This travel entry has been long due .
For me, somehow, Berlin feels like the crossover point to Eastern Europe, and the starting point of all the great long distance train journeys. We had taken the overnight train from Prague to Budapest. As the train rolled into the outskirts of Budapest, I remember seeing grass growing between tracks, some abandoned rail sheds and even some carriages just left there.
Budapest Keleti train station was huge, and I liked the brick and iron rather than a steel and glass structure. The high roof, with the massive skylight and the sights of long distance trains pulling in was just a bit too adventurous to ignore. I picked up a couple of old National Geographic magazines for 300 Forint each, something which I am reading these days, and something which reminds me very much of the railway station.
Immediately after getting out of the station, we asked for directions in broken English / broken sign language, and reached a dead end. Retracing our steps back, with all our luggage laden on, we reached a metro station from where we got better directions and reached our campsite. We pitched tent, freshened up, and got a lot of tips as to what to not miss in the coming days in Budapest.
The evening was spent walking along the banks of the Danube, where there was a huge fair / celebration going on. There were lots of food stalls serving varieties of food items and some which served among ‘conventional’, fruity (and potent) beer.
We didn’t really know what we were drinking though – the name on the banner didn’t help. While we sat there sipping the beer, we were joined by a few elderly locals, sadly none of whom spoke any English. Since we didn’t speak any Hungarian, all we exchanged were some smiles, till one of them started talking with us in German! It felt quite strange to be speaking in a ‘foreign’ language, in a ‘foreign’ country, especially with the knowledge that Germany and German language had been home to us since only a year and a half. So, we eventually started talking a bit, when one of the other ladies who had been chatting on her mobile phone since the past few minutes suddenly handed us her phone. We hesitantly accepted, not really knowing what to say, just to hear one word come out of the receiver – the name of the drink! She had come to know that we were inquiring about the drink, and she called up someone at home to ask the name! What a nice and friendly gesture! It was nice to see such warmth on what was a slightly chilly day (occasional drizzle, mild breeze and shy sunshine)
We then saw a stall selling Trdelnik, something which we have enjoyed eating always! Onwards, we walked along the old tram tracks, which were now supporting hundreds of tables and people sitting right next to the river. A lot of families were eating out, many of them eating sausages and biggish slabs of meat, which looked like pork knuckles. Since we were turning into vegetarians, we decided to try out a fried potato dish along with a couple of sauces – a garlic sauce and a slightly sweet one.
Things felt a little expensive first, not because of the currency rate, but because of the denomination of the notes we were spending. Almost everything cost around 300-500 Hungarian Forints. The rate at which we were going through the ‘big’ notes was quite astonishing, even though we were spending much lesser than what we would be in Euros and actually about the same as in India. Within a few hours though, we got the hang of the currency.
All this while, there was music playing being played through speakers lined along the entire promenade. It was very different compared to other such street-fest atmospheres we’d seen. We then bought tickets to the Buda castle where there was a large art/crafts market being held – wooden toys, flowers made from wooden shavings, fishing games, Taleidoscopes and so on. The Hungarian language felt very difficult to comprehend, even to read and remember names, especially on the first day. There were words with multiple ‘Umlauts’ and ‘acutes’ thrown in together! But, coming back to the art market, we saw a pretty unique toy – a pendulum which swung around in a horizontal circular plane, and as it reached the diametrically opposite points, it would pull via strings, wooden hens which would be jerked into a motion which made it seem like they were pecking for seeds. It was quite a simple toy, but we liked how precise the lenghts of the string, the radius of the pendulum’s swing, etc. was designed to be.
We saw lots of garments being sold – some of them being woven right there. There were weavers and potters, people in traditional dresses, wood-fired ovens serving fresh pizzas, artisans weaving straw baskets and hats, and shopkeepers playing and selling the melodious ocarina flutes. We saw a carpet-maker stretch and pound his freshly woven carpet into shape while rolling it across a cylinder. All his movements seemed to be in tune with the song he was singing while working.
We then came across a lit-up stage where we came to know, a Hungarian dance show was just about to begin! We were quite excited to see a local, cultural event take place. It was a beautiful experience! The music was very lively and yet soothing, and the dance was just too beautiful, with happy and smooth dance steps! The performers came from a varied age group – kids from age 15 to elderly folk in their 80’s – the youthful exuberance sometimes showing itself in a jump higher or a shout louder than the rest, while there was a different dignity of motion in the older, seasoned veterans. They had all worn beautiful traditional, ornate, festival-type clothing, and there was lots of twirling around, boot-slapping and heel-thumping by the guys. Everyone joined in in the singing, and the music was played live next to the stage. There was a story being told, atleast in parts, and there was even a stage where all the performers took a sip out of bottles as they played guests in the story! Towards the end, there was a part where the people seemed to have been forced to migrate (famine / floods / War?) and the mood was sombre. The lights were different, the costumes were now plain. A slightly melancholic music piece was played and the audience was now quiet. The old ladies came out with a broom and while sweeping the ‘floor’ sprinkled a few drops of water. Almost symbolically, the jovial dancing began again!
We then moved back towards the river since we were told by the friendly lady at the campsite that all these celebrations were due to the Hungarian National Day being celebrated that very same day. The Hungarian state was founded a thousand years ago. What a coincidence!
We moved on towards the chain bridge, where there would be a fireworks display. The bridge was closed to traffic and fireworks were planned for an hour. Boats floating near the bridge would also be acting as launchpads, we were told, to more fireworks. Music played out of speakers, speeches were being relayed out, people lined the streets and crowded the terraces. There were maybe a few cops too many, but to our surprise, their body language was fairly relaxed and they had one eye strongly on the fireworks too! The orchestrated fireworks made the old bridge look quite spectacular.
We decided to head back before the metro trains got jammed with people . We saw something a little unexpected on the way. Two kids seemed to be running a 100 – metre dash, faces locked in a competitive glare. Around the same time, the loud firecrackers were echoing in the streets, across the buildings as the flashes of light got reflected in the window panes. For a moment it felt like there was a war going overhead with loud booms and rattling noises. But, when we did look around, it was a merry celebration of life.