Friday, July 14, 2006
The Danube's not blue
There must be a right size for a ‘long weekend’ city. Madrid, Rome, Paris, London, NYC: yes, wonderful cities all, but a weekend would be too brief – a bit like having one M & M. When Goldilocks was trying out the beds; one too big, one too small, one just right; she must have had Budapest in mind. It’s just right: pocket-sized – population 2 million – big enough to have an interesting history, magnificent buildings, lots of galleries and museums (picture is by a 19th century Hungarian artist called Mihaly Munkacsy) an Opera House and views of the Danube, but small enough to almost get around it in a day.
It has that relaxed air characteristic of former Communist countries – a sort of ‘OK I’m doing this job but there’s nothing in the rules that says I have to enjoy it’. That sounds unfair – the absence of the ‘Hi, my name is Bruno and I’ll be your waiter for the evening’ treatment is probably something to be thankful for. And there are some friendly places – the Jazz Garden for example. That’s how jazz clubs are - the place was booked out, so we ate in an adjoining room wired up for sound.
The food in Budapest is certainly unforgettable in quantity terms - you need at least two stomachs. We chose one restaurant for its ‘lighter touch on Hungarian food’. It was true - I only had to leave three pork chops on the plate. But prices are tasteful – except for the tourist traps on the Buda side of the river. One for your ‘must not see’ list is called Arany Hordo, picturesque and with one of those in-your-soup gypsy bands for true Magyar atmosphere. It serves appalling nosh at outrageous prices and then they tell you they don’t take cards and when you tell them they should have mentioned this earlier, they say well they do but their machine is broken. Then when you insist, they reluctantly accept your card. (So we reduced the service charge to something more appropriate - ie, nil.) But then there’s the Rivalda, not 400 metres away, with excellent food and no Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody. Another good one and then no more talk of food was a small family-run discovery called Pesti Vendéglő.
Sorry, we did not do the thermal baths. Yes, I know – Niagara without the falls, Hamlet without the Prince etc. – but it was in the nineties and humid, and we thought it would be better in the autumn.
In other words, we loved Budapest and we’re going back.
What is it with Zidane and Italians? He apologized for head-butting an Italian player in the World Cup Final – but then said ‘Je ne regrette rien’. I’m not sure how that counts as an apology. (His coach said he didn’t see the incident: which game was he watching?)
Still, it’s better than Zidane’s lack of repentance when given five weeks’ suspension for head-butting another Italian in 2000. Or when he stamped on a Saudi Arabian’s back in the 1998 Finals. Perhaps he thought that, as France went on to win in 1998, leaving his head-print on Materazzi would bring his team luck again.