The Venice Simplon Orient Express runs from Istanbul, Turkey, to Venice, Italy once a year. Stops along the way include Budapest, and last year when we took that train trip we found the capital of Hungary true to its nickname of “Little Paris of Central Europe.” When a reunion of our “H Carriage” friends was planned earlier this year, we agreed to return there. According to Wikipedia, Budapest is considered a financial hub in Central Europe, and is ranked 3rd out of 65 cities on MasterCard’s Emerging Markets Index, also earning the honor of being deemed the most livable Central/Eastern European city on Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality of life index. In addition, it’s ranked as “Europe’s 7th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes magazine. We love it because it’s just plain beautiful.
We drove from the main roads of the city into the suburbs, stopping at a supermarket near the bed and breakfast we’d booked online. Their monetary unit is the forint, the current exchange rate being .0055 to the dollar. I took a 10,000 forint bill into the store to purchase bottled water, chocolate, nuts, and Hungarian red wine. I returned with 8,800 forints, meaning I scored all that for $6.50. Now that’s a deal.
An even better bargain was our room at the Villa Korall. Native Transylvanian Robert Vastag has been operating his establishment for the past 17 years, and has it down to
a science. He and his wife, Szilvia, offer rooms with private baths, telephone, cable television, Internet, free WiFi, private parking, and complementary buffet breakfast, also taking orders for bacon or ham with eggs, if you want to do the American thing. Your laundry will even be done for a nominal charge.
One of the most valuable services our host provided was arranging a taxi for us to go into town the first night. There is zero tolerance for alcohol in Hungary, so there is no
drinking and driving whatsoever permitted, not even one beer or glass of wine.
Keith decided not to take our car, since our plan was to have cocktails with Jan and Terry, one of the two VSOE couples who live in the UK, at their hotel in town, The Intercontinental, followed by dinner at a restaurant featuring strolling gypsy violinists. In the hubbub of paying for the cab in the new currency, and maneuvering our pup and his stroller out of the cab, Keith’s credit card holder ended up on the back seat. We immediately called Robert, who called the company, who located the driver, who in turn appeared in ten minutes with the wallet.
I’m hard pressed to think of another big city where this incident would have turned out the way it did. And we were about to test them once again before the night was over …