Sunday, June 04, 2006

Feeling Good (Sunday, June 4)

Well, despite some difficulties, I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Had a nice dinner last night in a cafe near the Nasch Market. Some squash-based soup (either butternut or pumpkin, I'm not sure how to say either in German), and some croquettes made from either polenta or rice with some hard tyrolean cheese inside. Despite having eaten so much, I decided to get the Kaiserschmarren for dessert, mostly because I've had difficulty making it myself and I wanted to see how it was supposed to look and taste. The portion was easily meant for 4 people. It was good, but I had to leave too much uneaten.

This morning I woke up with a slight cold, but didn't let that slow me down. I decided to walk to the Jewish museum since I had an hour to kill before it opened. It gave me a chance to see the Hoffburg palace and the Loos House on Michaelerplatz. The Jewish museum has the remains of the original synagogue in Vienna, burned to the ground in 1421, with some of its stones going to build Vienna University. It's a small, but nice, display. I liked the video with the computer recreation of the synagogue and the old Jewish quarter.

I made my train to Budapest with plenty of time and chatted with an American tourist seated across from me. Because Hungary is not in the European Union, the border police came on board at the border and stamped the passport. We changed trains at Gyoer and that's when the problems began.

The ticket collector told me there was a problem. She didn't speak English and I don't speak Hungarian, but I gathered I needed to pay her an extra 2390 Fiorin because I was on an intercity train (the clerk at the Vienna station should have charged me but didn't). The problem was I only had Euros. I went to the cafe car to see if I could change my euros, but they couldn't break a 50 euro note. I went back to the car and borrowed a 10 euro note from the other American tourist, promising to pay her back when we reached Budapest. They then changed the note and gave me the receipt.

At the station in Budapest I immediately changed currency in order to pay back the money I borrowed. This meant, it turns out, that I got a particularly awful exchange rate (200 euros/1 fiorin as opposed to 250 euros/1 fiorin -- basically 20% rip off), but I really had no choice.

Thing immediately improved afterwards, however. The hotel is nice (it even has tv, though I immediately screwed it up so unless I can fix it, no cnn for me), and it is clean and comfortable. It is also located right in the middle of the Jewish quarter (there's a synagogue down the block, though not the big central one). I washed some clothing and hung it up to dry, and then went out to explore.

I took the subway down to the center of Pest and found my way to Cafe Gerbaud, a famous cafe and conditerie (pastry shop) near the Danube. I ordered a slice of their Gerbaud pastry (a blending of walnut/chocolate cake with a thin layer of jam and layers of chocolate ganache) and tea. The waitress brought the cake and the hot water, but no tea. I managed to get her attention and she quickly brought it.

Some American students on a study-abroad trip sat down behind me with their professor. She was singing the praises of Sachertorte and they all ordered the Gerbaud. She preferred the Sacher, though I and, it seems from what I could overhear, at least some of the students preferred the Gerbaud (I find the Sachertorte too dry and dense). I kibbitzed a bit and suggested they try the Eszterhazytorte if they have the chance.

Feeling refreshed and happy to once again make the acquaintance of the sun, I strolled down to the Danube to look out over the river towards Buda in the later afternoon sun. Budapest is quite different from Vienna, and in some ways more resembles Paris (from what little I've seen). As a city, Vienna felt very heavy, with large stone buildings filling the blocks. You could just feel their weight and massiveness as you walked down the street. By contrast, Paris felt much lighter, freer. I was trying to figure out why I felt this difference, since the cities share many characteristics: fin de siecle buildings, mostly 6 stories tall. I think the major difference is that there is more open air and greenery in Paris, and certainly more pedestrian traffic.

Budapest has more of the wide sidewalks and pedestrian traffic that I associate with Paris. Also, at least from the little I've seen, there is more greenery. So despite all the difficulties I've had today, it has me feeling quite good right now.

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