Those of you who have an … achem… equally brilliant taste in music as I do, will of course have noticed the reference to Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” in the title. So this post on Budapest will be about some cracks but even more about the light that still gets in.
If I had to summarise my trip to Budapest, these things would come to my mind straight away:
1) There are truly nice people in this world.
2) Old friends and new friends.
3) Forget everything you ever thought you knew about linguistics!
4) There is black and white, but it does not make grey.
On the bus to the airport here in Germany, I was sitting opposite two Hungarian business men. We started talking when they noticed my Budapest guidebook. One of them lives in Germany and went to visit the family for the weekend, the other one lives in Budapest. They both spoke excellent German. There was also a Hungarian girl who was going to go on her first flight ever and who was rather nervous about it. The four of us bonded straight away and we talked about Germany and Hungary, what is to see and what not and before we noticed, we arrived at the airport where we sat together and talked more. Since there are no reserved seats on the cheap flights – unless you pay a ridiculous amount of extra money – we were also able to sit together on the plane. Apparently you have to pay extra for the flight attendants to smile, too… Some time went by and then the pilot announced in rather broken English that there would be a delay of 15 minutes – well, not a problem. All the Hungarian smiles froze though (apart from the crew’s because they did not smile) when he repeated the same thing in Hungarian – it was 50 minutes! So we sat and waited. Nobody bothered to tell us what the delay was all about, we just noticed that there were no planes at all taking off! Of course, that led to wild speculations, unpleasant situations sprung to mind… Finally, the stewardess reported that the flight controllers in France were on a strike (the French love doing that, don’t they) and that this was confusing the whole airspace. Merci, France! We took off eventually, chatted more and it was a really nice flight. When we arrived at Liszt Ferenc Airport, the two gentlemen made sure that the other girl got out safely and then suggested that I could catch a ride with them to the city centre. I have to admit that, when I sat in the car, there was a brief moment of panic. Something like “Oh dear, I don’t even know these people and no-one knows I went with them and I am going to end up doing slave work in Hungary!!!” Well, no. We got to the city centre, one of the guys got out with me, made sure I got on the right Metro with his ticket and just wished me a great time in Budapest. So – apart from all the bad stories we hear and read every day: There are really nice people in this world! And sometimes you have to trust you guts and just go with the flow!
I gladly report that I am a very blessed girl! My friend’s girlfriend is staying in Budapest this month and when she heard that I was planning a trip there, she offered to stay with her in the apartment she rented. So not only did that save me money for a hotel, it also gave me the feeling to actually “live” in the city – for a few days only, but having an apartment and going to the supermarket like the locals surely gives you the opportunity to explore the surroundings more un-touristy. Plus – and this is the most important part – I made a new friend. We started talking when we first met up at the Müvész Kávéház on Andrássy Ut on Thursday and stopped when I was leaving for the airport Monday morning. We had a great time exploring the city together – and I benefitted from the fact that she had been there several times before – and since we are both obsessed with good food, we also enjoyed the restaurants in our area. We were very lucky with the weather – the first time I was in Budapest in October 2009 I nearly froze my posterior off in my winter coat, but this time, it was 23°C and sunny! So after the restaurants, it was beer gardens where we had a great time, too! It is rather seldom that you click like this with another person and I am so grateful that we did!
I also got to meet up with a friend from a very long time ago… I met him in Germany and the last time we talked was in 1997! Being semi-Hungarian, he lives in Budapest now and it is always great to walk around with a local! We walked down Andrássy Ut and all of a sudden he said “I want to show you something!” and dragged me into the Alexandra Bookstore. I was just about to explain to him that we have bookstores in Germany, too, when we went upstairs on the escalator and there was this beautiful café which looks like a ballroom! Check it out when you are there!
My followers know that I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to languages, and Hungarian is a true challenge! I do not know of another language that has to add things to the letter in order to make it sound like the actual letter! Confused? Well, so was I. Let’s look at some examples… There is the “a”. You’d think you pronounce it like a normal “a” like in “alarm”. But no. You pronounce it more o-like, like the “a” in “what”. In order to get the alarm-a, you put an accent on it and it looks like this: “á”. Same with the “e”. In order to make it sound like the “e” in “heritage”, you turn it into “é”. Without the accent, it sounds like the vocal in “hair”. An “s” sounds like “sh”, and in order to turn it into a normal sharp “s”, you add a letter and make it “sz”. “Sz” is not to be confused with “zs” which sounds like… nothing in the English language. You can try to pronounce it like the “g” in “gender” – now take the “d”-sound away and you get close to it. There is so much more – and this is only pronounciation! Unlike most other European language, you have no chance to deduce any word from Latin or Greek or the likes, apart from the loan words. Very confusing… But the light in the language crack is that – unlike a few years ago – most people and especially service staff speak English now. And since Hungary is at least geographically close to Austria, you often get by with German, too!
Black and white dos not equal grey
I think your first impression of Budapest can be really bright or really dark. On the bright side, you have well-preserved, beautiful and impressive sights. There is the Parliament which – at least on a sunny day – nearly blinds you with its colours. The Synagogue on Dohány utca shines even from far away. You have the Freedom Statue overlooking the whole city and from Pest, you have a lovely view to the Palace in Buda. The stunning bridges like Liberty Bridge, Chain Bridge and Elisabeth Bridge are illuminated at night and will blow you away! I wandered around Kerepesi Cemetery and admired the big and impressive statues on the graves. In the City Park I ended up watching the Budapest Marathon whilst walking through the most amazing scenery.
When you take a closer look and leave the touristy paths, you see the darker side. There are a lot of homeless people sleeping on benches all over the city. And I wondered what these poor people do in winter – and winter can be horrible in Hungary! While it is very affordable to eat out, food in the supermarkets is pretty expensive – which I noticed after I finally got my head around the strange currency. In the Jewish quarter where we stayed, there are the most lovely buildings with beautiful facades – but they are really worn down. The apartments have the typical stunning high ceilings – but most windows are cracked. And apart from the light that comes in through these cracks, the wind does, too. And the smells – oh my goodness, the smells! At least when it’s warm, the Pest side reeks of sewerage – and that is one of the more pleasant smells within the whole variety!
So would all this make the city grey? I don’t think so. I love how Budapest has all these sights, memorials and sometimes Viennese buildings without being “in your face”. I love how the trams take you back to a long forgotten scenery. I love how friendly most people are and what I love most is that you feel like home within the shortest time! Honestly, and I have only said that about Hamburg as a big city so far: I think I could live there!
There will be more on Budapest on this blog, but for now it’s just: Szia, Budapest, és köszi!
There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in!
Yours truly, madly, deeply!
All photos used in this blog are mine unless stated otherwise. Feel free to use them if you like, but be decent and link to this site!