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Trip to three European capitals turns into Montezuma’s Revenge: Ed O'Connor

Posted 11/6/19

After finding an excellent price through a Chisinau travel agency, we booked a five-day bus junket to three European capitals: Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Bratislava, Slovakia.

The one …

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Trip to three European capitals turns into Montezuma’s Revenge: Ed O'Connor

Matthias Church is located in the Holy Trinity Square of Budapest, Hungary.
Matthias Church is located in the Holy Trinity Square of Budapest, Hungary.
ed o'connor
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After finding an excellent price through a Chisinau travel agency, we booked a five-day bus junket to three European capitals: Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Bratislava, Slovakia.

The one drawback: Only two nights would be spent in hotels. The rest would be on the bus. OK, a new adventure.

The day arrived and we were to be at the embarkation point 15 minutes early for a noon departure. From our apartment to said destination is a 45-minute walk, but with weighty luggage we opted for a taxi — or so we thought.

To start the day, I had a bit of a queasy stomach. Probably nerves, right? I popped a few antacids and thought that would be that.

We called a taxi company for pickup. They told us they would return the call in 10 minutes. The call time came. We were told nothing was available. We called two other cab companies, waited the allotted time frame for a return call with the same results — no taxis. Now what?

Since we were instructed to board the bus early, there was only one option available — shoe leather. We started the 45-minute trek with 35 minutes remaining.

The bags were very heavy and since I have torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders from athletic injuries, I had to stop periodically to rest my arms. This took more time. We were not going to make it.

We tried to hail cabs on the street, but none would stop. Ten blocks into the walk, we saw a taxi drop off a customer and asked the driver for a ride. He granted our request. We arrived on time.

During the cab ride we inquired as to why the taxis were so busy. He asked us if we had offered to pay the drivers more than the fare. We hadn’t. How to know that was a prerequisite to get a cab? Lesson learned.

We boarded the bus and, “Oh, no!” The coach was the same type as on our last day trip. There was virtually no room between the seats — and no bathroom. Five days? Well, at least it is air conditioned.

We started the journey, and before exiting the city, it happened. We weren’t going to Mexico but it hit me — Montezuma’s Revenge. The next stop was in three hours.

The bus was detained at the Romanian border for passport control. Three hours became five.

Fortunately, nobody was in the seats in front of us and the air conditioning was cold.

When we reached the Romanian city, Iasi, more people boarded, completely filling the bus. The seats in front of us were now occupied by a mother and son.

The first things they did were recline the seats and turn off the vents for the air conditioning. The seats were now about 2 inches from our face. We had no leg room and no air conditioning.

Exacerbated by the heat, I got sicker by the minute. The outside temperature was in the mid-90s. I’d open the vent and she would shut it. The tour director was no help.

We stopped every three to four hours along the main highway for “rest” breaks. I kept getting worse and worse. I would have preferred a pigsty to some of the facilities. Some I just couldn’t use. My kingdom for a cork!

We had to sleep on the bus the first night. It was 14 more grueling hours to Budapest. 

We arrived around 9 a.m. the next day and initially toured the city by bus to see some of the main sights. Every minute was agony.

Then at 3 p.m. it was off to the hotel. The rooms would not be ready until 4 p.m. I was in extreme discomfort.

We discovered a nearby pharmacy and explained my problem. I was given three types of medications including an anti-diarrhea pill, plus diet instructions.

The pharmacist didn’t have to tell me. I couldn’t look at food or drink. I thought I was becoming dehydrated.

Back to the hotel. Some rooms were now available. We were able to get one of the first, which made others from the bus very unhappy.

Up to the room. But is it air-conditioned? Thankfully, yes. I spent most of the night in the “small room,” if you get my drift.

I told Olga that I couldn’t endure four more days of this. The tour bus would leave after breakfast for a five-hour trip to Vienna. There was no way. What to do?

We decided to leave the tour and find a travel agency for a flight back to Chisinau ASAP.

The tour director brought us a waiver to sign stating that the tour agency was not liable for us. I refused to sign it. Olga did.

We booked the same hotel room for another night before going to center city Budapest to locate airline tickets. Since it was Friday, we thought that we might have to stay in the city for the weekend due to the unavailability of seats on such short notice.

Thankfully, we found a flight that would leave the next morning and made all arrangements, including taxi pickup from the hotel.

Because of the airfare, cost of the tour more than doubled.

Having the entire day, we decided to see more of Budapest, which is really two cities — Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River. We purchased tickets for a city bus called “Hop On-Hop Off.” The tickets were good for the entire day. Let me tell ya — I was doing a lot of hopping.

“The Beer Bus” was a city tour bus with kegs and unlimited imbibing. If I would have been in good shape, it would have definitely been my choice.

Our flight was from Budapest to Kiev with a six-hour layover before leaving for Chisinau. We arrived back at our apartment none too soon for me.

Thus, endeth our fateful journey — “The Trip from Hell.” It took me 10 days to return to almost “normal.” The moral of the story? I’ll let you write that one.

The only good outcome — I lost weight. But I wouldn’t endorse this method as a weight-loss program.

Your thinner, poorer, but wiser trekker ... Eddy O

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Chisinau, Moldova.