The Hungarian Steves and The Altered Plan

The Hungarian Steves –

When I first arrived in Budapest, fresh off the train, lost and penniless, a man who worked at a local hostel asked if I needed a place to stay.  I said no, I had booked a place but please point me in the direction of the metro.  So he obligingly did and off I went.  Bugger, I have no local currency for a ticket.  So I went back to the station thinking I would find an atm.  No atm.  Fine, I will walk.  Wait, where are all the maps?  Argh! The hostel guy sees me being rubbish and asks if I need help.  I tell him my situation and he directs me to an atm.  We chat along the way and as I am about to head back off to the metro, finally with local currency, he asks if I want to grab a beer from the shop below the station.  A brief thought tells me that I am a stranger here, he knows I have just drawn out money and we are going underground.  But I get a good vibe from him so go with my instinct.  We have a beer and a chat (he introduces himself as Steve) and I am glad of this opportunity, however, yes, I am aware of how dodgy this could have been!  We talked about places to go in Budapest, a bit about the people he meets through his work.  I think this was the end of a long quiet shift for him so I think he was glad of the company.

Saint Stephen, the other ‘Steve’ was the first King of Hungary.  There is a massive basilica dedicated to him which we were shown on the walking tour.  After the tour was finished I went back, drew it and then went inside.  I forget the exact story and precisely why his body had to be dug up again after his death but when they found him, his right arm had been naturally mummified whilst the rest had disintegrated.  This was considered a miracle, he was canonised and the holy right arm was separated and pieces went to Rome, Vienna and Budapest (apparently, other stories I  have heard are simply that the holy fist has done a tour).  Currently the holy right fist resides in a dark glass box in the basilica.  For a small fee you can illuminate the box and see the mummified holy right fist in all its glory.  I however, waited around (not long fortunately) until some other willing tourists came in, paid the money and I was allowed to gawp for free.  Most excellent.

Altered Plan –

Did not realise the parliament tour was a ticketed event and by the time I had gotten there, all the tickets were gone.  So instead I went for that hike up to the citadel.  It was steep and long and unbearably hot and I had visions of passing out and forever being lost to the hills of Buda.  And then I reached the top and saw a tourist bus glide to the top.  Grr, hiking builds character, right?  Either way, my efforts were rewarded with the most amazing views – you can see for miles and miles.  It has been recommended that it is fantastic at night but as yet, the opportunity to go then hasn’t arisen.

After, I went for a guided tour about the behind the scenes of Budapest.  It was really good.  At first, the tour guide and I stood next to each other for a minute or two because she thought I was a local (what a compliment!) and I wasn’t sure if she was the right person…  But once we got going she showed me a lot about the history of lots of the buildings and architecture.  There are so many stand-out beautiful buildings but you only see them if someone points them out.  And there were a couple that I had noticed before and were able to ask more about which was good, you got a real sense of a story throughout the buildings.  I was told about the significance of bees on buildings that were to do with commerce (bees collect pollen, people collect money, that kind of thing) and some buildings were decorated specifically with the theme of the business inside – e.g ships and marine creatures on a shipping company’s headquarters.  I loved the inner city parish church which is half gothic and half baroque.  One half of the gothic church was destroyed during a turkish invasion and when there was an opportunity to restore it, they built it in the then current baroque fashion.  Odd, but really cool.

Budapest

I am here on an extra day in Budapest but I still don’t have enough time to do everything I wanted.  An excuse to go travelling again perhaps?  So on my first day I took a free walking tour to get an idea of the place; we saw a concert hall with rubbish acoustics (so more recently used for rock music and raves rather than orchestral stuff), gödör (a club whose name translates into ‘pit’) which is built under a lovely little park and you can see into through a pond, we saw a lot of silly statues – silly because the people of Budapest wanted something nice and frivolous after all those overbearing political communist statues.  Went up Buda hills to reach the castle district, saw Mattias church and the fisherman’s bastion and there were beautiful views over the city.  I am hoping when I come back in a couple days (en route to Romania, the connections from Pécs are rubbish) I will have a go at climbing gellért hill and have a closer look at the citadel statue.

It somewhat surprised me to discover I actually know someone living in Budapest, so it has been nice to meet up with a friend along the way.  We went for a drink in a ruin bar – an old disused building that has been taken over by the bar, it had a lovely little courtyard with mis-matched tables and chairs, including the font of a mini with the engine taken out and made into a chair.

Last night the owners of the hostel cooked a massive traditional paprika krumpli dish for all the current residents.  It was so filling and delicious, lots of potatoes and paprika broth (as you had probably guessed) and chorizo and some other sausages.  It was a really nice community feel.

Later my friend and I went to a folk dancing night, there were live bands playing traditional Hungarian music and it looked like everyone was having so much fun.  They also looked like they knew what they were doing so my friend and I thought we would stick to just watching the action.

Yesterday I had a little excursion to Szentendre, a town (although the map called it a city, like, yeah right) which is covered with little art galleries and craft shops.  It lies along a river and is very quaint.  I think it would have been prettier had I not had the misfortune to visit whilst they were doing loads of roadworks everywhere…

Today I am going to try and get to parliament in time for the free tour and after, have a behind the scenes tour of Budapest, which sounded a bit similar to the kind of crazy guides tour we had in Krakow.