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Early experiences: bad and good

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Five of our eight students have arrived — the others are in the air from London due in a noon today. Last evening we met the five to introduce them to the metro system and take them to the Danube to see the lights. Their first metro experience should be memorable. All the guide books and forums mention bad experiences with surly ticket checkers on the metro but in our several previous visits we had had no encounters other than a quick flash of our passes. But last evening:

We met the students at Octagon to take Metro 1 to VÖRÖSMARTY TÉR and walk to the river and along Vaci utca. Entering the metro station we showed them how to punch their metro tickets — fortunately next week they will have monthly passes — but one of the machines was not working so there was a bit of confusion between getting them validated and getting passed the ticket checker, who was also busy selling someone a ticket. The upshot is that the ticket checker kept Susi’s ticket (I suspect intentionally) and it didn’t register for me that she did not have it until we were on the metro. We were immediately approached by another ticket checker who quickly zeroed in on Susi. Though it was clear that we were traveling together, that Angela and I had valid monthly passes, and each of the other students had validated tickets, Susi did not; and no amount of gesturing and his bits of English was to change his mantra: “No ticket, pay fine.” We called Dora who again explained for us that Susi had a ticket, that the first checker had kept her ticket, that she had another ticket that we could validate, that she was a student in Budapest less than 24 hours etc, etc. “No ticket, pay fine.” Their strategy is to wear you down and he, of course, won. I paid the fine: 8000 ft ($36.50 roughly!) for Susi. Angela and I are convinced it was a scam between the original ticket checker and this guy and the metro equivalent of a speed trap targeting young tourists. Oh well: lesson learned. It also makes one realize the challenge of being vulnerable any place in the world unable to speak the language and dealing with authorities, no matter how low on the ladder of power. Immigration is such an act of courage. The experienct did not ultimately detract from the amazingly beautiful evening enjoying Buda Castle aglow, the lights of the Chain Bridge, and reflections on the river. The Good part 1.

The Good part 2: After setting the students off on their own, we returned to District XIII for dinner in another neighborhood restaurant — Liget. It was an average and forgettable meal except for a garnish (side dish) — dödölle — a homey bowl of fried potato dumpling and sour cream. It is something between a fried gnocchi and ‘Tater tot’ but lighter, and with onion and bacon. That, the restaurant’s view of the Danube, and a Bock Winery Portugieser, made for a good end to the day.

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