FlashBack Friday – Budapest

I mentioned last week that I have made it my academic mission to travel on a university dime whenever possible. I have no shame in saying that. In fact, it is something for which I’m quite proud. Many people never get the chance to travel the world. Others find ways. I found a way.

Many colleges have study abroad programs. My university was no different. My junior year spanned the calendar years of 1995 and 1996 and I spent that time on a study abroad program in Oxford, England. I was at St. Anne’s college Oxford University studying British history and literature. It was an incredible experience and one about which I intend to talk with a fair amount of frequency.

This post is not one of those occasions.

This post is about the time I flew from England to Hungary and was nearly arrested.

Ok, maybe I exaggerate. I don’t know. I don’t speak Hungarian, which was, incidentally, part of the problem.

Summer of ’96: I’d just finished with a series of exams and paper submissions and I was free for a few weeks. I spent a good bit of that time in very unproductive ways, but I did come to my senses at one point. How insane would I have to be to have the opportunity to travel in Europe and not take it. After all, flying from London to any mainland European city is a lot easier than flying from Boston. My father and brother decided to take advantage of my European base of operations and planned a trip to Budapest and Prague.

Sign me up! Yes, I will certainly take a bus down from Oxford and hop a plane to Budapest.

Wait, you won’t show up until the following day, but you’ll already have a hotel room waiting? Party on, Wayne!**

I don’t recall all of the minutia of the trip, but that was only because of the memorable greeting I got when I arrived at Ferihegy International airport.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Sorry, I have a bad habit of doing that.

My freshman year of college I had a roommate who was from London names Weenie. (Ok, that wasn’t really her name, but that’s what we called her and that’s a story for another time.) While most college kids head down south to the Florida beaches for spring break, that was a trip in which I had no interest. Hell, I’d spent most of my young adult life desperately trying to get out of Florida. Why on earth would I go back? Voluntarily? Instead, when Weenie invited me and a few of our other friends to visit her in London, I jumped at the chance. However, I didn’t have a passport and had to get one, and FAST.

I went downtown with the appropriate paperwork and did my time standing in line in a government office and even had an incredibly unflattering photo taken. They promised to send me my passport in the next few weeks.

The time dragged out and only a few days before our flight to London my passport arrived. I was thrilled. I was going to another country. Or so I thought.

The idiots had misprinted my passport. Instead of 1975 my passport proudly proclaimed I was born in 1945. I look good for my age, don’t I? 😉

Needless to say that after much finagling and paperwork I righted the wrong. Mostly. My passport wasn’t actually changed, you see. Instead the passport agents decided it would make more sense to just add a sticker to the back page which contained an amendment stating my proper birth year.

Fast forward 3 years and we find a tattooed, dyed and heavily pierced CableGirl waiting in the immigration line on her way into Budapest.

Of course, I had dealt with the passport amendment on many varying occasions: on my way to London for the first time, on my way to Italy, visiting France, when I moved to Oxford. Each time I had been easily able to explain to the passport agent at immigration that there was a misprint in the passport and that if they simply turned to the back page they would see where the American government had fixed the dilemma. Then again, I speak English and Italian. I also read Latin and can make myself understood in French. None of these language abilities helped me AT ALL in Budapest.

So picture this scene: one heavily pierced recovering punk wearing all black (probably with strangely colored hair, but to be honest, I really don’t remember what color my hair was then. It’s been so many.) marches off the plane with a beaten up back pack and heads across the tarmac and into the terminal.


Yeah, I had set off the metal detectors. Problem #1. Not a big deal really since the guard could just pass one of the wands over me and see that I wasn’t packing a weapon. Except that 10 years ago it wasn’t really common to have a lot of body piercings. And if it wasn’t common in the US, do you really think it was common in Hungary? Yeah, not so much… and of course, I couldn’t do my usual chatty routine to explain myself.

Problem #2: Once wand guy had determined that I wasn’t an international threat because of my jewelry (albeit seemingly unwillingly as I was followed closely by two armed guards after this event) I was gestured towards the immigration counter. Passport Agent Janos (no, I don’t remember what his name was) inspected my passport and frowned. He then called over Passport Agent Istvan (yes, I’m making that one up too) and showed my documents to him. They conferred together for a moment, first quietly and then not so quietly. The armed guards moved closer. (I should probably admit that I had a small amount of hash on me… in my backpack. After all, I nearly always did.)

For the first time I got a bit nervous. Janos and Istvan turned to me and started talking. I have NO idea what they said, but they didn’t sound happy. I smiled my best “look how charming I can be” smile and, figuring that the date of birth was the problematic issue, pointed towards my passport and tried in three languages to say amendment. I must have unintentionally stepped forward because both Janos and Istvan shouted something at me and the guards, who up until that point had slightly amused me, raised their automatic weapons and started looking really scary.

The rest of what happened is a bit blurry. They say panic and fear sharpen your senses. Not so in this particular case. I distinctly recall standing rooted to the spot so the guns would no longer be pointed in my direction. I recall listening to Janos and Istvan speaking in rapid fire Hungarian, wishing that had been one of the languages I had studied.

In the end, of course, The Bobbsey Twins turned to the last page of my passport and saw the amendment. They discussed it further and in the end chose to stamp my passport and let me through. I proceeded out of the airport and found public transportation to the hotel where I was able to check in and relax in my room, all of which was easier than getting off the plane.

It occurred to me later that night that if Janos and Istvan had been able to read my passport amendment that they probably had understood what I was saying all along and had just been fucking with me. Those bastards!

** Is it me, or have I been referencing too many bad 90s movies recently?


~ by CableGirl on Friday, February 22, 2008.

13 Responses to “FlashBack Friday – Budapest”

  1. I am loving your adventures abroad! And I can totally see how this scared the be-jeebus out of you!

  2. this made me laugh… although a slight complaint: all of this promise of future stories… Now I ache to know about weenie, and Oxford… oh well…

  3. I was just discussing with some of my classmates today how disadvantaged I am over here, only knowing English and only knowing American measuremaents. Thank goodness I ended up in Western Europe or I’d be REALLY screwed.

  4. What a great flashback!! I’d heard that about Budapest, I think it’s still a little like that.! Still, I bet you they were messin’ with ya!
    Blog hoppin’

  5. Hmmm. I live in Budapest, things are getting better and better all the time. I read some of the comments as well, and I found the way you feel about the city a bit exaggerated, it’s really a nice place don’t feel discouraged to return (or to come)… but nice story, I loved it 🙂

  6. I need more, much more. GREAT flashback.

  7. I love your traveling adventures as ell. I’m going to do my Flashback Friday this evening. I don’t know why I didn’t last night.

  8. Awesome flashback!

    Party On, Garth.

  9. What a great adventure. And you have inspired me to play (of course, by my own rules as usual!). I will come up with a better entry next time!

  10. I would have needed to change my pants after that.

  11. Anna Thank you for your comment. I think maybe you have misunderstood me, however. I loved Budapest. It is a gorgeous city and the people were incredibly friendly. I was saying nothing negative about the city and I was not exaggerating my experience at all. I was only describing my experience in the airport. I’m sorry if you feel I’ve misrepresented your city, but I feel I’ve done nothing of the sort.

  12. Man, your adventures are awesome! I have the best visual of your scared spitless self standing there desperately trying to communicate. I laughed out loud and then cringed just a little in sympathy!

  13. great story! armed guards in any language are scary

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