Sat June 11
Upon arrival at Central Market, I’m already annoyed with myself that I didn’t come here sooner. As a rule, I think markets are fascinating. Food markets, flea markets, random sheets in the street with stolen goods markets – you know, the typical fare. The Central Market in Budapest is no exception.
First of all the venue is enormous. Think Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, times 5, plus another floor. The main floor is all food, from fresh produce to fresh meat and the occasional bakery or liquor store. It is a photographer’s dream come true – a riot of color and noise that begs to be documented. On the second floor you can find food vendors, a restaurant, and souvenirs for days. I dine on traditional langos, a circle of fried dough with cheese and sour cream. I chat with shop owners and pick up a few items that catch my eye. I raise an eyebrow at the family that comes tearing in the entrance and striding with a purpose up the center aisle .. sure enough they are on a mission. I eavesdrop and hear, “Ok, next aisle to the left now move it,” and am disappointed. Who sprints through places like these to check them off a mental list? Calm down, people! Stop and smell the paprika.
Leaving the market I step out into the sun and cross one of the many bridges across the Danube. This one is at the far end of the city, the “green one” according to our walking tour friends, and right beneath the hill that holds the statue of independence – a woman standing with her arms over her head holding what might be a branch of some sort between her outstretched hands.
There is an ice cream pitstop and a quest for stamps, followed by a failed attempt to charge my Vodafone mobile (not possible here unless you have a Hungarian number, lame). After coffee and postcards I carry on to the House of Terror on Andrassy Avenue – a historical place known as the headquarters for the Nazi and later the Soviet occupation. The information is plentiful, but a lot of it is in Hungarian so I am left to my own devices. Lots of black and white photos, dark music and war paraphernelia mark the way through the museum. I spend a long time in a brightly lit room full of colorful propaganda that I can’t understand but enjoy looking at. I resist the urge to freak out when placed in a small elevator descending slowly to the basement and the prisons – a camera projecting a story about the execution process on the back wall. I scowl when rowdy teenagers rip through the Victimizers exhibit, exclaiming at the size of the machine gun propped in the corner.
I seek out a Hungarian restaurant recommended by Jessica and indulge in a hortobagy crepe – a glorious bit of thin dough filled with homemade goulash. It is perfectly savory, and a delicious ending to my day.
Sun June 12
Today is reserved for relaxation – off to the Szecheyni baths in City Park (Varosliget). I go early in the morning, hoping to find some peace before 9am. Who needs to set an alarm when you have outrageous daylight available so early in the morning? This whole living on the equator thing is too much for me.
The big yellow building is right outside the metro stop. The lady at the window barely looks at me when I request a day pass and a locker. Clearly the thermal springs have not done her any favors. I figure out the locker mechanism and head outside to the massive pools. There are people of all shapes, sizes and nationalities sitting, standing and swimming in the outdoor pool. It is immediately overwhelming and full of a few too many Speedo colors. After a quick dip, I curl up with a book that only barely disguises my people watching.
Heading indoors there are a series of rooms that hold saunas and thermal pools. I walk into a steam room that nearly melts my face off (55-65 Celsius / 131-149 Fahrenheit), and recover under a shower along the wall. The hottest pool is 38 C (100 F) and I steer clear of the 20 C (68 F). A new spa favorite is found somewhere in the thermal labyrinth and I enjoy the aroma steam room with its eucalyptus scent, less so the chattering Italians that fill the tiny space. I try to wait them out but its fruitless and I leave the fragrant air behind.
After a quick shower I abandon the now crowded baths for the surrounding city park. I take refuge in the green space for awhile and later find a festival going on near the castle (yes, their city park has a castle, and a lake). I spy a bride and groom, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, bellydancers, a boa constrictor and a pile of street food including but not limited to sweet bread, cotton candy, potatoes on sticks and marzipan. Where is the famous Anonymous statue? Under a pile of children.
I marvel at the nonchalance of skin-baring Europeans in wide open green spaces – you know you’re not in America when no one is getting arrested for indecent exposure. We tan on beaches and in beds, they tan anywhere there is sun. Several men stare unabashedly at a group of four women, one of whom has her legs up over her head in what I can only guess is an attempt to tan the back of her thighs. Classy!
I walk from the park all the way to the end of Andrassy Avenue, en route to purchase this gorgeous ice cream I have seen everyone carrying around. It’s some mile high twist of custard that has been calling me since I arrived. After a long walk in the hot sun past at least five other people with the sweet treat in hand.. I buy one. Chocolate and vanilla and awesome. And then I drop it. I (of course) want to photograph this frozen monument and once I rearrange myself, I discover it is now on the pavement in front of me… which I also photographed.
No one is around to watch it fall, watch me stare at the empty cone in my hand, or buy me a new one. That’s my cue to call it quits for the day and I pout all the way home to pack.