Even though I started my trip in Budapest with a little drama because of my lost passport, I will end my Budapest visit with a happy feeling.
I’ve just had dinner at a little deli/restaurant across the road – I don’t know the real name because it has two banners flanking the entry door – one has Önkiszolgáló étterem, and the other one has KicsiMama konyhája. I don’t know which one is the real name. Anyway, I went in just half an hour before it was due to close, so I quickly made my selection – the dishes are laid in a canteen style. You point out what you want, and then the lady behind the counter will put them on your plate and you pay at the end of the line. The ladies didn’t speak much English, so I picked rice and some kind of chicken breast with spinach filling. I also got myself a bowl of goulash just as an accompaniment. The lady at the end of the line was charming – she looked like the Mama who owned the restaurant. She smiled when I tried to pronounce the Magyar word for ‘Thank you’: Köszönöm – and corrected my pronounciation. We managed to communicate through broken English and finger pointing – she also asked later on whether I wanted some hot paprika. I thought she was going to bring me some hot paprika powder (by the way, in restaurants in Hungary, they have three shakers on the table: salt, pepper and paprika!), but she came up with a wee plate, with a big chilli on it. So I thought, okay, rather than not eat it at all, I bit the chilli little by little as I took a forkful of rice and chicken. It worked out alright – I don’t know what I was supposed to do with the chilli – the Hungarian way. (Maybe Marta from the office can tell me what I did right or wrong!)
My third day in Budapest is also an activity-filled one – I started it by visiting the Nagycsarnok or the Great Market Hall nearby. I had a good time taking a couple of pictures and getting a trinket or two. The smell and the hustle and bustle reminded me of Central Market in Adelaide – it has a similar buzz. Nagycsarnok has two levels – the ground level mainly contains butchers and fruitsellers, and the first level mainly contains souvenir sellers. A word of caution, not all of the stuff here are cheaper than those sold in Váci utca. Have a walk around to get a sense of how much things are, before you visit the seller with the cheaper wares.
Afterwards, I quickly took the Metro to Déak Ferenc tér, so I could take the direct bus to the Memento Park. The bus leaves at 11.00am from Déak Ferenc tér and costs HUF2,450 if you have Budapest card (which I wisely purchased on the first day because I thought I would be commuting back and forth using the Metro). The trip took about 40 minutes because of the traffic condition. That is something that is plenty in Budapest – busy traffic complete with traffic jam here and there. There are a lot of constructions, excavations, and traffic jams! On the way to Memento Park, I was also confronted by the numerous billboards dotting the streets in Budapest and outside of the city centre. They are everywhere! The situation is similar to that in Jakarta or in Asian cities – you can find billboards selling fruitjuice to those selling holiday packages, et al. Something that also struck me is the fact that there are a lot of graffiti in Budapest. As a consequence of westernisation, a lot of the old buildings are already covered by graffiti. It’s a pity, really. It made some of the buildings look older and more derelict … yes, some of the buildings need a lot of restoration and touch-ups, but they do add some charm to the city.
Back to Memento Park — The Park houses statues from the Soviet era that were salvaged from various parts of the city. You can see several statues of Lenin, and other commemorative communist statues. There are no statues of Stalin left – you can, however, see a massive statue of a pair of boots. The boots used to be part of Stalin statue – during the 1956 uprising, the mass sawed the legs of the statue, leaving only the boots intact. Memento Park is located in the middle of nowhere, so I didn’t want to miss the bus taking the passengers back to the city at 1.00pm.
I arrived in the city at about 1.30pm, I thought I had enough time to rush to the Parliament House and join the guided tour in English at 2.00pm. When I arrived there at 1.50pm, the guard mentioned that the tour’s sold out already. 😡 So, I could only walk around the Parliament House and took some pictures instead. I also found the statue of Imre Nagy, the former Prime Minister of Hungary during the 1956 uprising that James Jeffrey refers to in his book, Paprika Paradise. I had a good stroll from Parliament House towards the Basilica of St Stephen (Szent István-bazilika). This basilica is one of the highlights of Budapest, and should not be missed. The chapel houses the mummified remains of St Stephen’s right arm – you can have a look from a distance and take pictures, without any flash.
I had a good wander around inside the basilica and took some pictures, when suddenly somebody hummed a tune and then the whole air was filled by angelic choir. There was an older looking man at the back of the basilica, behind the cordoned area, giving instructions to some of the tourist-looking choir members on the left-hand side of the church, and some on the right-hand side of the church. Some also stood behind the tourist-looking conductor. You would have NEVER suspected that they were a whole choir, because they were dressed like tourists. I was suddenly caught in an impromptu concert that they probably had planned all along to take advantage of the perfect accoustic in the basilica. They sang three pieces of choral songs – at the end of each song, you could hear the notes linger longer – which the conductor also noticed. He raised his finger to his ear, and smiled to his choir members. It was heavenly. It filled me with peace and the richness of spirit. I’m so thankful that I missed the Parliament House tour, because I would’ve missed this wonderful unexpected choir. After they finished the third song, I heard that some of them talked in German, so perhaps they are having a holiday in Budapest and wanted to test the accoustic of the basilica. Whatever the reason, I have been blessed! I will upload the short video that I managed to record if anybody’s interested.
After the visit to the Szent István-bazilika, I walked home through Váci utca so I could pass the souvenir shops to get some trinkets here and there. I bought myself a bottle of Unicum as well – the herbal liqueur unique to Budapest. Something to remind me of my visit to this charming town!
So, there you go, I’ve had my shower, the bags have been packed – and I will need to get up early tomorrow morning so I can get to the Hydrofoil that will take me to my next stop: Bratislava in the Republic of Slovakia through the Danube River!
Viszontlátásra, Budapest – it’s been a real pleasure knowing you!