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CHALLENGES CONFRONT THE TRAVELER TO HUNGARY WHO DOES NOT SPEAK THE LANGUAGE

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Tips on how to conduct yourself when you're on your own in Hungary (without knowing the language):

Allow three times as much time for everything as you would ordinarily expect, because it will take all of that.Do not take seriously assurances of hotel clerks or representatives of Ibusz, the national travel agency, that you can easily accomplish a travel task. Do not believe instructions that a given place is "down the street, around the corner and a five-minute walk." You will still be walking 15 minutes later.

Start to seek food an hour before you need it, because by the time you find some that seems agreeable and accessible to you, two hours may have passed.

Do not expect to find anything (store, museum, concert hall, castle) where you thought you left it. You will invariably be on the wrong track. Take a taxi. In fact, take a taxi everywhere. Taxis are ubiquitous, and very cheap.

Subways are ridiculously cheap and blessedly direct, but you should not ride them if you have acrophobia, since escalators to the tracks are about four stories high and travel some 20 miles an hour.

Expect disorientation. Hold maps sideways, turn your head as nearly upside down as possible, and squint. When you get off a subway and think you should turn left, turn right, and vice versa. Spot a landmark (we found the Bank of Sicily in Deak Terrace) to get your bearings.

Take for granted that if you want a bus heading east, it will leave from the lower level, while you are on the upper level where buses head west. And rest assured that at the end of a 15-minute taxi ride you will arrive at about the equivalent of two stops on the subway.

Take nothing for granted as to names, places, locations, streets, numbers, east, west, north or south, and be sure you know exactly what, when and where. Consider the following case in point:

After a delicious breakfast of rolls and chocolate on Vaci Street, my companion and I buy tickets for a city tour and part company, agreeing to meet at 1:30 in Karl Engels Square for our 2 p.m. tour. I feel sure I know where that is - where the big white statue is with lots of fountains, right?

I ramble on my own, spotting bargains to buy later, and have an ice cream. Then it's time for our tour and I head for Karl Engels Square - but horrors, it's not Karl Engels Square! I duck into Ibusz and manage to attract the attention of a supercilious young man who I can tell deplores my ignorance. Just around the corner and up 100 meters, you can't miss it, he says. Out the door, and which way do I turn? Naturally I turn the wrong way.

By now quite frantic I rush back to Ibusz, and this time a young lady heads me out right. On the way I meet my friend with her butterfly net, ready to bag me and put me on board; a needless fuss because of poor original understanding and identification.

Don't hassle with the porter at the door; you will not win, he/she is better at waving his/her arms than you are. Find someone who speaks English to intercede for you.

Understand first off that second floors of buildings are up as many as four flights of stairs.

When your wallet is stolen (beware of gypsies!) and you want to cancel your credit card, believe the first person who tells you to CALL YOUR OWN BANK. There are no shortcuts, no kindly middlemen to help you. Take a fax number with you.

Don't sweat it. Remember the song, "When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near." So what, if you miss the exact place you were aiming for. Almost every street in Budapest is saturated with atmosphere - ambient outdoor restaurants, intriguing hotels, shops and stores, inviting museums, churches and squares with statues and fountains, parks with fiacres and birds singing. Just go with the flow and experience the thrill of discovery. For example, I ran across ancient St. Stephan's Basilica by following the sound of the carillon.

Laugh a lot, and don't take yourself or your trials seriously.

Do everything intriguing that presents itself; go for the gold. You never regret what you did when you get home, you regret the things you didn't do. - Dorothy Stowe