Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary (June 22, 2013)

After two nights in the wonderful city of Vienna—which, unfortunately, I didn’t get much opportunity to explore due to the immense heat wave going on in Central Europe nowadays—it was time to decamp.

Nowadays, with the ongoing pain I have in my right hand (I am right‐handed), it takes me longer to prepare in the morning. Due to some negligence on my part, I stayed asleep past the wake‐up time Jeroen and I had agreed upon, which meant that I had to prepare in a rush. Let me tell you this: it wasn’t fun at all. I think I over‐stressed my tired right‐hand wrist during the process, which caused some pain.

Checked out and went to the tram station nearby.


Beautiful morning: sunny (of course), around 24℃—why can’t it always be like this?—and the roads were relatively peaceful as it was, after all, Saturday morning.

Tram ride to Wien Westbahnhof takes less than ten minutes.


On to the station for the usual routine of buying enough food to keep us going until the travel for the day is over. Two sandwiches from Le Crobag usually do the trick.

The Railjet is Austria’s main high‐speed train network, featuring great 1st class experience (equivalent to the German’s Intercity Express network). Boarded the train about 20 minutes prior to departure, simply because it’s nicer to sit and wait in an air‐conditioned 1st class cabin than inside the train station along with hundreds of people.

Train left a few minutes past schedule. Itinerary: three hours direct high‐speed train to Budapest. Couldn’t be easier than that, could it?


Almost naturally, though, something had to go wrong. Due to the serious floods that hit Europe a few weeks ago—floods that caused, among others, shutting down a few major high‐speed railway links in Germany, causing havoc—a particular section of the track, between Győr and Tatabánya (both are in Hungary, and both are cities about which I had known nothing before), could not be traversed by train. Instead, passengers were instructed to leave the train in Győr, take a bus to Tatabánya, and take a train from there to Budapest.

The distance between Győr and Tatabánya is about 66km, which meant spending an hour inside a bus. Not a big deal in absolute terms—heck, I’m still carrying the scars from that tantalizingly horrendous bus ride to Poland, in the earlier part of the tour—but still, after a relaxing day off and with more than half of the tour behind me, travel challenges are less and less welcome.

But hey, what can you do.

Left the train in Győr, seriously expecting everything to go wrong. Something in Hungary’s air—just like Poland’s—told me that things were bound to somehow get screwed up.

I was wrong. I suppose that, as some time has already passed since the floods started affecting the Hungarian railway system, the travel authorities were already prepared to deal with the train → bus → train complication. Bus was found within an instant; five minutes later we were already all on our way to Tatabánya. Fortunately, as it was weekend, roads were pretty clear. Bus ride went just fine, save for two particularly annoying kids sitting somewhere behind and being way too noisy to be considered charming.

Arriving in Tatabánya, I was stressed again. Now what? looking up at a train schedules’ app on my mobile, I realized that a direct train leaves Tatabánya towards Budapest once every two hours. Just like the entire population of the world (minus the population of Tatabánya itself), I did not want to stay in Tatabánya. What do I do? take a bus to Budapest? taxi? perhaps walk?

Wrong again. Turns out that a train was already waiting for us on the platform. To my complete surprise, that train was identical to the train I left Vienna with—same structure, same cabins, same seat numbering—maybe it was actually the very same train? I don’t know. If it was the same train, why weren’t we allowed to simply stay in it?

Puzzling. Still, I was very happy that the potentially annoying change in travel plans turned out to be much simpler and less intimidating than expected. Boarded the train in Tatabánya, and 20 minutes later it was on its way to Budapest, arriving Budapest’s Keleti station about 40 minutes past original schedule.

Not bad.

Left the train onto the platform to the sensation of searing heat, and immediately sought a place to register myself as a Jew. Couldn’t find any so I went on my way.

Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you didn’t know.

I have been to Budapest before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour. That visit was brief: it ended badly (as I caught a virus there which made me feel sick for about four days) but, really, during the very little time that I was walking around that city, I noticed that it had great character and beauty.

That was 2010. Fast forward three years, and in the Hungarian Parliament there exists a neo‐fascist, neo‐Nazi party that, in the recent elections, received (sit tight; if you had never heard this before, you’re going to be shocked) 16.67% of the votes in the first round. A second round was then needed, in which they won 12.26% of the votes and, consequently, 12% of the seats in Parliament.

This party (called Jobbik. Their motto: “The Movement for a Better Hungary”) has some significant history in leading a racist (particularly anti‐Semitic) and even homophobic agenda. You are more than welcome to read about their bent ideas and screwed up agenda in Wikipedia; I will just highlight a few.

  • In 2012, a Jobbik parliamentarian decided it would be a great idea to commemorate the 1882 Tiszaeszlár blood libel… while in Parliament. That blood libel claimed that a 14 years old girl from a Hungarian village was killed by Jewish fanatics for her blood to be used for a Passover celebration, and then triggered a series of pogroms against Hungarian Jews, which lasted even after it was proven that the Jewish community had nothing to do with it.
  • In April 2012, the party submitted to Parliament an amendment to ban “gay propaganda” (this isn’t much different from what’s going on in Russia nowadays).
  • In November 2012, another Jobbik parliamentarian by the name of Marton Gyöngyösi stated that the Hungarian government should create a list to include “all dangerous Jews who are posing threat to Hungarian national security”.
  • They demand that the Székely Land in Romania is given territorial autonomy (the Székely Land is a territory in Romania which is primarily inhabited by Hungarians). Combine that with Jobbik’s insane idea of the Hungarian National Guard—an idea they, of course, implemented in practice—and it doesn’t take a paranoid to predict a war going on in the future.
  • The party is against globalised capitalism. That by itself isn’t such a despicable idea. However, Jobbik made it clear that it specifically opposes Israeli and Jewish investments in Hungary. In May 2013, when the World Jewish Congress announced its plan to have its 2013 congress in Budapest, the party’s chairman (!) said the following: “The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale”. I fail to find the connection between deciding to hold a congress in Hungary and buying out the entire country, but I suppose that Nazi asses follow their own logic.
  • A newsletter published by an organization headed by a Jobbik candidate to the European Parliament (!) once had the following written in it: “Given our current situation, anti‐Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews”. Gee, thanks.

Now, you may choose to challenge me by saying that I shouldn’t generalize an entire country based on the votes of 12% of the population. Oh well: in the 2006 elections, this party got 0.007% of the votes in the final round. So, no: I don’t generalize saying that “all Hungarians are Nazi”: absolutely not. Instead, I’m saying that something in the Hungarian society must be sick to the bone if it allows a Nazi party to multiply its relative power by 1,713 in four years (between two consecutive elections).

Admittedly, I was initially considering making my own protest by skipping the concert in Hungary. Eventually, I decided that my admiration of this wonderful band still supersedes my feeling of disgust towards Hungary’s politics, so I shall go ahead and attend the concert. Instead, I decided to protest through this pathetic blog and attempt to contribute as little as possible to Hungary’s economy.

I will leave it to the Hungarians to figure out what went so broken in their society. It’s the Hungarian people who are going to suffer the consequences of their bent politics: I just hope that minorities in Hungary—not necessarily Jewish, of course—are going to survive this with minimum casualties.

The hotel for the night, Royal Park Boutique Hotel, is conveniently located less than 100 meters from the central railway station. Due to construction going on around the central railway station (and, in fact, spanning much of the same street westbound all the way to the Danube), the station’s huge main entrance is closed until further notice, sending people scrambling around for solutions how to get the hell out of that station and, more importantly, how to cross a single road without being killed. Construction, really, all around: fences everywhere and totally unclear signage as to where you should be going. That, together with the immense heat and Budapest’s ferocious air pollution problem, wasn’t exactly chicken soup for the soul.

Those 100 meters to the hotel were enough for me to determine that something’s wrong in this area of Budapest. Looking around, you get the feeling that you don’t want to be in this place at all, and that the place doesn’t want you in it either. Groups of dusty, transparent people roaming the streets with empty looks in their eyes; garbage everywhere; poor infrastructure and the smell of rotten something; in one word, “the works”. Fortunately, however, Jeroen did his homework well and the hotel turned out to be very good. €58 a night—a bargain—for a well‐equipped hotel, beautiful inside. This hotel certainly doesn’t belong in this area of the city.

Checked in, did some writing for slightly more than an hour, uploaded the previous post and decided to hit the streets looking for some more interesting scenery.

Once outside, decided to head west towards the Danube. That’s where the “inner city” is, and to my recollection, that would be where things start being interesting here. Unfortunately, a look in the map showed that the “inner city” is about 2km away.

Bothers me to no end why neither of us thought about taking a bus there, or the metro. Instead, we simply started walking. Perhaps we had hopes of discovering anything worth the while along the way? who knows. Regardless, no; we didn’t. Instead, we spent precious time walking through stinking streets, the sun reducing my life expectancy one step at a time, with the terrible, TERRIBLE smog‐filled, disgusting Budapest air making me feel like vomiting.

Along the way, ran into Elian and Arnaud, who flew in from France to catch the concert. Both informed us that there’s absolutely nothing interesting to see around, and that most interesting things in the city are on the other side of the Danube.

Things start becoming slightly better as you approach the “inner city” which is, perhaps not surprisingly, where tourists to Budapest are usually headed to.


The city of Budapest actually consists of two parts: Buda and Pest. The two are separated by the Danube river: Buda is the prettier, more affluent part; Pest is where the central railway station is, and where we ended up staying. Most interesting things to see and do are in Buda; still, the plan was originally to only spend one night here, knowing that there’ll be no time to explore much anyway. If you are heading to Budapest for a few days, try to stay west of the Danube.

The more you approach the various bridges connecting Buda and Pest, the prettier things become.


As plans were to have dinner before the concert in a restaurant near the hotel, time pretty much ran out already. Decided to walk on the bridge of a few shots before heading back.


Backtracking, we decided to take a bus back to the hotel. A quick look in Google Maps revealed that it takes less than ten minutes to ride that entire disgusting stretch that we suffered so much walking through just an hour earlier. Boarding the bus, I asked for two tickets.

The driver looked at me and mumbled something in a language which I have a very strong reason to believe was Hungarian.

Needless to say, I don’t understand Hungarian.

The driver refused to accept money. I didn’t really know what else I should be doing. An impromptu decision was made to simply remain on the bus and see what happened. Nothing happened. The bus went on its way, and ten minutes later we were at the hotel.

Of course I had to find out what the hell the deal was with buses here. Turns out that buses are not free here. You can’t, however, purchase tickets on the bus itself: you can buy those in kiosks, or in the reception of certain hotels.

Fine. I’ll remember that for the next time I’m in Budapest, which I estimate to be at some point between “in two thousand years” and “never”.

Back at the hotel to get ready for the concert, and out again for dinner.

Maarten and Bruno—heading to the Budapest concert from Germany and Switzerland, respectively—suggested, the day before, that we get together for dinner before heading to the show. The Dutchman took it upon himself to do the research and ended up with a place called Huszár Étterem, located about 10 minutes walk from our hotel.

Walking towards the place (plan was to meet the folks there), I started mocking the Dutchman. This entire area of Budapest looks so unfriendly, so uninviting, so dusty—heck, you lose your appetite just walking the streets around here. I spent the time walking there thinking about the tone I’m going to use in my voice when I finally tell the Dutchman “good choice, pal”.

Bruno was there—good to see him, such a nice fellow—so, starving, we entered the place and got a table for four. Maarten showed up a few minutes later, and we were scanning the menus while catching up.

In the corner, we noticed a couple of folks holding musical instruments. You know, of these duos / trios who force their horrible music upon you while you’re dining, expecting you to tip them. As soon as I noticed that, I was determined to simply ignore this despicable sales tactic; unfortunately, it was much harder to ignore the terrible “music” that the duo so violently forced out of their poor instruments.

As this is Hungary, I decided to try the goulash. Hungary is the home country of the goulash: as many Israelis have roots in Hungary (I don’t), the goulash is also a very popular dish in Israel. I never really quite “connected” to it, but heck, I’m in Hungary, so why not give it a chance here?

After a bowl of “fruit soup” (sounds strange, huh? I know. It tastes even stranger. Basically, it’s water with a few unidentified fruit swimming inside, plus whipped cream. Not ugly, but not something I’d try again without a gun pointed to my head), there came the goulash.

And it was hands down the best goulash I had in my entire life, and one of the tastiest meals I had in the tour. How on earth did they get to make it so tasty is way beyond me. That particular goulash involved some good amount of sauerkraut and steamed onion, as well as sour cream and some fresh herbs on top. Hell, it’s 1:47am as I’m writing these lines and I’m drooling just thinking about that meal.

In one word, WOW. I don’t know if it’s something that this particular restaurant does well (when all the mockery about the surroundings is said and done, still, this restaurant is currently ranked #59 out of about 1,200 restaurants in Budapest, according to TripAdvisor), or maybe I grew up experiencing all the wrong types of goulash.

If you’re in Budapest, go to that place. Service is great, it’s operated by the owners. Cute little restaurant and the food is delicious.


Hungary is a part of the European Union, but not a part of the European Monetary Union. Over the years, the Hungarian governments were debating whether they should be joining the Euro zone; at the moment, it’s unclear when Hungary is going to join the Euro zone, if at all.

The local currency is called “Hungarian Forint”, abbreviated HUF. The exchange rates reveals much about the inflation that took place here during the 1980s: as of this writing, 1 HUF = €0.0033 / $0.0044 US / $0.0046 CAD / 0.016 ILS.

For the westerner tourist, things here are ridiculously cheap. In the most touristic area of Pest, a bottle of mineral water costs €1. Earlier at the ATM, I was given a series of 2,000 HUF bills as well as one bill of 20,000 HUF. I decided I need some change, so I handed the 20,000 HUF bill to the cashier, who, in turn, choked.

Food here is, too, very cheap. A full three course meal in that wonderful restaurant, including drinks, went for about €11 per person.

From the restaurant, it was a short taxi ride to the venue. The taxi driver’s English was pretty good and he seemed like he knows a thing or two about the city. He also appeared to be very nice and welcoming. Good chap.

I just had to ask.

– “Tell me something… this area of the city… is it a good area? a bad area? what’s going on in it?”

The taxi driver went ahead to explain that this particular part of the city is now run down, much due to (are you sitting? I’m not making this up) blacks, gypsies and all sorts of other “people” who decided to settle in this place.

And that was in a taxi cab carrying four passengers.

I looked at Jeroen, Jeroen looked at me.

– “Oh. I see”, I mumbled.


The venue, Budapest Sports Arena, is really called “Papp László Budapest Sports Arena”. Papp László was a Hungarian boxer back in the 1950s, which was a little problematic for him as Hungary used to be a Communist country back then, disallowing boxing. He was, then, forced to travel to Vienna in order to practice and fight.

I have been to this arena before, during the 2010 Get Lucky tour.

Picked up the tickets, entered the venue.


The venue’s arrangement: general admission, standing, in front of the stage; seated everywhere else. As usual, we had picked the seated option, leaving the general admission area to those who were going to attend less than 70 shows in this tour.

Concert started a few minutes past schedule, with the set including Cleaning My Gun (as customary for shows that involve standing audience) and excluding Haul Away. Good show—nothing out of the ordinary, really.


Those who have attended a few concerts before could tell you that, in the beginning of the show, one of the band’s sound engineers travels along the venue holding a laptop in his hand. I’m guessing that this is done in order to measure the sound levels in different parts of the venue, so it can be fine tuned later. I have seen this guy almost 200 times before and don’t know his name (maybe one of the readers can help out?). Anyway, he happened to have finished travelling through the floor area and decided to climb up the stairs to the seated area.

However, according to this venue’s rules, this wasn’t permitted for the audience. If you had a ticket to the floor area, it’s the floor you’re going to be in; if you had a ticket to the seated area, you can’t access the floor. The venue placed staff in each and every passage between the floor and the seated area, to prevent people from moving between those two sections.

The staff member, mistaking the sound engineer to be a delinquent concertgoer, grabbed the sound engineer’s arm preventing him from climbing the stairs (are these people even allowed to touch anyone?). As it was already during show time—Corned Beef City was playing, which kind of impedes the possibility of a quiet dialogue—it took him some time to explain to the staff member that she should leave him the hell alone as he’s doing his job. He seemed to be pissed about it all.

Justifiably, I think. I wouldn’t tolerate anyone grabbing my arms preventing me from going somewhere before fully explaining to me what it is that I’m doing wrong (unless, of course, they are just about to save my life).

Concert ended; a short metro ride—one station—back to the hotel, when I realized that I have quite a lot of local currency that I have nothing to do with.

Sat down at the hotel’s bar for a drink and a chat with the nice lady in charge there. Started talking about things: Hungary… life here… the economy. Somehow, I got to ask about that neo‐Nazi party I wrote about earlier in this post.

Turns out that Hungary’s economy is in the toilet. Years of corruption in all levels of government have seriously eradicated the middle class: middle class—at least according to this nice lady—virtually doesn’t exist anymore. For the most part, it’s either you’re working long hours just to make ends meet—or you’re rich. Nothing in between.

A deteriorating economy has always been a fertile ground for extreme right wing political parties. When the public is in distress, it is very easy to gain popularity by throwing the blame at certain groups who are “not like us”. That’s exactly what the Nazi party did in Germany during the 1930s. Hungary’s Jobbik party decided to do exactly the same, and… lo and behold, it worked.

I truly and genuinely feel sorry for the Hungarian people. Let’s all hope for better times.

Signing off this post from my hotel room in Budapest. Yes, still. It’s 2:30am here, and I decided to not go to bed before finishing up this post.

Tomorrow: Bratislava, Slovakia. Another place on earth that I had never been to before.


1 comment:

  1. The Hungarians are never happy, they complained when they were part of the Austro Hungarian Empire and they complain now about access of workers from the EUR. Next time try the Hungarian salami.