Not so hungry in Hungary

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Sep 06, 2013

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

 As one of Randy's Facebook friends quipped "we said come to Thanksgiving hungry, not go to Thanksgiving in Hungary."  Guess we figured we’d just add a vowel, since last year we had turkey in Turkey, why not stuff ourselves a little in Budapest?  We celebrated the actual meal at a hotel catering to Americans, getting the requisite turkey and mashed potatoes, but adding Dobosch Torte for dessert beside the pumpkin pie.  The torte tasted just like 7-layer cake of my youth that my Grandfather Fred brought for most family occasions.

    The weather was gray, overcast and even foggy a couple of days.  It made me think my Grandfather Samuel had selected the Detroit area of Michigan to settle in because the dreary, overcast skies made him feel right at home.  

    We walked past the synagogue which is built in a Moorish style – onion domes that one relates more to the Byzantine era in Italian churches than a Jewish sector – but didn’t think about it being Saturday.  The synagogue was closed by the time we got there, and would most likely have been closed earlier for services.  It’s a marvel that the building is still standing.  No more than 6000 Jews survived to see 1945 from the more than 150,000 residents that had been part of the Hungarian community. 

    We visited the basilica that sits on the Pest side at the end of a large open square.  The basilica is renowned for a famous relic of a sainted king.  The right hand was removed from the rest of the king (after his death luckily on one hand, and not the other, all pun intended) the same month he died and was canonized.  The hand, reminiscent of The Thing from Addam’s Family, according to the descriptions in the church traveled significant distances between 1035 and 1945 when it was finally returned to Budapest.  It looked pretty good for not having found a home for 900 years.  It was still intact!  Placed in a special small chapel, (of the Blessed Right Hand, really, I’m not making up the name) for a couple of coins the display case can be lit.  We gave our coins to the docent standing nearby.  He lit up the relic and showed us the relic is a mummified fist.  A crowd gathered around Randy to take photos along with us, as the rest were unwilling to cough up the 2 coins worth of lighting.  It must have been some time since the docent had been paid to light the relic as he gave us a book about the basilica.  And since Randy had said Grazie when the lights came on, (all foreign languages now being part Ital-ish in his use) despite us speaking English to each other about moving around to get a better view of the fist (at the docent’s insistence) the booklet he gave us was in Italian.  Randy claims I’m his Italian (looking) wife.

    Unknown to us before our arrival, there are several natural thermal baths in Budapest.  It was not on our list to visit, but several others in our traveling group described them as lovely.  We watched a few minutes of TV with a reporter describing some thermal baths elsewhere in the world, and how the attendants would whack the people with birch branches to get the circulation going.  I had this mental image of corpulent, mature Europeans sitting around some sauna type thermal bath, and thought the image was enough to dissuade me from an actual viewing.  Just anytime Randy feels sluggish, I now offer to whack him with some dried twigs after a shower to stimulate the circulation --- everybody’s mind out of the gutter!!!

    We visited a flea market that was full of fleas – communist era hats, a couple of medals and caps from WW II; hearing our accents, the price of each object was raised exponentially.  Randy was admonished for taking photos of one shop that from the prices clearly had learned the capitalist’s appreciation of a dollar/Hungarian florint, the communist lifestyle having been left in the dust long ago, where many of these objets d’art had been discovered, and should probably be returned.

    We strolled through the Xmas market admiring the different wares displayed.  After getting chilly enough we stopped for a beverage at a chocolaterie; Randy getting a beer, and I a wonderful hot cocoa.  My hot cocoa came in 3 parts, the warmed chocolate in a cup, warm milk in a small pitcher, and the whipped cream in a ramekin.  It was a delightful respite from the cold, and gave the German hot chocolate, that has been my favorite so far, a run for the money.  Easy to please, the little things in life make me happy.

     We were reminded that we wandered around a former Communist bloc country when viewing the buildings that were somber grey cubes.  Or were they covered with soot of the ages?  The streets were very clean, but not much like other European capitals most likely due to the fact that about 60% of the city was destroyed during WW II.  We were comfortable wandering around at night, in the dark, which was fortunate as there was plenty of evening to take photos as we were on the extreme eastern edge of the Central European Time zone.  It was dark by 4PM.

    To peg Randy’s happiness meter we took an evening to take all the night photos he desired.  We walked along the bank of the Danube on both the Buda and Pest sides to get just the right shots.  That had us strolling past the WW II shoe memorial on the Pest side.  Shoes remain on the river bank, bronzed and lined up where their owners would have stood when the Nazis shot them and then fallen into the river.  It’s quite a moving site as you consider the people that would have occupied the shoes; men, women, young and old, and even a couple of children.  It is one of the more chilling memorials we’ve seen.  Then back to the buildings.  Much like Romania, the other former communist country we recently visited, the parliament buildings are huge testimonials to participatory governments that just do not exist.  Why both Hungary and Romania felt compelled to construct these monster buildings that are minimally used is difficult for me to comprehend.  Of course I write this on the eve of the US government falling off the fiscal cliff because our elected officials can do no better a job of conducting government business and representing the interests of the citizens of the country than those communist regimes did (in my opinion).  Then back over to the Buda side and up to the church and Fisherman’s Point to get the night shots.  

    As we travel the world, it’s the small odd things that give you pause.  The model of commode in the hotel just didn’t make sense to Randy and me.  The porcelain was raised in the center of the bowl with just a little bit of water in the very back of the bowl.  Not to bore you, or gross you out with details, we were left wondering about the efficiency of the model, no American Standard, or Ideal (Italian) model.  Just wondering, hmmmmm, something to think about while you’re idling time away. 

    The Hungarian people definitely looked like my grandfather Samuel, or my Great Aunt Charlotte – fair skin, peaches and cream complexion.  My mother has always preferred a cherry pie over apple which I now chock up to her Hungarian heritage.  Sour cherries were to be had everywhere – pastries, jellies, or garnish.  We loaded up on paprika at the Central Market, and tasted it in just about every meal we had; chicken paprikash, beef stew, and goulash.  We even managed to find keflie at a market, but my mother’s and Cousin Barbara’s is much better than what we got from the commercial bakery.  One thing is for sure – we didn’t go hungry in Hungary.

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