day’s plans. Our lunch plans were at a place called Linger, a former mortuary turned restaurant.

A morgue cocktail bar downtown is dead-center my aesthetic, which is a carefully cultivated 50/50 blend of Gomez Addams and something I like to call “apocalypse flannel”. More so, because in college I was briefly the singer and bassist for a band called “Mad Dog Motch and the All-You-Can-Eat Autopsy”.

I say briefly because our guitarist, the eponymous Mad Dog Motch, thought the name “Team Battle” was more in line with both the kind of music, and the amount of Smash Bros, we were playing.

View this post on Instagram

do u have to #linger #mortuary #spooktya #Denver

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

In my deepest heart, I was kind of hoping the tables would be made out of gurneys, or the place would be decorated with those big body drawers you always see in police procedural dramas. No such luck. It was a well-appointed, tastefully decorated multi-floor cocktail bar, and it was poppin off even at 2 pm. The tables were absurdly tiny, though not as bad as in Rhode Island. Can you imagine if I didn’t fit in the morgue? Grimmer and grimmer.

They sat us in a window overlooking the gargantuan metal milk bottle demarcating the LoHi neighborhood. LoHi was named for the lower part of the downtown surrounding Highland Bridge. Denverites love giving the areas with high craft brewery density little two-syllable grunt names, like “NoDo” and “SoBo”.

This turned out to be Little Man Ice Cream, and we would wait in line for thirty minutes in order to get some, once our mortuary dining experience drew to a close.

View this post on Instagram

Stay hydrated #water #hydrated #denver

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

I wasn’t in a cocktail state of mind, considering the events of the previous day. I was giving myself some recoup time. I drank the clearly labeled water, and we wound up splitting a plate of tiny, tiny burger portions.

Pro strat: If you’re exploring a city, don’t eat anything huge unless you’re about to call it a night. Tiny tapas let you experience more of the city, and you’re less inclined to get all slow and logy.

This is less advisable on long-term trips. I came back from my six weeks in Yurp about thirty pounds lighter.

Just looking at this picture, I remember the way my soul sang biting into these little microburgers. That cow did not die in vain.

We left the morgue with spirits lifted, though not in a necromantic way. Ladygirl insisted on the ice cream. I made low moaning noises of disapproval, as I was still hungry for real food and didn’t want ice cream, or to stand still. She used her rhetorician’s degree to make some persuasive arguments, such as “It’s right here!” and “Come onnnnn”, and she was the eventual owner of a giant hipster spin on a cookies and cream cone.

View this post on Instagram

It has arrived #truck #fashion #style #Denver

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

The celebration of life continued by drinking our way hither and yon across LoDo (Lower Downtown).

View this post on Instagram

rojer #wynkoop #beer #sophisticatedalcoholism

A post shared by Bastard Travel (@bastardtravel) on

Wynkoop was my favorite, and we would revisit it a few times over the next two days.

It was a very laid-back vibe. They leaned heavy on Dad rock, so there was a lot of Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC playing, but not very loud. Like elevator music. They also had a giant wood carving of a gorilla, and I cannot believe I didn’t take a picture of it.

As we looked out the window, killing time before our dinner reservation by drinking several obscure beers, a dude on a motor trike rolled up to the light, blasting his own, conflicting Dad rock.

We exchanged thumbs up and he roared off into the late afternoon, presumably on a highway to Hell.

Next episode: A torrent of meat at The Buckhorn Exchange. Both rootin’ and tootin’. Stay tuned.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: Ich Bin Ein

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The first thing I learned was my normal strategy of walking everywhere is of no use here. Berlin is too big. It’s because there used to be too many Berlins, and once Reagan hulk-punched that wall down it became a single, titanic Berlin.

Hostels were in short supply, but I managed to get my hands on a nice $13 a night dealie right off of the Landwehr canal, called the Grand Hostel Berlin. Their delusions of grandeur didn’t stop at the name. They were under the mistaken impression they were a party hostel, and wanted this party to center around what they called the Gin Library.

Now, ordinarily, those would be great things better together, right? Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter and whatever arbitrary nutritional asceticism I’m inflicting on myself at present.

No such luck, beautiful reader. It was most assuredly a library a la Ron Burgundy, leatherbound books and rich mahogany, but it also had bar no one ever wanted to tend, obnoxious techno music that kind of disrupted the whole “library” mystique, and a fucking disco ball.

Do you know why most libraries don’t have disco balls? It’s because you need light to read.

When I entered the Gin Library, there were four people sitting around a coffee table, talking over the bad music in various accents about what their favorite types of alcohol are. Pretty standard cultured frat-boy hostel fare. The girls were middling attractive, the boys were “traveler chic” with whiteboy dreadlocks and dated facial piercings.

Laboring under the mistaken impression I could get some reading done in the library, I stood at the bar and tried to order a beer during happy hour. It didn’t work for a few minutes. I went to reception and said, “Hey, think I could get a beer?” The receptionist smiled, nodded, and shouted rapid German at no one in particular.

I went back to the bar and waited for another couple minutes, then decided the hell with it, I didn’t need one that bad, and started back to the corner seat to chip away at a reread of Stephen King’s It.

It wasn’t until then that one of the girls at the table, still squawking something about how Oh she LUVES tequila, deigned to stand up, approach the bar, and say, “Did you want a beer?”

“You work here?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

She smiled, thinking I was flirting. I corrected this misconception by deliberately stiffing a service worker on a tip for the first time in my life.

Sorry baby. West Berlin’s always been a capitalism.

20171204_140906

I started at the Brandenburg gate, one of Germany’s most famous monuments despite its relative youth, at least by European standards. Berlin had been a defensible fort with a sequence of unpronounceable names since Germany was Prussia, but the Brandenburg gate didn’t show up until around 1790. For America, that’s all of relevant history, but for countries like Italy or England, that’s basically yesterday.

I hadn’t done a lot of Nazi-centric sightseeing because the weather is depressing enough and I like to have fun, but considering the Germanic bent my recent journeys have taken, it’s not avoidable. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is about a block from the Brandenburg gate, rising from a concrete lot like a time-lapse cemetery. Catchy name too, huh? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Concrete slabs of varying heights shoot haphazardly from the ground with no inscription, pattern, or real rhyme or reason. Some look like tombstones, some like coffins, some like tiny Brutalist skyscrapers. The architect, a dude named Eisenman, claims that the blocks are supposed to create a confusing atmosphere indicative of a highly ordered system gone wrong, then in the same breath says that the memorial has no symbolic significance. Sounds like your confusing atmosphere worked better than planned.

The designer’s contradictory Zen-koan babbling doesn’t stop visitors from their interpretations, though. Popular opinion is that entering the monument proper was isolating. The concrete absorbed the sounds of traffic and life coming from Berlin, leaving you in this cold, spooky hallway. The alienation, the echoes, and the imposing bleakness of the corridors reminded me of a slaughterhouse, but I’m not the best central tendency metric for this kind of thing.

Some people call that vague feeling of visceral unease the heebie-jeebies, or something comparably cute. I call it draggin’ ghosts, and I felt them like a physical weight on my shoulders as I walked out of that bleak little grid. At the same time, I was reining in an almost irresistible urge to jump from block to block. That was something I liked to do in graveyards when I was young, until someone saw me. Never met anyone who was thrilled about that.

I turned the corner and a giant brain-blimp shone down from a wall.

20171204_143816

“Oh, good,” I said aloud. Berlin’s got a reputation for art, and a lot of what I saw was pretty cool, but we’ll save that for its own post.

I turned another corner.

20171204_142503

agreed

I doubled back to the hostel and sat down for a while since I’d somehow managed to walk four or five miles, thanks to Berlin’s comical immensity. Der Hunger was setting in. I asked a spindly blonde receptionist where I could get some food, and she helpfully said she’d tell me in ten minutes.

She didn’t get the chance. A dude who sounded Ukrainian was scribbling a sort of city-overview to the stoner kid I mentioned yesterday and a middle-aged Japanese couple, and I eavesdropped on that until he circled the areas where “all the best restaurants are”. I leaned in, snapped a picture, and disappeared into Germany’s perpetual freezing rain.

What he meant by “all the best restaurants” was “places you could conceivably locate food”. This walk was only a mile, though, so that was… better? The street was called Bergmannstraße, it was itself about a mile long, and it had nothing but Asian food, one italian restaurant, one Mexican restaurant, and a kebab shop. I didn’t come to Germany for any of those things, but my choices rapidly became branch out or starve. I ate Indian two days in a row, from two different restaurants right next to each other. The first, called India, was bad. The second was incredible. I don’t remember the name.

There were a smattering of tourist shops along Bergmann, and one of them stopped me dead.

Now, my German is not what you would call spectacular. Any doubt about that, ask any of the Austrians or Germans I’ve befriended in my travels; they invariably mock my awful accent and I demand they answer for “feuerzeug“.

I delight in the German language because of the kindergarten way they just staple short, existing words into monstrous yet inexplicably precise Frankenwords.

You’re sick? Du bist krank. Welp, if you’re sick enough, we gotta get you to the hospital. That’s the krankhaus. How we gonna get you there? We’re gonna load you into the krankenwagen.

Absolute poetry.

In my Duolingings, I ran across the suffix –zeug, which essentially just means “stuff”. Your toy? That’s spieltzeug, literally play-stuff. How about a tool? Werkzeug. You can noodle that one out.

Then you got Fahrenzeug which means “driving stuff” and refers to a car. Uh, okay, I guess. But Feuerzeug is exactly what it sounds like, fire-stuff, and it means “a lighter”, and that makes me absolutely furious. You go TOO FAR.

German grammar is a disaster rivaled only by English grammar and their idioms are, as one would expect, deeply nonsensical and often sausage-themed. Every German I’ve encountered has argued they don’t have that many sausage-themed idioms, forcing me to point it out to them when they invariably use one within the following two hours.

These magnets, for those of you who didn’t quite catch up with the bus somehow, are word-for-word English translations of German turns of phrase. I reveled in them, grinning like an idiot in the rain for five minutes, then made the first and last legitimate souvenir purchase of my trip.

25086666_1146757948793843_707077068_o

I also encountered this gem.

20171204_171152

Trump halts maul. Well, it didn’t sound complimentary, but it did sound like home. The last I’d heard of the German opinion on Donnie was when the Morgenpost referred to him as… well, as thus:

germany

“please not the Horror-Clown!”

Well, I had to wait until I got back to the rad library party hostel to solve this particular mystery, but I giggled when I did.

haltmaul

It reminded me of one’a my favorite twitter threads.

24899219_1146758855460419_1945745216_n

Although, in fairness, the t-shirt’s not wrong.

That’s all I can do for today, if I type for too long WordPress’s busted-ass text editor starts flinching away from me every time I hit the enter key like a beaten puppy. Talk to you tomorrow, boys and girls.

Love,

The Bastard

Berlin: German “Cuisine”

December 3, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

I arrived in the arctic Prussian wasteland of Berlin, mapless due to both the brutality and consistency of FlixBus’s cold-blooded infidelity.

Don’t just avoid them. That’s not enough. Molotov them in the streets. I will not rest until nothing remains of those lying transit bastards but twisted wreckage and burnt-out husks in lime green and, apparently, sometimes, unmarked red.

Berlin is mighty stingy with its free Wi-Fi too, and it was only by chance that I snatched a handful of internet from one of FlixBus’s competitors (yeah eat a dick bud Eurolines RULES) and discovered that there was, in fact, a difference between Berlin Central Station and Berlin Central Bus Station.

That distance is four miles. You know, for a people with such a reputation for linguistic and engineering precision, that’s a pretty loose definition of “central”.

Obviously, I couldn’t try to navigate across this new city in the sudden dead of winter without a Google map. First of all, it’s current year. Paper maps are relics for nerds and pirates. You hang them on the wall to look cultured, you don’t actually try to utilize them. What, you have a compass watch too? Keep your money in your sock? Shut up.

Secondly, I have no sense of direction, whatsoever. I rationalize it away with cute, pithy, middle-aged-woman yard sale sign aphorisms like “Wherever you go, there you are” and “Not all who wander are lost” but make no mistake, I’m always wandering and it’s always because I’m lost. If it weren’t for GPS, I definitely would have kept wandering south in Turkey and wound up on the other side of the country, dodging active gunfire. And even then, my doofy blithe ass would be like, “They shoot their guns in open fields all the time too! Just like home!”

I snarled a bunch, hissed swears in a colorful assortment of unrelated languages, then slipped into a skeevy American-style diner that had the worst pinup drawing I’d ever seen next to the second worst motorcycle drawing I’d ever seen. The menu was endless. I ordered a currywurst.

20171204_124535

a little intimidating

Take a good look, beautiful reader, because this is the last German food you’re going to see for the duration of the trip. Currywurst is a delightful little concoction accredited to the most German sounding woman I’ve ever heard of, Herta Heuwer, in 1949. Up until this point, I’m pretty sure Germany had been subsisting entirely on boiled sausage and fried potatoes. The British troops gave Herta ketchup, worchesterhsiehchihriehshcishire sauce, and curry powder, and she just kind of chucked them all on top of a bratwurst and changed the face of central European cuisine as we know it.

The Germans were flabbergasted. “Heinrich! Zis powder, it TASTES!”

“Was, like sausage?”

“Nein! Well, ja, but like other things as well!”

Heinrich furrows his brow in confusion.

“Was meanst du, ‘other things’? Like… weak beer?”

“Nein, Heinrich. Halt maul und smeckst das.”

Heinrich put the ketchup-sodden powdered hot dog in his maul and gesmeckt. His Augen bulged. Lars had been telling the truth. It tasted neither like sausage nor like weak beer, and he spent the next half hour in a fetal position, screaming, in a state of catatonic sensory overload.

When Heinrich calmed down, he and Lars immediately dialed India long-distance and demanded answers. India shrugged, explained that they’ve been doing this for as long as they can remember, my friend. Heinrich and Lars tapped the impressive German national coffers, presumably swollen as they are from how much Volkswagen parts cost from the manufacturer, and imported thousands of Indians.

And that, boys and girls, is why it’s a physical fucking impossibility to find any German food in Berlin. Every restaurant is an Indian restaurant, broken up with occasional Japanese, Vietnamese, and Shisha places. And kebab stands, of course, but you can’t get away from kebab stands in Europe, they’re like roaches in New York.

Listen to me. This isn’t comic exaggeration. I walked a total of fifteen miles over three days, all through different parts of town, looking for authentic German cuisine. It’s gone, man. They globalized it away. Alex Jones was right all along. The Germans realized cooking wasn’t their strong suit – DESPITE sauerkraut! – and handed the keys to India, then shifted their focus to more traditional pursuits, like talking quietly accented but grammatically perfect English in every hostel I’ve ever been in, or being tall.

I asked other travelers.

“Did you find any German places to eat?”

“Naw, dude!” the stoner kid said, throwing up his arms. “There weren’t any!”

“You either, huh?”

“I’ve been all over town! There are no German restaurants, unless you count the currywurst stands!”

“I don’t,” I said. Stands are not restaurants.

“Neither do I!” he continued yelling and flailing. He was a very excitable boy. “Yo, do you mind if I roll a spliff in here?”

“Follow your heart.”

I did find a bar/restaurant that alleged to serve traditional German food, but the dude running it was most assuredly Indian. Go figure. I still had the Leberkäse, which, as far as I could tell, was some sort of… bologna loaf. I know how that sounds. It was described as a meatloaf, but while you or I would imagine meatloaf to be hamburger with bread crumbs in it, the Bavarians conceptualized a ground pulp of pork, beef, and liver rendered into a pudding then poured into a loaf pan and baked. It tasted like what Spam aspires to be, but still good because it was served over (surprise!) fried potatoes.

In parting, let me show you what happens when you ask for the menu “dark beer” in Berlin.

24956644_1146092028860435_166436352_o

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Budapest: The Maze of Darkness

November 28, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

It’s your boy Theseus here, giving you a punctuated play-by-play of Budapest because things are too densely crowded and chaotic to do this chronologically. Today’s bit starts both in the Castle District and in media res.

I went up to the Castle Bazaar, I was under the impression that a “Bazaar” is a sweet flea market, like every bazaar in Turkey was. I’m good on palaces for a minute, but I did need some blank t-shirts so my screenprint souvenir dealies don’t immediately out me as a tourist. I know five words in Hungarian now and that’s more than enough to fake my way through two conversational exchanges. If they see me standing there in a cheap, ill-fitting Athens shirt, they greet me in English. Contemptuously.

As it happens, sometimes a bazaar just means a large, boring courtyard. This was one of those times. Disappointed and chilly, I decided to forage up lunch somewhere in the castle district, and that’s where I discovered the Labirintus.

I’m a sucker for mazes. I’ll be it has something to do with my total lack of a sense of direction, some sort of compensatory reaction formation mechanism, like closet-gay homophobes, or Catholic schoolgirls. Plus, it was a real, live dungeon, underground, where people were imprisoned and tortured.

It’s like they left me no choice.

Budapest is built on an elaborate system of caves. Ten million years ago, most of central Europe was submerged under an enormous body of water called the Pannonian Sea.

pannonian sea

Four million years ago, it had shrunk to Lake Pannon, which still covered the majority of Hungary. As the flora and fauna lived and died in the water and the ecosystem shrank down, the salts and minerals became concentrated.

The capitol of Hungary is also famous for its thermal springs, which were long thought to possess supernatural healing powers because of their own weird mineral concentration. When the Pannonian water soaked through the soil and met with the miracle-water of the geothermal springs, it turned slightly caustic and, over millions of years, carved out a tremendous complex of caves. Tectonic shift drained Lake Pannon and the groundwater below it, and Budapest, being on the fault line demarcated by the Danube, was left with a sprawling natural cave system thought to be more than 62 miles (100km) long.

Terrible place to build a city what with all the sinkholes, but what are you gonna do.

Throughout its entire history, Budapest used the caves for strategic superiority. Buda proper was built around 1250 when King Béla IV of Hungary got tired of being sacked by Mongol raiders, so he moved his kingdom 200 meters away, to the top of a hill, and built a wall around it. Walls, being the only Mongolian weakness, effectively deterred them, and medieval Buda thrived.

citywok

From that point forward, whenever Buda was threatened by siege, the soldiers (and in the case of Fisherman’s Bastion, also the fishermen) would man the walls and the rest of the population would shuffle into the caves like mole people. The strategy worked so well that Budapest used it to survive the Soviet bombings of World War II.

The Labyrinth was divvied up into four sections. The first was a wax museum based on an opera that was, in turn, based on some drama that took place in Buda Castle. The second was the eponymous Maze of Darkness. The third was the cell where King Mathias kept Vlad the Impaler imprisoned for 14 years as punishment for eloping with his adolescent daughter. The fourth was, inexplicably, a bunch of posters describing other caves in the world.

24209181_1140833429386295_1667136294_o

I did the Maze of Darkness first. You don’t really appreciate how dark it can get. All the darkness we experience in civilized society is disrupted by street lamps, refracted glare, cell phones, moon and starlight. Even when we close our eyes we have something that resembles darkness, but it’s not real, true, black-as-pitch darkness.

24169323_1140833466052958_418341724_o

The Maze was deep enough under ground that there was nothing. They left a rope running along a wall to guide you through, but that was it. Without it, it’s so dark you’re not sure if your eyes are open.

I’m a big dude. I don’t rattle. But when you’re in that kind of dark, it makes you realize that if there’s anything down there that can see even a little bit better than you, it’s over. You don’t have a chance. A chihuahua with light-amp goggles could have ended my life.

Obviously, it was too dark in the Maze of Darkness to see the realized nightmare at the end, so I took a picture with flash before strategically retreating into the Straightaway of Electric Light.

24208920_1140833302719641_1623633319_o

why do it

After I stopped crying, I looped around into the fog where they kept Dracula.

24197160_1140833392719632_2105368629_o

pretty sure this is a sliding floor puzzle that unlocks a secret treasure room

In getting to Dracula, I scared the shit out of everyone by accident. Nobody else seemed to want to wander around a foggy, haunted dungeon alone, for some reason, so when I’d pass couples or clusters of girls in the corridors, there was nothing I could do to warn them. I’d lumber out of the mist and they would freeze or, in some cases, actually scream, and I’d just smile indulgently and keep on goin’. Not a lot to be said at that point.

I checked out the cave exhibit but it was really sad. With Dracula at large and those horrible blue children still lurking around somewhere, I bade the labyrinth farewell, got lost three times, then found my way to the exit where I overheard a British couple discussing reading of signs.

“There, see?” the dude said. “No photography allowed. Nearly missed that one, that’s important.”

“Oops.”

So don’t tell nobody.

I emerged into the frozen Budapesti day and went to find food that would, hopefully, not be sausage.

(It was sausage.)

Love,

The Bastard

Budapest: Budapest (Budapest)

 

November 27, 2017. Budapest, Hungary.

The bus itself was a trial. FlixBus is a European bus company that goes from major city to major city, one of the cheapest ways to travel internationally across the continent. Big ugly green buses, say ‘FLIXBUS’ on the side, you can’t miss them. If it’s more than five hours a way, it would probably cost the same to just grab a plane, but for that to work you need to book the tickets in advance. With FlixBus, you walk in and throw a handful of peanuts at them and they’ll take you to Budapest.

That was the working theory, anyway. According to the ticket that I got on this stupid app I downloaded to streamline their awful online purchase process, my ride was the 901, departing for Vienna at 11:40. An hour transfer onto the 902 at the good ol’ desolate Erdberg station and I’m in Budapest. Not bad for $20.

The 901 showed up to the station at 11:45. The bus driver didn’t speak English, but he did speak angrily. I showed him my ticket and he said, “Not Budapest. Table.”

“What?”

“Table,” he said, pointing.

“Yeah, still not getting it.”

“Table! Table!” he yelled, jerking a finger at the windshield.

“Oh, table! Of course!” I said, then leaned in close enough that he wouldn’t yell at me like I was a fucking child and said, “Still not getting it. I’m going to Vienna.”

“I come from Vienna,” he said.

“Awesome. 901? Like my ticket says?” I show him my ticket again, then point at the giant 901 on his windshield.

He points to a red coach bus in front of his. “They go Vienna.”

“The plain red bus. That’s a FlixBus?”

“Yes,” he said irritably. “FlixBus.”

“Grand.”

I board the sketchy unmarked bus. The driver of this one was a kindly old Austrian with a ridiculous walrus mustache.

“We going to Vienna?” I asked, showing my ticket.

Ja! Ja, Wien! Vienna!” He was merry about it. It was infectious.

Unlike most FlixBuses, this one had no Wi-Fi. Probably because it wasn’t a FlixBus. How did anyone else know? How did the other six passengers just guess at the correct giant red bus in the station full of giant red buses?

At the Erdberg station, rather than kill an hour standing in the filth and shivering, I took a walk to try to find something to eat. Realistically, it would come from a kebab stand. Everything in Vienna costs 4x as much as it does in the real world. I need to try Wiener schnitzel, but I don’t need it $15 bad. It’s just lightly fried meat. I would have been charged a nickel for that in Turkey.

There was no food near Erdberg station. People in that part of the city didn’t eat. I wandered back into what looked like an abandoned shopping complex to discover it was only semi-abandoned. There were bathrooms that you didn’t need to pay 50 cents for, which was a refreshing change of pace (I don’t use bus station bathrooms on principle. Half a dollar to take a piss, get outta here), and a sketchy textile store called Kik that sold discernibly rough-looking clothing for next to nothing. I considered an ugly $4 hoodie but ultimately decided on an ugly $4 beanie to help me weather eastern Europe’s winter and to fill the void in my heart left by the tragic loss of my Wanderhut.

Four hours, beautiful reader.

Four hours is how long I owned the new hat before my stupid ass left it behind on the bus.

Two days. Two hats. Two buses. Perfect score.

The realization of my own staggering incompetence launched me into a depressive spiral. I’d been laboring under the delusion that I was a smart dude, for most of my life. A pillar of my self-concept had fallen like a free-standing 2×4 whacked with a claw hammer and I didn’t know who I was any more.

Look at this! Lumber analogies! I should get a fucking trucker cap and do freelance deckbuilding frm the ’93 pickup I live in by the river.

I had such potential. Once.

In Budapest I learned they used yet another different kind of money, which means adding another layer of useless paper to my wallet. I’m still carrying Turkish lira, Czech koruna, and a fat stack of Euros, not to mention the $10 American taking up space in my backpack. You can rob me if you want, but if you want it to be worth your while you better be ready for the hike.

Hungarian forints, they’re called, and 310 of them makes a Euro. 260 makes a dollar, which is a far starker contrast than 1 Euro = $1.21. Armed with this new knowledge, I started peeking through windows for something to eat.

Most of outer Budapest seems to be if Fallout 3 had been utopian, instead. Every kind of disorganized junk shop you can imagine. Battery shops, camera shops, tire shops, light bulb shops. The whole 3 km walk from the Kelenföld was like tracking a wounded Radio Shack to the Danube.

I spotted a restaurant full of old, fat Hungarian men. The window menu was indecipherable except for the word Heineken, which was 100 forints.

That’s like 35 cents European. Couldn’t be more than 50 cents in real money. I’m a grown man so I’m obviously not about to drink a Heineken, but I’d just picked up the economic lay of the land.

I went into a restaurant and a moonlighting supermodel said something to me in rapid-fire Hungarian. I try to make a point of learning ten or fifteen words in every country I visit so I’m not that meme about the cultured frat boy, but it had been impossible to steal Wi-Fi since I got off the bus, so I opted for a half-wattage winning smile and a dopey “Hi!”

“English menu,” she said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Oh god please.”

It was a ruin pub, which is a beautiful Hungarian concept that red tape would forbid in America. It works like this: Budapest is overburdened with abandoned buildings as a result of ambitious Nazi and Soviet infrastructure plans. The proprietor-to-be will rent out one of these worthless buildings, give it a quick clean, and call over a bunch of local artists and designers to distract from the crumbling walls and safety code violations. This renders it a rom kocsm, literally “pub-in-a-ruin”, the preferred social hotspots in Budapest. This one looked more well-established, and the menu was pricey by comparison to the 30-cent beer I saw on the way. Still, each of the “Main Dishes” were like 5 Euros. I hadn’t eaten that day, and expected them to be small. I ordered two.

The waitress seemed baffled by my decision.

“Two? Are you… sure?”

“Please.”

“At the same time?”

“Sure. Naw, actually, let’s do the dumplings first.”

She doubted my powers. Honey, I’m an American. Overeating is our national pastime. We have a holiday devoted specifically to it, and I wasn’t there. I’m making up for lost time.

Still, I came to understand her hesitation. They were not small.

24167241_1140613646074940_244342932_o

The Sztrapacska was supposed to be “Hungarian dumplinks” with ewe’s cheese and bacon. I thought it meant dumplings. Apparently, dumplinks is some sort of code word for mac and cheese. It was phenomenal, which was appropriate, because delicious is finom in Hungarian. After housing that, the waitress returned, cautiously.

“You want the other?”

“Let’s do it,” I said. I’d rationed my stout out, I had another half liter to go. I could do this. I’d been training for this moment my entire life.

“Hungarian cured sausage”, they said.

24140089_1140288372774134_877104616_o.jpg

I was awed by the tenacity of this people. They just have a mountain of sauerkraut and pickled peppers for dinner? You just set four sausages afloat in a sea of spicy mustard? And BREAD? How can that bread even enter this equation?

I dug deep and cleaned the… well, it wasn’t a plate. It was more of a wooden circle. Which I cleaned.

The dinner for two and half-liter of craft beer came to like $12. I decided I was going to enjoy my time in Budapest.

I took the scenic route to my hostel in an effort to walk off some of the trillions of calories of pigfat I’d just put down.

24167270_1140613626074942_1813308616_o.jpg

Scenic it was. Budapest is a beautiful city, except for all the damn cops. Everywhere I went, more cops were sitting outside their squad cars, holding assault rifles and wearing those adorable Russian hats you see in cartoons.

I tried to cross the bridge nearest my hostel and they stopped me. Everyone was speaking Hungarian, but with the gestures it was pretty obvious that nobody was allowed on the bridge. A girl on a bicycle was much more dismayed than me, which seemed silly. You’ve got a bicycle.

I started walking toward another bridge, recalculated the distances, then about-faced and headed toward a third bridge that might have been slightly closer, as the crow flies. As I was about to pass the off-limits bridge, I saw the armed guards part to let a bicyclist through.

I pointed at myself, then at the bridge, raised my eyebrows inquisitively. The guard nodded and waved me through.

Huh.

I asked the girl at the hostel desk what the hell was up with all the cops. She looked baffled for a moment.

“What cups?”

“The police,” I said. “They stopped me on the bridge.”

The bafflement turned to alarm. “Why?”

“I was hoping you’d know. They wouldn’t let me cross.”

She processed this for a moment, then her eyes lit up.

“Oh, I know!” she said. “I know, I know! One… one second.”

She was obviously ordering the words in her head. I do it in Spanish pretty much every time I need to say a sentence with more than six words.

“He is the Chinese president, is visiting Budapest,” she said. “So they are doing everything to keep him safe. They are shutting down bridges and roads because if he is on them, no one else can be on them.”

“Okay, good. I was thinking, ‘it can’t be like this every night’. It’s a Monday.”

“Noooo. Budapest is very safe.”

I thanked her and checked in, then headed up to my room to phonetically learn some phrases and maybe watch a documentary, get a little background on the place. She gave me a pamphlet as I walked away..

24169474_1140613629408275_1713135250_o.jpg

Truly, something for everyone.

Love,

The Bastard