Bumming around Budapest

Just returned from a week of vacation in Budapest and London and I need another vacation! I spent the last 9 days between Budapest and London right after final exams ended. I met up with a friend from SF and a co-worker who’s been an ex-patriate (Kurt) in Budapest for the last five years. Along the way I’ve managed to do some career-searching and have some decisions to make for the summer.

But on to the fun stuff, I arrived in Budapest on Sunday night (last week) after a 9 hour flight and layover in London. A quick 40 minute cab ride to Kurt’s flat in the old Jewish section of Budapest led me to a sooty, old imposing building that was over 100 years old. Grime and bullet holes covered the exteriors of surrounding buildings, the leftovers from a failed 1956 revolution and the socialist regime. Kurt’s Hungarian fiancée brought me upstairs to their place which had been re-furbished over the last 8 months. The flat cost him about $150K with about $75K of work and was still a work in progress.

Behind the barred doors was a totally different world: spacious 12′ ceilings, polished hardwood floors and elaborate antique woodwork. The boys were in full swing with vodka, wine and dinner. Along with Marcos and Kurt was his friend, John a US entrepreneur working on buying out and re-furbishing property owned by senior citizens. Soon enough we were toasting each other with the traditional Hungarian toast, ezgeszedre which for the life of me, I still can’t pronounce. As the dinner of octopus and potatoes was cooking, we continued on with the drinking. By the time dinner had finished, the boys were engaged in some rough-housing with John and Kurt nearly ending up in a fist-fight. Too much vodka and testosterone if you ask me! We ended up the night at a local beer garden where we met some other ex-pats (Brits, Americans, Transylvanians). I was pretty much running on fumes at this time, worn out by jet lag, vodka and frooj (wine spritzers) and spent about 10 minutes trying to find the men’s room in the cavernous bar.

Over the next week or so there was plenty of drinking but not much eating. I think the earliest I came home was 3am and there were a couple of nights when we went home as the sun was coming up. When you hang out with Brasilians, you better be ready to drink! The city itself is an interesting combination of old and new. Socialist era architecture and a fairly first-rate infrastructure and transportation. Food was inexpensive, $5 – $10 per meal with beers at about $3. Mostly pizza, pasta, soups (goulyash), pickled peppers and cappuccino. Given that Budapest was located at a trades crossroads, there are Magyar, Turkish, Italian and Asian influences in the cuisine and people.

The local currency, the fiorent trades at about 180 per weakened US dollar. Overall the city architecture is very Eastern European but quite interesting with two different sections, Buda and Pest. We hit a couple of old markets, walked around the city across two of its three main bridges and strolled along the Danube river. At night the city is beautiful with the the old Imperial Palace and Chain bridge twinkling with lights. The nightlife is active and while we concentrated on Kurt’s hang-outs we managed to hit some spots that catered more to locals. I ran into one Hungarian woman with asian fever and went to another club (Tabu) where most of the women were quite stunning. Hungarian women are quite fit with some asianess about their stunning eyes (green or blue, almond-shaped) and seemed to be known for their ample backsides! : ) We also managed to hit one of their mineral water thermal baths where families and friends hang out and drink beers in the heated water of thermal springs.

The seven days in Budapest were fun but not perfect. I stayed in Kurt’s apartment for about 4 days and then moved to a hotel in the area for more space. Eastern Europe is an emerging country with ex-pats who are looking to stretch their money and come up with some big idea to hit it big in the wild East. Most of the ex-pats seem to do well with the local Hungarian women and find them to be quite loyal and tolerant. They keep house, do the laundry and play the traditional role that is more difficult to find in women from the States or UK. I found it a bit difficult over time to deal with some of their bravado and BS that constantly streamed out.

After 7 days in Budapest I was ready to move on, I don’t think my liver could have taken much more. London is the epitome of a world class city with a world class infrastructure. Well-organized, orderly and clean, it’s very easy to see the sites and enjoy the amenities of the city. Just bring your American Express because it ain’t cheap! My cab ride along cost me over $150, make sure you fly into Heathrow vs. Gatwick if you are staying in the city. Or take the Tube which runs all the way to Gatwick. I wandered around Piccadilly Square, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. Andrews Park, the West End and the Theater district. Managed to have a good Indian dinner and some Chinese at a little outdoor food stand, I would say the food is good but not great. The West End is an interesting goth, headbanger spot with lots of spiked hair and piercings, interesting stuff. I really enjoyed the 36 hours in London outside of the incessant rain and high prices, I will definitely be back!

During my trip I also managed to do a phone interview with Red Hat for a product marketing manager internship. It would be a three month gig with the expectations that if I did a good job, I’d have a full-time position waiting for me at the end. Given that I’m tired of moving and don’t have any irons in the fire, I’m leaning towards accepting the internship and staying in NC for another three months. I’ll continue to job search and look at opportunities in the Bay area but after a lot of thought, I’m leaning towards staying in Raleigh-Chapel Hill if I can find the right position.

While I might make a bit more money in SF, it will not even come close to compensating for the cost of living increase and cover my hefty school loan. I did interview for an eMarketing position with Williams-Sonoma but the salary was way too low. I’ve been pretty comfortable in NC and have lots of classmates in the area, Red Hat is also a very cool and idealistic technology company that’s looking to change the world.

While I’ll miss the people, weather and food in SF, North Carolina makes more sense right now. The job market is booming for high-tech, finance and biotech (Top 5 over next two years according to Business 2.0 magazine) and my experience has been good. I admit that I also dread the idea of re-locating across the country with no job in hand and was traumatized a bit by dating in the Bay area. Surprisingly, there are quite a few classmates who have come out from California who love NC and are staying due to real estate prices and the school system so I’m not alone. And I admit that most of the women I’ve met in the area have been well-educated and down-to-earth so I’m hopeful about finding somebody and buying some property. Not that I’m crossing SF off the list, it’s just that North Carolina makes a lot more sense right now!

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