OK, so I spent the past week in Budapest & Prague. It was a long but interesting week. Basically, if you can't come out of traveling with a decent story, then what's the point? Unfortunately, the story didn't have the happiest beginning or ending, but not bad either . . . definitely interesting, though . . . and as they say, 'no harm, no foul.'
- Missed Flight
- Meeting co-worker in Budapest
- Stupidly Scammed in Budapest (not by the co-worker)
- Unintended "ass Florins"
- Getting out of said scam (with very minor damage)
- Very attractive girls in Prague (including a member of a very prominent family of Russian defense contractors)
- Cocaine (not I, of course)
Original Travel Plans
11/26: Fly from Frankfurt to Budapest
11/30: Train from Budapest to Prague
12/4: Fly from Prague home to Frankfurt
In the end, the timing doesn't change, except I end up flying from Budapest to Prague on 11/30 instead of taking the train . . . this has story implications to follow.
My trip to Budapest and Prague started last Saturday by trying to make my 9:30AM flight to Budapest. I was at the airport in Frankfurt plenty early, but decided to grab breakfast there.
I left the airport restaurant at 9 to catch my flight, which was supposed to be very near by. As it turns out, a series of airport-caused 'detours' and an extra security checkpoint conspired to make me arrive at the gate at 9:17 . . . 13 minutes before departure time, but unfortunately about 2 minutes after they decided to close the gate. Great. Missed my flight.
Had to go back through passport control (thank goodness for the EU passport) to get back to ticketing. I had the choice of being re-booked for Sunday at 110 Euros, or on the next flight on a different airline for 260 Euros. No way I was going to go back home, drag my ass out of bed the next morning and do this again, so I ponied up for the extra 150 . . . plus, I found that for only 30 Euros more, I could get a flight from Budapest to Prague added (instead of the originally planned train). No brainer. In addition, I really wanted to get to Budapest on Saturday, since one of my co-workers (who is from Budapest) would be there for the night, and I wanted to be taken out in Budapest by a local.
Meeting Co-Worker in Budapest (rather uneventful but fun)
Made it to Budapest and had a very fun Saturday night. The beauty of Hungarian women is not exagerated in the least.
Enjoyed a couple rather uneventful but enjoyable days running around Budapest - taking in monuments, taking pictures, drinking lots of beer . . .
Getting Scammed in Budapest
Cut to Monday night . . . walking along Vaci Utca (the main pedestrian shopping avenue in Budapest) around midnight after taking in a jazz club, I'm approached by 2 women - maybe 30 years old, very nicely dressed, not overly made-up, very well-spoken, generally seeming quite nice.
Now, I tend to have very good instincts when it comes to people. But, when I travel, I am particularly open to meeting people and trying to take in the culture, etc. Generally, I try to have a more open approach than I normally would.
Well, they asked if I wanted to go grab a drink at a local bar. My scammy sense was going off, and in fact, walking along that same stretch on prior nights, I had been approached by a bunch of pairs of girls where the scammy sense had said "NO!" . . . but these women didn't seem quite the same . . . seemed a lot more genuine (In the end, my senses weren't completely off) . . .
We walked a block or two, and arrived at a bar that was accessed by an elevator to a second floor garden . . . pretty nice, actually. Walking inside, we passed a few guys at the door who had a little chuckle as we walked in . . . I knew at that moment, I should have listened to the scammy sense . . . I'd been taken in and it was too late to get out.
So, the bar is pretty much empty except for a band playing and maybe 5 other people sitting throughout a pretty decently-sized room.
We sit in a booth and I order a beer . . . the 2 ladies order some sort of coffee (ordered in Magyar). There's a bit of awkward conversation, where one is talkative, and asking rather leading and flirtatious questions, while the other is very quiet. I do my best 'Opie from Mayberry' impression and avoid saying anything that could be construed as interested, while still being very polite. After a bit of my beer, I need to go to the restroom (#2), so I excuse myself and head off. With that, the quiet one decides she needs to go, too . . . ostensibly to make sure I don't make a mad dash out of the place.
While in the toilet, I take inventory of what I've got on me of value . . . about 7,500 Hungarian Florins (approx. $35) and my iPod, along with credit cards, etc.
I thought for a second as to how I could hide value as much as possible, and basically the only thing I could do was take the 5,000 Florin bill I had and remove it from my pockets . . . but where to put it? Well, I folded it and placed it between my cheeks (as though I was going to be wiping with it). My iPod sure as hell wasn't going to go there, so that would be a goner if push came to shove . . . though, that wouldn't be a huge loss since I was thinking about getting one of the video ones anyway.
In the end, it's silly that I bothered doing that with the 5,000 Florin bill . . . it's like $25 . . . but it ends up making things funnier, and ya should always try to minimize loss when it's easy enough to do so . . .
Anywho, I went back to the table (quiet girl was waiting for me outside the bathroom) and finished my beer and asked for the check.
Waitress came over with the check . . . my beer was 4,000 Florins (about $20 and 10x what a beer normally costs in Budapest). The Coffees the ladies had were supposedly coffees (2,000 Florins each) with Remy Martin XO Cognac (9,000 Florins each) in them . . . total cost of the bill for the 3 drinks was 26,000 Florins (about $130).
Now, I can't think of a place in the world where Remy Martin XO Cognac costs only 125% more than a beer, but anyway . . .
So I politely told the waitress that I would pay for my 'ridiculously expensive beer,' but the ladies were on their own for paying the rest.
Of course, the 'ladies' claimed to only have about 2,500 Florins on them, so the waitress called over the . . ummm . . . 'maitre d'" . . . a HUGE ****er of a guy . . . who basically insisted that as the guy in the group, I had to pay for the balance and they had an ATM from which I could withdraw the funds if needed.
Now, I realized, I wasn't getting out of this without paying at least for my beer, so I had to rather subtly reach under my jacket (which I'd never taken off), down the back of my jeans, and pull out the 5,000 Florin bill comfortably situated between the cheeks. This was no problem, and I handed it to him with a smile on my face saying that that should cover my beer with tip, but I wasn't going to pay the rest.
Getting Out of the Scam . . .
With my refusal to pay the rest, he got a little ornery and started rather forcefully saying that I would 'need' to pay the bill . . . with this, I basically called them on the scam . . . at which point, he pulled out his cell phone and started dialing a number and said he would have to call 'someone' to take care of this (I later found that guys who had imbibed a bit more than just a beer have been beaten rather mercilessly when they hadn't been able to pay the ridiculously inflated prices in there).
Anyway, I replied that I would call the police.
I was rather pleased with myself to this point given that I'd been rather calm and civil (it was certainly easier knowing that the maximum damage I would incur wasn't much . . . hell, $125 ain't a boatload and would be easily manageable if I weren't so stubborn).
However, I had no intention to pay more than what my stupidity had brought me to order (turns out the menus clearly stated the price of a beer as 4,000 Florins . . . if I'd bothered checking, it wouldn't have been an issue . . . but they are right in assuming that nobody checks menus when they're just ordering drinks) . . . so I was willing to pay the 'stupid tax' on the beer, but nothing else.
Anyway, remembering why I'd decided to go with them to begin with, I shifted my strategy based on the fact that the women seemed pretty genuine and nice . . . I started shaming them rather mercilessly while ignoring the ape standing above me . . . asking if they felt good about what they'd done, etc. I'd look them directly in the eye and ask them if they felt good about it . . . For about a minute, they continued to feign as though they were just short on money and it was an innocent mistake, but when they saw I knew that wasn't the case, their eyes dropped . . . the quiet one subtly shook her head when I asked her directly and seemed on the verge of tears.
After a bit of this, the ape decided to 'request my presence' at the ATM to pull out the money. I offered my cc instead, but he didn't seem to like that. I continued to refuse, and with the quiet one standing next to me, I continued to talk directly to shame her by asking her rather rationally if she felt good about what she was doing and if she felt comfortable with how she was living her life, etc. As she was very nearly in tears, the ape said the more talkative one agreed that they would stay and pay for their drinks . . . they would call someone to cover their bill . . . I could go on my way.
With that, I waved my hand, said "Have a good night" and went on my way to the elevator downstairs (half expecting somebody to jump me). However, all was good.
In the end, I was out about $25, which is what it probably WOULD have cost me to buy a beer and a couple cognacs at a normal place, which would have been perfectly acceptable to me . . . plus, I got to give ass money to an ******* . . . AND, I got a good story out of it . . . definitely worth the $25. Hell, I couldn't have asked for more entertainment from my money.
Nonetheless, I was a bit pissed at myself for having fallen for it in the first place, but I was rather pleased that my instincts weren't completely off . . . just needed a minor tweaking . . .
Tuesday night, I was walking along the same stretch of street, and lo and behold . . . I see the quiet one with a different partner . . . we made eye contact and I smirked at her and she looked down while her partner was trying to get my attention since she didn't know what had gone on the previous night.
Wednesday, it was off to Prague . . .
OK, crap . . . this is long already, so I'll continue the Prague part in a separate post tomorrow . . .