Monday, December 30, 2013

Return to Bolgoslavia

8 years ago I went to Budapest. It was a holiday after a fairly exciting/gruelling few months of work. I had an interesting time - especially waking up one morning to discover I'd been copied in to an email from the person I'd left in charge of my project: "So everyone, this has happened. I'm ccing James who'll deal with it asap."

I was in the curious and delightful position of having to apologise for something that had happened while I was on holiday. And sort it out. Asap. From a hotel lobby using very slow internet. Ah well.

Eight years later, and I really was there on holiday, and it was actually lovely fun. There are two kinds of places that you visit on holiday. Firstly, the places where you immediately imagine living there. Secondly, the places that you go "oh, yes, this is fun, but that's fine."

Budapest is a probably a very exciting place to work. But, a bit like Amsterdam, a tourist can have a great weekend there and not feel they need to go back in a hurry.

I did find myself in an Aldi. People who mutter that Aldi is like a third world supermarket haven't lived till they've visited one in Budapest. There wasn't quite a turnip on a plinth saying "this week's star prize", but my god it was dreary.

I came away with a delightful looking salami with sliced mushrooms in it, but my friend Tim refused to let me open it till he'd waved google translate on it. Turned out it was pressed pig brain, and the mushrooms were the spirally bits of... bits of... *retches*. If it had turned up in a posh London restaurant we'd all have applauded. As it was, we left it at the back of the fridge for the cleaner.

One delightful Communist hangover was the service in the delightfully named "Marquis du Salade". Your waiter would take your order. A few minutes later, the owner would appear. "I see you have ordered Number 13. A wonderful choice. Very wise. However, I would recommend Number 15."

"I'd really like Number 13."

"Number 15 is much the better option. I'll bring you that."

Number 15 was, of course, marvellous. And I suspect what anyone walking through the door would have got.

Slightly decrepit elegance clings to Budapest like the mist from the rivers (and yes, that is the river that the Viking River Cruises Sponsors Mystery Drama On ITV floats along). We were staying in a flat that was like a small stately home, with a vast chandelier in every room. Even the bathroom. We made it to the outdoor baths, where, after a barefoot run on subzero marble past ancient statues, you got to plunge into water warmer than a washing machine tackling tough stains. Carved fish blew steam at you. Men with the bodies of trained killers frolicked. Yes, it was marvellous.

Also notable was the RyanAir "departure lounge":

Yes, that really is a shed. With grills, no frills. Your plane awaits you, cattle.

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