Archive

Hungary

I meant to flee south to warmer climates, I’d bought a ticket to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That night, as I was packing up to leave, my laptop broke again, the second time this month. I’d already had to change plans in Singapore to stay longer for a fix and it had come back with a part slightly askew. Now the part was completely broken and derailing my weather wienie ways. Back to Budapest it was, where I could find someone to fix my computer under warranty.  My farm host mentioned that in Budapest, people have a habit of entering after you but somehow leaving before you in revolving doors.  It’s true, I’m not sure how, but it happens here.  Well I hope everyone doesn’t leave for the south before me.

I tried to cheer myself up from my diverted plans with a sweet. I spied this in a 70’s looking store. The old lady firmly entrenched behind the retro orange and brown store all pointed to a delicious cake. Unfortunately the awesomely named Rokoko cake ended up being terrible and dry.

Last time I was here, I did some sightseeing and saw the city through a couch surfer who lived in the suburbs and loved vintage cars. This time around I stayed in hostels which ended up being the revolving door part of the trip. I never booked too far ahead, not knowing when I could get my equipment fixed and go so I got kicked out more than once as the place would be full and out of beds. The trip to Vienna happened in-between my stay this time, at one rather sudden booting out. It unfortunately cast a slightly stressful tint on this stay. Luckily I discovered some cool modern culture stuff happening to make up for it.

One thing leads to another while traveling and this time it all started when I went into a poultry store to buy some amazingly juicy fried chicken to enjoy in a park by the river.

Goose is more common here than most places so I also wandered out with “sult libamaj”, fried goose liver of the not force fed variety. It was preserved in a box full of what I assume to be goose fat. My farm host let me know rather matter of factly that all meats used to be preserved like this. Now I understand why there is a national dish that’s just fat on bread, but how is everyone here not dead?

Right next to the awesome poultry store was a toy and useless crap store selling fun modern things. The tourist area is dotted with cool design stores selling expensive things. These are some common animals of Hungary, including the rad spiral horned sheep that I forgot to take a picture of on the farm.

I had arrived for design week. I imagine there’s always something going on in Budapest but design is certainly one I enjoy. To get to Budapest I had taken a layover in Helsinki but not spent any time there due to expense. Now in Budapest, the star of the design week was Helsinki.

I guess I missed a cool design layover

Funny how that works. I wish I had found out earlier as there were some cool films and open studios and I had come on the last day or two.

On my first visit, I went to Heroes’ Square and noted that all the great Hungarians had great Hungarian mustaches. Apparently that’s a thing here, and it appears on aprons accordingly.

I wandered by a theater and saw it was the Kikassa Animation Festival. When I was a kid I wanted to be an animator and I still to this day love watching animations. This is the second time I’ve stumbled into an animation festival, the last when I ran into an old coworker showing at one in Portland, Oregon. I got to watch a tribute to the Hungarian-British animator John Halas. He was a strong proponent for utilizing technology to the max and there were some cool computer animated bits from the 70s and 80s. It was cool watching the influence of growing up in a tough place on a form considered in the west to not be very serious at all. I didn’t even realize the west had an animated version of Animal Farm, which I may have to watch more than the tiny clip I got to see. The rest of the time I spent doing what I usually do, trying the various foods and eating as much cake as I could hold.

I’d passed by Jeg Bufe before and somehow missed the crowds all standing up at window counters inhaling cakes. This is a piramis cake, a multiple layer cake surrounded with lots of chocolate buttercream and then coated in a layer of chocolate. Delicious!

I don’t get why cake eating and cafe coffee is such a fast ordeal here though, everyone seems to be in and out in a matter of minutes. One evening I ended up in a cellar restaurant, where you have to walk down some stairs and the entire inside was made of arched wood. A pretty cool location. As a cool bonus it was called Csülök Csárda, which means the Pork Knuckle Inn.

Pork knuckle, a part of pig I can’t say I see much in America, is everywhere in Hungary. I got mine covered in bacon, onions, and potatoes. See that pork I dug out peeking up from the huge stack? Washing all of that down with a beer made me a pretty sleepy person during the animation festival. The free shot of palinka didn’t help either.

One of the places recommended for all tourists and as a cheap eating location is the Central Market Hall also known as the Grand Market.  I find it a tchotchke tourist trap but seeing all the sausage and bread vendors is neat.  Go downstairs and see the fish and pickle vendors.  As a budget eatery though, I think that’s all bunk.  The prices at the steam tables where food sits out all day and is reheated in a microwave is the same as lunch specials at most sit down restaurants.  Order a “napi menu” at a restaurant instead of lining up with all the tourists.  The langos bar isn’t bad but is more expensive than most places where it doesn’t usually come with so many darned things on top.

Although delicious looking here, this stuffed pepper was on the cold side of lukewarm after their microwave reheating and the sauce was sickly sweet.

One evening I hiked out to the suburb area of Obuda on the Buda side of things across the river.  It had lovely old buildings and a delicious bakery.  Daubner’s is a pretty large place with four counters all with long lines for what turned out to be pretty delicious cake and people lugging out huge boxes of desserts.  I saw one lady inhale her cake before she even got to a counter.  I’ve had cake before dinner a few times as they usually close around 6 or 7 in the evening.

The E-80 torte consisting of sponge base, marzipan cream, coffee cream & cocoa powder. Not usually my thing but it ended up extra decadent here and therefore extra delicious.

While on that same side of the river I visited Regis Sipos, known for its halazle (fish soup).  When I showed up I was a little concerned the restaurant was quite fancy and full of waiters but only had one table of guys in jeans.  By the time I left though, the place was half full and had lots of suits and tourists clutching maps.  There was even a band of cellist, violinist and xylophonist.

It took me a while to find it as i only saw this at the Central Market and the restaurants I tried were out. Delicious but I’m glad I ordered a small as it was quite heavy.

The best way to follow a heavy fish soup is with a heavy appetizer of Hortobagy palascinta. It’s a crepe filled with ground meat and topped with a creamy smoked paprika sauce and sour cream. This one was then topped with some slices of fresh paprika pepper, in case two types of cream needed two types of paprika.

I went looking for goose leg at Kanaan’s in the XIII district and only found more goose liver in the form of croquettes next to this delicious fried duck leg. Well, I’ll take another delicious fowl as substitute.

On my last full day I went to visit the tourist famous Kadar Etkezde.  While etkezde are usually cheap lunch spots, this one was was expensive as most restaurants I’ve been to in the area so perhaps it is only for tourists now.  All the staff were exceedingly friendly and kept asking if everything was ok.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them everything was ok but not great.  Just like every time I ignore my instincts and go to something recommended by guidebooks.

I didn’t ever actually try chicken paprikash but I did try this Hungarian style paprika turkey.

Csaszarmorzsa, or the Emperor’s Crumb, a dessert that tasted like crumbled cake covered in powdered sugar and jam. Seems kind of heavy and peasant like for an emperor.

How do you make up for an overpriced mediocre lunch?  By getting cheap delicious retes!

Well, so the retes making in Kiskassa village ended up a bust but luckily there’s a delicious retes store in Budapest. Unlike the bready/cakey version of the village this one is mostly filling lovingly surrounded by greasy flaky pastry.

Just to prove I’m not only out to laugh at Asia for their Engrish mistakes, here is one time I think Hungarians might’ve missed the point. I don’t think that’s something one usually advertises.

The area wasn’t doing so well with lots of empty store fronts, but really I suppose any area with lots of sex shops isn’t usually the most kept up.

Also seen on the same street. How old is this shop? The euro is something like 280 Hungarian forints now.

I like spending lots of time in one place but not when I hadn’t wanted to and had to change hostels three times. The benefit of staying in a city is to not have to pack up so darned often. I stayed around the Oktogon/Nyugati train station area which is quite near all the happening things but also quite touristy.  At least it’s a very pretty place.

The view over the Danube River from the Margaret Bridge. You can see the parliament building to the left and the castle to the right.

It’s pretty at night too. All the couples making out around me thought so as well.  The neon McDonald’s sign on the far left is sad but fitting.

This time, after yet a third laptop mishap, I’m finally heading to Sarajevo. It is a city with so many awesome things and a great character and yet, perhaps with all my bad luck, it did not add up to be greater than all it’s parts. I go through briefly one more time on my flight out but otherwise, sorry Budapest, don’t call me, maybe I’ll call you sometime.

Advertisements

It was an accident, the way most of my volunteering efforts seem to go.  I applied to a bunch of farms in Hungary and they were the only ones who even bothered to respond to tell me no.  One did drag in a week or two later, another rejection.  I had decided to head south, making a break for the much warmer Croatian coast.  This Angeleno doesn’t know what to do out of temperate, warm climates.  The farm was also a hostel so I figured why not stop there.  After weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and then Budapest, I could use some country downtime.

They came to meet me at the bus stand and told me there was some volunteer work all of a sudden if I was interested.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.  I hope everyone is so lucky as to have a great first (and every) WWOOF-ing experience.  WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms.  While I won’t turn down an organic apple, I had originally chosen Workaway as my site of choice because I really don’t care what kind of farm it is.  I wouldn’t be volunteering on giant corporate farms either way.  Turns out I have about the same luck either way, so there may not be too much more of this in my future.

But more importantly, onto the harsh farm work to break my urban romantic notions of farm life!  Actually, I expected all sorts of ridiculous physical hard labor and feel like I got the better end of the deal.  I will gladly accept delicious, hearty home cooked Hungarian food and a roof for what turned out to be not too bad at all.  The first task was cutting down dried cornstalks devoid of corn to be used as goat feed.  The giant stalks go into a machine that shreds them into goat edible chips using a giant belt attached to a device that looks like it existed in the steam era.

The view during a break in the acacia grove from the hard work of cutting and tying dried corn stalks in the fields.

The nearby church tolls its bells three times a day to let you know the work day has started, ended, and when to get lunch. If I kept bells on me, they’d constantly be going so I could constantly eat.

Luckily I got the really hard work out of the way first.  The rest of it was easy compared to this first day of tiring labor.

The view from the drinking patio which was quite pleasant on the many warm days. A good place to catch a sunset over the hills.

A lot of the tasks seemed more for more learning benefit.  Nothing says city slicker like my obvious confusion about plants and farm animals.  However after a week and a half, I now know how to milk a goat.  It did take a few jolting tries that involved a few goat kicks to get it right though.

One of the hosts, Alan, milking a goat happily munching away on grain and fruit in the milking stand.

I also learned how to turn unpasteurized goat’s milk into cheese the slow natural way without rennet. I’ve been wanting to know how to make cheese all trip. Turns out making small quantities is only a few minutes of work a day.

Little did this urban kid know that male goats came without horns and female ones could have horns. This was good news for me because this male goat started getting a little cuddly but then started head butting me when I ignored him. He looks so silly and innocent when he’s just standing around sticking his tongue out.

It seemed like most of the things have been harvested but some of the plants were still producing well into the fall.  So there was a lot of picking, eating, and preserving going on.  Turns out picking tomatoes growing on the ground looks a lot like the strawberry growers I used to see on the side of the road.  How their backs and haunches don’t constantly hurt is beyond me.  We also preserved pots and pots of pears that took a good bit of work to peel and core.  I can’t say I’ve ever successfully grown enough of anything to need that many rounds!

A good greenhouse effect. I tore the dying tomato plants and weeds out to give the remaining eggplant and pepper plants a better chance.

A lot of the more regular tasks involved making sure all the animals were in all the right places at the right time of day and happily fed.  You don’t really get a day off from this one.  It’s a good chance to live out the Old MacDonald song though.

Here a cluck, there a cluck, everywhere a cluck-cluck. These guys were post-factory adoptions after they were too old to be productive enough. They still lay a few eggs here and there. Hens sound like hissing cats to me.

On sunny days the goats, geese, sheep and sometimes one of the dogs would be led up to the fields to munch on grass and run about. It could be more work getting them back in the stables at the end of the night.

Putting the animals away at night was actually easier than I thought it would be as most of them happily ran into their shelters or lined up outside waiting to get in.

When I was a kid my Mom warned me that geese are dicks because one nipped her pretty hard. She was right, geese ARE dicks! These guys have been hissing and chasing me all week.

Indonesian running ducks are extra slim, standing taller than most ducks I’ve seen. They’re great for gardens because they’ll eat bugs but not vegetables. As a bonus they’re also apparently delicious. I want one the next time I have a garden.

Also on the farm were one cat and two rather hyper dogs.  The cat was particularly friendly around milking times, hoping to catch some spare goat’s milk.  Sorry cat, that’s for our tea and cheese making.  He only got some when a goat became infected so it wasn’t good for human consumption.  Cats weren’t the only ones eating well on a farm though.  I enjoyed so many wonderful home cooked meals that were a real breath of fresh air after months of eating in restaurants.  Especially in a peasant culture like Hungary, this seemed like the best way to discover foods I didn’t even know about.  There was lots of sausage and sauerkraut to be had.  However it was also refreshing because I had a salad just about every night, which I also haven’t really had for months.

Why must this cell phone picture look all suspicious and grainy? Those are some giant squash though! You can’t tell from this picture, but they were probably almost two feet long and well past American edible squash range. The top two remind me of Chinese squash.

The gigantic squash were turned into lecso, a red stew like thing consisting of lots of peppers and whatever other vegetables as filler, and fozelek, a sort of cream of vegetable stew/soup/side.  Apparently Hungarian squash are tender at much larger sizes.  Kohlrabi are also popular in this area and I had a lovely soup of it with liver dumplings.  Move over sweet potato fries, because kohlrabi fries were pretty tasty.

Every morning brought a delicious spread of fresh breads and rolls from the market that morning and homemade jams and preserves. This is a sour cherry studded chocolate brioche that was delicious when toasted.

The husband of this duo is British and they spent some time living there, so I got to enjoy lots of tea.

A staple in the fridge were Pottyos, a very Hungarian chocolate bar filled with quark cheese. Apparently it started in Russia but never caught on there like it did here. It’d be tastier to bring along if it didn’t need to be refrigerated. I think they sell them in China now.

The Hungarians eat a lot of pork so my going away feast consisted of a delicious pork meatloaf that comes studded with hardboiled eggs accompanied by homemade pickles. It was delicious out of the oven and just as amazing as a sandwich.  That’s fozelek in the upper left and lecso in the upper right.

The time really flew by as I got into a groove of some farm work, lots of tea breaks, enjoying many delicious new foods, and reading from the extensive English library.  I may very well have to return in the future for a longer stint of this.  My hosts did let me know they often get two to three requests a day, so I may not have much more volunteering at new places in my future.  I realize now that like interns, volunteers need a lot of supervision and time to become useful.  I guess they’re not really the quick free labor most people expect.  Oh well, I’d happily come back to this farm.  I’ll just have to watch out for those nippy geese and lovesick goats!

While I’ve spent the last week and a half in the small, peaceful village of Kiskassa, I took a few trips to explore the rest of southern Hungary.  The two towns I checked out are the train stop and university town of Pecs (“Pay-ch”) and castle/thermal spa town Siklos (“Sheik-lows”).  The common thread?  All the cake I was shoving in my face at the recommendation of the son of the lovely couple I’ve been staying with.  After my unsatisfied grasps at chocolately desserts in Asia, this was just what I needed.

The normal town market may be closed on Sunday but every weekend brings a festival or two in Pecs. This one is a square full of people in folk dress getting ready for song and dance.

I appreciate including the whole family in festivals, particularly wine ones, I sometimes question the judgment of planners. Who thought handing out suggestively shaped caterpillar balloons to children was a good idea?

Festivals bring fair like deep fried and grilled foods. A freshly fried langos is way superior to the kind that’s been sitting around.

The first of how many Hungarian Esperantists? Still a nice park tucked into a corner near museum row.

I returned a second day to Pecs, as the first day was a short sojourn in between a train and a bus.  The next trip was meant to be a more in depth adventure that ended up being slightly soaked.  A better excuse to eat cake right?  I started off going to the market and a lovely lunch with my hosts.  They took me to a fantastic half underground wine bar lunch spot for a gypsy pork chop, which means covered in bacon and garlic.  No one seems to know why it’s called that as gypsies do not appear to eat like that.  I took the starting rain as an excuse to tuck into a cafe for a slice of cake.

Dorba torta at Mecsek Cafe. The people were a bit strange about me speaking English but the layers of cake and chocolate frosting topped with a crunchy caramel layer more than made up for it.

The rain did not relent so after my cake I headed outward.  Pecs has a bunch of underground early Christan burial sites that were in remarkably good condition considering their age.  It was, like the Plain of Jars in Laos, gloriously empty and free of needing to elbow other tourists to see the relics.  The condition of the venue reminds me that I am not in Asia anymore.  The onslaught of tourism does mean every place wanted to charge me a few bucks on entrance, which didn’t always feel worth it when I spent less than half an hour in some spots.  I entered a terrifying clown and teddy bear museum that shouldn’t have any right charging anyone to view what looked like a personal collection ready for a horror movie.  I luckily skedaddled straight out of that one without paying.  It really started pouring during my sightseeing so I got slightly soaked as I rushed in to peruse bookstores and yet another cafe.

Mystery cake from Virag cafe. I forget what it’s called but it had lots of chocolate mousse and was delicious but was pricier than the other cakes in town.

After two slices of cake I really needed to walk around a bit and just did some strolling through the streets appreciating the architecture of the old town.

Wandering around aimlessly led me to a killer view on the north end of town right outside the old town walls.

While I enjoyed the respite from the rain it got dark soon after my hilltop adventure so I headed back into town to find some dinner before heading back to the farm on a bus.

Smoked pork knuckle with curdled sheep’s milk spaetzle sounded amazing. Too bad it ended up tasting like warm macaroni salad if the noodles were filled up solid. While I can usually down two cakes and a full dinner, I could only take about half of this before it was just too much. The light Pecsi lager only added to my heavy, heavy stomach.

In contrast to the decently sized Pecs is the slightly smaller Siklos, which feels like a town even further back in time.

Siklos is a pleasant medieval town with lovely preserved buildings. So I took a picture of a post-industrial looking overrun garden.

No I’m kidding, I took pictures of the majestic view from the castle I didn’t want to pay to enter. I also stopped by the modern thermal spa. Not the sulfuric mineral springs I was expecting but I won’t turn down lounger and jacuzzi time.

The common theme in this region is all the delicious cake. This is a ludlab (goose’s foot, due to the shape I assume) which was wonderful. I couldn’t explain the word tea so I ended up with espresso.

My hosts went to the market before picking me up, so I got yet another slice of cake. This is zserbos, a walnut and apricot number with chocolate.

Well, after two cakes I had this attitude. However while waiting for my hosts to eat cake, I gave in. That was some tasty chocolate ice cream! See what months without chocolate desserts gets you? No, I’m kidding, being an adult has its perks.

The sunset out of a pickup truck overlooking the nearby fields and farms. I feel like I should’ve said that statement in America.

These towns remind me why I often prefer smaller towns to larger cities.  They were both full of charm that were best absorbed as I meandered my way through the stone streets.  These day trips ended up being nice changes of scenery from these last weeks that I’ve spent reading and working on the farm.

I may have been in Singapore for the set up of Moon Festival but I find myself in a tiny village in southern Hungary instead for a harvest festival.  Perhaps more confusingly, it is a German minority festival with a gypsy theme.  What I was excited about though is that the community gets together to make puppets, parade down the streets eating and drinking, and make Hungarian desserts.

We arrived the day before the festival to help with the retes (strudel) making.  One of the grandmas told me villages used to get together and do this during weddings.  Then she told me I should marry a nice Hungarian lad so they could hold a retes making party for me.  Well, hot damn, that’s the first time all year anyone’s had a benefit for me with their proposed weddings.  It was even more endearing when she brought homemade langos for everyone as a snack.  I ran back and forward between the retes making and decking the culture hall dance room out with crepe paper streamers and grapevines.  And here I thought I’d never use my middle school dance decorating skills again.

All good festivals start with grandmas around a giant pot on the stove.

And what’s the only thing better than one grandma cooking? A whole village’s worth!

Kneading at the speed of light. I seriously don’t get how they pull knead like that.

The dough rests before being pulled to stretch over the entire table. They then pull off the extra bits off the edges and fold up the edges using the tablecloth.

The dough is brushed with butter (or margarine) and sour cream. See the tablecloth through the paper thin dough?

Next you fill the dough with tasty things like cheese, apples, or in this case cherries.

This one is being filled with marrow (squash) and poppy seeds. That grandma chuckled that you aren’t passing a drug test anytime soon.

Using the tablecloth to roll up the retes.

Then you cut and put the segments on a tray.

Last is the most important step, you pause, to sing dirty songs in Hungarian and have a few shots of palinka.  See the mischievous looks on their faces?

Then you repeat the process until you’ve filled an entire room full of trays of retes.

That you throw into the wood fired outdoor oven to bake.

Then when they come out burnt, all the grandmas fight a good bit about who did what wrong.

The next day we showed up early to help with the kurtoskalacs, a chimney shaped cake cooked over an open fire.  The bread is doused in sugar and caramelizes into a crispy exterior and soft interior.  I personally needed a little coffee to get going this early in the morning.

Kneading large amounts of dough by hand, the hard work intensive Hungarian way of doing things.

I had quite a bit of help to get from wet, shaggy dough to this lovely ball. My forearms hurt after a while. I’m not cut out to be a Hungarian grandmother. I can’t knead and I don’t smoke or drink nearly enough.

After letting the yeasty dough rise you roll it out.

Then you cut it into strips and wrap it around a bunch of buttered tubes.

If you can roll a bacon wrapped hot dog, you can roll a kurtoskalacs. I realize that may not be a common skill, but that’s how I roll.

Then in typical healthy Hungarian fashion, you brush yet more butter on it before rolling the whole thing in sweet powder.

Finished kurtoskalacs with poppy seed, chocolate, nut and vanilla sugar coatings ready for some wood fire.

Then we retired back to the farm to rest before the afternoon’s parade and activities.

The town and culture hall were decked out in grapes, grapevines, paper streamers, and slightly terrifying scarecrow-like puppets. This one in particular seems to have a soft spot for box wine and mini-Heineken kegs.

First order of business? Put on a traditional Hungarian skirt over my jeans. The two cups of wine help.

The townsfolk dressed in not particularly politically correct dark face to be gypsies. I’m not sure why cross dressing was necessary.

The other normally dressed townsfolk came on carts pulled by not always willing horses and donkeys.

The harvest festival is to celebrate the year’s goods. This is a wine press making must (grape juice).

Each house hands out things made from harvested goods. This is zsiroskenyer, fresh bread covered in goose or duck fat, paprika and some red onions. The Hungarian trinity is fat, paprika and meat. Other houses handed out various baked goods.

Some houses had wine or palinka, a strong fermented fruit liquor. This house had both maize palinka and red/white wines.

I took a more careful look at the decoration on the table. Well, these Hungarian grandmas are saucier than I thought!

Then everyone retired to the culture house to watch some music and dancing. I appreciate that dressing like a gypsy means putting on face paint and leather pants.

This time I passed on doing folk dancing in a circle and I unfortunately did partake in the local liquor again.  Perhaps the high amount of Hungarian techno both days and fanny packs just didn’t do it for me.  I didn’t plan for this festival but it has turned out pretty darned well.  Whenever I’ve had a little too much energy now I can try making traditional Hungarian pastries.  Until then, I’m going to eat my heart out here.

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.