Well, I’m not in Asia anymore. It was immediately obvious as I stepped into the post-industrial land I was expecting Budapest to be.
In Singapore I wondered where the hipsters would go in such a yuppie city. It took me a matter of seconds to spot all sorts of hip looking people roaming the city in Budapest. It was both shocking and comforting to be amongst graffiti and to have left the fake front facing grandeur of Asia.
I got asked “What are you going to do in Budapest?” in Singapore. To be honest, I had no idea. It turns out the first thing I did was the same thing I’ve been doing all year, going to the local market.
Often I get asked what food I miss. I really miss Mexican food, and not the crappy Americanized stuff I can get on the road. However in Asia I also rather missed cheese and things like salami. I fixed that with my first meal in the Central Market with a langos.
Instead of jumping straight into hosteling, as I expected I would need to, I Couch Surfed in Budapest. I managed to find a guy who liked to cook and eat, just the kind of person I like to meet.
He was also quite the classic car enthusiast and drove an awesome teal Fiat. I forgot to take a picture but it was fun to drive for the few minutes he let me in the parking lot. He told me all about the charity rally race Budapest to Bamako that lets anyone on anything race across two continents. I’ll have to try it one day. We also went to a drive in and he was mightily surprised that I had never been in America since everyone here thinks of it as an American thing. It’s funny what our expectations lead us to believe about cultures. He wanted to learn how to make Chinese food, which ironically is not the first thing I cook by choice. However I can, so I turned out some kung pao chicken and Taiwanese style egg and tomato stir fry. Still not things I normally cook, but the stuff I like to eat requires a different pantry and it was closer to his favorites. I was also introduced to palinka, a strong liquor made by fermenting any sort of fruit. My host’s friend had made young walnut palinka.
Budapest is a city full of wonderful culture and lots of museums. I am quite amused that I caught a Warhol exhibition in Singapore and a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit here. I guess I travel really far to see American art.
After the quiet, silenced lack of protest about anything in Asia, Budapest is quite refreshing. It seemed extreme the other way relative to where I had come from. One of the most famous churches in town is named the Matthias Church. Perhaps telling of the attitude here, my host explained that he was a great king because he ruled during a period of unrivaled wealth and peace in Hungary. He was an unpopular king at the time though, because he raised taxes and they didn’t know that was considered peaceful and wealthy until more people attacked them. I guess Hungarians may just like to protest. I stumbled upon a cordoned off parking lot near the Heroes Square where there was a whole billboard art exhibit dedicated to protesting.
I think this exhibit proved to me that you really, truly understand a foreign language when you can understand their word jokes and puns. Of course, my favorite type of culture is still the type I can ingest. Europe will be a challenge as I would like to avoid only eating bread and cheese to keep within my budget. At least the bread and cheese here are interesting. Everything in Hungary is so filling I kept leaving every meal feeling overly stuffed and that I should go work in a field somewhere. I guess the hearty peasant style fare depiction is accurate which may explain the abundance of healthy international restaurants in Budapest. I also learned that goulash is not a stew like gravy to be thrown on noodles, that’s called porkolt here. Goulash soup is a spiced beef and vegetable broth that is still quite filling with a giant hunk of bread.
I had temple fatigue in Asia and suspect I will have church fatigue as well. I just don’t find them memorable as they turn into a blur of pretty buildings for me. Still, on first glance, Budapest is an amazingly atmospheric city and I have enjoyed being immersed in old world architecture.
I’m still trying to decide where next however the weather went from lovely and temperate my first day to near freezing the next. I think a break for the hopefully warmer Croatian coast may be in order. I’m heading south like a migratory bird.