VISITING BUDAPEST (24 september 2005)
My first surprise comes at Schiphol airport, where male visitors who want to answer nature's call are welcomed in a real Dutch scenery:
Our plane can accomodate about two hundred passengers. We have been allotted seats at the back. Shortly after take-off, we are joined by a host of fellow-passengers waiting in the aisle for their turn to use the toilet. Some even seem to think we care so much for their company that they sit down on the armrests.
The stewardess announces that the articles displayed in the KLM magazine can be bought from her trolley. Let's see if there's anything that can be of use ... perfume, watches and other articles of luxury. What to do with them in Budapest?
One thing, however, might come in handy: a translating computer, which knows as many as 29 languages -- among them: Hungarian.
The blue-skirted KLM lady searches her trolley. Do I perchance care for an electronic organizer or any kind of perfume? She can sell me those. But alas, the translator is the only article she can't find right now ...
The rest of the flight goes without a hitch. At Budapest Airport, it takes half an hour for a minibus to appear. But when it does, we are taken to hotel Eben in another thirty minutes.
Dusk is setting in when half an hour later we enter Őrs Vezér tereunderground station. By the time we surface again at Astoria, it's not only completely dark, but raining as well.
The pavement looks as if it's maintained (or better: not maintained) by the same gang that is responsible for the streets around Amsterdam Central Station. No wonder the first thing I do in the street is step into a pothole that's filled with rain. My sock is soaked. But I have a brand new umbrella bought two days ago from Aurora in the Vijzelstraat in Amsterdam. That will come in handy now. I must have overlooked Murphy's Law: one of the ribs comes out broken when the umbrella is pulled out from its sheath.
The time is about 7 p.m. By now, we're both feeling somewhat peckish. After descending into the subterranean premises of a restaurant named Arany Pince we inquire if we can have dinner there. We are shown to a table and handed menus. The waiter (patron, pincér, maitre d', or whatever his title may be) informs us we'll have to wait for ten minutes. Of course, that's no problem to us -- for now we have ample time to browse the menu and read about dishes with exotic names like hagymaleves (onion soup) and bélszín Budapest módra vegyes körettel (some sort of steak).
After half an hour we haven't even been asked if we'd like to drink anything. We decide not to find out the limits of ten minutes in the interpretation by Arany Pince and resort to a cheaper looking restaurant called Lados , where the service is very friendly and the food not bad at all.
After our return to the hotel, I remember I bought a box containing three different small-sized bottles of whisky. I'm curious about the difference in taste. I haven't, however, realized how heavily chlorinated the Budapest tap water is. I can hardly taste any difference: all three whiskies have a bleachy aftertaste.
Later on, we'll see massive quantities of mineral water at the supermarkets. Obviously, the supply of water at the supermarket must be inversely proportionate to the quality of the water from the tap.
Waking up in Budapest (21 September)
In daylight, Budapest is looking much friendlier, especially since it's not raining any longer. We have the chance to take a closer look at the city.
One detail we notice is that residences are often grouped around an inner court, which is accessible via a large gate that gives out onto the street.
There's a lot of great architecture to be seen in Budapest. The style often hints at the orient:
The council of Amsterdam often don't consider it any problem getting rid of old trees. In Budapest on the bank of the Danube we see how pretty an ancient plane-tree can look.
Although both of us are more or less familiar with a dozen or so languages, we can't make head or tail of Hungarian. For instance, the inscription on this fountain contains words that most Dutch parents wouldn't teach their children:
But what caught our eye time and again was the abundance of remarkably fine architecture.
Another example of an oriental looking building:
But what surprised us was that the Hungarians allow their capital city to be disfigured by buildings like these:
Unlike Romania with its Dacia and the Chech Skoda, most cars we saw in Budapest seemed to be of western make -- although I was wondering whether the vehicle shown below hasn't ever been produced locally:
Even relatively simple things like coffee and cake can be a sensation in Budapest, especially when they are enjoyed in the Mozart Konditorei , where -- strange enough -- no divertimenti, sonatas or other Mozart music were heard.
Tonight, we dine at a combined bar-restaurant called Blue Tomato . The goulash soup is simple, but very tasty. And I seldom ate such tender beef in western restaurants as here at the Blue Tomato. One thing, however, remained unclear: why was one steak called kicsi (small) and the other nagy (large)? To the best of our observation, both were the same size.
Parks in Budapest (22 September)
Not very far from our hotel there is a large park (Városliget). Tram no 3 will take us there in about ten minutes ... or so we thought.
For we first have to walk a long and narrow path along a fairground, and we also pass some sort of business that emanates a powerfull smell of rotting food.
We can see that it's not only Bucharest where motorists park their vehicles on the pavement if nobody stops them:
On the edge of the park we find Széchenyi baths. These baths have been built round a hot water spring that was discovered in 1879. The water is reputed to be beneficial to the health.
Unfortunately, we didn't bring swimming clothes. So we'll be denied the aforesaid blessings. All that's left to us is make a few pictures, for instance of this pair of graces:
Once again it's clear that beauty is not exactly the most prominent feature of the male of the species:
Városliget park has an ample choice of beautiy spots. Unfortunately, we are unable to admire the Millennium bridge. It is being renovated -- the pond has even been drained for this:
But the monument that the bridge leads to can be admired in all its glory:
Via the Andrássi ut we walk towards the city centre. Nowhere are any cars to be seen. We are told this is the only day of the year that cars are not admitted in the Andrássi ut.
The Andrassi ut is not only car-less, we also find a good-looking Konditorei, where the coffee and cake are both very tasty, and most pleasing to the eye as well.
The premises where these delicacies are served and whose name is Lukacs does not look too bad either:
Even the toilet of this Konditorei is special. It smells of sweet oranges. A little decadent, I admit, but in my view preferable to the reek found at many a public loo.
In the Danube lies an island, the Margitsziget . Much of the island is covered by a park. We see a fountain whose water is swaying to and fro to the rhythm of the music.
Another detail that strikes me is a path for joggers which feels elastic to the feet -- a world of difference from what the Vondelpark has to offer to the joggers of Amsterdam.
The benches in the Margitsziget do not encourage a very long stay: both their back and seat are formed by boards that cannot exactly be called comfortable:
For dinner we happen to hit on a cellar close to the Danube, where we are served a real Hungarian dish: braised goose leg and steamed red cabbage.
On our way to the underground that will take us to our hotel, we run into thousands of cyclists holding a demonstration. Later we'll hear that they were demonstrating against the fact that Budapest motorists hardly leave any room to the cyclists using the same road.
Would that be the reason why we saw so many cyclists on the pavements that all but knocked over the unwary pedestrians?
Ecseri flea market (23 September)
Most travel guides mention Ecseri flea market. This market is supposed to be situated on the Nagykörösi ut, a street which can be reached easily from our hotel via tram and underground.
In the tram there is a stamping device on which a large arrow is visible that's pointing downward. It takes some time for us to realize that a ticket which is inserted is only stamped when the complete slotpiece is pushed down.
After we've got off the tram, we find out that the road between the tram stop and Nagykörösi ut mainly consists of a piece of road that's only accessible to cars. So we embark on a walk along the motorway, which will take over an hour.
The route can by no means be called dull: we see a rich variety of flora and fauna; even a few lizards cross our path.
When we arrive at the Nagykörösi ut, all we have to do is get to number 156. The left side of the road contains only even numbers, so our destination is no more than 78 houses removed. However, we don't realize this part of our trip will take another hour.
Fortunately, the banks of the road are inhabited by a wide varieriety of animals and plants. We can take this picture of beetles that look as if they have a skull painted on their back. Or would this only be my morbid imagination?
Why does walking along 76 house numbers take so much time, you may wonder.
There are various reasons for this: for instance, many houses stand with their fronts to the next street, so their numbers don't count for us. Sometimes, complete blocks of flats have only one number. And then there are structures that don't even have a number at all:
But after a hundred and forty minutes, we finally reach Ecseri Market:
Of course, I expected to see interesting stuff, maybe even antique chess computers. A large part of the market does, hoewever, consist of ... empty tables.
We didn't do a lot apart from drinking coffee. To be honest, I can't really advise you a visit to this market -- although I must admit the trip to get there did have its charm.
When we leave the market, we discover a bus stop at less than a hundred yards away. It takes us less than an hour to get to the centre of Budapest, where we can again enjoy the beauty of this extraordinary city.
We see that the Dutch chain of drugstores Kruidvat, which in Eastern Europe has assumed the name of Rossman, offers a kind of video films in Hungary that I never saw at shops of the Dutch parent company.
In the evening we dine at a restaurant called Károly. Later, we'll discover the street houses another restaurant by the same name. The explanation is to be found in the fact that the Hungarian writer Károly used to live in this street. The quality of the food is not bad at all. Unlike the Blue Tomato, where the waiter directed our attention to the fact that the tip was not included in the bill, service is explicitly mentioned on the bill of Károly.
Farewell to Budapest (24 September)
Time to leave. Our plane will take off at 12.50.
When we finish breakfast around 10 o'clock, we've got a little time left for a short walk about the neighbourhood.
Our hotel is not known for its breathtaking architecture. But the breakfast we enjoyed daily was abundant and of good quality. And be honest: wouldn't you rather have a good breakfast at a plain-looking hotel than start the day with lousy food at a hotel that is famous for its architecture?
But after our short walk we really have to get the luggage from our room. After waiting for fifteen minutes the minibus takes us to the airport.
There, we will fly in a Fokker 70 -- an airplane that (including the crew) can accommodate some seventy people. Once inside the plane, we are extensively instructed about the use of life vests, although we will hardly fly over any water.
Finally a few pictures taken from the above-mentioned Fokker:
These picures demonstrate the saying that God created the world, but Holland was made by the Dutch.
Which bring us back home to Holland again.