I’m writing this as my OEBB train wends its way through the Hungarian countryside back to Wien. This afternoon I’m catching a flight back to London but the past 24 hours have been spent in Hungary; which is in fact a mere three hours away from Austria’s cultural capital.
So this is how it happened. After realizing how close, indeed, almost how ridiculously close Austria is to Hungary, I made the spontaneous decision to visit my friend Júli in Budapest after my conference concluded in Leibnitz. See my notes on the IUGTE theatre conference in Leibnitz, Austria here.
Having a friend who is also a local makes an enormous difference. When travelling from Austria to Hungary we’re not just moving into a nation that was part of the former eastern bloc but also a country where the language is very different, the currency is different and in every way the cultural landscape that we navigate draws your attention to just how Hungary is so unlike its neighbours.
The countryside had more become bleak as the train journey had progresses and it is much the same right now and the barren empty fields blinking at me are quite mournful despite Christmas being around the corner. The gentle mantle of snow that now covers the vegetation also makes it seem even colder and there is a very strange feeling watching abandoned and tended graveyards from a train window.Having had to catch a train from Leibnitz, Austria with one change in Graz my journey took almost six hours and this meant a 5am train and arriving in Budapest just past half eleven. I distinctly remember falling asleep listening to German rumbling around me and woke up to two very cross elderly gently yeling at each other “Igen!”…”Nem!” Later I learnt that this means “Yes!”… “No!” but at the time it was a shock to realize that I did not know a word of Hungarian and that I was in a new place and the people were very different. German is not similar to Hungarian in anyway; it in fact the latter is more closely related to Finnish.
Back to Júli and my day in Hungary. Luckily she lives fairly closely to Kelpeti Pu (Station) and she whisked me away to her flat (which is only a few minutes walk from the Bridge where you can see Parliament house) and after a quick cuppa we hit the streets. Most tourists like to go straight to the town centre but being with Juli who is a fabulous visual artist and graphic designer (we met in China this year) we decided to start first with by feeding me with some power soup and some delicious Hungarian beef slow cooked in dijon mustard. This was followed with a visit the rose garden of Baba Gul.
This is a pretty special and solitary place. The remnants of the Ottoman Empire are more obvious than the widespread sale of kebap and this tomb was small but particularly beautiful. Perhaps what made it more appealing that it was used as a site of worship and continues to be one even today. After a quick return back home and subsequent addition of more layers (Budapest is the coldest city I have been to so far) we visited the Budvar ( Budapest’s castle) which is not only an architectural phenomena but whose walls are steeped in history that hark back to the days of Archbishop Joseph. Needless to say for all the Kiwis and Australians who never seemed to understand that having Joseph as a last name is a result of European ancestry I’m glad that it would seem almost half of Budapest have had the name Joseph/Josef in their lineage somewhere.
The beauty of the cold is the constant invitation to Chocalatiers and amongst the cobbled lanes of the castle Juli led me to her favourite place for hot chocolate – which was indeed exquisite.
By this time it was 6pm and after pottering down to the local centre and browsing through the bookshops we were ready for our big night out.
The first stop was a house part by the owner of the gallery where Juli works and everybody there was an artist. Whilst most individuals spoke some English there was also a woman who spoke German so we had a long and very interesting conversations in English and German. I learnt more speaking to her and the others than any tourist would have in a local guide book. Actually, that’s not true – I simply gained a more personalized perspective from the people of Budapest and I tend to prefer that. Every day in Budapest there is a protest. Against homelessness which was made a crime – against forcing young students to not only fully fund their university degrees but also sign a contract to commit to stay in the country for at least double the length of their degree. And so many other activities that are taking place within what he locals claim is a growing fascist government.
My ticket was just stamped by the conductor who was delighted that I could say “thank you very much” in perfect Hungarian! Ah next time I will spend a week here! A mere aside.
Dinner last night was trout cooked Hungarian style with beautiful salads and sides and after a few hours we bid farewell to this lovely group of very talented individuals and headed to Juli’s favourite bar. Here I was introduced to Palinka!
For those who know me I prefer white wine and will tend to drink the local brew depending where I am and the company I’m with. But with a few exceptions I am not a spirits girl. Having said that I have consumed copious quantities of Bai jo and Boo jo in China but even then … Palinka let’s just say the stuff is strong. The bar itself was a little haven for writers, film directors and other artists and before long we were having a conversation with one of Hungary’s very own and very well known film directors, first name shall suffice here “peter”. After a short but good conversation and I acquiesced to one dance we said goodbye and headed to the West End for another party! Once again we met up some of Júli’s friends who were dj’s and there were some pretty crazy people at this party cutting some rather funky and quite frankly, weird moves but all part of the general surrealistic ambience.mThere was also (happily enough) buckets of popcorn everywhere which of course made my evening! We headed back at half past two (relatively early but I did have a train and a plane to catch tonight) and were in bed by 3.30 am.
A gorgeous Hungarian style brekkie cooked by Juli who then brought me to the station and so my literal 24 hours in Budapest have been brimming over with an array of wonderful moments.
And so the journey continues.