Heading West to Budapest

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.

Under a bridge on Margaret Island.

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.

This graffiti made me laugh. Why yes, I am in Budapest, thanks! Alas, most of the other graffiti wasn’t particularly inspired or inspiring.

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.

The central market here has huge sausage, cheese, bakery and pickle wings. Swoon!

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.

A langos is a deep fried disk of dough topped with cheese, sour cream and garlic paste. I added salami to mine and spotted caviar in the available options at this stall.

While eating my langos, I spotted this bacon wrapped, melty cheese wrapped sausage under some heat lamps. A burly Hungarian woman was brushing everything in the case with oil

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.

My host made me a delicious wiener schnitzel. He adds sunflower seeds on the outside.  Those are sauerkraut stuffed spicy cherry peppers on the side.

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.

Alcoholic drinks appear to be important here. Basement stills are legal in Hungary.

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.

Outside the Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Palace of Arts.

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.

Minorities are still harassed but have more of a voice than I saw in Asia. This particular billboard shows a woman wearing some sort of nationalist style flag with the message that she is Hungarian, gypsy, Jewish, gay and proud of all of it.

Some trends are the same everywhere, but this is definitely different from how you saw Angry Birds in Asia.  No parliament building destruction there.

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.

Well, if I’m going to eat cheese and bread all day it can be hot and melty. This is a megelszendvics, or a pizza like half sandwich covered in way too much ketchup, mayo and mustard.

Hungarian food appears to involve lots of meat, like this fried meatball, and peasanty soups. This was found at an etkezdek, a cafeteria like lunch set up for cheap filling eats.

A cabbage retes (strudel). What’s not to love about cooked cabbage stuffed inside a pastry crust that started greasing through the paper as soon as I bought it?

I did splurge for a fantastic fried half duck in an old wooden restaurant filled with crusty old Hungarians. It was still ridiculously cheap compared to America and squeezed in my backpacker budget for the day.

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.

The old part of town is quite touristy but beautiful to wander around in and gaze at the buildings.

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.

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