Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Adventures in Budapest: The mind-boggling stupidity of tourists, part 27

Right, back in Australia for some R&R (the story of making a 36 hour Cambridge-Canberra trip before going directly to a cocktail party armed with two litres of duty free can be saved for another occasion).

Anyway, the last port of call in Europe was Budapest, where armed with enough Hungarian to say “thanks” and a weekly public transport pass, I decided it would be fairly easy to get the metro and then the bus to the airport at the end of my trip.

Which it was. Emerging at the metro terminal and following the bus symbols towards the bus station, I passed a very obvious ticket booth. I queued patiently, presented my weekly pass and said: “airport?”

The ticket seller nodded her head gravely, and I took it I was fine to get on the bus without another ticket.

“Köszönöm”, I said.

I went to the stop with the red plane painted on the sign and got on the bus.

Simple, you might think. A matter of the smallest exercise of observational powers and common sense.

Apparently not.

The funky thing about Budapest ticket inspectors is that they are in plain clothes, other than huge red arm bands, which they get out and drape around their wrists.

Second last stop before the airport a lady boarded and whipped out her red band. My weekly travel card passed muster. Then she hit the English and the French dude next to me.

When both their ethnicity and lack of Hungarian became apparent she passed each a card in their respective language, explaining, I imagine, that - Sir or Monsieur - you're busted.

The fine is approximately 10 times the price of a valid ticket.

The Frenchman clucked and tutted and “Mais non”-ed in the hope that a display of Gallic incredulity might defeat steely Magyar determination.

The Englishman took an equally stereotypical approach.

“You can’t do this,” he said loudly and slowly in English. “There needs to be a sign. There wasn’t a sign anywhere. It’s not fair. You have to warn people. No, sorry, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”

As someone who speaks English and (some) French, I chose to bite my tongue, because all I would have had to say was: “Buddy, even if they’re obliged to put up a sign stating something as blindingly obvious as ‘riding without a valid ticket is a criminal offence and will incur a fine – just as it does everywhere else in the world’, they’re not obliged to post it in English.”

Or: “Dude, if you can’t understand her, what makes you think she’s suddenly going to sprout the power to speak English? And more to the point, if you don’t speak Hungarian, how do you know there wasn’t a frikken sign?”


Monday, August 23, 2004

Impressions of six cities (in no order at all)

Edinburgh - a dizzy Gothic confection, the result of a child taking its box of Escher gothic-city bits and upending them on a lumpy duvet.

Barcelona - a patchwork of relaxed, breezy neighbourhoods exhaling art and cultivated living, stiched together by cathedrals and Modernista marvels.

Florence - cicada tick heat and dust on grey-leaved trees puts you in mind of "Stealing Beauty".

Prague - a fairy tale of orange rooftops and winding ways, a paradise of cheap local food and beer, but almost overwhelmed by cloying tourism.

Milan - the moped-terror memory of reeling among smart set and student grunge clinging to a former flatmate gritting my teeth to stop from wailing like the girlfriend neither of us had.

Budapest - still seems a town for the locals, despite a littering of signs in cheerful Hunglish. Communism's tread seems to have left lighter prints here, and I've been blessed with fabulous interesting travel-friends and cheap traditional bath-houses/spas.

In less than a week, home to Australia for a month ...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The rock and roll lifestyle

I have officially been of no fixed abode or employment status for seven weeks now. On the road with naught but an overstuffed backpack, a variety of minor and malodorous foot complaints the reading public should not be troubled with, far too many second-hand paperbacks (I have trouble releasing them back into the wilderness) and – for three weeks – my parents.

That last, I admit, sounds a fair bit like cheating. Especially when they’re paying for the cot-bed your occupying in the corner of their B&B room. I did mix it up in those three weeks, though: the occasional sojourn in a hostel, then repairing to a restaurant with actual tablecloths for a meal with the parents. An odd admixture, but decidedly pleasant.

Now I’m cast back on my own resources, en route to Budapest, and stopping over in Cambridge once more. Friends with actual spare beds (I am a poor couch-crasher) being in unaccustomedly short supply I’ve booked myself into a “guest room” at college. A guest room is in fact an undergraduate’s room, sans undergraduate.

It’s nice to see how the first-years live: up three flights of stairs, sharing a bathroom and toilet on a corridor, with limited heating and ancient (utterly un-double glazed) windows overlooking Front Court. It’s very pretty, though, having a view out towards the spires of Kings chapel.

So, what have I been doing, then in these weeks where all I’ve done is submit Naylor from the road?

Well, I’ve seen a fair few heritage properties, a nearby favourite being Charles II’s weekender Audley End.

I met my mum’s thoroughly wonderful exchange teaching friend and her twenty-something sons and daughter, and son’s girlfriend.

I visited York, which is just damn pretty – even if calling a Cathedral “Yorkminster” sounds a bit unoriginal coming hot on the heels of “Yorkshire”.

I was rained on, quite a bit, in the Lakes District – and was (for a devotee of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats et al) far more captured by the life and times of John Ruskin, a progressive social thinker whose prodigious writings span an anarchic and sprawling terrain of subjects than the scenery (when visible).

Dove cottage was remarkable for the fact that it predated, by two hundred years, the Wordsworths’ occupation and many of the original floors and walls remained. (Beatrix Potter’s house was also cute.)

In Scotland, I looked at the mountainous folds of Glencoe and felt a very small and brief lived thing of no particular importance whatever.

I looked on bemused, as my mother attempted to swat a fine mist of Scottish midges into submission with her foam neckbrace; while I repeatedly and infallibly triggered the rental car’s alarm by opening a passenger door before the engine was started.

I made it to bits of the Edinburgh fringe festival, and took the chance to swill a little gin and ate a little pasta with blogger extraordinaire (and charming real-space person) Shauna. Next time though, it will be bangers and mash, damn those Edinburgh festival tourists swarming the city (oh, hang on a minute … )

PS All this and new "Naylor's Canberra" too!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Who is this Elliot guy, anyway?

Right, for anyone stopping by for the first time, recent posts must be kinda wierd. Yes, this is normally a legal commentary/diary/a funny thing happened to me in Hogwarts kind of a site.

However, for a little over a year, I've been completing a crime novel by installment at a sister site, "Naylor's Canberra", at a rate of about 1,000 words per bite-size installment. Some bits are more polished than others. The first episode is over here.

The story so far? Elliot Naylor, a law graduate, has been refused admission to legal practice for reasons to do with a fatal car accident, and works an under-employed part-time law librarian. A former girlfriend of his is missing, Marina - a highflying political staffer to Milton Dawes, Minister for Justice and Customs. Her father, David Carmichael, a prominent local barrister, hires Elliot to find her before he has to report it to the police in an attempt to keep it quiet and close to the family and avoid scandal.

It seems easy enough, until Elliot begins to dig into David's shady business dealings and close ties to the Minister. Further, Elliot is the first to discover the dead body of someone connected to Marina and, while having an alibi, is the only obvious suspect in the murder inquiry.

On top of that, he decides to investigate the background of one Jeremy Ryder, who has business ties to David Carmichael as well as Canberra's legalised prostitution and pornography industries. Marina and Jenny were both involved in a Ministerial task force investigating sexual slavery - is Ryder somehow connected to the disappearance of one and the murder of the other?

Elliot recieves a good deal of practical and emotional assistance from his flatmate Eva, and his (rather new) girlfriend Danielle. This still does not stop him doing things that are just plain stupid.

Visiting one of Ryder's brothels, Elliot recieves a beating from which he is still suffering. Indeed, his symptoms appear to be getting worse rather than better.

Recently, he has learnt something quite surprising (but definately foreshadowed, I promise) about one of Marina's flatmates' involvement with the murder victim.

He has now also finally heard back on an important piece of research he entrusted to his grandfather regarding Milton Dawes' mother, who lives at the same retirement community as Mr Naylor senior. Read on ...

Monday, August 9, 2004

Naylor from the road 2

There's more new material at Naylor's Canberra and it's another plot bombshell for Elliot ...