I don’t know what exactly it was – maybe the pizza and bready thing for breakfast, the meatloaf sandwich for lunch on Castle Hill, or the vegetarian pasta stuff Tom and James cooked – but I spent half of Tuesday night feeling incredibly nauseated and lurching around near the toilet before being dramatically, horribly sick around 5am. As a result, I wasn’t exactly 100% on Wednesday morning. But I was damned if I was going to miss out on our planned trip to “Celeritas Shooting Club”, possibly the best way to turn cheap steel-cased surplus ammo into piles of tourist money ever devised.
Taxi firms seem to have the market cornered on one-numeral telephone numbers; I’m pretty sure you could select any button on a telephone, press it a bunch of times and get a cab controller answering. The one we called, at the recommendation of Celeritas, was unusual in having a 2 somewhere in among all the 1s, but the car came, driven by a man who spoke rapid-fire Hungarian into his (non-hands-free) phone without pause for almost the entire journey. I don’t know if he was dictating a novel or something, but it was an interesting soundtrack to our tour of outer Budapest. As you head out of town things get lower, more industrial and more run-down, and those grim, drab communist apartment blocks come to predominate. It reminded me a bit of the trip out from central Moscow to Monino, except that Budapest’s outskirts are about a thousand times less horrible and run-down than Moscow’s, and the trees were still alive, and it wasn’t snowing. We arrived at the range, down a concrete staircase in a gated-off but largely empty industrial area.
(“You know, we must be good friends if you’re happy to take out hundreds of pounds of cash and let me take you to an abandoned warehouse miles from anywhere where I have contacts with guns.”)
Celeritas is a small shooting range which harvests the excess spending money of people interested in firearms (whether they be cawadoody gamers or middle-aged war nerds or that most appalling specimen, people who wrote an undergrad disseration on small-arms) who come from from countries with strict gun laws. That is to say, it’s tailor-made to exploit me. We’d all ordered a Red Army package (everyone went for a Dragunov on top). The TT-33 was my favourite, snappy and accurate; the PPSh (though firing it on the enforced semiauto seemed heretical, and it somehow jammed twice for me) was comfortable, the Kalash was meaty and satisfying, the Dragunov kicked like an angry mule, and the Saiga-12 left marks on my shoulder for days afterward. We emerged into the sunlight considerably poorer, slightly bruised, smelling of fireworks and totally happy with our life choices.
I still had an empty stomach and felt queasy, so decided to snooze while the other bros got dolled up in their suits and went out to the opera. This isn’t the extravagance it sounds like – tickets could be had for 800huf, less than £2.50 – but from what I gathered they got what they paid for; they could see very little from those seats, and the opera was in French subtitled in Hungarian on screens, and thus even more incomprehensible than if they had been able to understand the words.
Among the streets of Pest there are a surprising number of buildings that just aren’t there; great square gaps where a whole block ought to be, lined by the raw bricks of exposed interior walls, frozen trickles of mortar sediment weeping out between them. Some of these lacunae have been remade as car parks or rubbish dumps, one was a children’s playground with a huge mural on the repointed wall. Also, there are sex shops everywhere in Budapest; they’re just there, totally normal, rubbing shoulders with fancy boutiques and coffee shops. I don’t have an elegant way to integrate that in with the rest of the travelogue. It’s just something you really notice.
We went out to a “Ruin Pub”, a ruined building converted to a drinking establishment dolled up in all sorts of random artifacts, hipster as hell but with a really nice atmosphere. It seemed to be almost entirely populated by foreigners, though, and we wondered where the cool Hungarian kids came out. There’s a famous drink here called “Zwack Unicum”, and while I’d been pronouncing Unicum phonetically (because, you know, it sounds hilarious), Bill declared upon reading lots of pronunciation guides that the C was pronounced “ts”. As it turned out, this was a lie. James spent a while asking for variations on “Unitsum” and “Unitzum”, to the barman’s complete bemusement, until he tried “Unicum”. There was much mirth, and then we had to drink the poisonous herbal stuff.