My Hungarian adventure was approaching an end and I had seen and done everything that I had planned to so I decided I needed a surprise or two to take the sting out of the prospect of returning to England. The best way to do this was to tuck my map and guide book away in my bag and set off on a damned good aimless wander, and humming La Campanella as I strode forth.
As my walk began, the Budapesti streets were still waking up. Apart from a few waiters arranging tables and chairs outside cafés, market traders arranging their meat and two veg on their stalls that lined the leafy squares, council workers sweeping up the remains of decaying Englishmen who had strayed away from the security in numbers within Bob the Knob’s Stag Party from Basingstoke and the odd yawning cat, there was little sign of life.
I’d like to point out that I added an apostrophe there because I couldn’t deliberately type an apostrophic catastrophe such as the omission of the apostrophe within the legend Bob the Knob’s Stag Party from Basingstoke printed on the backs of the t-shirts worn by the members of Bob the Knob’s Stag Party from Basingstoke. Even more disappointing than the error of punctuation was the fact that these people seemed proud to broadcast that they were with Bob the Knob’s Stag Party from Basingstoke. Had I been with anybody’s stag party or had I been from Basingstoke I wouldn’t have wanted anybody in the world to have known.
Not far into my walk I stopped humming and striding and stepped in for a modest banquet of Hungarian omelette (containing far more spicy sausage and paprika than egg) for breakfast in a natty little Terézváros eating establishment where my nostrils were filled with the wonderful aroma of the local coffee and my ears with the wonderful sound of the local jazz music. I wished that every breakfast time could have been like this one. What a thoroughly gorgeous way to start the day.
I made my last day in Hungary a Liszt day. Having failed to bring with me a CD of the work of Ferenc Liszt or to find a place where his music was being performed I had, until then, been Lisztless. Chancing upon the Music Academy in Terézváros that bears the great master’s name, I called in and looked around the reconstruction of the flat he had lived in when he had been a scholar and tutor in Budapest. This didn’t take long as he had been a modest man. I was sure that he had produced far more music in his time than Lisa from Steps had done but had merely a few sticks of antique furniture, some original sheet music he had written and portraits of his family on display rather than the extravagant and vulgar trappings that go with the lifestyle of a modern day artist from the music world. I stayed behind after my mini tour to listen to a recital of classical works, including some of his but nothing by Steps, performed by a chamber orchestra in a plush nineteenth century auditorium on the ground floor of the Academy. Still nothing from Béla Bartók though. I was no longer Lisztless but I continued to be Bartókless.
The warm contented feeling that my discovery had brought to my belly counteracted the cold, heavy feeling that churns over and over inside of me on my final day of any trip. The spring sunshine warmed me further as I walked into the city centre and over the fourth bridge of my visit. Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) had, until then, escaped my attention but as I walked over it I couldn’t help but stop and admire the magnificent riveted iron work and the view from it along the mighty Danube to the other three bridges I had crossed during the last couple of days.
By the bridge was the absolutely resplendent Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) which looked to contain stalls purveying items from every walk of Hungarian life but sadly, as I arrived just before three o’clock in the afternoon, it was closing for the weekend. I had time to buy and eat a plate of bean and kolbász stew from one of the many little cafés high up in the elevated walkways there, but I had no time to browse. I thought how significant it was that it was closing just at the time I had to leave for the airport.
Budapest street / market food.
I sat in the public garden opposite the market for twenty minutes and drank the remainder of my Egri Bikavér that I had decanted into a plastic water bottle in my hotel room rather than waste. I sat and watched Budapest go by and I said ‘viszontlátásra’ (which means goodbye).
It was hard to say viszontlátásra as I was leaving a city and a country that had captured a warm place in my heart forever and because it was such a long Hungarian word.