Yes, it’s true. I’ve gone and flown across the pond yet again, wreaking havoc on my otherwise pristine carbon footprint. But since job timing and clever budgeting have managed to conspire in my favor for once, I’ve prevailed upon J to cat-mind for me and off I have gone. This trip, still in faint nodding servitude to The Bob Book, will include some repeat visits (Budapest and Prague) and will add some new sites for their own value (Cesky Krumlov, Karlovy Vary) and one to see friends (Munich or Saltzburg). This trip I flew my old favorite carrier, Turkish Airlines, and was delighted to see that their warm hospitality and outstanding economy class cuisine was very much in evidence.
Today I mustered myself out for the First Day Orienting/Jet Lag Suppression Hike. It is early early spring here, mild temps in the high 50’s and chirping birds on bald branches. My first stop was the Central Market Hall, one of my favorites from my first trip here in 1992. I was pleased that the place, the largest and oldest indoor market in town since its construction in 1896 and reconstruction in the 1990s, is continuing to thrive. It’s a good thing I headed there straight after breakfast or I would still be working my way through bags of goodies…Wiki tells us:
“Most of the stalls on the ground floor offer produce, meats, pastries, candies, spices, and spirits such as paprika, tokaii, turo rudi and caviar. The second floor has mainly eateries and souvenirs. The lángos stand, which Rick Steves considers to be the best at the market, is located on this floor, serving the deep-fried snack lángos. The basement contains butcher shops, fish market, and pickles. Not only do they have traditional cucumber pickles, but they also offer pickled cauliflower, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and garlic.”
Not having a clue what lángos are, I managed to dodge that bullet. (It’s a Serbian deep fried bread.) Anyway, here’s a shot of the market at the beginning of a busy Saturday morning:
Coming out of this edifice, one almost immediately hits the blue Danube and, turning a hard right, finds oneself on the beautiful long promenade that stretches through town along the river heading north toward the Parliament Building, famous for its prominent role in Viking Cruise ads accompanying “MAH-steh-piece.” But before one gets quite that far, the enchanting profile of Castle Hill and the Buda Castle comes into view:
I’ll head over to Castle Hill in a day or two, so more about this later. But it is a beautiful site, even more so illuminated at night across the water, IMHO.
Further along the promenade, just directly down the bluff and west from the Parliament building, is a new sculptural installation that I made it a point to see today. Called Shoes on the Danube Bank, it is a tribute to the last remaining Jews of the city who literally were asked by the Arrow Militiamen to remove their shoes prior to execution in 1944-45. (What is particularly poignant is that they were taken from buildings that had been declared extraterritorially Swedish in the hopes of saving their lives). Their bodies fell into the river and were carried downstream. Like so many aspects of history in Eastern Europe, this piece of remembrance sends a frisson of horror into even the loveliest morning scene:
The shoes found their way to the river in 2005 as a joint collaboration of the film director Can Togay and and sculpture Gyula Pauer. People have tied ribbons to some of the shoes and made small alters with candles and flowers. Lest we forget.
Moving right along, here’s a detailed shot of the Parliament building itself, from the non-river side:
I’m told it’s equally amazing inside; someone today said there are specially marked bronze cigar racks for the Members to use since smoking in the voting chambers was forbidden. Put down those smoking Stogies, cast your vote, and barely miss a puff.
Nearby is one of those “HUH?” moments that I manage to find on my walkabouts. The odd surprise in my 24 hours of boots on the ground here is the pervasive presence of China. China Airways had planes at the airport; Chinese people were busily trying to figure out the ticket machines with me last night; Chinese posters are plastered all over town advertising that 2016 is the year of Silk Road Tourism. (Did the Silk Road start in Budapest? Must investigate.) In the meantime, here’s a little well-placed eye candy to get you in the mood not for goulash but for moo goo gai pan:
But I came for Budapest, not Beijing. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
I’ve learned my lesson by now that I should just give museums of ethnography a wide berth. I know they mean well and the stuff is just as historic as the stuff in other museums, but c’mon, how many plows and ceramic bottles and church crosses and folk art and scythes does anyone really need to see? I was going to take a pass on this museum, but then I saw that entrance fee was waived today because they were celebrating their birthday. Happy 140th, Néprajzi Múzeum! But boy was I ever glad I went inside because the Renaissance Revival architecture was simply show-stopping – kind of like the Boston Public Library, but on steroids. I simply could not put it all in one frame, but here’s some detail to give you an idea:
I was charmed and enchanted that the museum had set up tables on the main central atrium, immediately below where the photo was taken, for kids to design and create the birthday greetings themselves:
But there was one feature among the dusty cases of scythes and baskets that did catch my attention. There was a room that held the contents of one woman’s trousseau from a mid-19th century wedding, this one clearly from a family of relative substance. Check out the accompanying explanation, paying particularly close attention to the last sentence:
Imagine your trousseau…made for a wedding in your mid-to-late-adolescence…providing your clothes *for the rest of your life.* Either lives have gotten a lot longer (which they have) or people have developed a greater need for variety in dressing (which they have), but to have produced, by yourself or with a little help, your entire wardrobe (and perhaps that of your husband-to-be as well) by the age of 16 or so. Those girls didn’t have much time for soccer or selfies.
After the culture chapter came the antiques crawl. There is a several-block-long stretch of street near the museum and Parliament where there are a couple dozen small antique stores, and with the excuse of looking for fountain pens, I checked some of them out. I’ve done this in other cities, but by now it’s just starting to make me wistful and sad. So much beautiful craft, obviously separated from the family it started with – victims of war? economic hardship? who knows. The pieces are beautifully maintained but priced for Russian oligarchs. So I glanced around a few shops – Art Deco buffets, crystal goblets, menorahs, framed oils of winter sunsets – and then decided it was time for a little refreshment.
Near the Great Synagogue downtown (I’ll go later; closed today for the Sabbath) and in the heart of the Jewish Quarter near the flea market I also wanted to check out, I stumbled on Spinoza’s Kavehus for a little nosh. While Spinoza himself was never anywhere near Budapest, the name and the place just work perfectly, and the rash of Trip Advisor posters on the door show I’m not alone in my estimation. It’s a cozy, charming and welcoming little coffeehouse/cafe, filled with people and live music and 1920’s booze posters. I had a big bowl of soup, some hearty bread, and a local brew and was a happy camper. I could have had the Israeli Solet (see photo), but beans with hard boiled egg just didn’t appeal.
Spinoza’s always been a personal favorite of mine – anyone who looks to replace the Bible with a scientifically-based ethical system is good in my book. Now I see his culinary descendants have some decent chops of their own. I’ll be back, I hope. So as I headed back to my hotel for a the day, replete with striking images and local fare, I took a quick shot of a neighborhood side street that exemplifies, for me, part of why walking in cities like this so warms my heart and inspires my feet:
So Day One is a wrap and it’s time to put my addled head and jet-lagged bod to bed. More soon from Mittel Europa.