A Bathroom in Budapest
As anyone who has traveled abroad will tell you, bathrooms that are available to the public and free to use are not nearly as numerous overseas as they are in the US. Somehow I manage to relearn this every time I leave the country.
I arrived in Budapest late in the evening Sunday January 1st. My hotel was on the Buda side, on the river and about a ten minute walk upstream from the chain bridge. I quickly found a place to eat and enjoyed a few beers, but not wanting to waste my first night in the city, decided to walk to the Pest side of the river and take a look at the Hungarian Parliament building. I planned to walk to Parliament via the Chain Bridge, and return via the Margaret Bridge further upstream. This turned out to be a longer walk than I had anticipated, and shortly after departing Parliament, the beers came calling. I needed to find a bathroom. Unfortunately, a New Year’s day Sunday evening is pretty quiet in Budapest, especially around 11pm, and I was a solid half hour’s walk from my hotel.
Much to my delight I saw a McDonalds and thought surely I had found sanctuary. I rushed inside only to discover a long line of customers, preventing me from making a purchase and using the facilities. I exited in seek of another candidate. Very few places were still open, but at this point my situation was approaching “urgent,” and I was in no position to be picky. I finally spotted a tiny bar up the street whose sign was still illuminated. I made a run for it.
I knew I’d be obliged to order a drink, but as time was getting pretty short, I went straight for the wc. When I did, I was met with plenty of shouting in Hungarian from both the bartender and the patrons. Not wanting any further delay, I went straight to the bar and ordered a shot of vodka, which I downed immediately, and turned to head for the facilities. The bartender stopped me, wanting me to first pay for the drink. This seemed perfectly reasonable, even in my state of desperation. At this point, it had become clear that neither the bartender, nor the patrons spoke English. I presented my credit card. The bartender shook his head. I presented some euros. The bartender shook his head. Because of the late hour, I had naturally failed to secure any forint, the local currency, and apparently the only ticket into the room I was seeking.
It seemed as though everyone in the small bar had become aware of my situation, and a group of rough looking locals in the corner were having quite a laugh. I usually have a few contingency plans in place for situations such as this, but I’ll be honest, I was caught with my pants down, which is the state I desperately wanted to be in, a mere 10 feet away in the bathroom.
By the grace of God himself, an Austrian walked over, and offered in English to pay for my drink. I thanked him profusely…. And quickly, and made a beeline to the restroom where I could finally remedy the situation caused by the beers. When I emerged from the bathroom I was finally able to properly thank the Austrian, and offer to reimburse him for the favor he had done me. He was extremely gracious, and refused my euros. We spoke for a few minutes, I thanked him again, and I resumed my journey back to the hotel. I’ve met kind, friendly people everywhere I’ve gone, and Hungary was no different, even if my savior happened to be Austrian on this occasion.
I was a little surprised the bar accepted neither plastic nor euros, but at that hour on a Sunday night, I probably should have known better. Lesson learned. Again.