One of my guidebooks for Hungary warns that no American, no matter fraternity/sorority membership, Irish genetics, or the amount of fine arts degrees you’ve accumulated, should EVER try to party in equal step with a Hungarian. And I’ve realized that this warning doesn’t just apply to the long weekend nights of outdoor pubs, beer gardens, and club circuits, but also to just the amount of stuff to do. Which is why I am posting my weekend roundup on Tuesday instead of Monday.
As I have been doing for several years now, Friday has been my day to work on revisions. In the case of this week, I was revising the first bits of non-fiction I’ve been working on and a few poems that slipped in during the week. Like the North American Sports Network, which other than the tourists, broadcast the only American accents I hear here, the tradition of my Friday evening revisions is a real comfort. In the evening I went to Café Miró, which is a little coffee house at the back of the castle district, which also serves good local draft beers and extensive cocktail and wine offerings. You can also eat meals there, but like every restaurant in the castle district the prices are probably really inflated because of the tourists and the vicinity of the very shmancy Hilton down the street. Also, I would imagine that the waiters aren’t that friendly on the whole to most of the tourists, but I haven’t really encountered it since I’m always out with my equally sassy Hungarian bodyguards. And since it’s two short cobblestone blocks away from my flat, it’s a fantastic place to have a drink outside on a Friday night before a slow walk home, the long way through the castle.
On Saturday I went to Györgyi’s hometown, Szeged, where she was attending to some flat business. It’s about 2 ½ hours south of Budapest (on the southern boarder of Hungary) and is home to several of Hungary’s best universities, in addition to being the city of sunshine. It was the stomping ground of Atilla (of the Huns–that Atilla), is the home of paprika, and is overall just damn damn cute. It’s a small city relative to Budapest, though the 4th largest in Hungary. The downtown area is amazingly peaceful, and similar to almost every other place I’ve been to in this country, the streets are filled with people eating ice cream cones, sharing chats on benches, and strolling along the avenues in the evening.
In the afternoon we enjoyed an ice cream from Dóm Cukrászda as we walked passed the famous open air-theater. In the evening we walked through the main part of downtown and had some wine at Virág Cukrászda. There were so many people there, eating dinner, eating ice cream, having drinks, beer, wine, coffees. It’s so hard to explain how peaceful it is, so hopefully the videos and some of the pictures will do it a small bit of justice.
After the Virág Cukrászda we went to a beer garden. It was called Sörkert, and despite the fact that it was midnight, there was every different type of person there: college students, people on dates, friends, older folks, drunks, kids (most of whom weren’t drinking). Basically there is a little stand, which serves beer, pálinka, jägermeister, sodas, and snacky foods. You take your drinks to a picnic table and enjoy—kind of like gas station BBQs in Georgia but with slightly louder, drunk people.
And you’re probably thinking, wow, what a full night, must be bedtime next. Alas, no. The next stop was Szote Klub, which seems to be the pattern here: Café, Beer Garden or Pub, then Klub to close out the night or really welcome the morning.
Sunday started late, as you can imagine, though well. We went to a little place called Öreg Kőrössy Halászcsárda on the Tisza River that is known for serving a Hungarian staple: fish soup. It is served in a little kettle (the way it is traditionally served in most of the Danube region) with a side of peppers and bread. Totally delicious.
Now, so it doesn’t sound like ALLL I did during the weekend is move from one beer garden to the next, I should briefly explain the business side of my time there, not that it was my business, but I like to inflate my importance as American side-kick.
I mentioned that Györgyi was in town to tend to a meeting with other owners of a building of flats (where she rents a flat to medical students during the school year). Anyway there was some issue with the building permit because the contractor hadn’t built a required parking deck or something and there were some several million forints that had to be dealt with and a parking deck to build in order to correct the problem. From my perspective it was absolutely insane–17 fiery Hungarians debating real estate contract resolutions for about an hour in a converted beauty salon during the early afternoon heat. Actually despite being slightly overwhelmed, it was really hilarious in that opening scene from one of those American-dazed-by-foreign-culture movie kind of way. It would be similar for anyone who was a lone American side-kick who couldn’t understand anything (which was clear to everyone anyway as they tried to shake my hand and Györgyi said only, “Ő amerikai, ezért nem fog beszélni”—she’s American, that’s why she won’t talk.
Before leaving Szeged, we went back to Virág Cukrászda, the outdoor flower confectionary, and had one last coffee. It was late and the drive back to Budapest would be dim lit with cars blasting by double the speed limit. But the sun was setting, there was music playing in the town square, and people seemed to be enjoying their evenings as usual.
Arriving back in Budapest, it was really clear to me that it’s a big, breathing city.
Even at midnight there were still people at outdoor patios drinking, eating, talking. There were couples walking down the streets, across the bridges, looking peaceful among the lighted statues and monuments, galleries, museums and churches. It seems like in most of my adult life I have gone back and forth between small towns and big cities, though in most of the places I’ve adored, there have been certain intimacies there. I’ve never known when to call someplace home, exactly (other than Ohio), but I feel righted here. Even if it’s the same course along the ecliptic.