The first time I traveled to Budapest for the men’s saber fencing world cup was in 2001 with Herby Raynaud, Keeth Smart, Ivan Lee, Akhi Spencer-El and a few other fencers now retired.
The Hotel Stadion (now called Hotel Arena) is a place everyone who has ever been on a team or tried to make a team has likely stayed. It hosts world cups in every weapon, different age brackets and they are all at the same location. A building connected to the Hungarian National fencing training center ,and a short 10 minute walk through a large sports area with multiple stadiums and buildings.
They’re is usually another competition happening in another sport. For many years it was speed skating. I remember meeting Apollo Ohno during one of the trips, and the past two years a mixed marital arts competition has been going on the same time.
The first thing that happens when you arrive at the hotel after the 10+ hour flight is a blonde woman says “YOU PAY NOW” in a thick Hungarian accent and after a moment of disbelief/protest you realize you must “pay now” or not have room.
To add insult to injury, for a long time you were required to pay in cash, which meant trekking out into the snow and cold to the cash machine at the train station a few blocks away to get money! Ahh, the charms and traditions of life on the road.
For the past 8 years I have missed most of the Super Bowls. We’re usually here during that weekend and the game starts at 3am Hungarian time since we’re 6 hours ahead. A few times we’ll trek out to bar and try to watch it, but most times we’re relegated to checking the score in the morning. Plus, they don’t get the commercials here and that’s half the fun!
Anyway, during that first trip, Herby Raynaud, a three-time national team member, piled everyone into cabs and we went out to dinner at a place called Fatale. This is perhaps my favorite tradition of all the world cup locations. It has been a destination for team USA saber fencing for at least 15+ years now. Huge plates of meat and good times. The Fatale dish, which sadly, no ordered this year, is a ridiculous amount of meat, but most of the dishes are large!
Fatale is a place I’ve shared some of my favorite conversations with my teammates and coaches over the years at the end of the competition. I’m happy to keep it alive now that those fencers who first introduced me are gone. It’s somewhat nostalgic for me to think that US Fencers have been sharing these experiences for years.
Here’s to tradition! (And large plates of food!)