Saturday, December 08, 2001

Apartment Hunting in Budapest

Apartment Hunting in Budapest

The night did pass without incident and I was able to sleep through. It was almost certainly the knowledge that we would be here for a time that allowed me to relax my mind. I was not concerned about finding the next few night’s accommodations on the Internet or having to arrange plans for some other travel event. It was blissful.

We had ordered breakfast for the morning. Tom had it ready when we emerged from our room. Cereal and coffee was followed by a plain omelet, ham, fresh rolls, and butter that looked like cream cheese. Breakfast costs us two dollars each. My enjoyment of the food was only disrupted by my looking at my watch. I had arranged to call the realtor at 10:00 am. I did not want to be a minute late. Although I was calling her cell phone, people can get involved in other activities when an appointment is late.

At exactly 10:00, I made the call; Ron was still listening to Tom go on about something he felt he needed to give advice on. Szylvia, was waiting for my call and said she would ‘pick us up’ at our hotel at 11:30. With time to spare, we wanted to walk the area in the daylight. The major market is around the corner.

In this huge building that is brick of two tones and a great architecture that looks like an old-fashioned railway station houses the daily market. On Saturday, it is only open until 1:00 pm and Sunday it is closed. Inside there are stands around the circumference and dozens and dozens of booths in the center. The booths are home to butchers, fish marketers, vegetable stands, candy makers, and all of the staples needed for daily living. This is definitely a locals place to shop, it is not touristy in any way other than the fascination of this way of living is bound to draw tourists to gape and admire. On the second floor, there are more booths, but only around the circumference of the building, because the center is open to the first floor. The market is open all year round and predates the modern grocery stores, which are still few and far between in Budapest central. When we were here last, I had a mental image of living here and coming on a daily basis to shop just for the day’s needs, carrying our shopping bag and getting our food fresh. That is getting closer to a reality and I am charged! It is what I find so appealing about the European way of life.

Across the street and further down, we walk through the pedestrian mall. We see some of the old stores that we remembered from last time and recognize new ones that have been resurrected in the mean time. The air is brisk, but it makes us feels alive. There is a crispness that wakes you up and makes you feel like the holiday season and all that it will bring is close at hand. Again, spastically checking my watch, we return to the pension and wait for Szylvia downstairs. Within minutes, she arrives on foot and directs us to the subway. We bought our tickets for our way there and our way back, but explained to Szylvia that we wanted the thirty-day pass, which required a photo, but did not know where to get it. She offered to help us on Monday, since many places are closed on Saturday.

When we came up from the subway, I recognized the area, though Ron did not. We were a block away from the Opera House and another railroad station is on subway stop away. Within a block, we were at the apartment complex, which is right next to a fitness center, ugh! The building is exactly what I had anticipated for an Eastern European city and I was not disappointed. One needs a code to get into the building initially. The apartment was on the first floor, so we chose to walk up rather than use the elevator, though we were assured that it does work.

The first apartment was not finished with the remodeling, so there was still worker’s dust on the floor, and supplies still in bags. It was okay and we would have taken it if there were no choice. Right next door was the other available apartment. There are three locks on the door; the door overlooks the center courtyard. As you enter the tiny kitchen is on the right and the rest of the room is the living room area with a sofa and television (cable included). There is a small terrace through a door in this room. If we are still here in the warm weather, we are able to put a table and chairs out there. The kitchen has a microwave, pots and pans, dishes, silverware, cups, glasses and a washing machine. Szylvia said they had more things to add to the kitchen. If one of those things is not a coffee maker, we will have to purchase one ourselves, but they run about fifteen dollars for a Mr. Coffee look-alike. Beyond the kitchen is a small hallway and the bathroom is to the far left. Straight ahead is one bedroom that has a clothes cabinet, shelves, towels, linens, and pillows. Along side that is a desk with a lamp. The second bedroom is almost identical.

Having been to other European apartments and homes in the past, the size was not a surprise to us. Things are much more compact in all of Europe since land is of a premium in the cities. For us, it is perfect. It has been newly painted, the tile on the floor is brand new and they are putting a door on the shower, so we don’t have to fiddle with a plastic curtain. We can have people here for a visit and still be comfortable. What we won’t be having are large dinner parties or buffets. We will need to figure out how to dry our clothes after we wash them since a dryer is not available. There are no clotheslines in the courtyard. We will have to get creative. The rent is $450.00 a month and the utilities run about $60.00 a month for everything except phone. Szylvia lives on the third floor of the same building and offered her services if we needed any help with anything. She has offered to go to the phone company with us to get an Internet package so that we can get the best deal. Phone service starts as soon as you dial and you pay as you go. There is no flat rate like we are used to. Szylvia said that Internet at home would be cheaper in the long run than going to a café all of the time. I am hoping that is true, so I can explore the Internet again with a little more freedom than I have been.

Szylvia offered to take us to find a photo shop to get our picture for our transportation passes. There is a new mall that was built underground and she knew that those stores were open on Saturdays. We had our picture taken, but Ron looks like a Russian farmer. He refused to take his hat off since as he said he would be wearing it anytime someone checked. I look like I am fearful of the camera, though I tried smiling as big as I can without looking like a chipmunk. These delights are now on our monthly renewable passes and will be with us for as many months as we stay in Budapest. We are now among the entitled to have unlimited rides for one month on all of the trams, buses, subways, and some trains for about $12.00. Now that our picture is taken, all we have to do each month is have the little sticker renewed. With our passes in hand, I was ecstatic. It could not have been more exciting if I had been told I won a trip to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. I felt like I belonged here. Monday, we will take our things to the apartment, meet with Szylvia and then go to the office to sign the contract.

I mentioned to Szylvia that we were going to see if we could find work as English teachers. She said she had a friend who worked for a school and if we liked would speak with him to see if he knew of any openings. Perfecto!!

After leaving Szylvia, we took the subway one stop, went walking along the streets, trying to assimilate that we were going to be living there for two months or longer. We were able to look in shops with renewed interest. We priced coffee makers, looked for power strips, so we can plug in multiple things, and Ron is dying for an inexpensive VCR, but I think they still use the PAL system here, not VCR format. We found a couple of stores that rent movies in English, but have not found an English language bookstore, yet.

At a quaint teashop, we stopped for tea and a shared dessert, discussing our good fortune with this find and what we would want to add to it to make it homey, but not inundating ourselves with more stuff to move. If things continue as they have been, we may stay here longer than the two months planned.

Walking to where we remembered the Christmas market being on our last trip here, we found one again. There are more things that are hand crafted here than in Cologne and less emphasis on food. From here we walked to the river, the Danube and took a tram ride to the end just to see the city better. At the end of the line is a large store that we had to explore. It was a Hungarian version of Home Depot, a do-it-yourself store for handy people. They do have small appliances that are inexpensive, so we may return here for a coffee maker and maybe some kitchen utensils that are not supplied, after we find out what we may need that is missing.

Following a nap, we went to the Internet café that we had used the last time. Charges are half of what they were in Cologne and if Szylvia is correct that the home connection is cheaper still, I will be in heaven. At the café I was able to retrieve the phone numbers for my friend Dawn, a woman that went through the doctoral program with me and we were close for the entire three years. She is living here part-time working for the Soros Foundation. We want to hook up.

We went back to our favorite restaurant for dinner, but again there were no tables available, but most of the people were just drinking and not eating. The waitress said to give her ten minutes. We had a beer at the bar and ten minutes later, we were seated. Ron had a goulash stew that he remembered from the last time we were here and ordered it again with a cucumber salad. Wanting to try something different, I had marinated pork strips with fries and a brown sauce with a tomato and mozzarella salad. Everything was fitting of our expectations and it will maintain our favorite restaurant status. The bill came to less than ten dollars.

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