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.

Wrapping It Up (Day 3 in Budapest, part 4)

Golly. I let a week sag by with no post (mostly because this one wasnʼt complete and I simply dogged it for seven days, tracking the Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood fiasco, spending a day with The Lovely One at her annual eye exam — all good news — and otherwise diddling my days away). However, as fog shifts to rain, appropriately, in present time, hereʼs the rest of our third day, Sunday, 23 October 2011, a national holiday, in Budapest. For those with memories as short-term as mine, we had, as this post begins, just returned from being lost and ill at ease in the wilds of southwestern suburban Budapest.

the possibly left-leaning crowd at Elizabeth Bridge — the Hungarian flag is on the big screen

Rain — heavy mist or lightly moderate drizzle had begun while we still stood exposed on the overpass embankment, and the precipitation had actually begun to fall as our tram trundled north and east toward the river. Once across the Liberty Bridge and off the tram, out on the street, it just seemed noticeably cold and tangibly wet. Váci utca was more open, less crowded than usual — not clear, and busloads of packaged tourists herded about (Italians, Germans, French) actually shopping for cheap cornball t-shirts, overpriced minuscule packets of paprika, fake collectible porcelain, and all the rest of the international norm of prefab predictable standardized mementos. We stalked efficiently north, bobbing and weaving around dawdling clots of less determined pedestrians (a common complex set of maneuvers for us, whether at a mall, a city sidewalk or once upon a time through the throttled halls of secondary schools on winter Saturdays for speech contests) while the cold mist condensed on our clothes. As we came toward the big intersection with Sabad Sajtó út where Elizabeth Bridge lifted out above to our left over the Duna, we could see ahead that the crowd there thickened toward impassibility, spilling in our direction on Váci utca and filling the intersection. As we neared the crowd, encountering various couples, trickles and streams of people milling around the general area, we could hear amplified speeches which soon switched to a folksy-sounding music set. Getting close, I realized the crowd filled the bridge, shoulder-to-shoulder, more than halfway out, around and beyond a kind of stage backed with a huge screen. People massed all the way across our intersection and blocks back from the river, relying in those hindmost parts on the big screen, I suppose.

from the rear (more or less) of the big crowd at the bridge

Janet was feeling the chill and suggested we stop for a coffee at the (conveniently located and therefore obviously very busy) coffee shop on the corner. I needed a rest in a room by this time somewhat, so I acquiesced and prepared (unnecessarily, as always) to order in Hungarian at the counter two decaf nonfat skim lattes. We evidently hit a lull in newcomers (the small interior was almost totally filled, except for a table The Lovely One promptly claimed by seating herself while I wove a route to the counter), and I only had to wait behind about three others. The staff took my money, made change and delivered the two drinks in very good time, and I rejoined Janet at her little table right beside the toilets, where I headed next. Returning, I realized other people were at our table, and Janet actually had to raise her voice and wave to get me to see the windowside seats to which she had moved.

While we hunched in our little chairs over our cardboard cups on the tiny table, two guys heard us speaking English and came over to inquire about eating out and food prices. I havenʼt made a big deal about it yet, but eating out in Budapest was remarkably and pleasantly inexpensive (and tipping is only just seriously catching on, too — a rather snide observation for someone who, in my old age, feels very comfortable doing the 18% thing nowadays, usually). Evidently, as we learned, not so on Váci utca, where these two (justifiably) felt they had been pretty much ripped off. From our experiences they had been gouged (although we had yet to encounter our worst and most costly eating experience that day; it would come on Tuesday night). We agreed that the price they had paid was high and talked with them a while, finishing our lattes. They moved on, and we followed later, pausing to study the activities we couldnʼt actually see on the bridge and the (still enlarging) crowd. 

We took off on a side street to try to flank the crowd and get across Sabad Sajtó út some blocks away from the river — about four, I think. Turning to head toward the hotel again, we passed Erzsébet tér and the other demonstration/rally. The speakers here were markedly more fevered in tone (because naturally we couldnʼt understand word one at either gathering) and the crowd demonstratively fascistic in its reactions (they didnʼt, but I expected any moment, as we scurried past, to witness a few hundred Hungarians make the fierce right-hand-in-the-air salute). If I felt correctly about the first demonstration as being of a mildly leftist leaning, this one was coldly, harshly of the Right. And their music, when it started up as we arrived at the Starlight Suiten, and which we continued to hear as we opened and savored a bottle of Szent István white (our red hadnʼt been replenished for this holiday Sunday) in the room, relaxing, was the militaristic neo-fascist dextreme rock familiar to American audiences through certain notorious neo-Nazi-sympathising German bands. We were actually somewhat worried, considering the copsʼ armed presence and the taped off streets and access, about heading out for dinner that night.

By the time we did go out again, walking along Oktober 6 út  away from both demonstrations toward the basilica, the music we had vaguely heard having ended a while earlier, people were moving along with us… toward their cars or public transit. We hadnʼt made any definite plans but knew that we had seen several restaurants on the square outside the church and figured one of those would suffice. We chose an Italian place, which was very nice — somewhat baroque — inside. Costly and not well patronized, but we got a bottle of wine, salad and pizza. After, we wandered back toward the scene of the rally and found, accidentally, the fabled Gerbaud coffeehouse, where we entered and (this place also being nearly deserted) had some dessert with a cappuccino (her) and a latte (me). Janet went to the case (which I later read in one of our books was the correct thing to do) and ordered a chocolate-and-hazelnut torte that she loved while I chastely ordered a palacsinta (“pancake” or crepe) with walnut filling sided with apricot ice cream and some kind of tasty apricot gel stuff. Really expensive (as the tour books warn), but as our third dessert of the trip, good in our estimation (we would meet better, again as the books advised, later). 

Then home to bed so we wouldnʼt sleep half the next day away.

I think this is the single shot I felt bold enough to take in the neighborhood of the right-wing rally

There. Now I just have Monday through Thursday to cover… Someday. Possibly soon.

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