I left home at on 26th March for an flight, because the tiny
is right next door to my place. I had a Lufthansa flight from City Airport to Düsseldorf and another from there to London . The only reason I didn’t take a picture of the miniscule plane I boarded for the first flight, was because I didn’t want to get arrested for taking pictures at the airport – but that tiny thing definitely deserved to become famous. It looked like something straight out of the 1950s! To think that I’ve always made fun of low-cost airlines for the unsteady-looking planes they have, it hurt to know that airlines like Lufthansa and Swiss Air are no better with their fleet. Budapest
Anyway, I arrived in
a little before , and went straight for my pre-booked airport shuttle bus, which to my surprise runs on a pretty organised system. I got a receipt for my online booking from a lady in the baggage lounge, who confirmed my destination details and sent me off to the exit lobby, where another desk re-confirmed details and asked me to wait for 15-20 minutes for the next available driver. In the meantime, I saw a driver turn up every 5 minutes to collect 3 sets of passengers in the order they must have arrived at the desk. Roughly 15 minutes later, a gruff-looking driver arrived and called out the names of the girl who’d arrived just before and just after me, along with mine of course. We all hopped on and my city tour began. Budapest
My first impressions of
were similar to my first impressions of parts of Budapest or Istanbul . There’s some dilapidation about the buildings, some Mediterranean sort of look about the people, some feeling of austerity that is prevalent in the once-great-but-no-longer-rich nations of Rome Europe, that I noticed at first glance. I guess that made me feel right at home fairly immediately, and I settled back to enjoy the journey (with Madonna and Michael Jackson blaring from the radio – some things are just common to every part of the world!)
I was outside Dora’s apartment within 30 minutes, after the driver had dropped one of my companions to her hotel. As he helped me with my luggage, he very sweetly explained that he couldn’t park in front of the building due to the road-works, and pointed at the building I needed to get to by crossing the street. I was pleasantly surprised at his manner, considering he had appeared to be scary when he collected us at the airport. First lesson learnt - Hungarians don’t hate foreigners; they’re just a bit uncomfortable about their limited English-speaking skills - a lesson I was reminded of over and over again the next couple of days.
So, I met Dora, checked out her empty and spacious apartment (she doesn’t actually live there, and had cleaned it only for me), and settled down for a chat. Hours went by before we realised we were both peckish, and finally stepped out to get some grub. There’s a newly-opened large mall 2 minutes away from her place, so we ended up at the food court, where I discovered to my dismay that Hungarians love meat even more than Pakistanis (if that’s actually possible). Even the vegetarian food had meat-based gravy! After much discussion, I got some lentil-based soup (apparently a very traditional New Year dish – each grain of lentil signifies the proportion of prosperity for the coming year), with some potatoes on the side. Definitely not a lavish meal but it tasted good and I was hungry.
After dinner, we picked up some groceries from a corner shop, Dora dropped me back at the flat, and went back to her own home. I was alone in a new place, with a LONG history (her grandparents lived there, her mother grew up there and they survived wars in that place), which would usually spook me out, but I fell asleep within minutes.
Woke up to the sound of the first tram of the morning, and kept waking up every few minutes after, till I was actually ready to get up. I fixed myself some breakfast, showered and got ready to start the day. It was strange that so many things about the flat reminded me of other countries. The windows, the kitchen, the shower all echoed of
, and something about the slightly old- fashioned, well-ventilated but musty smell of the toilet brought back memories of my grandmother’s house in Turkey . I realise that sounds horrible, but I mean it in a good way. Dora and I concluded that it might be the old ventilation system or possibly the overhead flush tank that was causing the nostalgia. Whatever it was, I felt at home in that flat. India
|Cake!!! (And Scone...)|
We finally got off Castle Hill, and crossed the
Danube via the Chain Bridge to get to the Pest side. By now the sun was shining and it felt like the beginning of spring. We walked down a long street to get to St Stephen’s Basilica (which we didn’t enter either), and moved to Andrassy Street. This is considered the Champs-Elysees of . I happily gawked at the beautiful buildings, and crossed from one side to the other to take pictures. Having walked for a good few hours, we sat down to stretch our legs and tuck into some food at a restaurant on a small side street. Once again, Hungarian food didn’t disappoint. I ordered some obscure local fish that came with garlic sauce, and enjoyed every mouthful. Budapest
Next stop was at the end of
Andrassy Street – Hosok Tere (Heroes’ Square). So, I looked at various monuments honouring ancient kings and the history of the country. It was truly amazing, but I still don’t know enough about the history to understand what I was really looking at.
Then we went to see the Timewheel, the world’s largest hourglass, which in this case doesn’t actually measure time by the hour, but by the year. It commemorates the inclusion of
into the EU in 2004, and is turned 180 degrees every new year. Hungary
Exhausted and done for the day, we headed back to the flat, and after a long discussion about the state of the world, we decided to call it a night, without even having any dinner. Dora went away, and I spent an hour reading my guidebook to comprehend what I had seen all day, and decide what I wanted to see next.
Next morning, the clocks had gone forward an hour, without my knowledge or permission, so I was running late. Dora came to pick me up a bit later, and we headed out towards
Temptation got the best of us, and we sat down to eat some local food (I ended up eating a hot potato-based dish, with loads of paprika, the spice that is their major export, which was being served as a side for all the sausage and meat dishes!). As we sat munching, the small stage set up at our corner of the square stared buzzing, and a trio arrived to sing and play folk music. As Dora said then, everything I had originally wanted from the trip was now complete – sunshine, good food, spring festival and folk music.
|Dora and I having yummy food at Spring Festival|
|More Cake at Gerbeaud!|
To complete the experience, we went to Gerbeaud Café, to have their famous Gerbeaud cake and coffee. Considering the history and prestige of the place, I was expecting a hefty bill, but like everything else, it was most reasonable.
|House of Terror|
Having had a fantastic day so far, I was determined to put a damper on it all. The only museum I was planning to visit – the House of Terror – was our next stop. Acting as both a historical journey through the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century, and a memorial to the victims of both these periods, it is a grim place to be in. The building formerly housed the AVO (Hungarian secret police) office, and in the basement were the cells, where many of the victims were tortured. But as a museum, this is possibly the most interesting one I have ever seen. Whether it is the elaborate set up of the video interviews, with quotes from Nazis and Communists on the walls, or the darkened rooms with red lighting, or over-powering uniforms hanging in the middle of small connecting rooms, or an entire labyrinth with walls of pork-fat bricks (actually of rubber, but it looks very realistic), or a library with benches covered with newspaper clippings – every room has its own character and it never becomes repetitive or boring. The highlight is of course the very slow, dark lift that transports visitors to the basement, with a video interview about the tortures that used to take place in the cells. And when the lift doors finally open, you can walk around the actual cells where real inmates had once suffered atrocities. It is all very powerful.
When we finally came out, we were feeling a bit more sombre, so we took the tram home, and chatted for a couple of hours. Finally as hunger struck me again, we walked back to the mall, and ordered ‘giant’ savoury pancakes and fresh orange juice. A combination of immense hunger and absolute delight about the quality of the food, compelled me to ask Dora to tell the waiter to start making me another pancake (sweet, this time), when I was only halfway through my first one. He of course thought I was mad, but I didn’t care. I wanted my second pancake to be on the table as soon as I finished my first one. I timed it right, and continued eating without much breathing, and ended up finishing my glass of juice as well as Dora’s. I think she was a little scared.
We got back home, and chatted for hours, and as she was staying over this night, we went to bed really late. Woke up Monday morning, had breakfast, and soon after my shuttle bus driver arrived to take me back to the airport.
I boarded a delayed flight to