Sat 31st May
This could get muddled, as I found myself whiling away the evening (and writing notes, badly) at a local wine festival. As near as I can work out it cost me around £3.50 to get in (plus free glass of wine), subsequent glasses being about 75p. Most bottles seem to be averaging around the £4-£6 mark, so I’ll almost certainly be acquiring a couple of souvenirs – assuming I can remember which sample I liked the best, and which stall it came from. A feat which becomes less and less likely as the evening wears on.
Almost for the first time on this trip, I’m sorry to be on my own. The only English I’ve (over)heard so far has been coming from a couple of Californian dudes of a certain age. The one with the blond dreads rummages around in his backpack and triumphantly produces a small lap-top. Whilst he’s earnestly extolling the virtues of some widget or other to his spectacled companion, I’m intrigued to notice that the lap-top rests in its own custom made card-board case….which is nestled inside a cloth brief-case type thing.
Not sufficiently intrigued to ask why, mind you. Largely because I suspect the answer will not only be forthcoming, but lengthy and heartfelt. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against California and its inhabitants, he said hastily. I had a great time in San Francisco and LA and various bits of Orange County, meeting some truly excellent people.
It’s just…well, what? What am I missing? Not just someone I can talk to, I think. I’m full to the brim with sights and sounds and tastes and textures, thoughts and emotions, and what I’m missing is that very specific ease that comes from being with someone who knows you. There are many advantages to travelling alone, but right now all I want is to share even a small part of what I’ve experienced over the past few days. To have that kind of relaxed, rambling conversation that I’ve always believed to be one of the finest fruits of friendship. Before I forget how it’s done. Believe me, a notebook is no substitute.
It’s possible I’ve had more than wine than I thought. Or not enough.
Certainly not enough to completely dull the pain of my aching feet. It has been a day of much walking, starting with a visit to the Museum of Decorative Arts. Another lovely building (designed by Ödön Lechner, the most successful Hungarian architect of the secession). Vibrant roof tiles, great ironwork and other detail on the outside…and inside like a fairy palace. Built around a central colonnaded atrium with an airy glass roof and arches and columns everywhere, all richly detailed with bas-relief motifs, all white. It’s the most distilled version yet of what I’m coming to recognise as a peculiarly, delightfully Hungarian mixture of Eastern/Turkish and Secession influences. Never mind the exhibits; it’s worth visiting just to enjoy this wonderfully exuberant building.
As it happens, the standing exhibition is very good, with some out-standing art-noveau glass, furniture and jewellery. I’m strangely heartened to come across a Worcester bowl decorated with a Walter Crane design, resting on a cabinet that hails originally from Chelsea.
The museum is slightly off the beaten track, and I walk back towards the centre of town. Quite why this seemed like a good idea, when there’s a more than adequate metro line, and buses galore, I don’t recall. Something to do with present shopping, possibly? Whatever it was, I was wrong, and I have the blisters to prove it.
I do manage to discover what the main synagogue (the largest in Europe) looks like from the outside. Why I should trust a guide book over the knowledge that Saturday is the Jewish Shabbat, I don’t know. Wrong again.
Never mind, I’ll do some pressi shopping. I’m going to have to be a bit lucky, though, as belated scrutiny of the guidebook reveals that most shops close at 1pm on Saturdays. Typically, by the time I’ve thought to check on this, its gone 1. Bugger!
This must be the bit where I have to think a bit about what I’m going to do, and the order to do it in. Crisis is far too large a word to describe the few fraught minutes lost in trying to work this out, but if I get it wrong I could waste half a day. No pressure, then. How do I manage to back myself into corners like this, even on holiday? Perhaps it’s a gift, but if so it’s one who’s utility is lost on me.
On the basis that if all else fails, I suspect the shops along Váci Utca (the main tourist bit) will still be open long after everything else closes, I take a slight detour to go an look at the Gresham Palace in daylight. This is a place that exhibits true class, the doorman diving instinctively a) I’m not about to cause trouble and b) I’d be staying there if I could afford it (One day, Allan, one day) he nods and smiles pleasantly as he opens the door for me. In return, I am suitable respectful of the atmosphere of hushed and expensive quiet that prevails within.
In truth, this is not hard, as it’s just as impressive by daylight. More so, in fact, as I’m able to notice small details of finish that escaped me last night. Take a good few photos, then just sit quietly for a while, drinking it all in.
I was right about Váci Utca, and reward myself by much footslogging and examining of a huge variety of stuff. By dint of a kind of stubborn patience am eventually able to find more or less what I’m looking for, but the effort must have clouded my judgement. Slumped over a large cold beer at a street café it’s some while before I notice that I’m more or less opposite a lap-dancing club. Lovely. The doorman/tout looks about 14 to me, and like that’s his first suit as well. Moderately entertaining watching him unsuccessfully trying out his patter on passing drunks (mainly English & German). It is only about half-past three, though.
Desultorily consulting the guidebook for location of music shop (CD of local sounds being one of the things remaining on my list) I discover there’s one not far away. Maybe I’ll go and have a look. It’s either that or fall asleep (combination of weariness and mid-afternoon cold beer).
Wonder of wonders, not only do I find the shop with ease, but it’s till open! Some earnest consultation with a man in the basement follows, and I become the proud owner of a very reasonably priced (about £8, I think) CD of pleasingly odd folk type stuff. On a whim I explore the rest of the shop and …hallelujah…amongst a modest selection of other instruments manage to find a wooden C whistle that plays really well, is sweet toned and mine for the ridiculously low sum of around £12. Result! I suspect the old-ish man who served me simply wanted to shut up shop and go home. Someone must have appreciated my tootling, though – get a very lovely smile from the woman who directed me to the basement in the first instance.
Meanwhile, back at the wine festival. Nearly time for another sample glass, after which any pretence at coherence will be a lost cause. There’s a live jazz band playing and a few people are starting to dance. A dance of another sort is going on a couple of tables away, I notice. An incredibly pretty woman is gradually being surrounded by attentive, semi-sober would-be swains. A certain glint in her eye leads me to believe she’s far too sensible to be taken in by any of them, but she’s also clearly (and perhaps a shade cruelly) enjoying herself no end.
Feeling suddenly a little skeleton-at-feast like, I reckon it’s time to grab my bottles and head off into the waiting maw of the metro.