Viszontlátásra, Magyarország!


SZOLNOK, HUNGARY — I’m having a Tisza sort of day. I’m writing this from my room in the Tisza Hotel in downtown Szolnok, two hours east of Budapest, and my room is full of mosquitoes from the swollen Tisza River just outside my window. Later I’ll mosey down to the Tisza Gyógyfürdo to check out the thermal bath action. Also, I’m wearing Tisza-brand Hungarian shoes.

A few days ago in Osijek I packed up my gear and my hangover and headed up across the Hungarian border. While travel within the Schengen zone nowadays almost seems like a miracle — there really are no borders — driving into the Schengen zone can be a bit tricky. They’ve beefed up the outer perimeter of the EU and the Hungarian border guards gave me a good grilling, especially about who the real owner of the Hamburglar is. Eventually they relented and let me through. I tried to pop a wheelie as I pulled into this vast trans-national politico-economic entity stretching all the way to Portugal and Sweden, but the huge weight of the luggage packed on the front of my Vespa put the kibosh on that.

Droning northwards on route 6 with only 200-odd kilometres to go before seeing my friends in Budapest, I was overwhelmed by this bizarre spiritual malaise that I distinctly remember from the first time I started a long-distance Vespa trip. It’s equal parts “What the hell am I doing?” and “This sucks” and “Geez, I’m wiped.” It really is debilitating, this sensation, and the only thing that kept me going was the memory of it eventually lifting. (The last time it happened was on Day 2 of my first Vespa tour back in 2001, somewhere in the Massif Centrale in France. I nearly gave up on the trip out of frustration and embarrassment at the ridiculousness of what I was doing.)

Passing the nuclear reactor at Paks (or Paksi Atomerőmű — that’s one of my favourite Hungarian words, atomerőmű) I finally got over my little pity party. I hopped over to the brand-new M6 highway to make time and hauled ass into the town I’d called home for the last eight years. Having been away from it for a while, I could see it with fresher eyes, and as you approach the Elizabeth bridge and see the panorama of Pest in front of you, it really hits you what an impressive city it is. Charles, a friend who took over my old apartment, was kind enough to let me have my old room at Weiner Leo street for the night. Next step, Kertem Bar in the City Park for one last evening of getting up to no good with my buddies over Dreher and Unicum. I was only three hours late for the party.

The BP crew in their natural habitat

More of the BP crew in their natural habitat

The next afternoon I’d arranged to have one last final going-away brunch ‘do at Most Kert in the 6th district. While Kilometre 0 of my trip was officially back in Belgrade, I wanted to have a Kilometre 285 moment in Budapest. Folks trickled in to say so-long while I nervously paced around worrying about problems with my GPS and a leak that’d developed in the Vespa’s clutch casing. I also added to my collection of pictures of people on the Hamburglar, all of which you can see over in my Flickr photo feed. Here’s a sample, selected at random:

Rob Scott, Super Mario Cart character

Of course, you gotta have the group picture. Thanks everybody for the nice send-off!

And then, time to officially start the trip for the second and final time. I managed to stall the Hamburglar again, this time in front of a much larger crowd. I tried again and managed to ease the clutch out properly, and I and my security detail — Bálint Homoki and Edit Bucskó, fellow members the outlaw Az Specialisztak Magyar Robogo Klub — peeled out into O utca and then Bajcsy-Zsilinszky ut, spewing Most Kert’s gravel behind us.


We hung a right onto the Nagykörút for a triumphal cruising of the drag, then around the sleazier parts of Ferencváros we headed east on Ülloi út. Edit and Bálint, their jobs done, peeled off, but not before taking a picture for posterity in front of a local Budapest landmark:

Don't mess with the Specialisztak

I then dropped by to say bye to my friend Vikki, who lives way out in the ‘burbs along Ülloi út. She had been out with us the night before and couldn’t make it to brunch. She just finished med school, by the way. Congratulations on that Vikki!

Doktor Szabó Viktoria: Now officially a sawbones

By now I’d somehow managed to have three going-away parties and one going-away brunch, and I’d officially started this enormous trip and even then I was still within the Budapest city limits having a pleasant chat in a park. I’d pretty much worn out my welcome and it was time to get a move-on! Which I finally did. So long, Budapest.


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