23 October 2012

Budapest, Day 2

After fueling up on sour cream and cheese covered langòs and a spicy Hungarian sausage smothered in pickled vegetables from the Great Market Hall, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking. Across the Liberty Bridge to the Pest side of the Danube, through the majestic Gellèrt bathouse, up the river, across the traffic-free-for-the-day Chain Bridge, through a festival in the square touting alternative energy and transportation plus the engineering feet of a bridge made of spaghetti, stopping for a pastrami sandwich and some lemonade at a repurposed VW bus (walking is hungry-making), we continued up the also closed-to-traffic Andràssy utca. And we encountered the strangest street fair I’d ever seen.

There was performance art. There was a sandbox with toys for kids to play in. there were live models changing poses every thirty seconds while people with sketchpads and charcoal immortalized them. There was a guy on stilts playing drum major to the kilt-clad Budapest Highland Pipe and Drum band. Re-purposed three-wheeled Apes fitted with espresso machines and chimney cake grills, all of which were good but my most favorite thing was Titus.

Titus was running a food and drink stand, a rustic wooden shack with chalkboards and utensils hanging from it, selling pàlinkas and goulash and lecsò and stuff. There were café tables and chairs off to one side and small, tall tables out front. We stopped to try some pàlinka.

The biggest problem in Hungary when trying new things is that if you don’t all ready know what you want and how to say it, you will never deduce from its Hungarian name what it is. Pàlinka is kind of like a brandy, I guess, made from fermented fruit or herbs and water. They come in all kinds of fruit flavors, like apple, pear and plum. But Hungarian is not a Latin or Germanic-based language so “mele” or “apfel” wouldn’t help when searching out the apple one which was irrelevant since I wanted to try plum. Turns out, the Hungarian word for plum is szilva.  Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. Anyway, because of this, ordering pàlinka in the little basement bar full of locals next to our hotel was behind my capability. At a street fair though, I could give it a whirl.

Titus said they had plum, apple, pear, apricot and some of those also with honey but to truly be pàlinka, it is made with fruit only. I wanted the plum and V. asked to try one of the honey ones. Titus made a face. “Those are for pussies.”

V. was undeterred. Titus looked a little suprised.

We took our small plastic cups over and stood at one of the high tables, sipping the clear, fiery liquid and declaring it a far superior drink to Italian grappa, though the honey one did taste a bit more like cough syrup and, really, wasn't that good.

Titus came over to smoke a cigarette and we chatted, commending him on his English as he explained about pàlinka and brought us other flavors to try.

He explained that there was true pàlinka, made from only fruit or herbs and water, as well as the more profitable but less authentic bastardization szeszes ital or “spirit drinks” (pàlinka to which honey has been added).

We asked him about one of the dishes listed on the chalkboard as “tripes with knuckles and nails”.

“You know, the stomachs of beef with the feet and fingers of the pig. We only have one word in Hungarian for both the cow animal and the cow meat. We do have many ways to describe other things that I cannot even translate,” he explained.

“Interesting. Like, in Italian, they have fingers on their hands and fingers of the feet—dita del piede—but in English, we’ve got a separate word for each--fingers and toes. Though with pigs, the toes are the hoof. Of course, if we’re eating them, we just call them feet.” Clearly, I’d reached my Hungarian brandy limit. “You could change your sign to read ‘tripe with pig feet’.”

“Oh, this is good. You help me with my English.”

He had to get back to work but suggested we come back later in the evening, they’d be there ‘til ten or eleven o’clock. Sadly, we didn’t.

19 October 2012

Budapest, Day 1

We arrived in Budapest at midnight, got a cab to our hotel, put down our bags, took a walk around the block, went to sleep, woke up, got big paper cups full of American-style coffee and walked for several hours.

Picked up a brand new, tags-on jacket at a second-hand store, dropped my old jacket off at the hotel, got delicious Hungarian food including salad with duck liver, fish and paprika soup, and stew with barley, walked around the Great Market Hall then back towards the hotel and saw a crowd watching a Hungarian Emo band playing in a shop window, replete with lead singer palming the window, angstfully.

Well done, Budapest.

04 October 2012

Budapest, Hungary. Hour 1 (Hungarian 1 - Nancy 0)

We arrived in Budapest at 12:05 am. Not the best time to arrive anywhere, but especially not in a city you’ve never been to and that doesn’t have mass transit running outside of the city center after 11 pm.

I’d read about the possibility of taking a night bus from the airport to a bus terminal then another bus to a stop that I thought might be near our hotel but the name of which I couldn’t begin to figure out how to pronounce. At the last minute, I decided the best thing might be to get a taxi from a reputable taxi company.

Turns out, the FöTaxi company has a deal with the airport. They’ve got a booth set up just outside the arrivals door that houses a dispatcher and they offer flat rates to the different zones of the city center. You just have to tell them the name of the street and what district it’s in. Easy. Especially since the Budapest zip codes tell you what district the address is in.

Only, I didn’t know how to pronounce the street name and it was the one address I had that didn’t have a zip code and I hadn’t written the district.

I took a stab at reading the street name which looks like this: Eötvös utca. “Ee-usht-vush oot-sa?”

“What?” the dispatcher asked.

I shoved a piece of paper at him with the address.

“Which district?”

“Um. The fifth or sixth? Maybe the seventh?” Quite the problem, since the districts are arranged in a spiral: the seventh might be closer to the airport than the fifth.  But shouldn’t he have a computer he could plug it into that told him where it was and in which district? 

I pulled out the hotel confirmation thinking that it would surely have the zip code on it. Only it didn’t. I did know that the hotel was near the Oktagon metro stop.

“It’s near Oktagon.”

“Yes, near Oktagon,” he mocked me. I'd later find out that Oktagon, while a Metro stop is also a neighborhood bordering two districts. “It’s ok. It’s ok.” He must’ve figured it out because he handed me a slip of  a receipt with a number on it and the price of the ride in both Hungarian Forints and euros. “Three meters across the street. Ten minutes.”

I looked at the signs all around telling me that my FöTaxi should be right at the curb, not to take a ride from any other cabs anywhere else, that they were not trustworthy.

I walked up to the FöTaxi girl and told her they guy said my taxi should be across the street. “No, no. All taxis here.”

And then the dispatcher came over, looked at the ticket and pointed us at the guy waiting outside his white taxi  across the street. I could hear him thinking “stupid tourists” as he did so.

The cabdriver took our bags, opened the car door and asked where we were going.

“Ee-usht-vush oot-sa?”

He asked to see the ticket. The ticket that everything I’d read about said to not give over, that holding onto it ensured I’d be charged the price printed on it.

Ay-it-ush ootsa. Not what you said.”

As we pulled out of the airport I said, “Can I have that?”

“Is for me,” was his reply.

He got us safely and soundly to our hotel, took our 4800 forints and handed over a company card with the phone number and a discounted fare back to the airport printed on it.

“How do you say ‘thank you’ in Hungarian?” I asked.


Koooor-si-nuum. And this street?”

“Ay-it-ush ootsa. Not mooshy mooshy,” he smirked and pulled away.

I am massacring languages all over the continent.