Budapest

These are my impressions of a recent trip to Budapest.

My father’s parents grew up in Budapest. The Waldmann family has returned on 5 or so occasions. Caroly, Erzebeth and Thomas (dad) went back in 1937 to tell the folks it was time to bug out of central Europe (they didn’t listen). Dad went back in 1989. I was there in 1997 after hopping on a train from Vienna. My sister was there on her honeymoon but didn’t take photos. I was there a month ago.

The main sight I went to see is Hojos 3, my grandmother’s family’s apartment. Dad took a camera to document the effects of war, 70 days of siege and 44 years of communism. Grandma didn’t notice any changes.

I was there in 1997 and found a used car dealership on the ground floor. Also the sweet shop across the street had turned into a bar. I had alarming thoughts about the relative power of the market and bombs in making everything solid melt into air.

Also I had never felt so foreign. Here I was in the city 2 of 4 grandparents came from and I couldn’t read anything. I mean I look at a sign that says something street and I don’t know which word is the name and which word means street. Also, for the first time in my life, I had to look carefully at the little stylised picture of a man and of a woman to figure out which was the mens’ room.

Budapest in 1997 had embraced the market and was smothering it with hot kisses. The city is at least as beautiful as Vienna (OK I’m prejudiced) and not totally out of Prague’s league, but the Budapest approach to attracting tourists was Las Vegas East (sorry central). I personally stopped at the “Las Vegas” casino but I still had money when I left so it is OK. I also have to congratulate the guy who impersonated a police officer (with no ID) accused me of changing money on the street (for no reason) inspected my foreign currency holdings and gave back most of them to me. Embarassing and expensive, but that’s the way to treat idiot tourists who are being paid strangely large sums to teach about economics while clearly lacking the most basic concept (don’t hand over your money to every guy in a suit who asks to see it).

By 2004 things seem to be going pretty well. Budapest seemed markedly richer. In fact it seemed like a normal functioning European city. OK the Las Vegas casino is still right across the Danube from Buda (next time I am not going back to it). Also there is sign advertizing a strip joint legally attached to one of the poles of a fence around a municipal playground. Still the place looked clean efficient etc. Also instead of the Eastern tin can cars people were driving normal Western cars (that means cars made in the far East).

Also the language had changed. I mean people still spoke Magyar but about half of commercial signs and bill boards were in English.

Finally there was positive proof of integration into the global capitalist consumer society — billboard advertisements for “motercycle diaries” the film about the young Che Guevara.

8 thoughts on “Budapest

  1. Heh. It may be that one of your relatives was my classmate at ELTE university.

    Regarding comaprisons with Vienna and Prague, I won’t play the local patriot here: Budapest is the European capital of dog manure on the street and of air pollution dominated by dust. And the changing governments and our unchanging major (whom I voted for in all four elections he won, but may reconsider next time) won’t do much for public transit and keeping green areas green (no wonder after he himself moved to the suburbs) – case in point: the 15-year-ongoing saga of building a fourth subway ‘in the next few years’, while Vienna and Prague are building their systems apace.

  2. Also, I’m reminded by that fake policeman (and the severely-upward-mis-calculating restaurant waiter you didn’t even notice – always ask the US embassy for a list of the worst offenders), and I don’t mean to insult anyone, but there is a whole industry in Budapest built on selling mostly American tourists cheap gitch of no value at high prices as authentic local souvenir…

  3. Dear dodo

    My earlier not so positive impression of Budapest did indeed have a lot to do with a very severely undercurbed dog. Note my very last post as a guest blogger above. I didn’t mention that because while I’m willing to be considered full of shit, I don’t want people to think that I am obsessed with it.

    I think I didn’t meet the waiter. Restaurant bills all added up. Recall I live in Italy, where rules are such that law abiding restaurants always end up charging about twice the sum of the prices of the entr?s.

    As for the major, well any major who doesn’t live in the city he governs doesn’t deserve re-election.

  4. Restaurant bills all added up.

    Ho-ho-ho, but our waiters are more skilled!

    1) Did your bills also add up with prices in the menu?

    2) Are you sure there weren’t two versions of the menu card (one brought for locals, another for rich tourists)?

    🙂

  5. Different prices on menus in different languages seems to me to be honest price discrimination. I’ll pay rather than order something in Magyar and find out that I just asked for the mens room (ferenz or someting).

    Now my Budapest restaurant experiences. We arrived at midnight and looked for food across the street from our hotel. There was a “night club,” that is a strip joint, with free admission for hotel guests and a menu promising over priced food (and just imagine how accurate the arithmetic would be). There was also what appeared to be a bar where they served us excellent food at midnight and the bill corresponded to the menu with accurate arithmetic.

    The hotel was the mercur corona and the wonderful little bar restaurant was right across the street. Tell them Robert sent you and they will charge you tourist prices, so just pretend you were at the “night club.”

  6. I love Budapest. It has a slightly forlorn worn out look to it, but a beautiful city none the less.

    I was either ripped off very skillfully or I had no problems with waiters, and enjoyed some very fine food and wine.

  7. As someone who has lived in Bp on and off for 7 years now, I would say that the ?Fleece the Idiot Foreigner? industry is definitely in decline.
    Of course beautiful women on Vaci still invite me for a drink but I put that down to my roguish charm rather than anything more sinister?
    Yes,well, one place I would advise tourists still to be a bit wary about is the Gellert Baths.
    The little helper there who is supposed to give you a refund depending on how long you?ve been decadently soaking is rather forgetful of both the system and the English language when it suits him.

  8. As someone who has lived in Bp on and off for 7 years now, I would say that the ?Fleece the Idiot Foreigner? industry is definitely in decline.
    Of course beautiful women on Vaci still invite me for a drink but I put that down to my roguish charm rather than anything more sinister?
    Yes,well, one place I would advise tourists still to be a bit wary about is the Gellert Baths.
    The little helper there who is supposed to give you a refund depending on how long you?ve been decadently soaking is rather forgetful of both the system and the English language when it suits him.

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