Tag Archives: strudel

Fat Thursday

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.

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.

so hungry...

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.

The Strudel Man is in the background, and that's as far away as he ever got from us.

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.

Strudel Man does make a damn good strudel

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”.

Three cheers for Fat Thursday!

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!

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castle hill

It’s just after 9am.  As I write this, Django Reinhardt is playing on our alarm clock, and I am waiting for our adorable little percolator to make me an individually-sized cup of coffee.

oh god give it to me...

Such has become our morning routine: I get up, turn on some lights, make some coffee, and start in on my various writings, while Jim intermittently rises to snooze our Django alarm.  This will continue for the next hour or so.

Since Friday, I’ve started feeling a little under-the-weather as well, though not nearly to the extent that Jim has.  So far, all I’ve had to complain about is what I’ve diagnosed via Internet as mild bronchitis (slight burning in the bronchial tubes, light but occasionally painful cough).  This hasn’t helped us improve upon our departure time, as you might imagine, but we still manage to get out. Yesterday, we decided on an afternoon walk to Castle Hill.

We’ve been to Budapest once before, in December 2005, for about four days, and we visited Castle Hill then as well.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and full of things to see.  From the Pest side of the Danube (or Duna as it’s called here), you can see the Palace, the Gothic spire of St. Matthias Cathedral, and many other steeples and eminences, all majestically set into the hillside.  Since we weren’t really going to have time to do any in-depth exploring this time around, we decided to turn it into a reconnaissance mission for when Sarah arrives, since it’s one of those places any first-time visitor has to see.

The Royal Palace as seen from the Chain Bridge

Once we crossed the bridge, we had to decide if we were going to buy tickets for the Funicular (or, as we’ve affectionately dubbed it, the “Fun Car”) or ascend the hill on foot.  We decided we needed the exercise, so we proceeded on foot.  Ahead of us, a group of people making the same trek turned off the main trail and disappeared into a wall.  Naturally, we followed, and it turned out to be a shorter way to the top, lined with very interesting graffiti.

Found this on the shortcut to the top of the Hill

Once we got to the top, we were greeted by another bird: the Turul.  The Turul holds an important place in the origin myth of Hungary.  As legend has it, the bird appeared first to the wife of the leader of the nomadic Magyar people in a dream, wherein she was symbolically impregnated by it and a great river began to flow from her womb, signifying that she would bear a son who would father a long line of  great rulers.  The Turul also appeared in another dream, to another Magyar leader, in which it rescued his people from attack and instructed them to migrate to what would eventually become Hungary.  The Turul represents the will of God, and it sits on the Tree of Life and carries the Sword of Attila (thanks, Wikipedia!).

The Turul Statue at Castle Hill

Once atop the Hill, we began to search for a place to get coffee (this seems to be a recurring theme with us).  The first place we found was Korona Cukrászda, a pastry shop near the National Gallery.  We sat down near a picture window looking out at the Palace and began to peruse the menu.  One of the specials listed was Forralt Bor– hot wine.

Context: On our last trip to Budapest, we’d spent one of our days at Statue Park just outside of town, and returned at the end of the day famished and exhausted and in search of a Mongolian Barbeque restaurant that was highly touted in our Lonely Planet guide book.  We ended up getting mega-lost, finding the restaurant only after they’d stopped seating for the night, and so we made the long trek from Buda back to Pest in the lowest of spirits.  Upon crossing the river, hungry and dejected, we turned a corner and stumbled onto a Christmas festival full of music, delicious street food, and– best of all– forralt bor in mass quantities.  It was then that we first fell in love with it.  So of course we ordered it now, with a slice of sour cherry strudel alongside.

yum yum yum yum yum

The service here was a little lacking– our clean plate and empty glasses sat for a good while before getting cleared away, and then it was another considerable chunk of time before it occurred to anyone to bring us the bill– but the wine was near perfection, and the strudel wasn’t bad either.

At this point, it had grown dark, and we decided to make our way through the district, down the hill, and back to the Pest side of the river by way of a different bridge.  The Castle district is lined with cobblestones and every road is flanked by unbelievably quaint and picturesque rows of houses and storefronts.  Once we left the busier sections, and descended into the residential hillside, the only sound was that of our footsteps on the cobblestones.  We weren’t exactly sure how to navigate our way out, but we were on an adventure, after all.  Once at the bottom of the hill, we found the river, and the bridge we needed to cross.  And then we saw this.

Parliament building at night

Suffice to say that Budapest at night is unrivaled in its luminescent beauty.  There are so many historic structures, all of which are lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as darkness settles.  It makes for a lovely backdrop on an evening constitutional.  The view from the bridge we crossed to get back to our side of the river wasn’t bad either…

Parliament to the left, Castle Hill to the right, and the Chain Bridge over the Danube in between

Such was our Saturday.  Today is Sunday and I have no idea what we’re going to do.  Jim is finally awake and showering, which is a sure sign we’re going to be out by noon, but our only destination so far is coffee-related (what did I tell you?).  After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Til next time! 🙂

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