Monday 1 December 2014

Goodbye to Budapest

The decorations on the Christmas tree were trembling. Otherwise, there was little to show for our being underway, once we'd cleared the city's floodlit bridges and buildings. The River Beatrice set off this evening at 6pm from Budapest, next stop tomorrow noon at Bratislava - where, according to the Captain, it will also be raining.

It was at least gentle, vertical rain - unlike Auckland's - so my umbrella did a decent job of keeping most of me dry. Gazing upwards like a tourist, though, did mean that I stepped several times into surprisingly deep puddles - but, dutiful as ever, I ploughed on.
In the morning I took the city tour with Barbara, a lovely local with an English accent and a sense of humour much drier than the weather. We did the usual circuit - Andrassy Avenue, House of Terror, Heroes Square (shining wet and empty), over the river to Matthias Church (warm and colourful) and then to our first Christmas market back in Pest. It was a good start: lovely, unique crafts and tempting food and mulled wine, chocolates and pastries. Pretty, colourful, smelt good - I liked it.
Up Andrassy Avenue I popped into the Book Cafe, where they sell both wine and books - what a civilised combination - and where upstairs there's a gorgeous Art Deco cafe where waiters with trays whisk between the tables, reflected in huge mirrors, and beneath an ornate ceiling. There are a lot of bookshops in Budapest, I noticed, always a good sign, and proper ones too, like libraries.

Things got more serious at the Grand Synagogue where I walked past a garden containing the remains of more than 2,000 unnamed Jews who died of cold or starvation in the last years of the war, "a memorial to an era when all human feeling was lost". Upstairs there's a small but intense Holocaust Museum with photos of the ghetto, the dispossessed, the victims. In the garden outside names are engraved on the lower leaves of a stainless steel sculpture of a weeping willow tree.
The rain continued to fall and the only way to keep warm - other than being sensible and civilised,
and going into one of the many inviting-looking cafes (but that would have taken money, and I had no forints) - was to keep walking briskly, so it didn't take that long to get to the lovely covered market, all coloured tiles outside and high ceiling inside. It's a proper market and full of local touches: plaits of chilli peppers on the vegetable stalls, lots of pork (including heads and trotters) at the butchers', paprika in every imaginable form.

And then I was back at the boat, and that was it for Budapest: colder, wetter and gloomier than I was hoping, but still with enough interest, pleasure and delight to please those who have never seen the city's summer face. And, after all, it is December now.

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