(Translation: Feeling Hung(a)ry).
(Apologies. But it had to happen).
(Plus I truly was feeling a touch ravenous upon touch down – well, parking up – in Budapest).
So we bode farewell to Poland, us busload of bruised and broken bodies. (Pretty sure all but two of us were out downing the shots until the early hours). For the first time since the start of the trip, there was a solid ten minutes of absolute silence as we all nursed sore heads, egos, dignities and – Sheri’s case – a sprained ankle. (Hadn’t realised when she awoke this morning so she stood up and toppled to the floor as it buckled beneath her).
(It was here I decided the big nights are now out – or perhaps very much so scaled down. As with drinking copious amounts for a prolonged period, my brain is fuzzy and I have been doing some stupid stupid moves – nothing terrible, just not on point such as booking a flight from the wrong place, buying too many tickets, all that hosh tosh – and my memory is a touch dim and fuzzy. While I do enjoy my raging, I can do that anywhere in the world, and I would much rather be fully present to immerse myself in my surrounds). (Though a glass or two of red is fully keeping in these parameters; just not shots-until-4am sorts of blow outs).
To Budapest we headed! Old Hungary on the cards (I must apologise for the simply primary school of puns titling this post. But it had to happen. It’s like the solid Europe pun, the one that outdoes all others). (Though I came across a simply ASTOUNDING one that I am just going to share here as in not going to Santorini or anything, I’m going to find it hard to slip in anywhere. Here we go: I think Europe has a detergent based economy… I mean, it’s tough on Greece. FABULOUS).
Back on the road.
So being ravenous bound, we were to pass through Slovakia. And what magic! Beautiful rolling countryside, storybook cottages, stone castle structures; why is it that so much of Europe looks like it leapt off the pages of a fable, like the Brothers Grimm, and sowed itself all over the continent?
(Random random insertation note: how much does this building in the Slovakian country side look like Baradene College in Auckland, NZ? Blew my mind mate. Was I back on my way to the Sacred Heart? In my maroon blazer and ever-present plaits as I donned my lace up Clarks in form one? Déjà vu that wasn’t actually déjà vu at all really). (Apologies; actually in Polish countryside. But I’m still hustling it here).
We stopped for an hour break in Slovakia and I was in an utmost state of enchantment. It was so quaint, so charismatic, and I literally skipped up the street (that broke into a bit of a skippy-sprint when I clocked the time and realised I was running rather behind time to get back to the bus for departure). It was funny though; many of the Contiki crew did not see it as I had, instead saying the people were frosty and the service had been insolent and slow – I was fairly flabbergasted. (Though in all fairness I hadn’t sat down at a restaurant to eat; I bounded off to survey on my own). Isn’t it incredible how you can all be in the same place at the same time, yet your experience can be so completely coloured by a discourteous till operator or an ignoring by a passer by?
We trooped back on the bus for the last leg of the journey (I snuck in a great old snooze on Sheri’s lap) and were brought to attention by TGTaz turning the iPod up to release the melody of one George Ezra. AKA, Budapest. We had arrived.
In my sleepy state I identified a sense of ardour dancing around my insides. As we passed by Heroes’ Square it broke out into a full on foxtrot, and along Andrassy Avenue it was waltzing away.
I now believe in love at first sight. Does it count if it’s with a city?
Our hostel was right smack bang in the centre of Pest (For those of you unaware, Budapest is actually made up of the two sides of the Danube, being Buda and Pest. Thus Budapest. Fab!), so Magic Mike hustled the bus into a stop and we all unloaded, grabbed our gear and trotted down the lane to our staying place, marvelling in the sights and surroundings.
I was in my absolute element.
After we were distributed keys and hustled into our rooms (SO much space for morning yoga! In absolute schism from the staying places of the previous few nights, where if I attempted a round of sun salutations I was pretty much on top of Sheri) I felt the need to rove so I grabbed my room key card, my wallet and my phone and headed out to the Hungarian streets.
Honestly running around the streets of Pest was staggering (and not because I’m not the most coordinated of runners). I wanted to yell out in sheer enrapture at all I saw, from the rainbow stands of cashmere scarves to the gleaming Tesco’s and Spars at every few hundred feet (when supermarkets excite you, you know there is something special going on). I was in a wonderland of lust and I had straight joy rushing through me; the beauty was immense.
But when will I learn?
This time the whole straight-line-straight-there-straight-back strategy got away on me because at each corner I saw something luring me along. I thought I had a handle on where I was but on upon turning “back” and jogging along, realised I must definitely was not in the right place and was in a bit of a conundrum with no map.
But this time, I didn’t care.
I had no time constraints. No places I needed to be. Just right there, right then. So I bounded into the next Tesco’s, bought a bag of carrots, and for the next forty minutes just roamed around – and would you believe, stumbled upon my hostel street!
A couple of the others were headed out for a rager or to the downstairs bar to have some beers and bond, but I opted out. I wanted to be fresh headed and on point for the following day, not nursing the consequences of a few too many tipples or still being under the effects of them, meeting the morning in a haze.
(Plus for some really weird and unbeknownst to me reason, I just haven’t put myself out there as forefront and centre of this trip. Don’t get me wrong I still yarn with all and sundry, but I just haven’t felt the urge to put the energy into being sunny and personable Pop, friends with all around. I think it stems from three reasons: 1. Suffice to what it might seem, this isn’t a party holiday for me. I have had my fair share of ragers since I’ve been here but as of leaving Poland I decided I’d rather put the time and money towards sober exploration. And as a major part of the socialising is going out all night, I’m just not present. 2. Usually I am not at all one to stem off with a single person, but I’m so loving and relishing my time with Sheri – I find that rather than knowing all 48 of the others on a shallow surface level, I’m preferring getting to know her and a small handful of others on a more yawning echelon – onion penetration theory and all that. And 3. I’m just not there. Although the is a slight yearn to be the main one, that pull to the spotlight just isn’t as all-encompassing as it usually is when I am in a group situation. So yea – quite unlike me. But I think I really like it. It’s… refreshing. Different. Yet another new experience).
So we arose and got ready to meet for our walking tour at 9.25am. I was really really pumped; in studying Budapest for the Contiki assignment (mate, it set me up well), I had come across a number of landmarks and what not that I really wanted to see. And the tour included a trip to the House of Terror! I was amped up. Animated. Energised and enthused.
Which is why it gutted me to the core to find it to be absolutely shit.
The girl who led it just wasn’t on point. She rambled, made some remarks that were downright wrong or offensive (it may have been a second-language barrier, but from the meaning of what she said it you would have had to have known what you were saying) and I learnt only two things from her. I was severely, brutally and ruthlessly disappointed so much so that in the House of Terror I nudged Sheridan and we walked right out on the tour. (Aside from one titbit of info: down by the River Danube we passed a hotel that she said is referred to as “The Holiest Hotel” – reason being, it is so exquisite that on entering and seeing the interiors visitors gasp, “Jesus Christ!”, as they exclaim again on receiving their bill the following morning at check-out).
Probably the biggest waste of 16 euro that I’ve ever spent.
No matter; I was in Budapest! I was in love! A terrible tour guide was not going to ruin my time there.
So a little impart of knowledge on my three fav Budapest sights, a run through of my day and then some Hungarian merriment makers (my version of the standard “fun facts”).
- The Charles Bridge: one of the symbols of the city, this is the main bridge joining the two “sides” of Buda and Pest. Each side is guarded by two open-mouthed lions and it was also the site of Katy Perry’s Fireworks music video; heard it went off.
- The Shoes on the River Danube Bank: To mark the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust, 60 pairs of bronze shoes were cemented on the river bank to commemorate the Hungarian Jews. During WWII, a horrifically regular sight to see was Hungarian Jews lined up along the riverside, made to strip naked and remove their shoes, and then each were shot dead to fall into the river. Standing there this morning in my denim shorts, cellular at the ready and smile on my face just felt so wrong.
- The House of Terror: Now a museum, number 60 Andrassy Avenue was truly a house of terror in two shameful and tragic periods of Hungarian 20th century history. In 1944 during the domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party the building was known as the House of Loyalty and stood as the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis. At the end of WWII, it became the site of the notorious communist terror organisations, being the State Security Office (AVO) and the State Security Authority (AVH). It is here that hundreds of people were tortured and killed under both powers. Today the building stands as tribute to the memory of the victims and a powerful reminder as to the past. (Although the visiting of the building did not strike me quite so profoundly as I had expected, I later on crossed paths with a lovely English Rose lass on my tour, Melissa. I asked how she had found it and she told me of her family history being Hungarian, with her grandfather having been treated horribly during those oppressed years. That really struck me; in every event of war, terror or downright human discrimination, there are always ties to people being hurt. Always. I guess it’s easy to detach when you have no links yourself, there are always people that have been devastated. I can’t put into words the sensation that overcame me at that point, but it was something similar to that of… dawn, maybe? Awe? I don’t know. Just the idea that humans hurt all humans).
Sheri and I trotted off to Heroes’ Square (Large square where Archangel Gabriel watches over the city atop a 36metre high column, with the pedestal below set upon with the equestrian statues of the seven leaders of the Hungarian Conquest. Behind this in two semi-circular colonnades stand tall 14 Hungarian kings and rulers) to get photos in front of the infamous Budapest sign (cursing the group of young teens sitting beneath eating baguettes and sucking back ciggys beneath the “Pest”, ignoring all those around trying to take photos amongst the letters) then strolled back along the length of Andrassy Avenue, tête-à-tête-ing as we do. We stopped off for lunch at an authentic Hungarian restaurant – served by a simply lovely lady who organised me a pure plate of cabbage wrapped in capsicum, what a champ – and then made a list of to-dos to tick off for the afternoon.
First stop was a quick look-in at St Stephen’s Basilica so I could – what else – light a candle. However, on entering the lobby I realised it cost to get in and I had no forint (Hungarian currency) on me. I was settling for a mere peer around the corner, when a priest-like man manning the collection box beckoned me over.
“Oh no, I have no coins,” I explained. “I’m happy just here.”
But the beautiful soul pretty much pushed me beyond the barrier and gestured to the candle stand, making the movements of lighting one and nodding profusely. It was one of those moments you just love all people.
I came back out and the priest-y man was waiting for me with a big beam. I thanked him and gave him a hug, whereupon he handed me a little pamphlet book on the cathedral itself. I almost got teary; it must be said, from what I’ve seen in the last few weeks a fair chunk of my faith in the human race has disapparated somewhat. Isn’t it incredible how a single person doing the simplest of deeds can go a long way in restoring a significant segment of it?
Quick insert of my mind’s mulling atm: All these museums and monuments and memorials to the past, especially WWII and what not, have really got me pondering ideas of power and hegemony and the like. At school in history it’s all taught so black and white, all-encompassing terms such as “the Germans” and “the Russians” that is just so wrong. It wasn’t the “Germans” who were behind WWII and the Holocaust; it was the Nazis. The majority of the German people were actually opposed to the war or were unaware of what was actually happening. And if you were a father, with a wife and three kids to look after, would you have the balls to stand up and speak out against it all openly and risk their safety and their lives? I know I wouldn’t. And furthermore, the preponderance of society is easy to manipulate – I know I am. When those in power are telling you something, often is the case that most believe it. I mean, leaders are meant to have your best interests at heart and be full of morals and what not, right? Sometimes critical thinking doesn’t always come into play, especially back in the day when filtering information was so much easier without all the internet and such lark we have today.
That may not make sense at all; I mean, I pretty much said it all contains so much more grey matter and complicated aspects then I go right around way and completely simplify it again. My mind is just a bit of a muddle. All I am reading, seeing and witnessing is just uprooting what I thought I knew and adding deeper dimensions to it. I promise if I manage to classify and categorise my sandstorm of contemplations and ruminations to make some more sense, I’ll let you know.
Back to a lighter log!
We were heading back to the hostel to change Sheri’s shoes when we stumbled upon The Greatest Markets in the World (I wish I could TM that). Seriously. The incredible food, the gewgaws, the knickknacks and charms; it was a trinketer’s dreamland!
Sheri went insane in the stalls upon stalls of scarves (ended up purchasing five, three from me for her birthday) and I spent an age deliberating what keyrings to acquire for my collection. Like, actual heaven.
We went to out hostel home to recline for a fair while (clocked up many many km’s today) where I furiously hustled details on flights, buses and trains (details to come on why; though I intensely dislike the phrase, looks like I’m pulling a full-on “Yolo”). Then a group of us met in reception to head back to The Best Markets in the Word for a spot of dins.
It was cool, we all did a lap and found our go-to for refuel (mine being cabbage – yes, again – and a little bowl of vegetables) and sat at a picnic table and just ate and drank and laughed the night away (well, an hour. We still had plans for after dinner).
On walking in we had seen a sign for “Rooster’s Balls Stew” and decided it would be insanely impolite to not indulge in a bit of local cuisine. Even I went to town on the testes, eating a good one-and-a-half of sack. And you know what? They were fucking delicious.
Sheri and I then decided to do a night cavort up to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle District on the other side of the city. We walked across the Charles Bridge, roamed up to the complex and delighted in the beauty of it all. Photos were attempted on either side, but as is often the case with such splendour – it just wouldn’t translate into photos (plus my eyes mean my focus is often off point meaning blurry pics are the way).
We walked on down through the little lanes to the esplanade along the side of the Danube wanting to get right in front of the parliament across the water to capture it all lit up in glory. Just as we got to the exact middle point a massive cruise vessel came along and docked right in front, largely blocking our view and framing.
A burble of laughter escaped my throat, followed by full on convulsions. I mean, isn’t it just the way? Murphy’s Law, irony, whatever you term it? I fell about in hilarity and eventually Sheri followed suit. It was just so fucking funny.
So Budapest. I’m sorry Berlin, you’ve been surpassed to take the number one spot of Pop’s top.
And my “word” for the Hungarian capital? Breathing… that leaves me breathless. Breathing with vitality, culture, beauty, life; even more the case after its history of oppression and invasion and top down control. Breathing with so much it truly makes me breathless (though that first night was a rather long and tiresome jog).
But seriously. Budapest, you’ve truly taken my heart.
(Footnotes on Hungary – I promised you merriment makers so here they are.
- So Hungary is in Central Europe, to the north west of Romania, and makes up one per cent of Europe. Landlocked, it is shaped like an elephant about to sit down (it was a long afternoon, ok?). Australia is a good 82.7 times its size, while New Zealand is just under three times the size. Its modern borders were established at the end of WWI by the Treaty of Trianon which saw the original Kingdom of Hungary lose 71 per cent of its land and 58.5 per cent of its population.
- Hungary is home to the second largest thermal lake in the world with Lake Heviz being a whopping 47,500metres squared; thermal waters abound throughout the country with more than 1000 thermal springs and 100 of these in Budapest alone – the were the first to turn them into baths and spas more than 2000 years ago
- Hungarians are fiercely proud of their unique, complex, sophisticated and richly expressive language which is also termed Magyar (“mahdyar”); said to be similar to Finnish, it is one the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn
- In polarisation to many neighbouring countries, Hungarians expect friends to share private and intimate details of their personal lives; personal questions are part of the getting-to-know-you process. The people love sharing details of romantic relationships, so gossiping about girls/guys is the go.
- With family being at the centre of the social structure, it is common for generations to live under one roof (take note Deb and Henio; I feel we must have some hidden Hungarian roots. Because I can see this saving-then-swan-off lifestyle of mine continuing for the good… well, rest of my life and if that includes a family, we shall all be at number two Norfolk) with grandparents playing a vital role in aiding raising children (ditto).
- Older generations are still seen to bow to women.
- If going to a Hungarian home for dinner do not take wine as Hungarians are proud of wine they produce; if you do, make sure it’s a genuine Hungarian drop.
- Hungarians write their names inversely, so the family name first then the given name (the eastern name order)
- Get used to pessimism, straightforwardness and the Hungarian temper: said the history of invasions and occupations have left deep wounds, making Hungarians overly cautious, suspicious and critical
- Asking “how are you?” calls for a venting response of complaints
- Tempers flare, decibels rise: get used to it
- Famous Hungarians: Attila the Hun (one of most successful Barbarian rulers of the Hunnic Empire who devastated lands from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean; dubbed “Flagellum Dei – “Scourge of God” – he consolidated power after murdering his brother to become sole ruler and was notorious for his fierce gaze and his habit of frequently rolling his eyes); Franz Liszt (pianist and composer); Harry Houdini (infamous magician, born in Budapest in 1874; incredibly well known for his handcuff escaping, straight jacket breaking out, and exodus from water-filed tanks and nailed shut packing crates); Eniko Mihalik (Victoria’s Secret model); Joseph Pulitzer (newspaper editor and publishers whom the prestigious Pulitzer Prize is named after) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress and socialite famous for being herself; married to Conrad Hilton for a short while before another eight marriages plus relationships with Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra and Henry Kissinger. Quite the sassy lass as well – made headlines in 1989 when she slapped a copper after he stopped her for a drink driving violation, prompting her being arrested for assault).
- The Rubik’s Cube: One of Hungary’s greatest claims to fame. Invented by Erno Rubik in 1974; a young professor or architecture, it took him a month to solve it himself. Made to explain spatial relationships to his students, it now takes out the title of the world’s best-selling toy ever.
- The biro ballpoint pen: Invented by Laszlo Biro in 1938 replacing the quill and fountain pens of past. He was a journalist, go figure – having to ink and scribble at speed, even in shorthand, led to him seeking a quicker and less messy option to take note.
- Vitamin C: the discovery of one Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his contributions to medicine.
And some Budapest history in a cashew case? Yes, I think so.
- 1st century: The first establishment of today’s Hungary was formed, in the Roman province of Pannonia. Remains of the settlement can be found in Aquincum.
- 896-1000: Hungarian tribes busted into the Carpathian Basin and set up shop, with St Stephen establishing the Christian Hungarian state in the year 1000.
- 1241-1242: And then in came the Mongols. After their invasion, King Bela IV restored Hungary and kick started the construction of Buda’s first royal castle.
- 14th century: Buda surged up with economic development to become a royal city, while Pest functioned as a commercial town.
- 16th century: Here began the 150 years of Turkish occupation.
- 17th – 18th century: Buda and Pest continued to develop as two separate towns, with many a Baroque style building erected such as City Hall.
- 19th century: And here welcomed in the Chain Bridge, joining the two “sides”. It was the Hungarian reform era, a time of immense economic booming.
- 1838: A great flood hit the area, with the Danube risen to 2.6metres high.
- 1848-1867: March 15, 1848: One of the most important dates in Hungarian history. This signalled the uprising which led to the War of Independence against the Hapsburgs. When the Austrian-Hungarian compromise was met, the towns started to be developed into a metropolis.
- 1873: Buda and Pest were merged into the one and only Budapest. A number of emblematic constructions such as Fisherman’s Bastion, Andrassy Avenue and Elisabeth Bridge were built up, as well as a sprinkling of entertainment and social life venues.
- 1896: The welcoming in of the millennium Exhibition and Celebration became the spark of progress to get the city together; the layout of the city was given an overhaul and the first underground line in Europe was developed. Important public buildings such as Parliament were erected as well.
- 1918-1945: WWI and WWII caused tremendous devastation to the city, with all of the bridges connecting the two sides blown up.
- 1948-1956: The Soviet presence in Budapest grew increasingly powerful. On October 23 1956, a revolution was led by the Hungarian people against the Soviet occupation and the political repression. The Russian troops defeated the revolution and Pest was immensely damaged.
- 1956-1989: Saw the Time of the Goulash Communism, with Hungary seen as “the happiest barrack in the socialist camp”, Housing estate programs started, seeing large blocks of flats built up.
- 1990: The communist regime ended with a new democratic government formed. June 30 1991saw the Soviet troops that had occupied Hungary for 43 years leave the country.
- 2004: Hungary joined the EU (though not the Eurozone – they still are on the forint buzz).
Hungary? Flag that – I’m RAVENOUS, FAMMISHED for more of the country).