May. 20th, 2016

millionreasons: (marnie)
Technology is great, isn't it? We can check in online for our flight, look up train times on the internet, buy tickets and then pick them up at the train station. Or alternatively, there's Gatwick airport where the automatic boarding pass readers don't work and there's a queue of 30 people and only one person to sort it out because they've got rid of all the staff because they installed automatic barcode readers. On the other hand, I wondered if it would be inappropriate to tip a cabin crew member €5 after he moved the woman sat next to me with a wriggling and potentially screaming toddler to another row, especially as said toddler had decided that she was going to hit me in the face with the safety instructions card. I felt my whole body relax when they shifted seats.

We are travelling by Norwegian airlines from London to Budapest, which makes no sense, but this is the international jet set, baby. In Buda, or maybe Pest, we take the airport bus, which doesn't go to the heart of the city, just dumps us at the end of a tube line, but it's not far from there on the rickety rackety tube-train, complete with art deco-style nipple lights.

At Blaha Luzja tube station, we walk past the fancy New York hotel to our hotel with art nouveau facade and cool doors. We are staying in the Jewish area, District VII, on the rive droite, or whatever that is in Hungarian (I manage to pick up two words: ettrem - restaurant and utca - street; otherwise everyone speaks English. The Lonely Planet guide writers, who love an untranslated menu written up on a chalkboard, would be sooooo disappointed here). There are still some signs of Jewry - the remembrance wall, kosher restaurants, hurrying Hasids, and the amazing Moorish synagogue - but this is also the party district, the Hoxton of Pest. We go through a 19th century arcade turned restaurant and craft stall hub and have fresh pasta with asparagus and truffles for a very reasonable £5 each. It's not quite Prague-in-the-'90s prices (30p a pint) but similar to east Berlin or Barcelona. The city makes me think Paris (long wide boulevards) vs Prague (quirky buildings), but as we wander the streets, it reminds me more of a chilled Berlin with bars a-plenty including outside hipster joints, where we sit with a sour cherry Polinka (schnapps), next to some tourists who say things like "you must do Turkey" and "Don't rule out Asia". Americans - half of 'em don't have a passport, the other half travel around getting on everyone's nerves.


There are also craft beer pubs and ruin bars (pubs set up in abandoned buildings). The daddy of these, Szimpla kert, is just round the corner from our hotel on Kazinczy utca; a multi-faceted joint with various bars, fairy lights, old cameras, toys, shisha pipes, a kangaroo and half a Trabant in the courtyard. You can purchase  Kazinczy Street t-shirts, although we only buy a pale ale and a plum beer. It's half Shoreditch half Camden, but without the entitled gak snorters of the former or the eurogoths of the latter. In fact, it's all very mellow until Liam's Stag Do Budapest 2016 turns up, at which point we depart.

We breakfast in the Tel Aviv cafe (hate the ruling government, not the people; take note Ken Livingstone) and wander over to the Danube and across the chain bridge to Buda, the old town. People have already started attaching pre-engraved padlocks to the bridge, as in Paris. We're now in tourist central, a hell of selfie-sticks, Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, American, French, Spanish, Chinese, British accents. Yeah yeah, I'm a tourist too but at least I feel embarrassed about learning only one Hungarian word per day (today's is kafek - coffee). We wanted to go up in the triple deck Edwardian funicular but the queue is too long, so after wondering if we're too big to go on the horseabout, we walk up to the summit of Castle Hill: museum, castle, basilica, Fishermen's bastion (basically an add-on to the cathedral), looked over by the Liberty statue, which celebrates the end of the Nazi occupation and put there by the Russians. The other Marxist statues have been moved to a separate park on the outskirts of the city. Nicer though when we leave the main drag and just wander through the streets of yellow-painted slope-roofed houses, cats, trees, away from the tourist track. We visit a sculpture garden and then walk down by the Danube, back over the river, over a mini-Danube with an installation bridge, past some giraffes, past a statue of poet Attila József who self-drowned (the author of Gloomy Sunday was also Hungarian), past a Ronald Reagan statue (no Gorbachev) - Budapest sure loves its statues, although Dave is disappointed that there aren't any floating Yodas - past the Holocaust memorial, the Post Office, TV centre, Museum of Ethnography, the Gresham hotel: all of which are on the art nouveau trail, the faded grandeur we've come here to see, apart from it's not so faded. Budapest is on the up, baby! (apart from all the homeless people and the young folk leaving for Germany and Britain). We also go past the astonishing Parliament building (Pugin eat your heart out) and the Lapidarium, the basement museum of stuff that has fallen off buildings.

Budapest - 19 - 2016-05-16 13:23:56

We see a lot of posters for gigs - it seems that Budapest is where 80s/90s bands come to die - Iron Maiden, Placebo, Slayer, the Red Hot Chili Pepepers, and The Cure are playing here soon.

Budapest - 13 - 2016-05-16 10:28:23

We learn a new word - zarva, which means closed. It is Whit Monday, which is a movable feast, unlike in England. Or no feast as the coffee shop I wanted to go to, the oldest one in Budapest, is closed so we have to "make do" with the New York cafe, the Hungarian equivalent of dining at the Ritz, not Ritz prices, but not Hungarian ones either: coffee and cake for two costs about £30, but it is delicious and the surroundings are sumptuous. We need to eat off all the walking (almost ten miles by the end of our flanerie). Prices here are in Euros; even though Hungary is not in the eurozone yet, there seems to be a double economy running, although quotidian things like bus tickets are in Hungarian currency.

Later, we intend to go to a vegan bistro, but that too is closed, so we wander the streets getting Hungary (geddit) until we find a place that goes beyond the usual veggie pizza/pasta/burger potion (grilled white and green asparagus with strawberry and feta salad, breaded Camembert with roast apple and beetroot salad as well as a pistachio tiramisu and a £1 glass of Tokaj. Finom!)
We had intended to go to Gellert, Budapest's art nouveau spa, but the hotel has its own version which is nearer, cheaper and contains fewer people. We swim in the open air rooftop pool, looking over the domes of Pest. It's like the spa at Bath but without the hen parties swimming vertically, trying to keep their make-up dry. I don't quite get spas but it's a nice way to start the day and it feels good to be virtuous before breakfast, which is fortunate as we go to Panir, a cheeseburger joint, for brekkie. I don't mean meat and cheese, bit literal slabs of cooked cheese in bread buns with jalapeno jam or wasabi mayo or blueberry chutney. There needs to be one of these in Soho or Shoreditch right now. Afterwards, we go for a coffee in My Little Melbourne, a hipstery cafe where we settle in with flat whites until its time to leave for the airport. I do wonder if the proliferation of hipster cafes across the globe isn't just as bad as the McDonaldsification of all capital cities: the product may be better, the staff may be treated fairly, but it's still forcing one culture onto another. Hungary has a long tradition of coffee houses, should the flat whites be marching in? The coldbrew replacing the fekete? The pour-over taking over the black soup? You don't find antipodean coffee bars in Italy or Spain. That said, the coffee is much nicer than the one we had yesterday.

And then there's nothing left to do, but get the tube and bus and plane and train home again.

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