Day 14: Modigliani & Heim Pál Hospital

The plan was: see the Modigliani exhibit up in the Castle then meet with friends. It didn’t go quite well. Matthias chose to run downhill rather than on the stairs designed for descent. Izabel, not knowing better, followed him. Result: a sprained ankle for Matthias and a couple of scratches on Izabel’s face.

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We spent the last 24 hours at the Heim Pál Hospital, receiving the best care we could ask for. They CT scanned him and took X-rays of his head, chest, hip and leg, did blood work. Luckily nothing else was found than a sprained ankle.
Although it was a tough afternoon, we are thankful that nothing worse has happened, grateful to the doctors in charge. Ursula, though, our head nurse, was a character and experience in itself. I’ll never forget her one-liners, a few of which you can find below.

“Are you the mother or only the interpreter?”
“Please do not throw out the single use spoon after you’ve used it.”,,
“You can choose to sleep on this chair, if you like.”
“We do not use gloves when doing blood work. Children are afraid of gloves.”
“We do not have wi fi. You do not need it to get better.”
“Please feed your child properly. Icecream for breakfast is not proper food.” (uttered by Ursula, our head nurse, sitting by her desk, next to a 2l cola bottle, half empty at 9am)
“Everyone has their own toilet paper. Didn’t you grow up here?”
On the flip side, Matthias has been seen by a neurologist, ophtalmologist, orthopedic doctor, went through checks the whole morning and is released tomorrow.

A very special thanks to Livájka, who visited us in the hospital with a survivor kit, including 2 L of strawberry icecream. To those of you calling and texting us: thank you.
We are discharged on Wednesday at 9AM, just in time to catch our afternoon flight.

P.S. We won’t forget you, Ursula. Ever.

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Wherein we visit three countries in five days

Last week, Tuesday, at noon – Kincsem and I decide to surprise my parents in Kolozsvár and pay them an impromptu 3 day visit – the plan was to fly out from Malmö Wednesday afternoon, arrive in Budapest around 4 pm, stroll in the inner city, then take the 7-hour trainride to Transylvania Thursday early am, arrive around 2 pm, ring on the doorbell, hide, then have the children barge into the open door.

7:30 Wednesday morning – we realize Izabel’s passport had expired three months ago. Kincsem calls the Police Office, they send us to the Kommune’s citizen service – no worries, they open at 8 am, at the railway station, we are told…

8:15 – we arrive at the railway station – we can’t find the office – it turns out it is an info desk with a webcam, when you can get in touch with the citizen service, via video.

8:20 – we are informed that the nearest office is around 500 m away and they open at 10 am. Our flight from Malmö leaves at 13:05 – with a bit of luck, we might make it. We decide to risk it and take the train to Vesterport, arrive at around 8:45. The weather turned cold and windy, so we pitch tent at First Hotel, right across from the street.

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9:10 – Matthias and Izabel knock everything down in the reception area. We move on to their restautrant and decide for their delicious breakfast. The head waiter is Maroccan, and extremely hospitable. We explain that we are not guests, we’re just waiting for the citizen service to open their office, and were cold outside. He generously grants us access and offers us breakfast, free of charge.

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10:00 – we are the first ones along with 5-6 other citizens. The screens inform us that the passport service system is down. They can technically issue an emergency passport in less than 10 minutes – however, the computer system is down and the maintenance can take hours.

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They send us on to another office, around 1 km away, in Frederiksberg – ironically, close by where we live.

10:25 – we ride with a helpful taxi driver and we consult with him in taxi prices to Malmö – if we are to make it, we won’t catch the train to Malmö, nor the airport bus. We agree for him to wait while we get the passport done and enquire with his boss about the Malmö airport fare. (35-40 minute drive, depending on the traffic)

10:30 – we arrive at the Citizen Centre in Frederiksberg. They take pictures of Izabel:

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10:40 – we have the emergency passport ready. The driver offers to drive us for the equivalent of 200 USD. We say yes, as we are still within budget. We set out for the drive.

10:55 – Izabel throws up in the taxi – luckily, the seats are made of leather, so I carefully clean up everything – the driver takes it easy, smiles and opens both windows. Slightly nauseous, but still in time. She falls asleep in my lap.

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11:30 – we arrive at Malmö airport. We chuck the clothes out and wash Izabels face, brush her teeth. We are in time and expect everything to roll out fine from here. All optimistic and ready to fly.

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12:15 – we are told at check-in that my driver’s licence is not accepted by Wizzair as an official travel document. Crying, begging, arguing did not help. The very last minute, we decide for Kincsem to leave with the children and myself to return to Copenhagen and get an emergency passport issued.

12:30 – I say good bye to Kincsem and the children – both are confused but we keep our poker face on and they are excited about flying.

12:38 – I receive an sms from Kincsem – they boarded the plane. Everything is fine.

12:40 – I check with the info desk. The situation is as follows: I am allowed to travel back to Copenhagen though not by plane. There are no major airlines that travel from Malmö to Budapest or Vienna, and accept a driver’s licence. I might have a chance from Stockholm.

14:05 – I board a plane to Stockholm. At this point I have no idea whether there are any planes from Stockholm to Budapest or Vienna but decide it is worth the 150 EUR ticket.

15:15 – I arrive in Stockholm. Quick check with the info desk. All planes to Budapest have already left. There is a plane at 16:40 to Vienna, with Austrian Airlines. Terminal 3. I am in Terminal 5.

15:30 – I arrive one hour before departure time at Austrian Airlines. My phone is almost dead, no charger, no way to inform Kincsem that I am on my way, give him the green light to buy our train tickets for the next day, I switch it off, in the hope that I will be able to text him later.

15:45 – I am told that I can board with a driver’s licence, though all seats are sold. Unless someone misses the plane, I won’t make it. Nervewrecking 30 minutes later, it turns out they can sell me one seat – one Czech guy did not show up. I take the 1000 USD ticket offer and board the plane. I switch on the phone and let Kincsem know that I am in Vienna by late evening, and likely take the three hour train ride to Budapest right after. I sigh and let out some tears. The stewardess can see I am distressed and gets a bit worried. I explain to her what I had been through – she responds with a goodie bag for the children, smiles and encouragement and a glass of water to comfort me. At this hour I could kiss her feet, I am so grateful. In fact, I could kiss anyone’s feet at Austrian Airlines. I write a thank you note to the airline and to the stewardess, whose name I never got to know.

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19:05 – I land in Vienna. Once again: info desk. They let me know there is a train at 19:35 from Vienna central station. I won’t make it. I am desperate at this point I am considering hiring a car. The taxi driver offers me a ride for 500 EUR. On my way to the cash machine I notice a screen advertising buses to Budapest. 22 EUR for a one-way ticket. Leaving at 19:45. I cancel the taxi driver, and set out to find the bus stop.

19:35 – I meet Roland, a Hungarian expat, who works for AirFrance. we chit chat a bit and exchange travel stories. He is a routine traveller and knows the airline industry quite well. Roland confirms that Wizzair was in their right to cancel my ticket. I feel slightly less mistreated, disappointed with Wizzair nonetheless. Roland and I hit it off immediately. Were it not for the time pressure and the cold weather, we’d be drinking beers and telling jokes until the next day.

20:15 – We start making alternative plans, as the bus is nowhere to be seen. There are people in the bus stop – some have purchased tickets already. There is a theory that the bus is always late, and it is worth waiting.

20:35 – we decide to hire a car and team up with three Italians and a Hungarian girl, who happened to have a bus ticket, but was losing patience, just like we were. We agree that she calls me if the bus arrives, so we do not hire the car.

20:45 – we find Hertz and are about to start the paperwork. My phone rings and I am, told the bus had just arrived. We run back with Roland and one of the Italian guys and manage to buy a ticket. Roland and I are ecstatic and I use the last juice in my phone to immortalize the moment we all have been waiting for: boarding the bus to Budapest.

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21:15 – I text Kincsem that I arrive in Budapest at midnight. Roland and I install ourselves in the back of the bus, and spend the rest of the ride exchanging life stories and phone numbers, email addresses.

22:30 – I call Kincsem just to say good night and hear whether the hotel we had booked from Copenhagen online was ok. It turns out he was rejected from that hotel (they had sold the room as they had arrived too late) – so he was walking around Keleti train station, with two tired and sleepy, crying children on his arms. And a suitcase. He remembers a hotel we stayed at a year ago – they are also sold out. Finally he settles at Novotel, right by Keleti. At 150 EUR per night it is a bargain. The added feature: a bathtub the children hang out in until midnight.

00:15 – we arrive in Budapest with Roland and he orders me a taxi to Keleti. He continues his journey and we say good bye, promising each other to keep in touch. Somehow I know we will.

00:30 – I arrive at Novotel, take a bath and while the children sleep next door, Kincsem and I discuss the state of the union. We conclude we are too tired to take any decision at this point, we have our train tickets, so we must carry on.

4:45 am Thursday- My alarm goes off, and we decide to tell my parents about our surprise visit, and the possibility of it becoming only a 3 person surprise visit

5:05 (6:05 in Translyvania) – My father picks up the phone and we discuss alternatives. He wants me to try crossing the border, it might be possible after all. We let them know our train details, and agree to speak once we have crossed the border.

6:15 We board the train leaving from Keleti with heaps of sweets, chocolate, fruit, to compensate for all the blood sugar we had been losing the day before.

8:30 – we are transferred onto a bus – the railroad is being renovated, so there is a 50 km section that the trains are replaced by buses.

9:30 – Matthias throws up in the bus. We clean everything, chuck out his clothes into a bag, strip him to his underwear, I give him my Tshirt, and smile to everyone around us, who suspect us of child abuse.

9:45 – we finally arrive in Biharkeresztes, the Hungarian side of the border. The border patrol lets me know I have ten minutes to decide whether we are all going back or three of us continue the journey onto Transylvania. I call my mother and let her know what the situation is. She takes a decision under 10 seconds: stay there, we are coming over. We hang out in a local pub and with our tired and skeptical faces look like aliens that landed from another planet.

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10:30 – My father calls me and asks me to book a hotel room. I explain that we are in the middle of nowhere. We discuss alternatives, and given the time pressure, we settle for Hajdúszoboszló, a spa roughly 45 km from the border, on the Hungarian side.

10:40 – we find the first play ground and let the children play, relieved that at least we have a plan and we are going to see each other, all of us.

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11:45 – We walk back to the train station, take the very same bus again and two train rides – uneventful, both children sleeping.

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14:05 – we arrive in Hajdúszoboszló – 5 km walk to the inner city (we have no Hungarian currency and the bus will not take Euro, the taxi driver has no change for my large denomination Euro bills. The bus driver lets me know there is a cash machine at the local supermarket (Spar) – 2 kms away. At this point I cannot but laugh, so we set out sightseeing in Hajdúszoboszló, the dodgy end.

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14:50 – The more we walk towards the city centre, the better it gets. Everybody is friendly and people say hello to us. We eventually arrive at Spar. It is almost like civilization taking on a new meaning. We find the cash machine, Hungarian Túró Rudi, and our last hope for a holiday. Most houses have rose gardens, the sun shines, and my parents are on their way. All of a sudden, we are overwhelmed with a peace and love feeling. I can almost hear the Beatles. Wizzair’s stewardess’s face is slowly fading from our memory. Along with the Hungarian border patrol’s steel blue eyes.

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15:30 – we arrive at the spa. We book two rooms and await my father and mother’s arrival. The children go crazy with the toy machines.

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18:00 – happy reunion. Nagymama and Nagytata call us from the hotel lobby. They have arrived.

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We spend one day in what feels like heaven, upgraded.

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We leave Hajdúszoboszló Saturday morning. My father drives us to the train station, we say good bye. We expect a rural train, it turns out to be a state of the art express intercity train, with 4 hours of free internet, chargers next to every seat and a small desk to place your laptop, food or drinks. Once again, Eastern Europe treats us with a surprise. We arrive in Budapest midday.

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We spend the day in Budapest walking around Váci, having caricatures of the children made, meeting my old friend Andris shortly, and exploring the Olympic playground by the Parliament. Matthias climbs on every single junglegym, Izabel finds the waterfountain. We relax and prepare mentally for the long ride home.

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20:00 Saturday – we take the Euroline Express train to Berlin. We decide to take sleeping cars and the children are all ecstatic – Matthias, quite adequately, calls it a moving hotel.

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9:15 Sunday morning – we arrive in Berlin. we spend two hours in a cafeteria, overdosing on puff pastries and coffee.

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11:15 – we take the train to Copenhagen. a long ride, including the train getting onto the ferry, something I have never tried before. We did everything possible to kill boredom during those 7 hours: read, eat, sleep, play games, talk, staring out the window.

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19:00 – we finally arrive in Valby.

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Morale of the story: you can have a good holiday without a passport. It’s just more expensive, more annoying, but definitely more eventful.

Our thanks go to:
– the Maroccan head waiter at First Hotel by Vesterport for the kind gesture
– the lady at Austrian Airlines, who showed humanity at a crisis hour
– the young man who spoke English and helped Kincsem with directions in Budapest
– Roland, who kept me company with his contageous good-natured humour
– my father and my mother, who are just their helpful and loving selves
– our children, for putting up with all the hassle
– Andris, for coming to see us and for recommending the Olympic playground
– to the American young lady who put up with our screaming children throughout the 7 hour train ride from Berlin to Copenhagen

PS. Our souvenir hanged up on our living room wall:

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On a mission

Once we entered Írok Boltja (Writers’ Shop) in Budapest, we were immediately impressed by the variety and amount of literature, spanning from contemporary Hungarian literature both in original and translated into several European languages (Eszterházy Péter in particular), history books, lexicons, genre after genre, exotic things such as Japanese fairy tales and contemporary Scandinavian literature translated into Hungarian – in fact, every book shelf (and they were many, wall to wall, floor to ceiling) had something interesting on offer. All this with the natural, unpretentious air of a genuine book lover. We repurchased books we have come to love and lost in our transatlantic move, new and promising books. I for one, am extremely happy to have found Scandinavian literature in Hungarian, which I am very much looking forward to bury myself into. For once, I found myself in a book store where everything was intriguing and affordable – the question was how to limit ourselves given we had extra luggage to carry. We came home with this modest selection, concluding we could have bought the whole shop. In fact, a shop like this is exactly what I am missing in Odense. Culture for cultivated people, with the relaxed attitude specific to the local shaworma restaurants in town.