On a recent trip to Budapest to support an HR conference, I was bowled over by how much Buda and Pest have changed in 10 years. In '93, as a student studying in Krakow, Poland, I tagged along on a Spring Break road trip over the mountains of Slovakia, to the land of the Magyers. The team consisted of 3 big American boys, 2 girls, 2 Hungarian drivers,.. all crammed into 2 antiquated Russian sedans. These vehicles looked exactly like a car would if you asked a pre-schooler to draw one: a vaguely t-shaped box on four oval tires (two of which went flat in the mountains).

Of all the things that have changed in the former East Bloc city, the cars and clothes are definitely the most readily apparent.

Instead of East German Trabands, Polski Fiats, and Russian wind-up toys, the denizens of Budapest all seems to have newly appointed Volkswagans, Citreons, Mercedes, BMWs and Volvos. I only came across one SUV, a massive black Hummer with Florida tags blocking the entrance to a parking garage. Now, who the hell...?

Also, instead of being crammed into a private boarding house with four other poverty-striken students, I was living large in a brand-spanking-new Hilton Hotel. The thing was built right into an upper-crusty North American quality Mall, complete with Christmas decorations, an over-abundance of marked-down specials and young-n-trendy mall rats hanging out and scoping chicks. Since my luggage was lost in transit, I had to stroll the gleaming catwalks, searching for work clothes. I was drawn to The Elvis Shop. For my emergency purchase of sock, undies, shirts and such, I was lost in the currency converter haze, ready to gloat if my purchase was, as I calculated, only $15 USD, or cringe, as I feared, it would ring up at $1500 (it was squarely in the middle with only 1 zero).

Also, I calculated that for the one-week engagement, I was being paid 25% of the entire year-long Rotary Ambassodorial Scholarship that funded 18 months of hitch-hiking, partying, drifting and making lots and lots of prints and paintings during my stay at the Polish Academy of Fine Arts ten years earlier. Now, every penny of this week's income will be flung into the black pit of general debt reduction.

Even with all the changes, the general nostalgia for a time long gone and friends scattered like seeds still overwhelms, as I stroll in the dark of a wet Hungarian fall night along the Danube River. On the bluffs and hills, palaces alight with flaming spotlights, memorials to poets and revolutionaries, barges leaving rippled reflections in their wake.