I had planned this trip a year ago, the day after the 2023 World Championships in Eugene ended. I didn’t attend that one, but was so inspired that I vowed I would not miss the next one.
It was a perfect plan. I reserved an Airbnb in Budapest last August. It is a great looking property, in the heart of the city. The good thing was that it only costs $750 for 11 days and it had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and living room and, of course, a bathroom. The plan was for my wife and I to go over a week before the meet and tour the city. She would then fly home the day before the meet starts and I would hang around for the actual event. We had done that in 2018 for the World U20 in Tampere, Finland. In that case, we spent a week in Talinn, Estonia, right across the Baltic from Helsinki. She went home the day before the meet; I proceeded on to Tampere for the event.
My good friend of 56 years, Paul Limmer, would join me for these World Championships. We would have no responsibility of helping run a meet (as we had done for decades). We could just sit there and enjoy the greatest athletes in the world performing at the highest level.
Then life happened. My wife got a knee replacement a few months ago, and it probably would not be a good idea for her to travel. So I cancelled her flight and changed my ticket to arrive 2 days before the meet starts. Paul was all excited to join me …. but … he re-contracted Covid at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in June and has had a hard time recovering from the “long” version of that virus. So, unfortunately, he could not attend.
I’m not crazy about watching a meet by myself, so I had to make a decision. I asked my brother, John, a 73 year old retired banker, if he would like to join me. It took him less than a day to decide. He would join me. As you can imagine, we were no strangers to enjoying athletic events together. We had done so for almost 70 years, stretching back to watching the Brooklyn (yes Brooklyn) Dodgers at Ebbets Field in 1957.
Now we’re set. The next issue is to get tickets for the meet. I did not apply for credentials as I had done so often for the World Athletics U20 meets. I had been to all of those except for the first one (1986, Athens) and the 2021 Covid-postponed one in Kenya. I’ll know better about the tickets by Friday (the day before the meet starts).
I had been to one other senior championship: the first one in Helsinki in 1983. That was literally half a lifetime ago. I worked as a spotter for NBC in that meet. That was the last time I did that. I was not crazy about the behind the scenes chaos involved in televising an event.
Getting back to “getting there”. I left on a noon flight from Savannah, GA to Atlanta, waited 4 hours for the connection to Paris, and left at 5pm on August 16. Keturah Orji and another (male ) athlete were on my flight. That was a pleasant surprise. Keturah was a member of the NSAF’s Project Triple Jump while in high school and here she is on the world stage.
The flight was uneventful, though we had a nice dinner, courtesy of Air France. The steward asked if I wanted some wine, and I pointed to some random bottle. He said, “Ah. Very few people know about this wind outside of France!”. I said, “I know”, having no idea what I selected.
Of course, it is an eating festival on these transatlantic flights. It was with dinner and breakfast on the Atlanta-Paris leg, more food in the Paris Air France Lounge (I resisted) and more breakfast on the Paris-Budapest flight. I will have to control myself and/or do a lot of walking in Budapest.
We finally arrived in Budapest at 11:30am on Thursday (it was 5:30am in New York). I had left my house at 10am, so that’s 4 hours and 30 minutes short of a full day travel. But it’s no over yet.
Now I have to figure out how to get to the Airbnb. There are 3 choices (and I had reviewed helpful youtube videos over and over for the past month): taxi, shuttle bus, public bus. (There is no Uber in Budapest; they have an App called Bolt, but it turns out it’s about the same rate as a normal taxi).
The taxi would be about $35.00. That would be the easiest. The shuttle would be about half that, but you would be riding with another half dozen people and they make stops other than yours, so it would take a bit longer. The public bus is about $6.00. But it stops about 7 blocks from my apartment. I’m not sure I would want to navigate that with my luggage.
So I chose MiniBud. It worked out well. And I solved a second problem in that they guaranteed a return trip to the Airport (for my 6am flight on August 28; I would have to leave the apartment at 3am!).
When we hit the city I noticed a giant billboard with a picture of Gabby Thomas on. It was Gabby, her name, and the New Balance logo. Gabby is a medal favorite in the 200 meters. A few blocks later there was one of Femke Bol, also courtesy of New Balance. Femke is now the favorite to win the 400 Meter Hurdles now that Sydney Mc Laughlin has withdrawn.
All along the way were nonstop posters of the World Championships. It is interesting that the most prevalent of these highlights the field events. Specifically the hammer and javelin. Of course that is no surprise. Track and Field News has only two Hungarians making finals: Bence Halasz in the Men’s Hammer, and Gyorgy Herczeg, the European Under 20 record holder (84.98m) in the Men’s Javelin
After dropping off 2 families, my MiniBud got me to my apartment at about 1pm. I met Klara there and tells me everything I need to know about the apartment.
Bedroom in the Airbnb
Airbnb apartment is above this restaurant
I take a shower and sleep until 5pm. Then it’s off exploring.
My first stop is the grocery store (Lidl) to get coffee, milk and juice for the morning. I forgot to bring a shopping bag and was charged about 25 cents for one. So that task is done.
Next I need to find an ATM. Just about everything can be charged here (my Master Card allows for no foreign transaction fees, so that helps). I do find one and withdraw about $60 worth of Forints (19,000). I’m not sure I’ll need any more cash than that while I’m here given the credit card situation. (I figured out a relatively easy conversion: drop the last 2 digits of the Forints and divide by 3. So 19,000 Forints become 190 divided by 3, or about $60).
The city is alive with restaurants of every possible cuisine. The parks are full and couples are strolling. It is a great environment.
I did find dinner at a place called Peasant Kitchen, advertised as “food that grandma used to make”. I was looking for something typical Hungarian with lots of paprika. I had a chicken dish with “lots of paprika”. It was not as spicy as anticipated, but good.
Peasant Kitchen Restaurant, Budapest
Now back to the apartment to see if I can get to sleep. I take a sleeping pill and fall asleep at about 10pm. I wake up at 3:00am (9:00pm the night before) and toss and turn until 5am. Then, surprisingly, I fall asleep until 8:30am. I’m kind of back to the normal cycle after day 1. I hope that lasts.
Central Market Hall, Budapest
I’m about to go out and have breakfast, then take the Metro to the stadium, and stop at the Central Market Hall. I have more decisions to make concerning the Metro.
The Metro is the subway system, but tickets purchased are also valid for Trams, Buses and Suburban Railways. One fare fits all. I can get the single ride fare (350 forints; 99 cents), the 10 ticket discount fare (3000 forints, 300 per ride, or 85 cents). Or the 72 hour (unlimited) fare for 5500 forints ($15.59). The individual tickets have to validated each time you use public transportation (via a machine prior to boarding). The 72 hour fare give you a card which does not have to be validated. I think that makes the most sense. I can get on and off as many times as I please within 3 days. No matter which I buy, it’s a bargain compared to the New York City subways ($2.75 per ride).
I will continue with my adventure tomorrow.