Left work at 2. Traffic was slow, went to the wrong gate, security was like molasses. Barely made it to my flight before final call, except my flight was 45 minutes late and hadn't started boarding. Had a newish widebody plane, the seats were great. Slept from taxi to dinner (which was wretched), tried to play vieogames on my entertainment unit, but they were pathetic. Watched "Firewall," which was amusing and, surprisingly, had techno-babble that had some remote connection to reality. Also, Harrison Ford is a pretty good actor. Finally got some fitful sleep.
Arrived super-late in Milano. Fortunately the airport is sane and I didn't have to go through immigration. shoots an angry look at Heathrow Ran to catch my plane, which was — of course — late. Italy + airplane, of course it was late.
Finally arrived at the Budapest airport. Immigration was a joy: no landing card, just smile at the nice man, get your stamp, and walk through "nothing to declare." Got the minibus into the city, but slept through most of it. In my brief snatches of wakefulness, I remember the standard billboard-encrusted nothingness that surrounds all major airports, then small houses punctuated by grim Soviet apartment buildings. Suddenly I awoke to a well-proportioned statue set into a cliff side, with a lovely waterfall cascading beneath it. We were in Buda, just south of the castle district, and everything was an exuberant mix of baroque and gothic. Gone were the highways — a big road was 2 lanes with parking on one side. A thin web of pedestrian stairways connected the somewhat less steep vehicle roads. Everything was charming and medieval and swarmed with tourists.
I saw my B&B, which was good, as the minibus driver had the wrong address. He managed to make a 5-point turn on the narrow road. The proprietress was very friendly and very particular about the operation of the guest house's various doors and windows. The front door was a monument to impenetrability, with a highly pick-resistant lock and a deadbolt that pushed no less than 10 bolts through the thick steel doorframe. The room was very nice, with a large shower and a balcony overlooking an enclosed garden court.
I tried to get into my web mail account to talk to Jess (whose Blackberry was more than happy to keep her chained to her desk, even in Eastern Europe). However, I couldn't figure out how to type in my password on a Hungarian keyboard. I eventually worked it out, and arranged to meet her at her hotel at 5:15. With the whole of Budapest open to me, I took a shower, and went to bed.
I had originally planned on a 45 minute nap, but ended up playing slap-ass with my Pilot's date book for an hour and a half. I only managed to shove myself into some clothes and out the door when I realized that I barely had time to prevent my stomache from eating itself and get to Jess's hotel by 5:15. I headed off towards the Danube (which, disappointingly, was not blue) and Pest beyond.
Availing myself of the pedestrian stairways, I made good time and managed to find a cafe which, I thought, would serve me a snack. As it turns out, my bread bowl of cream of garlic soup was quite substantial. I washed it down with black tea with lemon and honey, and headed off to the InterContinental to meet Jess.
Met Jess and her once and again co-worker Ellen, and we headed off to Parliament. Earlier there had been riots (quite admirable, rioting when your head of state is a repeated liar), but at this point it had died down to a hundred people waving flags while pop music played over the loudspeakers. From there, we wandered over to the quite impressive St. Stephen's basilica, where some Christian Rock video was threatening, complete with clouds of smoke and stage lightning. I recognized the lady in the backdrop from a music video he had seen on the plane, some song about seeing "your soul." The video featured what appeared to be a selection of Eastern Orthodox and Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist monks. I guess she's not picky.
We returned to the InterContinental for footrubs and so Jess could drop off her stuff. We then headed down to drinks. Jess introduced me to the Stockholm contingent, who were quite charming. I explained to them why Americans thought the Swedish Chef was funny. Apparently they watched the Muppet Show as children, and were always a little confused by that segment.
Jess abandoned me to go have dinner with her colleagues, so I headed off to outdoor eating square for dinner. I went to Gerbeaud, where Jess and Ellen had a lovely lunch (including, in Jess's case, a Hungarian salami sandwich, a Dobos torte and the richest hot chocolate ever). I had crispy duck with rosemary sauce, steamed cabbage, and bread dumplings. It was delicious. I also had a glass of house red wine. I really like Hungarian reds, and it's great to be able to just order "red wine" and always get something enjoyable. Given the quality and quantity of the meal, and the location of the restaurant, I think $25 was a great deal.
It was starting to get chilly, and the three glasses of wine were making me sleepie, so I headed back towards Buda. Given the river, the slope of the Buda side, the compactness of central Budapest, and the huge number of architectural landmarks, I had no trouble finding the Bellevue again.
Went to bed around 10:30, slept fine until 4am, when I inexplicably awakened. Managed to get back to sleep, and awoke for real at 8.