Sunday was a random day, and actually the perfect way to take in the vibes of Budapest – and exactly how I like to learn about a city.
The morning began with my first drive through the city in a car (yes, I did try to get in the wrong side). I met up with my first cs (couchsuring) host, Tibor, and we went to watch his friend’s son play tennis at a court further down Bartok Bela on the Buda side (strangely I had sort of been there when I got lost trying to find the right tram the other day). I tried to understand the scoring system, but the 4am bedtime and warm sunshine didn’t do much to help my blank out when it comes to numbers and I soon gave up and clapped when prompted. The kid won though, 6-4 6-0 (that’s how it goes right?)
Our next stop was the massive Ikea store out of town. Tibor needed to buy a desk for his revamped office and I tagged along to give advice (sort of). What a place! It was like home heaven and such a dangerous place to take me (I warned Tibor as I touched and exclaimed over and squeezed and sat on and buried my face in almost everything we walked past). You can find anything and everything you could possibly want for your home or work space, at a ridiculously low price. Wowee! I got a tad over excited. Luckily my backpack is too small for the nifty writing desk I liked. These pics are not your average travel pics, but bear with me, it was impossible to resist!
Back in the city,Tibor left me to my own devices. Hula hoop over my shoulder I became an inadvertent tourist. I made my way to the Great Synagogue where I was mistaken for a student and asked to pay the lower fee. The building houses a memorial to the Hungarian Jewish martyrs: a weeping willow with names engraved on each leaf.
As I left the synagogue I heard some music drifting up the street so turned my feet towards it. And what did I find but a Jewish festival squeezed into the alleyway below another synagogue. Live music, games, food, sweet treats, excited children, curious dogs… and a wandering hula hoop.
Once out of the alleyway I headed towards a main road to get my bearings, but then found myself looking up at St Stephen’s Basillica. Now that is a mighty building. Huge and ornate, it stares down the square almost all the way to the river. As I turned round the corner to get a view of the impressive front I was suddenly part of a very large crowd all gathered in the square. I don’t know what the occasion was but I gather from the odd priest and friar dotted around the place that it was religious. Two in one day!
My legs were in automatic now so I kept walking towards the river, and then along the bank. I was heading to Margaret Island to meet some csers for ultimate frisbee so I just kept walking. And walking and walking. By the time I got there my slip slop-clad feet were screaming in protest. Note to self: slops are not the best footwear for a six-hour walk.
It was another long walk back to my host’s apartment (I took the wrong tram) but that wasn’t the end of it all. Joacim (he’s Swedish) took me to Hungarian restaurant for dinner – just behind the Great Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. Oh, my poor feet!
Dinner was yum though. Soup is a usual starter and I had a flavoursome cheese and garlic soup. It seems meals here are perfect winter food: hearty meat dishes designed to add padding for the cold. My pancake-wrapped beef goulash was tasty, but I could feel the cream cheese and paprika oil swimming through my veins. (An ingredient that is standard in most meals and for which Hungarians seem to go crazy is paprika. I’ve seen hugs jars of the spice and tubes of the paste in people’s kitchens.)
On the way home Joacim gave me a tour of some ruin bars. This is what they are: bars that use the inner courtyards and some balcony space of old buildings. The ones I’ve seen are fairly spacious, but I hear they fill up on Friday nights. The best part though, is the decoration. The bars are quirky, grungy, graffitied spots that beckon you to their pokey corners. There are posters on the walls and mismatched furniture, odd sculptures and paintings, pot plants, colouful lamps and enough beer and Palinka to make sure your night is as surreal as the bars themselves. I like the bar we visited on Friday night, Instant, whose courtyard is lorded over by a huge owl and which has a pumping dance floor in the cellar. My pics are of Budapest’s oldest ruin bar, and I cannot tell you the names of any because I cannot pronounce them! And they have pizza counters – those thick slices are great for soaking up the booze and giving you power to stumble home…