from Russia with love
Chain-link Bridges and funiculars
Why did we come here? The reasons are amorphous: it is in part because we knew that it was an old and beautiful city, and of course one from which very many talented people have emerged, but we also thought it might be interesting to see a city only beginning to crawl out from under nearly a century of fascism and communism; I guess we just wanted to see how they’re doing. This is the first city on our trip that seems to me truly “European” in the grand sense of architecture and fine sensibility. The architecture truly is grand, and while one cannot expect to be able to detect much sign of “sensibility” in such a short visit, it was visible in obscure, and silent, ways.
The Danube river separates Buda
Since the city is bisected by the Danube river
there are of course numerous bridges, just as there are in
I presume that the bridges here are much older than those in
Another very unusual structure here in
Nearly all buildings here are built of stone or brick, with wrought iron much in evidence. And while these edifices are usually dark and grimy, their underlying grandeur and elaborate detail, raises them from the merely “dingy.” I noticed that in an effort to rejuvenate a grimy building the Budapestians occasionally resort to paint, rendering one building in a grimy block almost surreally iridescent. One does not need to stroll very far to see that many buildings remain pockmarked from bullets, silent testament to Budapest’s past, and the overwhelming sense that life here has differed greatly from life in, say, Peoria, Illinois. And yet in some strange, near-Transylvanian manner, it only increases its appeal.
This is the first
place on our trip where English does not seem to be widely spoken. The second
language here, after Hungarian, or more correctly, “Magyar,” is German, with
English a distant third. A trip to a pharmacy here, to replenish some drug that
I was running out of, was a frustrating one. She, the pharmacist, at first
expected me to speak Hungarian, and when it became obvious that I could not,
she switched to German. Of course, I do look German, but that didn’t work
either, since I know about as much German as I do Hungarian. I have been to
pharmacies all over the world practically, and this is the first where English
was not spoken. The problem was resolved
by our returning to the hotel to get the near-empty bottle of the drug I needed,
and making another run at it. All pharmacies it seems,
have some large book with drug equivalents around the world. In the end, I got
what I needed, or something close to it. By the way, no prescriptions are
necessary here, except perhaps for codeine or something potentially
habit-forming like that. This is true practically all over the world, except
Walking around, we discover The Market. It is The Market because it is a grand place designed by no less than Eiffel himself, of Eiffel tower fame. I love walking in such places, even when it is impossible for me to prepare food. I like to look at the fish, always unique to the place one is visiting, and I like to see how they cut the meat in fashions different than our own. And of course the grand arrays of vegetables and fruits tell one something about the surrounding area.
Marketing in The
Market is different than merely shopping in a supermarket. Here one
interacts with sellers who, on the whole, know what they’re doing. As an
example of what I mean, I once in the
As I travel I continue to be surprised at how popular and
very good ice cream is. For some reason I had the impression that ice cream was
a thing of the
Of course the national dish here is Hungarian goulash, made from clunks of beef or pork and lots of paprika which, in turn, is made from the peppers that you can see drying at the market, just above. Goulash isn’t bad—and the peppers work well against vampires too—but it is not great either. And after trying it once or twice it can easily be put aside for more adventuresome fare.
It is an interesting adventure to look at a restaurant’s menu on the wall and realize that you can understand absolutely nothing. This begins a process inside to see whether the waiter can understand English. Usually he can’t so he will rattle off something very, very fast in Hungarian, only this time louder, on the theory that then you will understand it. Finally, when this breaks down, he will reluctantly go to the kitchen or to some room in the back to solicit help. If no help is forthcoming you can do one of three things: first, of course, you can get up and leave; second, you can look around at nearby diners to see if any are eating anything that looks good, then you point to it and then to your mouth (I have sunk this low on extreme occasions, but it is crude); third, screw up your courage, take a shot in the dark and just point out something on the menu and say “Da” or something positive-sounding like that. This can occasionally be interesting, and occasionally disastrous, but if you’re in the correct mood—and for me that means that I have a drink on the table—it can be pleasant just waiting to see what one will be having for supper.
We spend a very interesting three or four days here just walking around, going to restaurants, and being what in Spanish is termed simply “tranquilo” but we decide that it’s time to move on.
Our next stop is
The next morning we take a taxi to the pier in