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It must have been starting to sound like nothing was ever going wrong. Yeah, it's true, it's tough to travel around the world without ever having a significant event, and we are no exception. Unfortunately, we don't know what to think, and we're not sure whether or not we ought to let this colour our opinion of Hungary or not. Read on...

We had a really tight connection the other day at Keleti train station coming from Vienna and then heading on to Eger - about 30 minutes. In that time, we had to make a reservation for our night train to Romania in a few days and get Hungarian currency from the bank machine. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, having never been to a place, you always have to add in the unfamiliarity factor, so things take more time. We planned our attack as follows: I would go to the reservations office and handle the train stuff, and Kristine would go to the ATM and we would meet back in front of the ATM. Sounds simple right?

Well, off we went, and I was getting a little nervous because there was a line in front of me. Before I got served, Kristine was back at my side and let me know that things had gone fine. In fact, she had even had enough time to go into the bank branch itself and break all the 10,000 Forint notes into smaller ones to make our purchases easier. Eventually, I got the reservation handled too and we were off racing for platform 11 where our train to Eger was waiting. We got on with a few minutes to spare, and just before the train was to pull out, Kristine said "Ted, I think I made a mistake". She quickly counted the cash and realized that the 60,000 she had taken out in large bills was now only 50,000 in small bills. Whoops... What happened?

The train of course, pulled out of the station...

My wife is a determined lady. She does not like to make errors, especially of he kind that her financially bent husband might be sensitive to :P So, as soon as we got to the hostel, she enlisted he help of the nice owner to try and call the K and H Bank at the train station where the error occurred. At this point, she figured that it was simply an error the guy made because of the nature of the transaction - making big bills into small. But he sinister in me said the guy just took her for a ride. Anyway, contact was made with someone at the bank in Budapest, and slowly but surely, the situation was explained to the lady at the other end of the line. Eventually, she told us to go back to he bank on Friday (our planned return to Budapest), and by then she would have contacted the branch and had the 10,000 waiting for us. Satisfied with this, we took her name and carried on with our day. Then the fun began...

Making a long story short, do you remember over the last few weeks I was talking about the tour of Austria's finest grocery stores? Well, this thing eventually turned into a tour of Hungary's finest K and H bank branches. We were supposed to leave Eger at 9:22 am which would get us to the Keleti train station in Budapest at 11:15 am at which time we would go to the bank and sort it out. But, when we got to the station, we were told the departure time was 10:25, not 9:22. Kristine had read the arrivals chart, not the departures chart. Oops. No problem, still lots of time before the bank closes (it was a Friday). That would get us in at about 12:18. So, the train pulled into Keleti, and we walked over to the bank and posted on the door was a sign saying something like "Sorry, we are closed due to technical difficulties at 12:00 noon". We missed them by 15 minutes.

I kept trying to explain to Kristine that it was a sort of karma thing - which we were not meant to get the money back, and it was to be a lesson on how to be very careful during these kinds of transactions, but she would have none of it. She started knocking on the door, hoping someone would come. A man came, and waved towards the sign saying that they were closed. Kristine motioned that she understood, but that she had an arrangement to speak to someone. The man refused and walked away. So, Kristine started knocking again, and simply didn't stop. Soon, this drove the guy inside nuts and he came and opened the door; she tried to speak to him, but he was livid, and he slammed back the door after pointing at the sign, hitting Kristine's boot with the door and glancing slightly of her head. Jesus. This thing is really coming off the rails eh???

Anyway, she was alright, just a little shaken, but now more determined than ever. She started telling me how she was going to go to the Canadian embassy and get the guy fired. I was trying to be pragmatic about everything, but there was no way she was going to let it go. The guy really was bad though - it would never happen like that at home for sure. The next stop was the tourist information office at the train station where Kristine explained her situation to the guy there who went over to see if he could get the bank to open up. No luck though, and he eventually pointed us to another branch downtown. So off we went - we had to move fast because we had to be at the hostel by 2 pm to keep our reservation, and we still had the metro system to figure out! We got to the hostel, quickly checked in, and then ran out to try and find another branch of the bank as recommended by the guy at the station. As luck would have it, there was one nearby, and we approached it feeling a little more optimistic. But alas, as we got to the door, we saw the exact same sign as we saw at the train station - technical difficulties. We also noticed that the branch was not open on Saturday (tomorrow) just like he other one. Oh oh...

What next. Well, since this was not the branch that was recommended to us by the guy at the tourist office, we had to go check it out a well. By now, I was pretty convinced that there was some system wide problem that was affecting all branches and there would be no hope. The other aspect to all of this was the potential that some branches just might be open on Saturday, and we could go tomorrow. I thought that this was not very likely, but nonetheless, we started walking towards the one the guy had pointed out to us, and after a number of wrong turns, we finally arrived, and guess what? Yup, the same sign. At this point Kristine was so frustrated that she started fingering the sign in front of the bank as she began to realize it would be hopeless, but not one to give up, we then went around the corner to another tourist office. It was not yet 3 pm, so there was a chance that the lady we called a couple of days ago might still be at work.

So, in we go to the next tourist office where Kristine goes through the entire story again to a new lady, who happens to understand because her husband worked at a bank. The lady starts phoning for us and comes back with information that we will have to write a letter to the bank with all the events and information about our account in Canada to which the money can eventually be transferred, etc, etc... Finally, we leave this office thinking maybe that's all that would happen. Even Kristine began to sound defeated, and she began accepting that there might be nothing we could easily do. Well, not exactly...

The event meant that we were short on Hungarian currency and we would either have to make another ATM withdrawal to get us through, or find some other means. Usually, I like the ATM because it is a flat 3$ fee to get out large amounts, and then you just convert as you go. But for some reason this time we decided to cash an AMEX cheque because they do it fee free. Only trouble was that the rate was so low (we forgot to compare), that for the 100 bucks we converted we actually lost 7 dollars to the 3 we would have paid at the ATM. That is how AMEX makes their money in the end. It was not over yet...

Now having excess Hungarian Forint, I wanted to convert it to Lei before we went to Romania. So we got to the station for our night train at roughly a quarter to 10 and we decided to go to the reservations office first to get our pass validated. Well, after doing that, we came back to convert the excess Forint and the currency exchange had shut just a minute earlier. A few black market guys tried to do deals with us, but I opted to wait until Romania because none of them had the amount I needed...

The whole thing just turned into a multi faceted fiasco of cascading conditions and unfortunately, it partly coloured our experience in Hungary. That and some of the rude people we encountered along the way, including the independent guide that tried to sell us at the castle in Buda, who told us forcefully that we were insane when we refused his services. What is up with Hungary? Is the new child of the EU running with a bit of an inferiority complex or something? I am unsure, but in the end, I was sort of glad to leave even though the sights of Budapest are grand and the wines of Eger were an interesting experience. Good with the bad I suppose... We did get to swim in the world famous Gellert pools in Buda which was pretty cool.

We boarded our night train to Romania with some trepidation as we wondered if this was just a taste of what is to come...



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