On the Danube: exploring Budapest, Hungary, at night
This was the trip of a lifetime. Traveling to Budapest, Hungary, I experienced the time of my life while trekking simultaneously through the hardships of a stolen passport, wallet and train pass.
I was studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain, and during the summer I decided to backpack across Europe. I bought a Eurail pass for unlimited travel for 10 travel days on the train (you can travel to a different country every day). At the time it cost $400.
Like many backpackers, I began the trip in Amsterdam. Afterwards, I skydived the Swiss Alps in Interlaken, Switzerland, and snowboarded the Matterhorn. Then I continued the journey to Austria, where I experienced more gorgeous views of the Alps and snowboarded warm summer glaciers.
This is where the story gets interesting. I was planning on checking out Eastern Europe, since it’s generally less expensive. I got on an overnight train to Budapest, and was surprised at 3 a.m. to find what appeared to be a party on the train. I asked what the celebration was about, and was told about the Red Hot Chili Peppers festival near Vienna.
When the train stopped in Vienna, crowds of people poured out with tents and cases of booze. I couldn't withstand the anticipation anymore and decided to follow. To my surprise, we ended up at miles of tents and thousands of friendly Austrians at the festival. I was even more excited when I learned that the closing band was Metallica. A scalper sold me a two-day pass for 50 euros (which were selling for 80 at the front door – what a score!). I was welcomed by the Austrians with beers – they were excited about the Californian with his stories of the Governator. I also went bungee jumping at the concert for 60 euros.
Anyway, the trip was a blast, but a valuable lesson was soon to be learned: get plenty of sleep before riding a train to Eastern Europe. After partying for two days on the train, I hopped on the ride to Budapest and woke up without a passport, wallet and train pass. Now the trip gets real interesting.
Luckily, I arrived in a capital city where there was an U.S. embassy; unluckily, it was the weekend and I had to wait until Monday.
Another piece of advice when traveling: always keep a back-up card somewhere in your luggage. Luckily, I did this. But I never activated the card before going to Europe, so again, unluckily it was useless until I got to the U.S. embassy on Monday. I checked in a hostel, which, according to my guidebook, took cards. I somehow made it through the weekend in Budapest without any money. I went to the embassy on Monday morning, got my credit card activated, and purchased my emergency passport that was issued the same day.
I wanted to get something positive out of the destination and decided to explore through the night. To my surprise Budapest was gorgeous, lit up at night and a perfect setting for photography. Later I even got a photo published in a "best of photography" book.
The next day was when I met the angel from San Diego. So I assumed that the hostel took credit cards – I tried to pay by card, and the lady was furious that I had no cash. A girl from my dorm room overheard the drama, and came out willing to help. She paid for my stay, and I tried to pay her back in some way by offering to take her out to lunch. But she was leaving to catch a flight back to San Diego.
As she said goodbye, she put a Ben Franklin in my hand. I tried to refuse, but she insisted, wishing me safe travels. I took it as a sign to continue my trip since I still didn't know how to I was going to return to Spain without my train pass, and had a job awaiting me in a couple of weeks.
I charged a ticket to Rome, Italy. When I checked into a hostel, there was my snowboarding buddy that I’d met in Switzerland! I told him my amazing story, and one of his new friends gave me her extra Eurail pass for a day’s travel, which was enough to get me back to Spain. Traveling truly is magical.