Friday, June 22, 2007
Well, this blog entry is a little later than I expected it to be. It turns out that unlike, say, Vienna, where internet cafés stay open til midnight, in Budapest, the ones in Belváros close at 7pm, living me unable to post anything until today.
Yesterday morning began very warm and just got hotter. I took care of business first: getting my sleeper cabin to Kraków for Sunday night and my three-day metro pass. Then it was off to the Dohány Synagogue. I decided to skip the synagoge tour since I had done that last year, opting instead for the neighborhood tour. In the meantime, I walked though the synagogue and museum on my own.
[Dohány Synagogue -- the largest synagogue in Europe]
I met up with the tour guide and the family he was showing around and we headed on our way. The tour guide, Janos, is the son of Holocaust suvivors. He told me later that he only leads these groups a few times a week because he finds the subject emotionally difficult. When he found out that I teach the Holocaust he asked me about how we know how many people were killed, particularly in the Soviet Union. I explained the problems historians have in getting accurate statistics and why, particulary for the Soviet Union, it's such guesswork.
We walked through the old ghetto as he pointed out various landmarks such as the Bet Midrash, the mikveh, the Orthodox and Status Quo synagogues (the latter being somewhat comparable to Conservative). I chatted with the family on tour with me. They were Jews from Palo Alto, and the father is the son of a survivor from Czestochowa. They were on their way to Prague and then to Kraków for the Jewish Festival, so I'm sure to see them again in about a week. The wife asked about places to eat in Prague, so I recommended my favorite restaurant and the ice cream parlor in the Lucerne Passaze (though I'm not sure my directions to the latter -- make a left at the statue of King Wenceslas sitting on an upside down dead horse hanging from the ceiling -- inspired much confidence).
My part of the tour ended at the Rumbach synagogue, and headed up to Klauzal ter, which was the central square in the ghetto, for lunch at a restaurant that was supposed to have good Jewish-style food. I walked in and immediately recognized it as a place I had eaten at last year (they have bottles of seltzer on the table). I ordered the boiled beef with potatoes and sour cherry sauce. The food came quickly and was pretty good. I also managed to have two glasses of seltzer (though the first time I splashed it all over the wall behind me by mistake).
On the way to the tram I ran into the tour guide again. He told me he teaches business at the university and he has an anti-Semitic student. How do you know he's anti-Semitic, I asked. Because he's always bringing up outside comments on things, such as, the Jewish conspiracy is behind such and such economic problem. He told me that when he was at the dentist's office two days ago, he heard a young man proudly proclaim to his girlfriend that he was a fascist. The second time he said it even louder and a man to his right went up and punched the young fascist.
At the same time, he thought that the Jewish community in Budapest painted with too broad a brush when they warned of imminent fascism in Hungary. Part of the issue, it appears, is that some far-right groups want to bring back the old pre-war flag, one that is associated with the anti-Semitic Horthy government. At that point, unfortunately, he had to get on his tram, so I missed hearing more about that.
From that point is was on to the Holocaust Memorial museum that I visited last year. I wanted to time my way through it and pick up any materials they might have that I can use in my research project on post-communist Holocaust memorialization. They had a book with the text of the major displays, so I made sure to buy that, and I mailed it back home this morning, along with a book on Hundertwasser and a guide to the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.
[A little pricey at the post office, by the way, and I had a bit of a scare. I didn't have a lot of Hungarian forint on me (about 3300), but I thought that would be enough for one package. I asked the clerk how much it would be and she slapped a stamp on and said 3900. Crap. I didn't have enough. I asked if she would take a credit card, and she pointed to the ATM. Crap. Crap. Crap. I had a lot of troubles last year in Budapest with my ATM card. Well, here goes nothing I though, but low and behold, it worked.]
By the time I got through the museum, my feet were tired and sore, so I thought now would be a good time to visit one of the spas in Budapest. I went back to the hotel, grabbed a bathing suit, and headed to the Buda side. My first thought was the Király, but, it turns out, they are closed til September. I caught a tram and headed to the Rudas, at the base of the Buda hills.
As always, it's a little confusing, as each spa does it a little differently. There's no single price. You pay based on what time you arrive, and then that price is adjusted when you leave; if you leave early you get a refund, if late, then you pay a little more.
I found a changing booth and put my clothes inside, but I couldn't lock it. Finally someone explained that I had to take the plastic credit card I was handed when I arrived into a slot on the door, which in turn will allow me to remove the key, locking in my stuff.
[The main pool at the Rudas Spa -- note Turkish ceiling]
The Rudas has recently been renovated and cleaned up. It was very popular (perhaps because two of the other spas on this side -- the Király and the Rac -- are closed for renovations). There are steam rooms and saunas off to the side, but the temperature inside was scalding, so I pretty much kept to the main pool. After an hour and a half, I felt relaxed (and a little bit hungry), so I left to get some dinner.
It was close to 7pm, so I headed up to Bagolyvár. It was still quite warm, so I was seated in the back garden area. I decided to order alá carte, as I wanted to try the salmon and the cold sour cherry soup. While this doubled the cost of my meal (from 3000 forint to 6000 ft) it was worth it to try. The soup was excellent and the fish was good (and it was nice to have some well-prepared green vegetables (brocolli and brussel sprouts). I was just getting ready to order dinner when suddenly I noticed it was getting dark.
It's only 8 pm, I thought, it shouldn't get dark for another hour yet. I looked up at the sky and noticed it was suddenly full of thick clouds. As the wind picked up, I noticed other guests looking worridly at the sky. The staff unfurled the awning over the diners, so I relaxed, and shifted my chair to make sure I was fully under the awning. Nonetheless, diners started moving inside to the main dining room. As the wind picked up, some people told me that because the wind was so strong, they couldn't keep the awning up, and were about to furl it. I headed inside too.
Less than a minute later, the storm broke, with lightening, wind, and heavy rain (though very little thunder). It took them a while to get their bearings again, and eventually I ordered my dessert: what they called in English "Viennese Crumbs," or what I know better as Kaiserschmarren. These are basically scrambled pancakes, but they made them somewhat different, topping them with apricot jam. They were fine.
I wanted to pay my bill with my credit card, but the machine wouldn't work, so I paid in cash instead (hence my lack of funds this morning). The temperature had dropped dramatically by the time I left, and while the rain had stopped, lightening was flashing through the clouds as I reached Hero's Square and the Metro. I headed to downtown Pest to use the internet cafés, but you all know that story already.
The weather has put some uncertainty in my plans. It is partly sunny today, though much cooler. If the good weather persists, I'm going to take the cogwheel train up into the Buda Hills and take a ride on the children's railway. More later (if I can).