Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traveling to Budapest and surprises on our arrival

We took a train from Salzburg all the way across Austria through Vienna and on to the middle of Hungary to Budapest. Here are some pictures taken from the train along the way for anyone interested in seeing how the architecture and landscapes change across Austria from West to East.

Train ride across Austria

When we arrived in Budapest we had a very unfortunate experience immediately followed by an incredibly fortunate one. First, the bad news...

As we descended from the train, I violated a cardinal rule of travel. Because there were many taxi drivers in the train station offering rides to people who just arrived, I thought this must be the way to get a taxi in this city. So I accepted a ride from a driver who then took us to his taxi parked beside the station. [NOTE TO SELF AND TO ALL TRAVELERS: Never under any circumstances should you accept a ride offered to you in an airport or a train station!] When we got in the taxi, the driver pointed to the taxi meter and said he did not accept Euros, but only Hungarian florints. Neither Andrew nor I knew what the exchange rate for florints was and of course we didn't have any florints on us, only euros at that time. The driver offered to take us first to an ATM to get florints and then to the hotel. We were both very suspicious by this time and as we drove through back streets in the dim, foggy evening, we both became quite anxious that we might be in trouble. We were relieved when we finally arrived across the street, a wide boulevard, from the hotel and found that we were not being kidnapped or mugged. (Whew!) Then the driver showed us that we owed 9750 florints on the meter. We had no idea how much that was, so I told him he had to take our bags to the actual front door, not leave us with them on the wrong side of the boulevard. He agreed to take them, but only after we paid for the ride. We waited until he put our bags on the sidewalk and then I told him under no circumstances was I going to pay for the ride without checking with someone else whether this was a fair charge for the ride. He reluctantly, with much grumbling, dragged our bags across the street to the doormen at the hotel. As soon as I asked the doorman what a fair price for the ride would be, the driver reduced his fair to 2900 florints! We now know that 3000 florints is $17 (U.S. dollars) and is a fair price. The price he was going to charge us was $54, about three times the fair price. We were relieved just to be safe at the hotel and in the end we paid a fair price for the ride. The hotel personnel told us not to take any taxis in the city but rather book all rides through them to avoid problems in the future.

Now the good news...

When we walked into the hotel, the New York Palace, we were amazed how beautiful it was. The magnificent Victorian outside facade had been restored, like many of these old buildings destroyed in the second world war, but the inside was completely rebuilt from 2001 to 2005. It was a sparkling, modern hotel. As surprised as we were, it got even better... MUCH better. As we checked in, the receptionist told us we had been given a free upgrade to a "presidential suite." I knew I had booked a really nice room, paying about the amount one would pay for a decent room in a New York hotel. Not cheap, but still reasonable. We were then personally escorted to the suite by the head receptionist. When we got there, I wish there had been a camera to record our reaction. We did not know suites like this existed in hotels anywhere. It took a room key to get into a large foyer just to get to the doors of two presidential suites. Then using the key again in one of the doors, we entered the most lavish, huge living room you can imagine. Marble floors, beautiful carpets, furniture, artwork, a huge flat screen TV, a glass topped table with six chairs in one corner, and even silk, yes SILK, wall coverings. Off the side of the room he showed us a half bath for use "by our guests," and then led us into the bedroom, another HUGE room with a bigger than king sized bed, another huge flat screen TV, another giant chandelier, etc. From there we proceeded into the most incredible bathroom we have ever seen. On one side was exercise equipment (an electronically controlled exercise bike and a universal gym), on the other side was a huge marble sink and mirror, and at the far end, a shower large enough for a football team and a sculpted, tiled bathtub that was almost a small swimming pool. Off the bathroom were three other rooms, one with a toilet, bidet, and yet another sink, and the other two were large walk-in closets! When the hotel receptionist left, we just sat down and laughed. We didn't know whether to continue feeling anxious from our scare in the taxi or ecstatic from the hotel suite we found ourselves in.

And here are some more photos of the hotel:

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