While every outdoor café on Váci utca broadcasted the F1 final race on big, outdoor televisions to excited fans dressed to the sevens in their various national flags, I spent the afternoon walking up and down the chipped cobblestones, which were quickly warming in the 35C (95F) midday sun. I felt almost like a local.
Quiet. Unbothered by the hostesses and the teenage summer-work maître d’s trying to sling their menus, museum tickets, city bus tours to passing tourists. I noticed things I haven’t before. The white-washed bells of the catholic church and a woman in a pillbox hat sitting on a bench in front. The secret alleys with folk art stores where old manequins from the 30s and 40s with missing toes and ears and eyes seemed positively modern as they modeled Hungarian folk outfits.
A pigeon sleeping on the window ledge of a dentist’s office. The Roma man playing the violin so sweetly under the overpass it was almost like the strings and bow were singing independent of any human guide. And everything and everyone alone in their quietness too, as if they existed for nothing but their own form in their own afternoon.
Two boys hunched in restful pose on an old monument. A restaurant manager, in full suit and tie, filling a watering can in a fountain. A woman enjoying a long draw of cigarette on her way past the HUNGARIAN LOUNGE with its giant Rubik’s cube out front. Under the awnings of the street gelaterias, the scoopers straightened the cones, listened to the race broadcast in Hungarian on a small radio barely audible over the steady humming of the clip fan. The coolness of the after eight, fruits of the forest, pistachio, lemon, rising in a thread of ice steam onto the glass coverings.
I’ve written about ice cream a lot. It doesn’t just seem to be a phenomenon of summer, either, but rather a very common end to dinner or during a weekend stroll. And absolutely everyone eats it. At 120 forints for a single scoop cone (which is about 85 cents USD), it’s not a gigantic dripping tower of fudge bombarded with sprinkles and brownie bites and whipped cream. Instead, it’s something almost delicate, ice cream in its original European design, which can leave you feeling, well, happy.
The afternoon (as most weekend afternoons seem to do here) slipped quickly to evening, and then evening to late evening, and soon it was nearly dark and the hotel was beginning to clear out the last of the fans, though our group was staying one more night. To celebrate, we decided to have a late night dinner at the hotel restaurant on the outside terrace overlooking Deák Ferenc utca and the Hugo Boss store, which on Friday night had hosted a swanky party for celebs.
The restaurant manager greeted us and sat us right at the edge of the terrace, followed by the waiter who brought glasses of champagne. The procession to follow was really amazing. In addition to the sesame bread served with olive tampanade and sun dried tomatoes, the amuse bouche was melon wrapped in prosciutto.
Just as we began sipping a very fresh and floral Hungarian chardonnay, our first course arrived, which was a spinach and rucola salad with jumbo shrimp and lobster served with a light olive oil vinaigrette. The main course was parmasean encrusted filet of beef with asparagus and some kind of potato puff. The beef was perfectly cooked and was ever more divine because I haven’t had a good steak since leaving home and probably won’t again for a long while.
And as is usual here, the final course arrived, which was a small glass of a very fine pálinka and desert—a Hungarian apple strudel with homemade vanilla bean ice cream served in a homemade peanut and caramel cone dish.
As I believe all good poems leave the reader with an overarching sense of quietness, this dinner did the same for my amazing weekend in this new place, which little by little is becoming less foreign. Under the near midnight sky, against the backdrop of pedestrian Pest that was all but empty but for the small lights flickering in flat windows and candles on the tables in their final burn and the laundry waving dry in the night breezes, I drank the final sips of my cappuccino, and felt, almost, home.