Like the twin cities in Minnesota, Buda and Pest are actually 2 cities united by distance. Separated by the famous Danube river, Buda and Pest have developed slightly different personalities over the years. The first bridge connecting them wasn’t completed until 1849 which contributed to their individual development.
Buda has been built on a series of hills which offers residents and tourists magnificent views, while Pest is as flat as a 3 day old beer. Buda is home to the grand Hapsburg Palace while Pest is busy with bars, cafes and gourmet restaurants.
To be honest, I couldn’t tell you where we stayed. The meandering river made it hard to distinguish which side we were on, but I’ll guess that we were in Buda for the majority of our time.
The city has become a hotbed for digital nomads in search of the perfect combination between fun, price and location. This city has it all. Definitely one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, Budapest is centrally located and flushed with beautiful people having good time. For a brief period of time, we were part of that fun. 5 misfits wandering around helplessly in search of adventure.
We toured the city by foot for hours. By pure happenstance, we arrived at the famed bridge during an outdoor concert during sunset. People were having a blast drinking, celebrating and listening to local musicians on the middle of the closed off bridge.
Our flat for the night was in a spectacular 18th century 5 story building with an open courtyard. It had intricate mosaic tiles and vaulted ceilings throughout. We made it home at a reasonable hour and prepared our equipment for the drive the next day.
JH’s bag had been lost for 3 weeks by this point. His main camera bag with 2-3k worth of film equipment was lost in transit and stuck in London. Jeff had to go retrieve it while he was there for the wedding. Finally we had all our fun toys to play with like GoPro and gimbles. The next day we were off to visit Belgrade, Serbia – a destination for which we were all hungry.
On the way out of town the next morning, feeling excited and full of vigor, we turned up the music as per usual. Remember that our little car had been upgraded with a world class stereo so that we could spread our musical joy far beyond the confines of the car itself. On this particular instance, we were inching along downtown trying to find a way out of the city. As we approached the iconic green bridge, a song came on that would define us in Budapest. People were dumbfounded and mesmerized as we crawled through the intersection filled with traffic. We sang along to Prince and Sinead O’Conners masterpiece. The looks of awe, disgust and amusement were priceless. The memories we created for these unsuspecting bystanders were indelible for us as well.
Finally after a few turn arounds, blissfully singing in Sinead’s shadows, we emerged on the outskirts of town heading for Belgrade.
The drive was standard by Balkin measures. The roads were still good and the scenery was pretty. We were in high spirits. The delay getting out of Budapest meant our arrival time was a bit later than planned. We had no accommodation booked of course, but that was not important to us at all.
We arrived into Belgrade with sky high hopes of fun. Navigating the city was easy, but we had no idea where to go. Jason’s friend has a small outsourcing company based in Belgrade so we thought his input would help us determine the best area to stay. Our communication to him was late so we drove around to a part of town which was trendy and fun. By this time it was around 7pm. It was still light outside but darkness was approaching. We were driving up a beautiful tree lined hill in the center of town and noticed a flamboyant, colorful bar with a large outdoor area. People were drinking and having a great time. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a perfect parking spot that was too good to pass up. This would prove to be the start of our downfall in Belgrade.
All of us were clamoring to get out of the car. Let’s not forget at this point, with Garrett in the car, there were five of us in a 1999 ford fiesta. It was time for a beer and food to get us started in the right direction while we searched for accommodation. There were certainly days on the trip where a place to stay would be harder to come by than others, but Belgrade wasn’t one of them.
As we sat in the bar having a blast, we looked up and noticed a 7 foot Papier-mâché rainbow elephant as it hovered over us like a ton of bricks.
Backstory – Part of the mongol rally is to make your car as ridiculous as possible for the trip. There are a few reasons for this –
- so that you can always tell when other ralliers are around. This is great for meeting people
- when else would you be able to treat your car like complete shit while modifying it in completely useless ways
- it helps other people, including boarder guards, know that you’re on the trip so they don’t ask too many questions
Anyways – we needed some more ornaments for our car. At this point we had only painted it red and white. It looked great, but was still on the boring side. The more beers we had, the more the elephant on top of our car sounded like a great idea. Team Baja Llama was on a mission for self help and car improvements all via a Papier-mâché elephant. To accomplish this, we started a long negotiation process with the bartender to inquire how much this piece of legendary artwork was going to cost us. She called the owner and after an hour or two, she got a response that it wasn’t for sale. Jason said fuck that – tell the owner ill give him $600 USD right now for it. She called the owner who said if you give me 1200 EU for it, its a deal. Back and forth we went until we tentatively agreed on 1000USD. But the owner was going to come by and talk with us because of a few undisclosed details.
Now it’s almost midnight. They’re about to continue a face to face negotiation with the bar owner Slavko for a massive 7 foot Papier-mâché elephant. Little did they know, their prospects for a place to sleep were diminishing rapidly as well. Around 11pm, Jeff was furiously receiving messages from the accommodation asking where the hell they were. Jeff let the team know about this, but semi-intentionally neglected to mention their tone regarding a timeline for showing up. Jeff probably thought they would stay available to deliver the keys until the group was ready to leave. This however was not the case. And so starts the Belgrade debacle.