Nothing to Say?

So, itʼs two months and a week since my last post. What else isnʼt new?

Well, jaw-droopingly enough, The Lovely One  has actually asked me to try posting regularly. (I know — tradition holds she hates any time I spend at the computer, even writing, and she has always thought my pathetic posts here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog were, uh, pathetic.) So at her behest more or less, letʼs  conclude the ten-week hiatus:

ClocksI have been doing nothing much with those 69 days. nearly nothing at all. (I did finish and revise a short story to submit for possible publication — the result still suspended in the atmosphere somewhere/somewhen. “Scholarsʼ Folly” takes Søren, sans Judah, from northeastern Iberia to Córdoba for a really bad day with supernatural intrusions, his subsequent ethical self-flagellations being reserved for what will become the following chapter in the final novel. However, that effort filled less than a week, really, the original composition having been part of my NaNoWriMo 2012 enterprises. The revised product was e-mailed for editorial consideration way back in mid-January.)

Today, having actually gotten a break from nearly daily snowfall (no lie — culminating in three days of flood-inducing rain), punctuated by regular weekly blizzards (both requiring me to shovel rather than head out to exercise first thing in the darkness before dawn), I did my time on the elliptical and came home feeling genuinely determined to do something (for once) today.* So here I am pecking away…

Unfortunately with nothing to say.

You see, that (lack of postable content) has been the major problem (other than lazily and worthlessly diddling all my time away each day) preventing the blog from acquiring updates. Nothing to say…

(And when I consider all that I found myself able to blather in 2010 when I did the post-a-day thing so glibly and logorrhea-cally, perhaps the current chastity of content seems less pitiful and more prudent. Perhaps.)

The same lackluster life (mine) has also prevented me from keeping my letter-writing particularly current (and I do need to write both to my long-suffering aunt and communication-deprived bother later today or no later than tomorrow). I havenʼt even added more than a few thousand words to my creative endeavors. Plenty of mental composition but nearly nary a word even smartpenned to paper for eventual upload into the (contemptibly frustrating) digital presumed-reality.**

However, even with this despicable deficiency of (for equally miserable want of better terminology) subject matter, I felt as though I must post something. So this drivel is it.

Enjoy!

* Of course, my eff-viscerating, worthless computer has had other ideas: those first few sentences have taken some seventy minutes to get on the screen, as multitudes of pointlessly intrusive background processes have taken over the computerʼs processor cycles ahead of my considerably-less-than-feeble keyboard smashing (but regardless how fiercely I punch a key, for some reason Spotlight uselessly updating its database or the virus-protection programʼs mercilessly intrusive “Behavioral Injection” activities take precedence regardless). Yep, nothing has changed; and the computerʼs incompetence frustrates me and drives me away from the infernal screen/mouse/keyboard to do something that might seem potentially productive (or at least less emotionally traumatic) — like reading the Kindle instead (but more on that tomorrow). Appleʼs demonic apparatus and its meddlesome softwares even contrived to get me to delete somehow the original final sentences of the parenthetical conclusion of the paragraph above the one to which this footnote appends.

** And now, suddenly there is no ceaseless drive-grinding (blessed silence on that front for my tinnitus to fill with ethereal cacophony of unreal audio-effervesence instead), and the menu meter indicates merely four percent of the memory and processor active — thus my letters and words actually transfer from brain-and-fingers through the keyboard to the machine and thus the screen (and eventually, we hope, onto you). Astonishing.

Facebook Timewaste

Once again, I do have reports on reading (and recommendations thereby/fore), not to mention some travel and maybe even other items, for future posts — assuming as inevitably ever, the damned device permits.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Back in Budapest — the rest of Day 5

After some little absence, as the bright day trembles everywhere with wind, outside, I turned our afternoon and evening of the fifth day in Budapest (Tuesday, October 25, 2011) into many more words than I had anticipated. I connect repeatedly to a map because I keep talking about details a map might make clear. Anyway, we spent the morning and midday at the Museum of Fine Arts and Heroesʼ Square, and then got on Metro line 2…

Ignoring the dumb “A” icon GoogleMaps™ inserted (and the also pointless green arrow), this map of central Budapest shows most of the sites mentioned today.

We got off at Oktagon, Janet in particular having gotten intrigued with Andrássy út, me vaguely still considering a visit to the Terror Museum (never to be realized), both of us interested in seeking out one of the guidebook-recommended coffeehouses — the New York Café. The old turn-of-the-last-century neo- (or perhaps pseudo-) Baroque splendor advertised for this place sounded worth the price of admission (not seriously admission, but the café does insist visitors actually order; and we were  feeling like an afternoon pause and refreshment might be in order). Unfortunately, at Oktagon, my resurfacing problem arrived, with me* totally screwed around as to which way was north or south or east or west. I suppose a study of a map, closely, might have revealed where the Metro outlet was located on this complex intersection — actually the roundabout/crossing of Andrássy út and Erzsébet körút/Teréz körút); but the map-containing guidebooks remained in my vest pocket(s) as we looked around and, me spotting an arriving tram, rushed across/around some streets to climb aboard on the tram-access island in the middle of a boulevard.

I had figured out that the New York Café lay along the Grand Boulevard toward the south (i.e. along the portion labeled Erzsébet körút**, the Teréz körút stretch swinging off northward toward the Danube and the Margit híd — about eight blocks before which the name becomes Szent István körút), and my gut felt (incorrectly, as reality fairly quickly made clear) that this tram was heading south. It was taking us northward, as I realized finally when the river appeared, so we hopped off just before the bridge to wait, briefly it turned out, to catch a southbound vehicle (No. 4 or 6 — donʼt remember which: it was going the right way).

So we journeyed back through Oktagon (this was one strange time that retracing a route didnʼt seem shorter than the unknowing first experience) and on around onto the actual Erzsébet körút where, in my nervous excitement I got us off one stop too soon (although I see clearly now on my DK map and in Rick Stevesʼs guide that the correct exit is two stops past Okatagon; but as I have said, I was, um, nervous and excited). So we walked a couple of blocks to the Wesselényi út intersection, where the cornerside café was splendidly evident (if only for the number of tourists hovering around at the door outside).

interior of the New York Café

We entered behind other gawkers in groups of two to eight, all but a pair of whom turned back at the maitreʼd for the cheaper haven of the streets. The couple ahead got seated and then it was our turn. We got a table not far from the door, not far from a very busy waitersʼ station, along a railing, with a nice view of things (unfortunately I only have one poor picture [to the right] to reveal the multi-storeyed, gilt-and-plaster spectacle wrapped around a — to us — distant courtyard). And we ordered… a little midafternoon sweetness (a feature of the place) and of course some coffee. I got a special combo of mini-desserts, and every one of them was delectable (lots of chocolate involved). And we ogled the décor. The place was truly spectacular, very Baroque in influence — lots of white plaster, painted dome ceilings and gilt; my one photograph doesnʼt capture even a hint of the spectacle.***

From there, once we paid our hefty tab, we climbed aboard another tram to continue around to eventually connect and reach the Great Market Hall (once again in our visit), where we wandered around in much more detail this time, exploring the second floor, where the tourist mementos are found (none of which fit our budget) and back around the first floor food stalls, searching to buy paprika for our neighbors (what else for a souvenir?) and Janetʼs brother-in-law and even a bag for me to use (so far still unopened). We also descended (via escalator, I believe) to the basement for the supermarket there, which we wandered, sometimes in incomprehension, checking prices and even acquiring some foodstuffs and wine (it was here we found that our hotelʼs price for a bottle of St. István, red or white, was actually pretty high, regardless how cheap it had seemed to us). I even figured out the costs and got us checked out without major incident or (typical-for-me) screw-up.

Great Market Hall, Pest

It was getting late in the afternoon, or early in the evening, by then. We walked Váci utca back home and debated in our room what to do that evening for food, searching through the guidebooks, considering a return to any of the three places we had enjoyed so far, settling at last on another Rick Steves recommendation, Café Gerlózsy (which, in checking the spelling, I just noticed is listed among the coffeehouse sights by that author, right with the New York).

We dressed (I had wisely this trip finally brought along only one suitcoat — works to keep one warm outdoors and dressy if necessary — and just two choices of shirt and sweater, a single pair of nonjeans pants****) and headed out into the night, crossing once more by Erzsébet tér and around some very dark streets/almost-alleys to the restaurant, where we saw smokers/grills going high-aflame outside in the courtyard, where a good number of diners sat at tables in the chill nocturnal air. Entering, we got accosted peremptorily by an aloof (maybe even rude) maitreʼd, taken to a seat right off the entryway in the overheated interior and proceeded to have a horrible time. 

 Café Gerlózsy turned out to be a mistake — overpriced, haughty and gentrified. We were treated poorly (the only such experience this trip; even the New York staff was nice to us, obvious scum-tourists that we were), and the food wasnʼt worth the cost. At all. Janet loathed her salty smoked mackerel (the daily special), although I was more tolerant of my lamb shank in a vegetable mash. Admittedly, that shank had to be from the tiniest lamb in recorded slaughtering history (about the same size as the duck legs we had enjoyed the second evening, before the concert), but it was okay. I kept offering to exchange meals, but My Beloved refused, getting increasingly displeased by every event (including the excessive heat, the staff bumping by our table… smoke, noise… everything). Basically we paid up as quickly as possible and stalked rapidly back to the hotel, burning off offended energy in our quickstepping pace, not really appreciating any sights we revisited en route. 

Oh well, canʼt be right every time.

sights along Váci utca

Váci utca

* (Janet never knows what way is what, particularly when weʼre away from home regions, like on vacation or a trip somewhere. Recently,  for instance, we were in Schaumburg, and until our last day, she always turned the wrong direction getting off the elevator. The same thing can happen to me, as the story above indicates, but I try hard to keep track of directions for both our sakes, particularly in strange locales.)

** The southward-swinging route changes names just as confusingly when the boulevard crosses particular major thoroughfares — becoming first Jozsef körút and then Ferenc körút just before the route crosses the river via the Petöfi híd, amusingly just past the Boráros tér tram stop, which we had reached, nervous and a little discombobulated, on our first tram day, taking the No. 2 along the river southward. The whole Grand Boulevard follows the old walls of the medieval city of Pest, by the way.

*** Coffeehouse culture was a huge aspect of civic life in Budapest a hundred years or so ago, as in Prague (where Kafka among so many others spent considerable time in these sociaable, civilized environments) or Vienna, any of the cultural centers of the Austo-Hungarian Empire.

**** Also my first trip with no sneakers/trainers. My rubbery-plastic pseudo-dress shoes worked great (kept my feet dry on these two rainy days), felt comfy and passed muster among all the Euro-footed, fancy-leather-shod stylistas (and I am talking about men).

We still have several days to go. And weʼll get to it all… one of these days.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

More Budapest, Day 5 — Museum and Heroes Square

Museum of Fine Arts, showing a tiny bit of the breadth of plaza, which I keep talking about, that is Heroes Square

Continuing from yesterday, I ramble on about our rambles around the Museum of Fine Arts some more (and I edited the previous post to include some links that hadnʼt been there before) and our return into rain to look at Vőrös tere

In the end we spent almost four hours at the museum. I completely lost track of time (yes, I wore my watch, but I seldom think to look at that sucker), progressing forward in art history time from the lengthy medieval stuff I wrote about vaguely already through some Renaissance artists (Italian, German, British, Spanish [I remember an El Greco] — things started to get sorted by nationality, so the time sequence got a bit confused for me except by styles and subjects), Baroque, Nineteenth Century, and very little modern.

The Dutch galleries, listed by all guides as a highlight, was exactly that — more focused on big canvases of landscapes and still lives than the tiny interiors familiar from Vermeer or characterful faces of Rembrandt.

The Museum of Fine Arts has some very fine works, but what really drew My Belovedʼs attention was, obviously, the Impressionists — and there were quite  few interesting canvases to study  toward the end of our second- and third-floor wanderings. I even got to play my game of finding out how far away the painting leaped into real-life clarity and focus (amazingly far away, even in different rooms for several). I also enjoyed the earlier French artists — Delacroix, Corot and Courbet (all of whom found spacious discussion previously here on the blog). On this visit, although a few of the guards (mostly stout, middle-aged and older women) watched me getting my intrusive nose perhaps too close to some canvases, I didnʼt come near to actually touching anything.

the (admittedly uninteresting-to-foreigners) historical nobility (southern) half of the Heroes Square monument

Legendary and historical kings on Heroes Square

The mounted Magyars on the central spire, Heroes Square

Eventually, art-weariness began to make things seem less and less intriguing for this day (a false, subjective impression bred from too-muchness at any museum), and we found our way back to the steps we had come up several hours earlier. However, in the lobby (where we had paid our admission, now filled with various groups of people, plentiful schoolchildren) I noticed that a pair of large doors led off to the Greek and Roman antiquities, and we went in there (me a bit trepidatious that perhaps this wing required an extra fee — it didnʼt).

Now The Lovely One has had more than enough of Greek vases — red-figure, black-figure and polychrome — from our visits to the British Museum, where she may also have gotten more than she wanted of examining the Lindow Man, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but she does like the sculpture and enjoys mosaics (after our visit to Volubilis in Morocco back in 1984). And we ended up spending another hour-plus amidst (yes) vases (all three kinds, but a limited number) of many varieties (of use), among which I pointed out amphorae to her, and lots of Roman statues or assorted fragments thereof (also true of the vases).

Pleasantly, almost no other visitors bothered to take in these genuine antiquities, and the gentle quiet made these final rooms a real highlight of our visit… for both of us (even with vases examined, sometimes minutely, by one of us).

The heroic couple atop the central spire, Heroes Square

Unlike yesterday, my own shot of Mucsarnok, the Music Hall

But then we descended again to retrieve our belongings and depart, in order to check out the monument(s) of Heroes Square, erected like so much else in Budapest for the millennial celebrations of 1896 (which is also why so many things in the city are 896 feet and/or meters high). We toured around the two sets of historical “heroes,” the first, older group on our side (toward the Museum of Fine Arts) being legendary and historical kings and the other group comprising lesser-known Hungarian nobles. I was reading from Rick Steves and either Frommer or DK, trying to be more informed and informative than had been our experience on Saturday over on Castle Hill. It was, however, actually raining, and our studies began to feel uncomfortably wet, even after we drew out the umbrellas (difficult to hold one and read from a guidebook), so after perhaps only a half hour or so, we headed off the large plaza to find again the Vőrös tere Metro stop and descend into the bowels beneath the streets.

We were headed back under Andrassy út toward the river…

Again, more to come… someday…

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ha. Further Budapest. Day 5 — “At the Museum, part one”

Although I had planned to provide information on how we celebrated My Belovedʼs birthday in the post immediately next after her birthday, I discovered in uploading and editing my smartpenned stuff today that I really had a full post on about half of our fifth day in Budapest already done. It may leave us all in a less-than-suspenseful drone of tedium (and I donʼt really have much for pictures on this visit, me preferring not to expose antique art to excruciating flashes of unnecessary light) with more museum stuff to reveal (hopefully with decent quickness), but it keeps me going on this series I hope to complete. Eventually.

It is October 25, 2011…

Our little kitchenette in the room, ready for our breakfast — amazingly, on the day in question

Mucsarnok, the Music Hall on the far side of Heroes Square from the Museum of Fine Arts

So Tuesday was our museum day. We got up in good time (well, good time for us on vacation — 8:00 AM) to breakfast lightly (weʼd run out of the grapefruit we had purchased in the Great Market Hall on Friday afternoon, but we had replenished supplies with some bread and yogurt; we intended to see about more croissants later today, maybe more fruit, too). We were on our way just after 9:00, walking across Deák to take the Metro out to Hősök tere, on the closest side of Városliget (City Park). We wanted to visit Heroesʼ Square but the Museum of Fine Arts (Szepmüveszeti Múzeum) was right there, too.

This was another gloomy day. The wet continued, having trouble deciding between mist, drizzle and rain. So far, mist and drizzle apparently prevailed. At Deák, we descended beneath, passing by the ticket vendor to go further below (brief shades of Underground stops in London) for the red line out Andrassy út. Not much for crowds, the business day having begun, we waited (very) briefly for an outbound train, stepped aboard and shuddered away. Eight stops I had counted, the sixth being Oktagon. And eight stops it was. My usual problem upon resurfacing is a loss of orientation (which would almost become a little problem later that day).

However, Heroes Square was a huge expanse of paved plaza, larger by maybe a magnitude than I had imagined, and a map showed us which side was the museum and which the music hall (the redbrick Mucsarnok being cuter, embellished with attractive illustrated architectural lozenges of muses and, I seem to recall, at least one lyre). We crossed streets to the square to figure out our destination and across a wide boulevard to the museum, mounting the steps to the door as one of the very first visitors of the day (the museum opens at 10:00).

Szepmüveszeti Múzeum — The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest — the skies were thoroughly and wetly not blue on October 25, 2011

Another of my travel shortcomings is a less than complete preparation for each dayʼs sights and activities. I buy the travel guides — sometimes, as with Prague, too many of them — but never seem to study them closely or attentively enough to really be prepared (and I used to reprimand students for their ill-finished homework or retention of material). Just now, writing, I checked the Frommer guide to verify the opening time, but I donʼt remember doing that back in October in the heat of the moment, and I recall some trepidation, hoping the museum truly was open as we arrived. Foolish mortal, me.

The Dutch room (which we will get to later), but typical in appearance to most of the rooms

We negotiated entrance purchases all right (although English seemed less fluent here than in more touristy venues) and passed from the lobby to basement level to stow our bags and my vest (security concerns). Then we wandered up and up a big, wide flight of marble steps on the outside of a vast interior courtyard.

Museum maps in hand, partially understood, we took a stab on the first entrance to our left on the long corridor onto which the stairs debouched and found ourselves in medieval art — lots of altar pieces and agonized but fairly bloodless crucifixions (they got less spiritually exalted and more bloodily realistic as we passed further forward in historical time). Religious art holds only limited appeal for The Lovely One, while my own tastes pedantically run a wider gambit… Or else I lack the imagination to realize that an overplus of less interesting art, however garish with gilt, may weary my powers of observation for more fascinating (and complex) works later in the museum visit (and in this case, later in art history). Whatever the distinctions, she drifted on ahead of me, eventually by more than one room, as I tried to appreciate (uninformed except by observation) techniques, media and (comparatively and by contrast) subjects.

So for an hour or so we ground minutely forward in historical time, and my attention and appreciation somewhat evaporated… altarpiece by altarpiece, spreadeagled Christ after Christ, agonized saint after martyred saint, gilt after gilt after paint. Italy, Germany, Holland and other Euro-locations.

tbc… ASAP

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Fourth Day, part 2 [Monday, October 24, 2011]

Continuing from yesterday, here is the afternoon and evening of our fourth day in Budapest…

It was getting on and past lunch time although we hadnʼt been eating lunch this trip, ingesting calories in our room for breakfast instead. However, we had no plans for dinner yet, so we were scanning what these places along Liszt tér had to offer. Eventually, we started down Andrássy út, southwestward, drifting homeward, peering into storefronts and trying not to stare at our fellow pedestrians (“people-watching”), me thinking about taking the redline Metro that ran directly beneath this street. Rain was picking up again. Then, suddenly, mutually, we noticed a coffeeshop, and The Lovely One submitted to my suggestion we stop in for a hot beverage and perhaps a bite to snack.

The place was small and fairly busy, even after 1:00, and we werenʼt sure how to take a seat — wait for a host or just sit down (our books said both were possibilities at different restaurants/eateries). Eventually a waiter told us just to go on back from the front area (complete with glassed pastry case) and take any table we wanted (in the abrupt manner about which travel books try to warn American tourists). So we sat and waited. If I remember rightly, we had a menu listing beverages and maybe a few appetizer-like snack items. We figured out what we wanted (a glass of white wine for her and coffee for me and something to eat, but I have forgotten what), and eventually a waiter took our pretty minimal order. The interior was very elegant and turn-of-the-last century, the room about thirty feet square with booths on one side and tables, mostly for two or four, scattered closely around. Food arrived, and we ate, drank and talked about things — mostly just looking around and trying not to eavesdrop on other customers, most of whom had much more to eat on their tables than we did.

We lingered for about an hour, paying with cash, our usual gambit (to avoid currency-exchange charges with credit cards). I looked through my travel books for activities, but nothing (except the vague and never-to-be-realized possibility of the Terror Museum here on Andrássy somewhere) really appealed. However, upon exiting to the street, we realized that almost directly across was the Opera, a highly recommended short tour for architectural grandiosity, so with a little hesitation (should we? shouldnʼt we?) we crossed the boulevard and climbed the steps to the main entrance, found our way to the ticket line and paid for the next English tour, which we discovered at the main door was to start in only a couple more minutes.

Exterior of the Opera House — the sky was decidedly not blue when we were there

Opera House — the auditorium

We waited (we hoped in the correct group) amidst hundreds in the big lobby at the foot of the grand staircase. Fairly soon, a very young woman arrived to guide our group; she acknowledged that she had usually led French-speakers and this was her first attempt at the tour in English. She was pretty hesitant, but she was also very cute, so the tour was a success, if probably less informative than some of the others in other languages. 

The Opera has various groups travel through the roughly dozen sights/stops in various patterns. We went upstairs first, then into the actual auditorium, then to various upper class lounges, retirement areas (upper-class in the olden days), finally arriving in a hallway/lounge for our “mini-concert” for which we had paid extra (but we hadnʼt paid the extra fee to take pictures, so everything today is borrowed — click pix to visit original sites, most of which are very interesting). A man arrived and sang three arias pleasantly, and we were done. The tour lasted about ninety minutes, with waiting times and mini-concert. We enjoyed ourselves.

The Opera is very plush and very ornate, decidedly the most elegant of our three visits this day.

The Grand Staircase — click for an excellent slideshow of Budapest from 2004, on TripAdvisor

Once we were outdoors in the rain again, we decided the better part of tourism was to continue back toward the river and our hotel. However, the rain got us both to decide to take the Metro to Vörösmarty tér and from there back out to Váci utca and then home. On the way back to our hotel, we found a grocery store where The Lovely One purchased some supplies (breakfast items, wine and some snacks for our late afternoon/early evening R&R sessions in the room — to be used almost immediately). While relaxing and sipping at the hotel, we decided to try one of Rick Stevesʼs suggstions for dinner, a restaurant, out on the main drag behind the basilica, so only about ten blocks away. We dressed and left about 6:40 to head past St. István tér (again) and across busy Bajcsy-Zsilinsky Út to the restaurant. 

I believe this shot actually shows our table, on the right, at Belvárosi Lugas Etterem

Belvárosi Lugas Etterem, a tiny place with only about twelve tables, decorated in a faux but pleasant rural-peasant country style, turned out to be Janetʼs favorite of the trip. She ate chicken in a yogurt sauce that she adored, served in a clay pot, while I had “steak Magyar style,” which meant on paprika-ed potatoes fried with onions and tomato), and we both started with gulyasleves (goo•yash lehv•esh, the “ly” combo being pronounced as a “y”), actual Hungarian goulash, which is a soup, the meaning of leves, as all the books pointed out to diminish tourist disappointment at not getting the Slavic/Germanic version, omnipresent for instance in Prague, theyʼd expected — delicious. Wonderful food, prepared very nicely.

For dessert, my love ordered and utterly enjoyed a sponge cake in chocolate and fruit-and-walnut sauces while I savored hazelnut palacsintas (crèpes, if youʼve forgotten from previous posts, the omnipresent and all-useful — meaning savory or sweet — Hungarian “pancake”). Then home, a pleasant walk past the basilica again, to our room and bed.

End of day number four.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Back to Budapest — Monday, October 24 (Day Four)

Having taken a break from prodding my memory for most of the various other kinds of posts I like to feature here, letʼs return to the travelogue, to last year, 2011, to Monday, October 24, in Budapest. You will find it was still rainy…

Places of Worship (a Day or Two Late?)

Monday was our church-visit* day. I had vaguely considered a museum (and there are many of them, several tempting to me but one I knew would also inspire Janet — the National Art Museum, farther off than several history and a cultural and an agricultural, but particularly with the language barrier possible, the only serious choice) for a Sunday pastime “out of downtown,” but it was closed. As was the Great Synagogue, as I noted earlier. So we went on Monday, when it actually, definitely rained. 

looking from our hotel room down Mérleg utca toward the Danube and the palace across the river

No mere mist on Monday — from before we arose, about 8:00, there was steady precipitation. No downpour but nothing to ignore. We both took umbrellas along (again, although I donʼt believe we opened either on Sunday) as we left the room to descend the stairs to the lobby and be on our way. And outside, in the noticeable precipitation, we hurried along Mérleg utca to turn left onto Október 6 utca and then right to follow Zríny utca to our initial destination.

Szent István Bazilika and its square in the rain

The first stop was a place we had been at and by many times already (with several more to come, including two bypasses this Monday evening), Szent István Bazilika. This time we were going inside, so we climbed the big steps out front, forked over our coins to the priest at the doorway (where I really didnʼt pay sufficient attention to the carved portrayals of the Twelve Apostles on that portal) and went inside…

Dark and huge. What else can you expect in a cathedral? (Okay, basilica.) Big columns, domed glitter overhead, not many people, statues, niches, side chapels — lots of red, gold, blue. But mostly it just seemed hugely dark. The floor was interestingly ornate but also somehow not as finished-feeling as other churches we had visited elsewhere. We wandered to our right first, passing St. Gellért in statuary around to the main altar with a big white statue of St. István. We wended back down the nave and around to the left by the altar to enter the little set of rooms that led to our sighting of the fair-sized shrine for the forearm of St. István himself, with helpful information sheets (in several languages but mostly Hungarian) on the building and its restoration. We looked and departed, back into less rain outdoors.

We made our way next southwards along Bajcsy-Zsilnszky Út, Erzsébet tér and Károly Körút to the Synagogue, where we stood patiently in line (me desperately reading travel books I had brought along and the various signs for information on how much we were to pay and what we had to do to gain entrance). We had seen this place, of course, yesterday, its two great Moorish-domed steeples piercing the gray sky, appearing as imposing and dramatic as the books had suggested (and as churchlike, too — Steves quotes an early, sardonic observer decreeing it “the most beautiful Catholic synagogue in the world”).

It seemed, although the books indicated otherwise, that all visitors stood in line at the tour counter (a small shed built outside the great fence) but we distinguished ourselves from the tour group tourists by telling the guys inside that we wanted not to take the tour but just purchase admittance (cheapskates, us, and maybe we missed some information, but both Mr. Steves and Frommer seemed to have lots of information from which I could, and I did, read while inside, as I had at St. István). Then we went to a different line to pass security (quite reminiscent of TSA at airports, except we got to retain our shoes) and finally, presenting our tickets, pass inside.

One of the great chandeliers and the view toward the front within the Great Synagogue

looking to the left inside the Great Synagogue — notice the womenʼs gallery above the nave

Gloriosity of gold within. Huge, but unlike the basilica, bright (sufficiently so to permit photographs, so we have some here). We wandered around, dodging groups (and eavesdropping sometimes) to examine the gilded decor, making our way up front along the left side first (I think) and then back along the right (or maybe vice versa). This place was definitely big and splendiferous (largest synagogue in Europe, second in the world) — all gold, red, wood and wonderfulness. Very Oriental, too — the Moorish inspirations being very evident (although I felt more of that in one of the five we toured in Prague, which was even more gilded and ornate but of course not as large). After a while and many attempts at natural-lighting photos, we went to the door to the museum, leading into a lobby with a staircase and elevator.

the Holocaust sculpture and the back of the Great Synagogue

Being us, we headed for the steps only to be stopped and signaled to the elevator by a woman in the coat-check/ticket area. So we entered and ascended several floors to come out into a display covering four or five rooms (and steps up to modern artistic interpretations of antisemitism on the floor above). We patiently examined the many items on display — siddurs, prayer shawls, cups, Torah cases and crowns… a massive plenitude (and also the exhibits one flight up), learning and reviewing about Jewish festivals, imagery and symbolism and daily life.

When we finally returned to ground level and passed outdoors (shielded by the porch) to look at the mass graves on the northern side of the synagogue, quietly grim, and then pass into the weather to visit the silvery Holocaust Memorial sculpture and garden, the rain had set in for real. By now it was past 11:30, and the morning damp had become the midday downpour.

With the definite wet, the day seemed palpably colder, too. I got us (even after the previous dayʼs mild disaster) onto a tram to head around to Oktagon, from which we wandered Liszt tér, noticing mostly restaurants and cafés…

Monument topped by symbolic abstract sculpture denoting the dead, engraved with the names of the slain — click for a really big picture

However, I approach a thousand words, which is more than I intended for today, so the rest of Monday, October 24, will have to wait.

* Is there an appropriate word for “place of worship” that doesnʼt seem particularly Christian-centric?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Day 3 (part 3) — feeling lost

Yesterday, I left off with The Lovely One and me standing at a stop (returned again southwards from Elizabeth Bridge, back down at Liberty Bridge), waiting for a number 47 or 49 tram to carry us across the Danube to the northern foot of Gellért hill to check out the exterior of some baths.

We boarded a tram fairly quickly (although I couldn’t tell you, probably even a few hours after, if it was a 47 or a 49*) and crossed the Danube to Buda. Here we were in a real commercial downtown area, much different than at the western end of Széchenyi lanchid (Chain Bridge) just to the north (the previous day, afoot). Lots of businesses lined the streets, busy pedestrians, traffic. The tram stopped a couple times, with plenty of exchange in passengers on and off. However, I wasn’t sure where to get off or if we passed right by the baths and could see what I wanted to see from the tram (or whether we were at the baths yet). Then the train, like the street we were following, climbed, turned, and rattled into a different kind of neighborhood, gradually less business-filled and more urban-residential. And the buildings gradually began to thin as we did not stop for a while. 

Now I was sure we had passed the baths without realizing, and as we eventually reached a stop in the middle of the broad boulevard down which we were traveling, wasn’t sure if we should get off here or somewhere less… empty. Here the buildings, large apartment structures, were set back from the street, traffic had thinned to nonexistent, and the very openness the civic designers had sought to create felt… uncomfortable. So I kept quiet, and we passed a series of stops in this kind of environment until the openness began to feel positively (negatively?) midwestern, verging past suburban toward potentially rural. The stops stopped, too, and we just rode.

GoogleMaps™ image showing part of our adventure — the cursor arrow points where we started; we ended up off the map about where this caption says, “GoogleMaps™” or even further southwest

We crossed multilane highways, up over a bridge, an elevated overpass, and stopped. Finally. It had been quite a while since the last stop, and we were clearly out beyond where we should be. Janet had grown wisely much more uneasy with this less-than-scenic excursion and determined we were getting off there — before it was too late somehow — to catch a return tram. 

So, in the real middle of nowhere, we exited the car, just us, finding ourselves still on the downside of the overpass, a big twenty-plus-storey residential concrete-and-glass block structure about three hundred yards away, on the other side of more tracks, off the overpass, across a green space and a street. Nearer, a yellow structure, more than a shed, about garage-sized, with elementary-kid art on the side toward us showing happy people doing something supposedly fun in an outdoor setting, was almost as high up as we were. Otherwise, a pretty barren if somewhat restricted view.

It was cold, the wind cutting. I looked around and led us to the farther side of the tracks and uphill somewhat to the spot that seemed to be the stop for trams going the other way. And we waited, alone in the empty highway crossroads, at the shaking tram sign on the embankment, under the steel sky that now looked very fraught with rain. Very alone in this very empty place, where now no trams arrived for a long time from either direction. 

Someone was not happy with me. We both continued to feel nervous, out of place, chilled and uncomfortable. After some time, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, other people climbed up the hill behind the yellow building to wait at the outbound stopping point where we had exited. A group of older people (probably our own age, although I always see my own age as people older than myself), men and women — two couples and an odd woman out, all gazing surreptitiously, sometimes obviously at us with disapproval and suspicion (well, so it seemed to me) and probably dislike. They conversed among themselves a little, while Janet and I shivered in silence.

Finally, after maybe a full half hour, a tram arrived heading back the way we now wanted to go, and we quickly got on the nearly empty train, which shuddered and clattered away back toward the river and civilization. We returned through all the sights that had seemed so ominous earlier, now friendly and more clearly suburban and residential. Back into downtown Buda by the river, across the bridge and back to Pest, where Janet quickly got us right off the vehicle immediately and headed us down Váci utca toward home. It was about 4:00 PM.

Our day wasnʼt over yet. We still had the much-foretold and otherwise heralded demonstrations to encounter…

* Checking one of my maps, I bet it was a 49. The 47 route doesnʼt appear to go far enough south.

No travel picture with this post because during the experience I forgot all about having a camera bulging in the pocket of my vest. The shot you see is a fake: I stepped outdoors just now, before posting, and snapped another gray and heavy sky. This oneʼs full of frozen rain.

Yes, I am dragging this Sunday out (probably too long, I realize). However, I did want to steer myself away from the “we did this and then we saw that and then we went there and then…” trap that travel writing (like mine) can stumble into. I wanted to express a dose of that particular tourist terror that can arise from the tiniest slip of expectations into utter surprises when youʼre in a distant place, especially without the local language. Nothing was wrong for us that afternoon, but even so we got just a little goosepimpling of spooked. And that minor and self-imposed unhappiness was an element of the whole wonderful experience, too.

Besides, itʼs true.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Day 3 (part 2) — digressive

Budapest reminiscences continue (more or less) today. I left off yesterday with us at the Deák Ferenc tér Metro stop, having purchased our seven-day travel passes (even though we had just five days left on our trip, counting this national holiday on Sunday, October 23, 2011). So we continue…

The Number 2 tram, whizzing by this befuddled photographer by night — taken a few days after Sunday, October 23

Then it was time to reascend to the surface and visit (Janetʼs wish) the cheese festival, which in the drizzle of early afternoon was closing up. So all we did was wander among the booths, smelling food, watching people, perusing some Hungarian handicrafts, and making silly Wallace-and-Gromit “cheese” gestures at each other. Perhaps another half hour passed. Then we crossed our busy avenue over to the big synagogue (using my map, I had figured out what it was), but it was closed for the holiday (we had vaguely hoped it was open, having been closed as usual for the Sabbath the day before).* We decided to return there tomorrow, probably. So we wandered off on side streets, desultorily visiting the Jewish Quarter in the slightly increasing drizzle/mist/haze of moisture. 

Holiday (or demonstrating) crowd on October 23, 2011

The thing I havenʼt sufficiently emphasized about our Sunday/national holiday experience was the slightly (very) menacing fact of growing crowds, police presence — tape, military-like cops, vehicles — and physical preparations for rallies. The vague menace arose from our hotel desk staffʼs apparent concern about the then-upcoming “demonstrations” about which we were not supposed to worry, but from which their list of alternative activities was designed to keep us away. Elizabeth Square, a very nice block-long and block-wide park, had actual construction ongoing (carpenters pounding and powered saws squealing — building a platform, possibly a stage), and there was a steady flow of hundreds (and hundreds) of people down one or two (relatively minor) streets toward the river. We could tell that something was going to happen — actually, as it turned out, several somethings. But we didnʼt learn that until later. We didnʼt personally experience anything about demonstrations or rallies until later. 

Once we finished our tour of rundown grey buildings on curving, narrow trafficless streets, nonetheless parked with Euro cars from end to end, both sides, driverʼs side wheels up on the sidewalk (which turned out once we consulted a map later on, to be the Jewish Quarter), we wandered southwards, eventually arriving by the Great Market Hall — a location we ended up at often over our week in town. My ignorant semi-study of guidebook transit maps (and reading) indicated that the Number 2 Tram along the Pest side of the Danube was scenic, so we hopped aboard a northbound one at Liberty Bridge. 

I rather enjoy public transit. Janet is less sure about buses and now, after Budapest, trams. Admittedly, I have a record of getting us… not exactly lost but far from known regions, a history extending back to the end-of-the-line debacle in Amsterdam in 1983 (we did get back; we just had to get off and wait for the tram to turn around and the driver to take a break), through an extended bus ride into the wilds of East London, possibly beyond the zones permitted on our TravelCards (but we did hop off after questioning the conductor and did get on a returning bus right back to Oxford Street; and the areas we were “lost” in were really just working class, not slums at all — regardless how paranoid we were feeling or oddly other passengers were eyeing us), through the incident I am about to relate in Budapest, to an extensive bus ride, intended as a brief escape from the rain, in Chicago over New Years (which also involved reaching the turnaround point on the loop, where the driver parked and took a fifteen-minute — Janet says half-hour — break). The problem is that bus and tram routes are generally shown only partially on maps, particularly in tourist guidebooks, but even on some official transit maps (not that we had any in Budapest and only Michigan Avenue tourista ones at New Years), so figuring where a particular bus or tram might go can become an issue of mere guesswork.

My beloved does, on the other hand, like subways, in general. And I think the London Underground and its much imitated schematic colored map is one reason. For most subways, Metros, the Underground, the Tube you can figure pretty easily where your line is going and even pretty exactly what stops to expect (Chicagoʼs Red Line proved at New Years to be a partial exception to my rule — no posted route map in the car, just advertising). 

The number 2 tram — shot, as the blue sky should reveal, a few days later

But Budapest is our topic. We got aboard the #2 heading (if I can even remember at this remove, nearly three full months after the fact) north toward Parliament. Our vehicle/car was fairly crowded (I know we had to stand — we invariably did on trams), and the view was not very impressive, especially out over the gray river on this gray and drizzly day. We could easily see Buda over there, but rushing by as we moved along. The Pest side was mostly just walls and barriers between us and stuff (like Parliament), although we did get a good, quick glimpse of the Gresham Palace and Roosevelt tér race past. I donʼt remember how far north we went, maybe to Margit híd (bridge by Margaret Island), maybe farther, then back to the south.

This southward trip was the first taste of misadventure, as somewhere south of Szabadság híd,** at what must be the Közvágóhíd terminus, in territory that seemed unfriendly beyond unfamiliar (our typical tourist paranoia arising from going beyond the regular tourist regions, just the same as the uncomfortable London double-decker tour to East London in 2001 and just the same as our worst moments later in that holiday Sunday afternoon), having to wait and catch a different set of cars to go back northwards, we both started getting nervous. Reaching the end of the line was surprising.

Possibly, the gloomy overcast and pall of threatened “demonstrations” infected our moods, but we both felt out of place. Honestly, a (very) little scared.

We got off our dead-ended tram and wandered across tracks to two other trams that seemed to be headed, eventually, back to the north and the city center. But we couldn’t easily decide which one to get on. Hesitation and fretting led to us following a few other travelers (local citizens) onto one of the cars, which after another five or ten minutes did start back up the same way we had come down. Janet wanted off once we reached Elizabeth Bridge/Vörosmarty tér, and with my now aged notion of visiting outside one of the baths, I said we should catch a 47 or 49 tram across the Danube to Buda and see the Gellért Baths.

We caught the tram easily enough, but baths we did not see, although we got to see what The Lovely One considered altogether too much of the city/suburbs south of Buda. Probably ten or twelve stops too much.

But that will have to be tomorrowʼs tale (or sometime). Weʼre well over a thousand words today.

* (Perhaps, knowing something about the paired left- and [more importantly, probably] right-wing demonstrations scheduled for the holiday, and the proximity — of the just-then-arriving right-wingers in Erszébet tér — to the synagogue, they had wisely shut up shop this Sunday. Some security was still in evidence, too.)

** (Freedom Bridge on Vámház körút, which led around through Kálvin tér becoming first Múzeum körút, then Károly körút — the big, wide street we had encountered looking for Deák tér and the metro ticket booth — the route I think we had followed more or less until we picked up the northbound No. 2)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest Day 3 — National Holiday (part 1)

Today, finally, I have the start of my continuation of the Budapest trip (late October 2011). The most recent piece, on our Saturday, the second day in town, was here.

Crowds gathering for the National Holiday, October 23 — a gray and drizzly day — the Elizabeth Bridge over the Danube in the distance

Sunday had been our day of dread (to be over-the-top in my expression) since I had discovered during my hurried, brief stint of rushed research that October 23 was a major national Hungarian holiday — commemorating the 1956 uprising (savagely suppressed) against communist rule (eternally enshrined, at least for Janet and me, in the Chess anthem “1956 — Budapest is rising”). Our previous experience with European holidays indicated everything could be closed for the day. And it was a Sunday, too. Furthermore, when we had raised the holiday issue with the charming desk staff at the hotel, all three girls reacted strangely and mentioned “demonstrations — not to worry” (demonstrations, evidently, about which we knew nothing) before assuring us that restaurants would be open and that the staff world advise us of available attractions to seek on the holiday. 

Saturday night, when we returned from dinner and the concert, the girl at the desk stopped us to offer a sheet of paper with about a dozen things to do — all of which took us tourists out of downtown, where the demonstrations would occur. I think three of those destinations were baths, so perfectly Hungarian, as my reading back in Iowa had quickly taught me, but my beloved and I had pretty well decided, packing, that we wouldnʼt include bathing gear. Sure, a mistake — Rick Steves would be nasily disappointed. We were depriving ourselves of an experience. Even so, me particularly not imagining myself getting mostly naked, I thought we might at least see the Gellért or Széchenyi baths from the outside. After all, as long as the offices were open during the holiday, we were intending to buy transit passes first thing on Sunday and get much further out and about than we had so far. 

Sunday came rain. I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to hear rain falling outdoors.* Looking out from the living area, even my unbespectacled eyes could see the streets and masonry glistening and catch hints of the precipitation in the globular halo of streetlights. By morning (well, very late morning; apparently jet lag caught us up overnight, and we both slept from sometime after midnight until 11:30 AM), the rain had diminished to drizzle and less, but it was a gloomy, dark and chilly day — sadly so after the cloudless brilliance of the day before. Tourists, committing themselves to be outdoors, more or less, throughout the day, never really like to see it rain. But this present morning (okay, nearly noontime) damp seemed very much diminished from my blind experience in the night, and besides I had planned us to be bus borne or trolley-carried or civic-spelunking on the metro (maybe, I dreamed, on the suburban train half an hour northward to the Roman ruins of Aquincum — a dream because we never got there, not this trip). 

After morning ablutions and a bit of breakfast bread and fruit with instant coffee**, we descended the steps to the lobby so I could verify at the desk that public transit would be running and the ticket vendors present. The girlʼs reaction to my inquiry came close to “Duh. What else?” but quite polite — she assured me the transit workers and the police would be on the job today. 

GoogleMaps™ rendition of our Pest neighborhood; the hotel is marked in red, Deák tér in blue

So we set off outdoors, finding only mist in the air, through wet streets to Deák Tér. Although we had been that way once before, I wasnʼt sure just what park was Deák tér (this one mostly an open, paved square) nor just where the metro entrance was (I assumed, correctly, the tickets were inside the subway station). Our problem was that although I could, using one of our tour guide maps, steer us toward Deák Tér, passing along the edge of Erzsébet tér (where it seemed protesters or celebrators were setting up for some kind of apparently major event, supervised by police — lots of police and yellow cop tape everywhere, even along streets), I couldnʼt exactly find Deak tér. I had come to believe, more or less correctly, that a tér (“square”) was a park, like Erzébet or Roosevelt tér along the river in front of the Gresham Palace. I was forgetting, however, that the equivalent namešti (in Czech) in Prague were large open, paved areas with three to six streets converging more or less at the corners. Deák tér seems like an excessively large intersection with some bits of park and a big church (the Great Synagogue) at various edges of the street, and a tram line running through the middle of the major big, wide, multilane boulevard. Fortunately, in one green area a cheese festival had been set up for the weekend, temporary booths and Sunday crowds drawing Janetʼs attention. 

Festival meant park, and some serious damp study eventually revealed to my worried scrutiny that the stairwells leading down were more than just a pedestrian underpass for crossing the big, wide, busy avenue. We discovered, in fact, when we descended a whole expansive mall-like area with shops and food stands. But at first no metro. However, the general flow of people and a lucky guess led me to the transit ticket booth. I had tried to prepare a full Hungarian sentence, requesting our seven-day passes, which in the stress of the real encounter degenerated into, “weekly pass, two,” for which I belatedly remembered to switch my gesture for the number to the European thumb and forefinger. The woman behind the glass answered in passable, minimal English and showed me the amount to pay on a calculator. In less than a minute we had our passes for bus, tram, metro and local suburban train.

* (We nightly opened a window for the fresh air, exactly as we had with the small portals in our garret in Prague, but here in Pest we had no pigeons to worry about. They had flapped at the opening in Prague threatening to but not actually entering, forcing us to keep the windows almost but not quite closed there. In Pest, we kept the opening small mostly from a sense of security.)

** (great stuff they stocked for our kitchenette each day: I enjoyed a cocoa-coffee blend and even brought a couple baglets home to enjoy one of these wintry days)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.