Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Morning After....

Slept like the dead last night or "at the bottom of the ocean" as we say in our family. Last night my laptop was still on Hungarian time (i.e., one hour ahead) so as I was finishing up the blog posting and struggling to keep my eyes open, I glanced at the time shown at the bottom right hand corner of the screen which read '10.50pm' - "No wonder I'm tired," I thought, "it's nearly 11". After bathing, crawling gratefully into bed and starting to drift off when the 'bing-bing' of my phone indicated an arriving text message. 'Twas from TLH who is currently on business in eastern coastal Sweden. As I picked up the phone I noticed that it said '10.10pm' - took a moment for my fuzzy, exhausted brain to realise that I'd actually gone to bed at 9.50pm. That makes me look a bit of a lightweight but I really needed it.

The cats were very funny last night, you could almost see them thinking, "Hmm, this human is somehow familiar and she does seem to know what she's doing so we'll just go along with it from a distance...." but I woke up this morning with one stretched out on the bed next to me and the other on the windowsill behind my head so I think it must have finally dawned on them who I am.

I've been away far too long, though. As I got into the kitchen I was opening the wrong cupboard doors to get a mug and then I couldn't remember which of the buttons on my kettle make it switch on! Bizarre!

It's much colder here than in Hungary so I was quite keen to put the heating on when I got up. We had CNN out there and, of course, I had my laptop so we were able to keep abreast of the appalling weather that's been battering Britain but I was surprised by the view of my garden this morning (it was dark when I got in last night). When I left 3 weeks ago, it was fairly warm, some flowers were still in bloom and the majority of the leaves were still on the trees. Not so now, eh? Looks like 'proper' November out there. I have huge bamboos in pots on each side of my patio and one on each side have been blown over- TLH had informed me at the time and I'd advised to just leave them there as the weather forecast was still predicting blowy weather and at least they were fine on the ground. I'll need to put them back up and tie them to the fence again.

I stood at the back door surveying the beaten-up garden when the semi-tame Robin that I can handfeed spotted me from its perch on the shed at the end of the garden. It came swooping over and landed on the handrail of the bridge that leads to the back door and sat there, bobbing away at me. Unfortunately I was only in my dressing gown so couldn't go out and feed it, but I was delighted to see that it had recognised me.

As if I haven't spent enough time in airports over the last 24 hours, mid-afternoon today will see me heading off to Terminal 3 of Heathrow to go and collect TLH. I've not seen him for 19 days and it's the longest we've ever been apart in15 years. While we were away we communicated mainly via Skype which was brilliant and, best of all, completely free to use, so we would either speak on our phones or do live chat messaging through our laptops for hours at a time. I would definitely recommend using it.

Right, that's enough blather from me, need to get dressed now and go feed a hungry Robin.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A stiff G&T ought to do it.....

I'm home. Finally. We left the apartment in Budapest at about12 noon after an hour or so of hoovering, polishing, washing, tidying and changing bedclothes. We normally wouldn't have bothered but the next tenants were arriving almost as soon as we were leaving and I knew there wouldn't be enough time for the fabulous Nora to do these things before they arrived. And as the owners of the apartment had been so lovely about letting us stay for an emergency unscheduled further 4 days, I reckoned it was the least we could do.

The taxi driver who picked us up had just enough English to get the right names for the booking and took us to Ferihegy (or 'Ferengi' as TLH insists on calling it) Airport. I'd arranged for what they call 'Special Assistance' at both ends of our journey as there was no way mum was going to be capable of doing a lot of walking. We'd gone by Easyjet and all the arrangements had been done online so I was somewhat concerned that it wouldn't work properly but, in fact, it was all absolutely fine. At Budapest, after speaking to the Customer Service desk, a chappy appeared with a wheelchair and he took control of the entire check in and passport control situation for all 3 of us! It was great! Mum sat in the wheelchair looking suitably wan and we all went straight to the head of the queue. Again, when it was time to board, instead of somehow loading us onto the bus to get to the plane along with all the other passengers, they drove a special minibus up to the doors for us, to take us all of 50 feet to the airplane steps where they, very gently, helped mum up the stairs. We sat in the front row on the plane (which they'd saved for us) which meant we had oodles of legroom.

When we landed at Gatwick, we were told to wait until everyone else had disembarked, and then, again, they helped mum gently down the steps and into another waiting minibus which took us all over the apron until depositing us just beside passport control where one of those beeping buggies came to collect us. The driver took all our passports then drove the buggy right through passport control (again bypassing the hundreds of passengers waiting in queues) and then on to luggage reclaim. It was a relief to see our two suitcases forlornly going round and round but at least they were there. The driver picked them up and loaded them into the buggy for us before driving us right down to the roadside where cars come to drop off and collect people. He unloaded us and our luggage and we thanked him profusely.

Mum and I found somewhere to sit with all the luggage while Doug went off to collect the car. We got everything loaded in and I got back in through my front door at probably about 7pm.

The cats don't quite know what to make of me. They sort of think I'm familiar but can't quite place me so they're watching me closely but from a distance.

I am now, officially, quite unbelievably knackered. My levels of stress at particular times over the last 3 weeks have been astronomical and I've shed more tears during this period than I probably have over the last decade. So I'm very, very glad it's over and the objective was finally achieved, but I really don't want to do it again.

What I need to do now, though, is pour myself the first of several stiff-ish gin & tonics, soak in a hot bubbly bath and then sink into the blissful oblivion of sleep in my own bed. Hopefully with added cat.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Búcsút Budapesten (Goodbye to Budapest)

This, I promise you, is the last posting from Budapest. Failing any more disasters (please, God, no...) we'll be on the 1525 flight tomorrow back home.

I've decided I like Budapest, or rather, Central, Interesting, Budapest. Where all the posh buildings, nice shops and fascinating history are. You can keep the rubbish outskirts bits with its multistorey characterless Communist-era housing blocks. No, just point me in the direction of the Art Nouveau buildings with high ceilings and chandeliers, and interesting street lamps, and bizarre statues in parks and I'm purring with delight.

So in honour of it being my last full day here, I decided to have my final wander around, to go down some streets I've not been down before, just to see what's there.

I started by returning to the square where the Liptons Teabag and the single boob are located but - what's this? - the triangular rusty metal statue with the cut-out man HAS GONE!!! There's nothing left but a rusty rectangle on the pavement where it was. How very bizarre. I wonder if it's been nicked for scrap.....

Anyway, I headed alongside the Liptons Teabag pond and was extremely fortunate to be passing at the same time as some municipal chappy was wading around the back of it, tipping in some sort of powder (presumably chemicals to keep the water clear) which made it look like the water was hot and steaming:

Just beyond this, opposite the Single Boob, is a very interesting piece. Not sure who it is and I forgot to write down his name, but it's a flat slab of marble into which the image has been cut. If you pressed a big enough lump of cookie dough into it, you would get a really big biscuit with a 3-D model on it.

I carried on walking down the road you can see behind the cookie statue. This took me close to the Grand Synagogue that I visited a couple of weeks ago but failed to get a decent picture of the front of it, so took the opportunity to rectify this:

The road I was walking along was very busy and a little bit run down. The buildings had not been cleaned, some were empty and graffitied. There were loads of cheap pound shops but also a lot of much more interesting antiquarian book shops. A little further down I walked passed a university which was right next door to the National Hungarian Museum. Sadly I didn't have enough time to have a look in:

Walking on past this I came to Kalvin Ter, a square with a very plain Calvinist Church surrounded by very modern buildings and lit by the ubiquitous beautiful street lamps:

Kalvin Ter is being renovated (Hungary joined the EU in 2004 and, as a result, has received billions of Euros in funding - there's a lot of renovation work going on), and my eye was caught by this rather futuristic, um, roof-thing that's above the entrance to an underpass. There's something quite War of the Worlds about it, I think:

Somehow I managed to miss the turning I wanted and found myself approaching the Central Food Market, which I'd visited the other day. It's beside a very beautiful and elaborate dark green bridge (the Liberty/Freedom Bridge, or Szabadság híd). When I last visited it was very murky weather but today was bright and sunny, so I decided to cross the bridge. The sun was starting to go down and, before I left for Hungary several lifetimes ago, my brother instructed me to get photos of sunsets over the Danube. This has been the first time (a) I've been in the location and (b) the weather's been good enough.

This is a very pretty bridge and the views are spectacular:

I spotted this chap on the shore - I wonder what the likelihood of him catching anything is?

As I was more than halfway over the bridge, I carried on to the other side, to investigate what this might be:

I walked off the bridge, crossed the road and went up the hill to the cross on the top, and found I was at the Cave Church. This started life as a hermit's cave, lived in by St Istvan Kiraly and over the years, the various chapels inside the rock were dug out by monks. The Communists didn't approve and cemented it up for 40 years. It was reopened in 1989. My pictures weren't very good (mostly because I couldn't use the flash) but if you click on the link, there are much better pictures on another website.Entrance to the Cave Church

Modern statue of the hermit, St Istvan Kiraly, looking glum

There is, though, if you stand behind the statue and face the river, an absolutely cracking view of the bridge:

By now I'd been out for about 2.5 hours so thought it was time to head back.

I think it's probably quite unusual to spend 2.5 weeks in Budapest as I've just done, but I would absolutely recommend at least a few days, if you can. It gets very hot here in the summer, in the 30s/90s which can make it uncomfortable as air-conditioning is not common. Although Budapest apparently doesn't get much snow in the winter, I can imagine it can get bitter so spring or autumn are probably your best bets, but if you get the chance, do come on over. It's pretty cheap, lots of people speak at least some English and everyone we met has been nothing but kind to us.

But I am looking forward to going home tomorrow....

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Yeah, Gods, very funny.....

Well, it seems the gods overheard me saying yesterday that I would be going home today and decided to do something about that. In a manner I could have done without. Can't go into details but we have to stay here for a further four days. Unbelievably fortunately the next people to book this lovely apartment we're staying in don't come in until Wednesday 25 November, so that's when I've rescheduled our flight for. Sadly, TLH leaves for a business trip to Sweden on 24 November so we will truly be like ships passing in the night. Still, can't be helped.

I'd already packed all my stuff and everything and I'll be buggered if I'm going to get it all out again, so I'll literally be living out of a suitcase until then.

However, what this does mean is that, in order to pass the time, I can do you yet another posting.

As it was supposed to be our last afternoon yesterday, I decided to put a padlock on the Padlock of Happiness sculpture with my and TLH's names written on it. I found this really rather romantic and such a shame that TLH couldn't be there with me (we're not terribly big on romance in our house so this was a bit out of the ordinary for me). If you're coming to Budapest with your own Best Beloved, why not do the same (just remember to bring a padlock with you!). The sculpture can be found in Erzsebet Ter which is on Jozsef Attila utca, very close to Vorosmarty Ter.

Also, the Christmas Market opened in Vorosmarty Ter, so we popped along for a look.

My parents have been to Christmas markets in Germany before and were totally underwhelmed by them - 'just a lot of mulled wine and gingerbread', they reported, so I wasn't holding out much hope for this one.

How wrong I was.

For a start, there was a little low stage on which Hungarian musicians played traditional music, not exactly gypsy but not far off it. It was very different to western folk music but toe-tapping all the same:

Around the outside of the square, many of the little wooden chalets have people cooking and selling varied foodstuffs in large pans. Some I could recognise - chicken here, pork there - some I had no idea about but the smells were delicious, a mixture of frying meat, mulled wine, cinnamon and candyfloss (although no-one was selling any candyfloss - I could just smell that sweet smell).

The rest of the chalets were taken up with craft stalls of various kinds - jewellery, honey, candles, picture frames, mirrors, fused glass clocks, clothes, fur hats, basketmaker, book binder, felt slippers, puppet theatres, wooden toys (including some incredibly un-politically correct toys for boys of wooden tomahawks and rifles) and so much beautiful pottery and ceramics that I was almost overcome. I bought three little tiny dishes for christmas presents for relatives back home but I so wish I could get much more in my luggage:

I was particularly taken with the ceramics made by a lady called Andrea Vertel - the faces on the birds and animals were so full of character. I picked up a leaflet from her stall and she has a website - I recommend a quick visit:

See what I mean? All fabulous stuff - so if you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity between now and 29 December, you could do a lot worse than check out the Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Ter.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Butchness overload

Yesterday I walked. Boy, did I walk. I decided to walk the length of Andrassy utca up to Hero Square at the top. I tried to find an aerial picture on the intertubes showing how far I walked but the nearest I could get was the one above. And that's only about half the distance. From my apartment to the square is 2.5km one way. So there and back is roughly 3 miles, plus I decided to visit the currently running major exhibition at the National Museum called 'Botticelli to Titian' and is all Renaissance masters.

The weather was absolutely on my side. Bright blue sky and sunshine again. I packed a bottle of water and a banana and set off at about 9.45am. I walked up to the corner of the square where I had photographed the triangular metal statue with the cut out man and turned left into Andrassy utca.

Andrassy is a wide, European-style tree-lined boulevard - very French-looking to my eyes - that runs straight as an arrow up to Hero Square. Google maps told me it would take me about 35 minutes to walk it one way. I guessed it would take me longer as I intended to take photographs along the way.

It's a very posh street and is lined with designer shops at the start - Louis Vuitton, Dolce e Gabanna - and windows filled with the sad dead pelts of once-living animals (they're not exactly anti-fur here although I've seen some good fakes). I walked along, enjoying the bright sunshine, although not the traffic fumes, when suddenly the air was filled with the bright yellow confetti of autumn leaves, freed by a gust of warm wind. I stood by a ridiculously elaborate building and watched them rustle and swirl.

I passed the state Opera Building which, like every other building, is not exactly minimal. The row of worthies on the roof reminded me of St Peter's Square in Rome where the saints all gaze down on you to make sure you're behaving yourself:

Further up, near the Oktagon junction, there's a steely-blue building that I've not felt brave enough to enter on either this trip to Budapest or the one I did two years ago.

This is the House of Terror Museum. Quick history lesson. During World War II, Hungary made the unfortunate decision to side with the Axis forces and supported Hitler. The fascist political party which took control was called the Arrowcross. Their headquarters were at 60 Andrassy utca. Political prisoners, and especially Jewish prisoners, went in through the door, into the basement cells and were never heard or seen again. After the Soviets marched in and took over, it became the headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Secret Police (their version of the KGB) who continued 'disappearing' people. It is a building stuffed with pain and misery. In 2000 it was decided to turn it into a museum. One of its most striking features is the black glass overhang which has the word TERROR cut into it that casts a reverse shadow when the sun shines and spells out the word on the front of the building. You can just make it out in my photo. There's also a rusting metal symbolic sculpture just outside of a load of very large chains:

The incongruous setting is also remarkable - a house of fear and death in such an elegant location:

Still, onwards. Just on the other side of the road from the Terror House I found a large plaque dedicated to the dead of the First World War - I was struck by the terribly theatrical and scenery-chewing poses of those depicted:

Just beyond that was another building that had a remarkable painted facade (at least, we think it's been painted but it may be ceramic, which would be just as remarkable):

It strikes me, in Central Budapest at least - in fact, thinking about it, as it probably is in every major capital city - there is a lot of money around, a lot. There is also extreme poverty. There are homeless people here, living in the parks and the subways. But, as always, folks make the best of what they've got, and this tiny balcony over a supermarket doorway is so full of exuberance it made me smile, how could I not take a photo?

A few steps further up Andrassy, nearer to Hero Square, and you start to get into Embassy and Really Big Villa territory.

This, for example, is the South Korean embassy - like a pink wedding cake:

And these are its next-door neighbours (I think these are just ordinary residences):

And the other side of the road looks like this:

It was only then a matter of a few steps before the road opened into the hugeness of Heroes Square:

This is a very impressive square - far more imposing than anything London has to offer. As you face the column, on the left hand side is the National Museum:

and opposite, facing it on the other side of the square is the Contemporary Art Museum:

I decided to cross the road to get to the Square on the Contemporary Art Museum side. As I was crossing I could see what looked like a whole load of shopping trolleys collected together in a circle. Initially it didn't strike me as odd, until it dawned on me that there weren't any shops, never mind supermarkets, nearby. "Don't tell me it's a modern art installation...." I muttered to myself, chortling at the very idea. But, you know what? It surely is!

It's called 'Money-make Systems No. 3, 1996' and was created by Pacsika Rudolf.

I then spotted something in the park behind the Contemporary Art Museum that I'd read about online and had hoped that I'd find. It's called the Timewheel and it's the world's largest hourglass built to commemorate Hungary's entrance into the European Union in 2004. Made from pink granite, steel and glass, it weighs 60 tons. I can't find mention online of how tall it is, but it's BIG:

It takes a year for the sand to fall through from the top compartment to the bottom, ending at exactly midnight on New Year's Eve, then 4 people roll it round 180 degrees (it's on rollers at the bottom) so it can start all over again.

I then noticed, on the other side of the road, probably the most modern building I'd seen in Budapest so far - offices for ING and Deloitte, by the looks of it, all glittering vertical strips of mirrored glass:

Time to head across to the Square itself, but not before I took a breather on a bench beside a road going into the park. It dawned on me how similar to Central Park in New York this particular view was:

After resting my feet for a short while, I headed over to take some photos of the statues of the Heroes themselves. And, my, what a terribly butch lot they are. The posturing and enormous handlebar moustaches make them all look screamingly camp. I'm sorry if this offends any Hungarian readers who might happen to stumble upon this blog but, really - just look at them:

And as for the naked chap prancing around in the chariot......

I then went into the exhibition in the National Museum and saw more Renaissance paintings than you can shake a stick at. Overwhelmingly they reminded me of so many christmas cards but, then again, presumably during the 15th and 16th centuries, it was only the church who would commission any paintings at all, and so holy scenes, mostly of the Madonna and child, it was. Even though these were all by Botticelli, Tintoretto, Raphael, Titian and other great names, they kind of left me cold. What I did like were the portraits of wealthy merchants, some of them so fantastically well executed that they were as good as photographs, as good as the Holbein portraits that were exhibited at Tate Britain a few years ago.

By the time I left the museum it was past lunchtime and so time to head off back down Andrassy utca to the apartment. I had to keep stopping on the way and taking advantage of the frequent benches in order to rest my aching feet. And I hope you'll forgive me for not taking any photos on the return journey but the sun was in my eyes and, frankly, I was just too tired and wanted to get in to put my feet up!

This is, most likely, my final posting from Hungary as we're returning home tomorrow morning. It's been quite an intense two weeks, to say the least, but I think I've managed to see all that I wanted to of Budapest this time round, and I hope you've all enjoyed seeing it with me.