Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hungarian Goulash

OK, OK, so it's been a while. I've been away in the South of France and in Budapest. Firstly for an idyllic forthnight in the bosom of my family tasting the fruits of the Provence; and secondly for a hectic boy's weekend being chased around Budapest by hookers.

I wasn't too impressed with Budapest. OK, it was pleasant to enjoy a meal on the banks of the Danube with the Castle looming over us. The food was very ordinary but the setting was superb. And the constant stream of hookers passing up and down made a passable cabaret. Another enjoyable experience was a visit to the baths - the one near the zoo. Here on a Sunday morning it seemed that all of Budapest was out for a soak. There were hot baths, warm baths, steam rooms, plunge pools and even conventional swimming pools - a vast expanse of bathing options housed in a huge tiled palace. Here there was no cruising or cult of the body beautiful - all shapes and ages paraded around in an unabashed fashion. I felt right at home.

The architecture of the city is a mixture of grand remnants of the glory days of the Hapsburgs interspersed with the worst excesses of Soviet brutalism. The streets are even dirtier than Dublin. Its taxi service is entirely run by gangsters it seems so you never get into a cab without agreeing a fare first. We made that mistake once and once only. The food is mediocre - they don't seem to know how to make bread and a vegetarian could well starve to death.

The public transport system while dirty seems regular and efficient. we got buses and trains as much as possible. Buy a ticket though - checks are very regular.

If you're going out to clubs, be careful. Most of the girls are professionals and the bouncers are animals. Also, the crowd gets rougher as the night progresses. I made my excuses and left early.

The main Gallery of Art is impressive. Two works by Lucas Cranach the Elder are worth the visit. They are both called "Unsuitable Marriage" and feature an old man and a young woman; and an old woman and a young man. Ahead of his time was old Lucas. There is also work by Goya, El Greco, Durer etc.

While any country that gave us Puskas, Durer and Za Za Gabor can't be all bad, I won't be going back. The abiding atmosphere was one of seediness and bad faith. Coming straight after the peaceful ease of a village in Provence, the contrast was dramatic.