Hungary was shitty.
I picked up a bug in Poland and woke with fever on the Budapest sleeper train.
The boys were beside themselves with excitement. The ladder to their bunks was scaled a thousand times. Warned to keep the windows closed because of ‘problems in Slovakia’, we trundled through the night.
Just a thin sheet made the compartment seat into a bed. We each had a little pillow (which I hoped were clean) and a heavy blanket. The train was bare bones as it rolled over points, reverberating with every iron clack. It wasn’t like being rocked to sleep. It was like rolling in forward motion, jolting with stops and screeching metal on metal as the brakes applied. We woke, still moving through the countryside with 90mins to go.
I struggled with Budapest on the days I managed to get out.
Ever-reaching avenues amplified its dull blockiness, corners served as pissing posts and sickening cigarette smoke permeated everywhere. I had to escape the city and the dark, smelly flat we had rented. We braved the train to Keszthely – a Baroque town on the shore of Lake Balaton that our Hungarian neighbours from home had recommended to us.
Of the 3 days we were there, I got out for one. Thomas came down with the bug too. Fraser cooked us plain boiled rice with salt each night. It was a low-budget trip.
We returned to Budapest with a day to kill before getting the train to Belgrade.
Family barnie behind the bins
Feeling much improved, we made an ambitious decision to go to Sziget Music Festival. Billed as the Island of Freedom, we thought it might be like Glastonbury Festival with plenty to see. We were wrong. Mainly, we ate chips and microwaved pasta. Sucked up fluorescent slush puppies. Had a family barnie behind the bins. We caught one music act and two songs by Sigor Ros before accepting defeat and exiting against the torrent of teenagers making their way in. Even as we headed upstream against the tide of people, Thomas (10) refused to hold mine or Fraser’s hands. His own fledgling fight for freedom beginning to show.
The festival’s theme explored immigration. The info booklet was styled as an EU passport and there was an arts event where people were invited to ask the participating refugees/immigrants any question they wanted, like books ready to impart knowledge.
With no phone coverage between me and Fraser, we had to stay together and (as ever) bearing in mind the kids, I chose not to go to that event, but I wish now that I had gone and borne the kids’ discontent anyhow.
Reminded me of the transit camp in Lesvos
You see, despite its relentless consumerism, hedonism and commercialism, the festival reminded me of the refugee transit camp in Lesvos, Greece.
It was the ground beneath our feet. Hardcore, soil and grass ground to grey dust by human traffic. Inlaid with bottle tops and plastic. I litter picked ground like that, around the feet of refugees. They slept on ground like that, with or without mats. Not floored by the excesses of alcohol and drugs, but exhausted from keeping themselves alive.
And the smell.
So fortunate are we to spend money on culture. The teenagers on self-expression and experimentation.
“No, I am not throwing myself off a 15m tower onto a huge inflatable bag”
The Island of Freedom was fraught with restrictions. Mainly of the parenting type. Some of the old fogey type “no, I am not throwing myself off a 15m tower onto a huge inflatable bag” and “they really should wipe the insides of those human footballs with anti-bac”.
I’m sure that the teenage girl stuffed in a shopping trolley and wheeled off the island with a broken leg and a face full of regret will remember some fun, at some point.
Perhaps I’ll remember Budapest as not so shitty after all.