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Message From Europe, the Fourth

We just took a train from Italy to Hungary, passing through Croatia and Slovenia on the way. In other words, we went from a hostile country to an even more hostile country, passing through two virulently hostile countries on the way.

The Italian who did our reservations for the trip to Budapest messed them up. When the conductor pointed this out, we ran back to the ticket counter, where a different Italian sold us tickets which were messed up in a different way. Eventually, we solved the problem by throwing around American dollars like sleet in a windstorm, and we were on our way.

Ow. Our dignity.

On the ride, our passports were checked roughly six times, each by an Eastern European in a different ridiculous uniform, each more communistic than the one before. At the Budapest train station, scam artists mobbed us, offering rooms, money changing, taxi rides, and probably, if we asked nicely enough, drugs and a healthy white baby.

There is no Hungary Through the Backdoor book in the Backdoor series. We now know why. To have Hungary Through the Backdoor, there would first need to be a front door. Our trip through Italy was, sadly, very quick. About 24 hours in Florence, spent wearing out our feet looking at art. Three hours in Venice, listen to the sounds of the city gently rotting around us and eating the only crappy food we ate in Italy.

The food in Italy was generally amazing. Sure, there were scams. But if they charged you $4.50 for an ice cream cone, you could at least be sure that it would be a kick-ass ice cream cone.

Our stay in Hungary is mainly being spent with friends and family, not in hotels. This is giving us a long, detailed exposure to Hungarian politics and history. We Americans have only a limited exposure to loss in military affairs, only really being forced to experience it in Vietnam. Hungary, on the other hand, has been successfully invaded by practically everybody on the planet at one time or another, and, if you give them the chance, they'll tell you ALL about it.

We're at an Internet cafe in Budapest right now. The background art on one of the machines is a time magazine cover from 1956 depicting a "Hungarian Freedom Fighter." Whatever else you can say about the people here, they have long memories. Here is a typical conversation:

"You are an American, yes?"

"Yes."

"You like our country, yes?"

"Yes."

"Why did you not help us during the uprising of 1956?"

"Uhhhhh ..."

"Here. Have some paprikas."

"Thank y ..."

"And tell us why you did not help us during the uprising of 1956."

But we kid the Hungarians.

In closing, Burger King has invaded Budapest. There are Burger Kings everywhere, like Starbucks in Seattle. This is, of course, fantastic, because it means that there's a place where the coke you order will have ice in it (good) instead of a wedge of lemon (bad). Just the way Jesus intended.


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