Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Old Country


First experience in Hungary:
We pile into the comfortable taxi to head to our hotel from the airport. The driver proceeds out of the terminal parking area and leads us onto freeways that look rather like downtown Detroit, with bare trees and rundown housing along the side of the road, which calmed my nerves about not knowing the language that would be spoken around me. I am giddy and smiling until our chauffeur puts the pedal to the floor and all of a sudden we are careening past billboards and tiny grocery stores and weaving in and out of 10 year old fiats that are driving the legal speed limit, which is probably too fast anyway. Maybe I should have believed it was all a dream when Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" actually started playing on the radio, but while you can't die in your dreams, you certainly can in Budapest. And you can listen to a lot of horrible music, including a lite-rock rendition of "Stayin' Alive" sung by a foreign female vocalist in the hotel lobby.

The rest of our trip was not nearly as frightening. In fact, I think Budapest has been my favorite city so far on this grand European Tour. It's absolutely beautiful just to walk through the streets, with amazing architecture from nearly every century including the Parliament building, the castles and the incredibly massive St. Stephan's Basilica. We had a wonderful view of the Chain Bridge and the Danube from our very cushy hotel (I didn't want to leave). We also went to a huge market with food and traditonal hungarian wares where we were impatiently helped by vendors who didn't really seem to want our money. Europe really doesn't know how to do customer service.

The food was amazing; Blayne and I had mushroom goulas, cabbage, noodles, dumplings, cookies, christmas candies and more. I witnessed my first hang-out-over-the-pants-belly in four months. We went to another Christmas market, which actually did have some different specialty foods, but was still keepin it real with the hot wine. I also got to taste a little bit of palinka, a traditional liquor made from fruit. At 60% it tasted a little like it should go on my skin, not in my mouth. The unicum was great though, with a dark, cinnamon and peppermint flavor and a bitter orange rind after taste.

We got to see a folk music and dance show, which although was obviously only for tourists, was very fun. All the performers were wearing traditional costumes, with roughly 10 dancers, 10 violinists, a clarinetist, bassist, and a dulcimer player. The dancing was lively and jovial, with boots stomping on the floor and a carefully executed bottle dance. The girls would squeal every few measures which took me back to the days of dance competitions, only this time it was only one girl as opposed to an auditorium full of about 300. They played probably as fast as humanly possible, and what was better was that all of the performers seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience. They would laugh and make faces at each other, giving it a real spontaneous, authentic feel, whether that was true or not.

I think part of my comfort and enjoyment in the city was because it strangely felt like home, and also because of the tourguide expertise of one David Wayne. Without him this trip would not have been nearly as successful. We were able to ask for directions, find things we wanted to see, order food, and I'm sure millions of other little things I didn't even realize because we had someone there would knew it all. It's so much better visiting a place with someone who knows their way around. And it made me feel even more like I was at home, with my family and a friend I've known for over 10 years. And although I'm sure I could've felt very uncomfortable in a less globalized (not a negative attribute), post-communist city with a biting wind chill and the 1,000 year old severed hand of a saint, I felt like there was no place I would rather be.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Bryanne said...

Good post.

8:19 PM  

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