Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Last Day in Budapest

Last night we all went out for our last dinner together in Budapest. I had hoped to go to the newly restored Cafe New York, but it is more of a dessert place with few dinner options (it did look spectacular, though).

Instead we went to Pomo D'Oro, a restaurant near Gresham Palace recommended to us by Mick and Sarah, a couple of Oslo-based archaeologists staying in our pension. The waiters spoke English, Italian, and Hungarian and had a funny little shtick. They were pushing a cocktail and so we said "Why not." It had mint and some juice and a lot of vodka in it.

I had the fresh pea soup and I can say without a doubt that it was the best pea soup I've ever had. It was light, fresh, and full of taste, and in no way thick or grey. I've no idea how they did that.

For the main course I chose the lasagna. It too was excellent, though the portion size was too big. Why do restaurants always think I'm eating for two (or three)? Perhaps they expect everyone will share the meal in common.

At the end of the meal, we were joined by a college friend of Cherie who lives in Budapest. They went off for the remainder of the evening, and Annie and I walked down to the Danube and then across the Chain Bridge, which was all lit up (and covered in mosquitoes). Then it was back to the pension so they could finish packing.

Even though the sky was clear, around 11 pm, there was a tremendous downpour. All the humidity that had been building up all day washed down. Luckily it all cleared out soon enough.

Annie and Cherie left for the airport around 4:30 am (I managed to sleep through most of it). Instead of the helpful, friendly, and cheery Jasmina, this morning it was only Csilla setting up for breakfast. "How are you," I asked. "Not good." "What's wrong," I asked. "Pain. In soul. Private" she replied.

This morning I headed back to the Great Central Market to buy gifts for my niece and nephews and lunch more myself. Then it was up to the castle hill to see the special exhibition on Futurism at the Hungarian National Gallery. The exhibit was on the works of Fortunato Depero, and it brought many of his pieces from Italian collections to Hungary and then supplemented them with the works of Hungarian futurists and avant garde artists influenced by him. I particularly liked the works by Hugo Scheiber.

Afterwards I did a quick walk through the late 19th/early 20th century wing. It always amazes me how little the political and social turmoil of the 1930s and 40s is reflected in the art on display. Only three paintings in the entire wing deal with the rise of fascism and prejudice in Hungary, the systematic stripping away of rights, the enslavement and then the deportation and murder of the Jewish and Roma communities. Most of the paintings of the war period remind me of the light entertainment produced by German film companies during the war to distract the public from the pervasive "unpleasantness."

After I had my picnic beneath the statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy (the cross-dressing 17th century nobleman who built the Belvedere in Vienna) in front of Buda Castle and overlooking the Danube, I walked to Ruszwurm, the oldest sweetshop in Budapest (1827) for a lemonade made with mint and elderberry juice and a slice of ribzslitopfentorte (red currant-farmer's cheese cake). It has three layers: 1/2" biscuit cake on bottom, 2" of light farmer's cheese cake, with a thin 1/4" layer of red currants and glaze on top. It was all very tasty.

I walked down the hill past the Fisherman's Bastion to one of the Turkish-era spas on the Buda side. Built in 1570, the main pool is domed with small hexagonal glass tiles allowing light to seep in. There's one small beam of direct sunlight; the rest is diffused. I only spent two hours there as I still had so much to do today.

I headed over to the Pest side for a snack at Gerbeaud. I'm trying to fit in one last visit to all my favorites. I had the Eszterhazy slice with a glass of elderberry and raspberry lemonade. The cake and the drink were wonderful. Then I tried to book my taxi for tomorrow, but I couldn't do it over the internet, so I went back to the pension. Unfortunately, Csilla, Jasmina, AND Geza were all out, but I convinced the guy fixing the windows in one of the rooms to call for me and make the arrangements. If all goes as plans, I'll be picked up at 4:40 am for the 20 minute drive to the airport tomorrow morning.

After that, I raced out the door to try to get to the Holocaust Museum before they closed at 6 pm. I thought I made it in plenty of time when I walked up at 5 pm, only to find a handwritten sign saying that they decided to close early today. I decided to have dinner back at Bagolyvar. With the weather so much warmer, I was seated on the back patio, surrounded by greenery. I ordered the sour cherry soup again, but this time had the grilled fogash with garlic sauce and spinach pancake strips. It was very, very good. Now, I'm off to Cafe New York for one last dessert.

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