This is a story about the greatest holiday I’ve ever experienced abroad: Fat Thursday.
It was something we’d read about on multiple travel websites, and knew we wanted to explore when the time came. Before feeding our bellies, however, we wanted to feed our minds. We decided that meant a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, which involved a trip on the Metro 1 (yellow), the oldest line in Budapest’s underground transport system and the second-oldest underground transport in the world (after the Tube in London). Riding it, with the jovial musical interludes that play on arrival at any stop as well as the flashing lights and loud buzzing sounds that occur as the doors close, feels a bit like riding a skeeball machine through town. Definitely an experience.
Coming up from the Hősök tere station, we finally got to see Heroes’ Square.
We agreed to give it a longer look after we partook in some fine arts, and headed into the Museum. It costs 1800 Ft per person to get into the permanent exhibit (we opted to skip Mummies Uncovered), but the woman at the counter only charged us for one admission. Upon further review, it seems that 50% admission is given to European citizens under the age of 26, which means that a) our language skills don’t immediately betray us as Americans, and b) we look younger than 26. Woo!
We happened into the Museum just as a free tour (in English!) was beginning, but we could only manage to stay with the tour for the first few paintings before we felt the need to venture on our own. We meandered for a few hours, exchanging opinions on different works of art (Monet vs. Gauguin, why people pre-Renaissance couldn’t paint a decent pair of boobs, etc), before we felt we’d seen everything and were ready to get some fresh air. We were also starting to get hungry at this point, which brings us to Fat Thursday.
Fat Thursday is similar to Mardi Gras, wherein leftover food from the Carnival season is feasted upon in anticipation of the fasting that will take place during Lent. It exists in many countries throughout Europe, but the Hungarians go the extra mile by involving the Board of Tourism and offering 50% off your final bill at an extensive list of participating restaurants. Jim had a copy of the list stored in his phone, which we consulted as we wandered through the city. We had neglected to make reservations, so we crossed our fingers and hoped for fortune to smile upon us. Our first stop was the First Strudel House of Pest.
We were seated, after a few moments of confusion, at a two-seat table right next to the man who makes the strudels. In fact, he was probably three feet away from us, if not closer, and separated only by a piece of glass.
We had originally intended to eat here, but the feeling we got from the staff was that we were just ahead of the Fat Thursday dinner rush, who presumably had the foresight to make reservations, so we opted for coffees and strudel in an effort to be quick. Besides, being a mere few feet away from the Strudel Man as he worked had a disconcerting, zoo-like quality to it, and eating a full meal would’ve felt… uncomfortable. So we settled our bill (two coffees and two strudels for US $3.50) and moved on.
After departing, we wandered in the general direction of home, aware of places that were participating in Fat Thursday but not really getting our hopes up about being able to participate ourselves. Luckily, we happened by a cafeteria-style Indian place, Ganga, that was offering a full vegetarian dinner for US $3.50 in celebration of the “holiday”.
Full of coffee, strudel, and now Indian food, we walked back to the apartment in a gustatory euphoria, glad to have been able to partake in such a glorious tradition.
THE STORY OF THE DARING LAUNDROMAT ESCAPE:
One of the things I learned while packing for a six-week adventure is that it is absolutely ludicrous to attempt to pack six weeks’ worth of things to wear, which means that doing laundry, and hence finding a laundromat, is imperative. Google informed us that there was a laundromat near-ish our apartment, which was fully outfitted with high-capacity washers and dryers, vending machines, coffee, internet, and a play place for children. It closes at 10pm. We finally had all our things gathered and were ready to leave by 9pm, which didn’t leave a lot of time in which to get it all done, but we figured we could at least get the stuff washed and deal with air-drying it or something later on. We made some forralt bor, threw it in a thermos, and were on our way.
The laundromat was very hip and funky, and totally unmanned. We put our load in, set the washer to its task, and settled in with our mugs of wine. After the wash, we purchased ten minutes of drying time. At this point, closing time was nigh, and we knew it, but we carried on. As our ten minutes of dry time winded down, suddenly the front door (and, incidentally, the only door) made a very loud locking sound. Jim and I exchanged glances, then said, “….Nahhhh.”
The dryer wouldn’t let us buy more time, it being 10pm at this point, so we started emptying our damp things into our bag. Then the lights went out, and so did the internet kiosk (although the radio, for whatever reason, remained on). We got the hint and packed faster. Finally we were suited up and ready to leave, and went to do so… and the door wouldn’t open. We pulled and pulled. Nothing. We were in a laundromat, in near-total darkness, with Hungarian radio playing overhead, and we couldn’t get out.
While Jim set to inspecting the mechanism of the door lock and how it might be taken apart, I went over to the play area and noticed a latch on the window. One weak pull (mine) and one strong pull (Jim’s) and it swung wide open. Freedom! We hopped out the window, pausing in dismay at the realization that there was no way to close the window behind us, but ultimately deciding that it was the laundromat’s fault for locking us in. We walked back home, mugs of wine still in hand, giggling hysterically at what had just happened and hugely relieved that we didn’t have to sleep on a laundromat couch and subsist on vending machine food.
Next post: Sarah’s here!