Tuesday 15th September 2015, Budapest
We slept with windows wide open, grateful for the height of the ceilings but it was still too warm to sleep easily. This morning the sun was up and glaring in at us before we were properly awake. Another scorching day around the streets of the city was unthinkable.
So we walked down to the river and took the train out to the delightful little town of Szentendre, a forty minute ride passing beside the Roman site of Aquincum. We were joined by five Norwegian ladies of around our age. Later a ticket inspector came to check our tickets. In excellent English she explained that the photocopies of our passports were fine. We were entitled to free transport throughout the country and also free entry into museums! She then spoke to the Norwegian ladies in English as well and they responded in English. We felt so inadequate. Can you imagine a British ticket inspector addressing travellers in fluent Hungarian AND being so friendly and helpful as well? The poor Norwegian ladies had to pay for their tickets as well as paying an extra supplement as the train was travelling beyond the limits of the city. Norway is not within the EU so they were not entitled to free travel. So when UKIP complains we get nothing from being an EU member, that is one very tangible perk that we are personally benefitting from. Maybe we should extend the same generosity to Hungarian pensioners visiting London.
Once out of Budapest we found ourselves back in the familiar Hungary that we have grown to love. Little houses with long gardens given over to growing vegetables and vines, single storey houses rendered in autumn shades of green, lemon and russet and small baroque churches with their black slate onion domes and painted façades.
The centre of Szentendre is just a ten minute stroll from the station along cobbled streets. The level of traffic is low but with such an ancient and picturesque little town on the edge of Budapest it was crowded with tourists for whom it caters very well and generally tastefully. There were coffee houses and teashops aplenty providing delicious chocolate cakes, pancakes, tiny scones and rétes – light puffed pastry filled with cherries or cream cheese and drenched in icing sugar. There were also restaurants serving thick soup for around £1 a bowl or a hearty meal of pork chops topped with bacon and accompanied by red cabbage and Hungarian noodles. This was far too hot for today when we were more interested in ice-creams.
The central square is surrounded by shops selling Hungarian folk art - tablecloths, napkins, ceramics, children’s clothes and expensive embroidered blouses. One shop still specialises in dyed indigo fabrics. It looks very attractive in its setting but would probably seem out of place back in England. We have a couple of pieces Ian brought back many years ago which we like and use but really it is not seen to advantage in modern English homes.
We walked down to the river which at this point divides to pass a large island out in the middle. An infrequent ferry will carry visitors across but with only one bridge, and that not accessible from Szentendre, the island has retained its peaceful isolation. It was too exposed to linger away from the shade of the buildings so we returned to the streets and made a tour of the town’s delightful churches. Szentendre was once a safe haven for Serbian refugees. There are four Serbian orthodox churches around the town and another couple of Catholic ones. They all offered a dark and cool shelter from the sunshine. After a surreptitious snooze in the parish church we’d cooled down enough to explore the paintings and general interior. All three churches we visited were similar, being small, simple baroque with painted imitation marble around the altar and plain wooden pews. It seems that nowadays most of the Serbian refugees have returned home and there are very few such families still living in the town.
By this time we were thinking of making our way back to the station when we discovered the Kovács museum. The late Kati Kovács was a Hungarian potter of exceptional skill and output. She donated her collection to Szentendre and although not necessarily well known outside of Hungary, she is highly praised and recognised here. Unfortunately photography was not permitted but generally she produced figures two or three foot high, rather whimsical with big eyes and dressed in folk costumes of a bygone age. She also produced images on painted tiles as well as religious tableaux, crucifixions and historical Hungarian events. There is even a reconstruction of her work studio to help visitors place her in context. It was a charming exhibition, well presented in a cool building with plenty of space to see her work at its best.
There was also a marzipan museum which Larry told us was worth a visit but we were so exhausted that even the thought of seeing Elvis Presley, Princess Diana and the Hungarian parliament building lovingly recreated in marzipan couldn’t lure us through the door. We returned to the station and back home where we both fell asleep for an hour while we waited for the cool of the evening to return.
Wednesday 16th September 2015, Budapest
It’s still too hot to move here and we both feel rather unwell because of it. In England we understand it’s cold enough for jackets. Envy! But we do have this lovely flat in the heart of the city to return to when it becomes unbearable. With the shutters closed against the sunlight and the high ceilings we are comfortable here and usually end up returning home mid afternoon for a shower and a snooze.
Sandra and Larry flew off to Malta in the early hours of this morning and by the time we eventually woke after yesterday’s exhausting day they were probably tucking in to whatever the Maltese have for breakfast. Half way through our own rolls and coffee Ian managed to lose a filling from one of his back teeth. Fortunately he’s had no real discomfort but it needs to be fixed. A message to Peter brought us the address of his dentist here so the morning was spent finding our way to the practice and getting ourselves let in. There are codes on the main door for every apartment and you need someone already inside to let you in. Being unable to explain what we wanted we had to wait until someone opened the door on their way back to their flat and slip in behind them. Somewhere on the third floor we met a man with a swollen jaw who pointed us to the door he’d just left. Inside all was calm efficiency with a charming receptionist who spoke perfect English. Ian explained his problem and they looked doubtful. Then he mentioned Peter had recommended them. It worked like magic and tomorrow morning Ian has an appointment with them. Let’s hope it all goes okay.
Ian then decided what we really wanted to do on such a broiling day was to wander around Budapest’s Kerepesi cemetery admiring the gravestones of the great and good – and the not so good. I was not convinced but Ian had the keys, map and money so won the debate. Actually there were lots of trees around and the major monuments were so large and solid that I was able to huddle in their shadow while Ian took photos of the tombs of deceased opera singers, politicians, writers, Soviet soldiers and victims of the 1956 revolution.
While he then went off to explore the Hungarian way of death in the cemetery museum, I fell asleep in a shady corner watched over by the handsome statue of the young Hungarian poet Endre Ady (1877-1919) who, coincidentally died in his flat in the same street as the dentist Ian will be visiting tomorrow!
By this time even Ian agreed the only thing to do was return to the flat for a couple of hours until the day cooled down a bit. We bought chocolate fagylalt (ice creams) to help us up the hill – it’s all we’ve fancied eating all day. That’s it really. It never cooled down enough to go out this evening and at 8.30pm there is a wall of heat outside the cool flat so we have stayed put.
Thursday 17th September 2015, Budapest
Today has been even hotter! Long-term forecasts warn that the next couple of years will be the hottest ever recorded! We are becoming seriously worried. We feel burnt and sore. It’s impossible to keep out of the sun and the city feels like a furnace. Hotter than it ever reaches in Britain.
After breakfast we made our way to the metro and across the river to the dentist. They spent an hour and a half sorting Ian out and he says he’s never had such thorough treatment. Of course he was treated privately and it cost roughly what it would have been back home but Ian was very satisfied with his treatment. While he was being sorted I wallowed in the cool of the air conditioned waiting room watching wildlife programmes on the overhead TV showing animals killing each other. Fantastic filming but disturbing.
By the time Ian was released it was lunch time. With him needing soggy food for a while we went to a student cafe near the University library for stuffed marrow in a creamy tarragon sauce. It was very nice, very ample and very inexpensive. Needing internet access and to escape from the heat we went to the University library which offered free wifi, coffee and comfortable tables in the huge foyer with its tall stone columns and grand staircase leading up to the reading rooms.
Here we literally “chilled out” catching up on email and checking how best to get back to the airport when we leave, using the free public transport. We were intrigued to find a request in our email from the “BBC Antiques Road Trip” who wished to use a couple of our photos from our Ireland blog, in particular the huge telescope at Birr Castle. I hope we will be at home when it is shown. It was a fascinating place.
At 3 pm we made our way to Budapest’s acclaimed Gerbeaud coffee house where we had arranged to meet a friend of Peter. We’d never met but found each other easily enough and enjoyed a delightful couple of hours with iced tonic water beneath a huge parasol. Hungarian people are so friendly and Julia spoke perfect English which made us very lazy to attempt even the few Hungarian words we’ve picked up. Thank you so much for your company Julia and we look forward to meeting you again in England before too long.
It was still in the mid 30s at 5pm. Determined not to walk up the steep hill back to the flat in the sunshine we hugged the shade to Deák Tér where we caught the bus back across the river and up the hill to the citadel from where we strolled lazily back down the hill to the flat. After cool showers and glasses of wine we began to feel back to normal again. Tomorrow is expected to be even hotter! Thank heavens for the cool flat, the draughty metro system and the University Library!