Welcome to Budapest!

07 March, 2018: I landed at 2am, on a magenta plane from Morocco.

I don’t even remember passport control, so it must have been easy, and then I stopped at the ATM to withdraw local currency.

The exchange rate is confusing — my primary reference point is that 5,000 Hungarian forints equals approx $20 USD, so for anything less than that, I don’t worry about it too much. At the ATM at 2:30am, I had this in the back of my mind, but I saw that the largest amount I could withdraw, in forints, was 250. “Oh no,” I thought fuzzily, “that’s not nearly enough, I’ll have to do multiple transactions!”

Keep in mind that I had just come from Morocco, where the ATM max withdrawal amount is 2,000 dirham (approx $200 USD), and where if you need more than that (for example, to pay rent or to last longer, since almost nowhere takes credit cards) the common tactic is to withdraw from a few different ATMs very quickly before the bank computer systems can talk to one another and figure out what’s happening and shut you down.

I selected the 250 option. Luckily, the next screen was about conversion rate acceptance, so it let me know that I was about to withdraw almost $1,000 USD. “OH NO, no thank you” I yelped, and hit the cancel option. Then I started over, in a state of sleep-deprived utter confusion, and attempted some math. “If 250 is $1,000, and I want like maybe $200, which of these other five amount options should I choose…”

In the end I got approximately the right amount, and realized that ATMs in Hungary omit the last three zeros — so when it said “250” what it actually meant was “250,000” which is very useful information, particularly if you’re going to try to figure it out at 2:30am after a 3.5-hour flight and a half hour going through passport control.

Once clear of the airport I found a single taxi at the taxi stand, with a very nice but very chatty driver who was almost definitely hopped up on something (I mean, he drives a cab all night long, I get it). He brought me to my apartment building in the pouring rain, and gave me a running patter about Budapest on the way. I remember very little of it, as it was 3am by then, but I do know that he thanked me profusely for pronouncing Budapest correctly, and that I asked him to teach me to say “thank you” which he did. He also told me that Hungarian is most closely related to Finnish (though not closely enough for him to understand Finns), which at the time I didn’t believe, but it’s true!

The taxi ride cost more than half as much as my plane ticket, and normally I would have found alternative transportation — but my sweet host was waiting for me at the apartment, so I wanted to get there as fast as I could. My host checked me in and showed me around, I took a shower and unpacked a few things, and finally, at about 5am, I went to sleep in the loft bed of my charming new home.

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