Welcome To Budapest…

Scientists would argue otherwise, but I just proved that a 27-year-old baby DOES exist.

Where did I find this man-sized baby, you ask?

I looked in the mirror…


Having spent more than enough time in Belgrade, it was off to Budapest, Hungary.

The thing about a 7 1/2 hour train ride is that when it’s on the very same train used when the rail was created a hundred years ago, it kinda seems even longer…

But before I launch into yet another diatribe about the perils of travelling, let me explain my current plight. You see, I have been suffering from extreme insomnia. Yes, it’s true. The same man that slept through half of his university classes is now having trouble sleeping.

The origin of the problem can be traced to my living situation in Belgrade. My friend Damir, with whom I stayed for a few days, works around the Toronto and New York markets, and thus works from 2PM to 10PM every day. So I find myself being nocturnal along with him.

In the past few weeks, I have gone many nights without sleeping a wink, and I always say that I’ll catch up on my sleep during the day. But alas, I rarely do.

After having slept for one full hour, I arrived at the Belgrade train station to catch my 6:45AM train to Budapest. I told myself I would sleep for the entire trip. I was sadly mistaken…

In the movie Panic Room with Jodie Foster, the main character and her daughter seek refuge from their would-be burglars in an encapsulated room that is impossible to break into. Too bad that her daughter has asthma and panic attacks…

Upon the train, I found myself in a similar situation. They say that via train is the most comfortable method of travel, but being in this tiny room, enclosed in glass, with no natural air, I too began to panic. Add that to the constant starts-and-stops of the train that cause extreme dizziness, oh—and the dehydration, and my insomnia began to make me go stir crazy.

Every two hours, the train would stop, and a man decked out in army fatigue with multiple badges would barge into my “comfortable” sleeping quarters and yell at me in various languages. I would surrender my train ticket and passport, not knowing which one he was after, and then sit there like a complete idiot….or, a tourist…

Upon arriving in Budapest, I was the walking dead. I had slept only three hours in the last two days, and all I could think about was reaching my hotel.

I was smart enough to take out ample money in Serbia before leaving, however when I went to the Western Union exchange at the train station, they informed me that they don’t exchange Serbian Dinar.

This made zero sense to me.

Serbia and Hungary border eachother!

Can you imagine going to the United States, and having them tell you they don’t accept Canadian Dollars?

What about going from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico, and having them politely inform you that they don’t change American currency?

Flustered, tired, weary, and almost unable to stand up, I went into the K & H bank only to have them inform me that NO banks in Hungary will convert Serbian Dinar.


Angry that I had the equivalent of $500 in the wrong country’s currency, I went to the ATM at K & H bank only to find that it didn’t work.


I went inside the bank itself, lined up to see the teller, only to have him tell me as well that my debit card wasn’t working. I asked him what he thought I could do to rectify this situation, and he responded, “Well perhaps if you have a card that does work, you can use that one to get cash.” Okay. Thanks for the valuable advice. I’ll just chalk that one up to the language barrier…

I tried my Visa in the bank, then the ATM, and neither worked. Then, I tried my debit card in the Budapest Bank ATM, and it politely told me, “Sorry, we cannot process your transaction.” Well, at least the ATM was nice about it…

So, where did this leave me?

I’m in Budapest, at the train station, about a half hour from my hotel. I have not a single penny of Hungarian “Fornit,” and I can barely stand up because I’m so tired.

The local con-artists immediately sensed my inability to process rational thought, and preyed on me as if there was blood in the water.

“Hey, how are you my friend?” asked one sketchy looking fellow.

Even at Yonge/Dundas Square in Toronto, if a stranger asks you how you are doing, they either want something from you, or want to sell you something.

Sensing that I was in trouble, I did the only thing I could think of: I sat down on the cold pavement in front of the train station and started into oblivion. I did this for a good ten minutes.

After putting together the facts in my mind: I barely have enough brain power left to function, I have no money, my debit and credit cards don’t work, and I’m in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language, I began to PANIC!

So I did what all men would do in my position.

I called my Mommy…

I had my Blackberry with me (yes, I’m aware that this is like “cheating” when you are supposed to be travelling), and I dialed the number, unaware of whether this would even work.

But there was that familiar voice: “Hello?”

Yes! Thank you, Jim Balsille! There should be a statue in your honor….like…your face on Mount Rushmore. Just get rid of Roosevelt….he never did that much anyways…

“Mom, I’m having some serious money issues,” I began.

“Oh that’s no problem sweetie, I have tons of money!”

Hmmm. Yes. Well. Quite…

As reassuring as her comment was meant to sound, I explained to her that this was of no help to me right now. This wasn’t the same as me writing countless letters to her from Camp Kawabi in 1989 proclaiming “I wanna go home!” I was thousands of miles away, and I was in dire straits.

She told me not to panic, which made me panic even more. She called TD Bank for me, and Visa, and they explained that I couldn’t set up a PIN on my VISA unless I did it in person at a TD Bank location….in Canada.

By now, I was really freaking out. Half the stores in Budapest don’t even accept credit cards, and I couldn’t go five days with no cash.

My mother gave me one of her classic pep talks: “David, you are resilient! You are the go-to-guy in our family, and you are a great problem solver! Just think!”

I explained to her that I hadn’t slept in two days and thinking was not my strong suit right now. I could barely remember my own name, and although I did have enough power to tie my own shoes, I had tied them together

I sat down on the pavement once again, and began to think about how one hundred years ago, it was not uncommon for a man to send his nine-year-old son on horseback for a six-day trek “into town” to get rations for the upcoming winter. And I couldn’t even figure out how to get money out of a goddam ATM?

I walked a kilometre into what I perceived to be the centre of downtown, where I found the financial district.

It was there that I decided the first step in solving a problem is to devise a set of solutions, but not to move on to one solution until I had exhausted all possible options…

So I went from bank to bank trying my debit card in all the ATM’s.

Well surely Volksbank will cure what ails me.  After putting in my debit card, a message came up saying something like “VIGER HASPUSTER BLAVEN MUSTERSVEN!”  I guess I forgot to select “English” that time…

Well, since that didn’t work, how about Inter-Europa Bank?

Third try is always the charm with….Magyar Nemzeti Bank! Nope…

I tried Merkantil Bank and then moved on to UniCredit Bank, but it was to no avail.

Banco Popolare sounds like “popular” so maybe it’s the bank of choice for stupid tourists such as me! Unfortunately, not…

I began to look for a seemingly warm place on the sidewalk, where surely I would be sleeping tonight, and that’s when I saw the single greatest thing ever to come out of the Western World: CitiBank.

Just like a guy who hits on 17 at a blackjack table, I guess I was feeling lucky as I put my card into the CitiBank ATM, and the sound of the cash dispensing was the sexiest sound I ever heard.

I took out 4000 Fornits, and went on my merry way! After about four blocks, I used every last ounce of energy in my head to calculate that this was only the equivalent of $20 Canadian, and proceeded back to CitiBank once again…

An hour later, I was laying on my bed in the Kalvin Haz hotel, and I slept like a baby…..for an hour.

I still can’t sleep.

But this time, I won’t call my Mommy….

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  1. Katherine says:

    I was in a similar pickle when I was in Delhi and I knew as I read your article that eventually you would hit upon the magic that is a Citibank ATM. What a great feeling that relief is, isn’t it? Citibank rocks! It is amazing to me, though, that one of the ATMs you tried first did not eat your debit card.
    Happy travels.