Tuesday's plan was simple. Go for a bike ride, explore more of the unseen bits of Budapest, catch up with Su at a Cuban night and cook pumpkin soup at midnight with Vera. All these things happened, but not how I imagined.
The ride was first. It was a cool day and a fog had rolled in over the city. Autumn in Europe is so beautiful. So many colours and different ways to keep warm. On my way to the river, I turned a corner on a section of road which was made of slate. Not sure why it was made of slate, but my front tyre lost traction, the bike collapsed underneath me and I added two more grazes to my karaoke wounds. The ride was cool. One of the places I haven't visited yet is right out the front of the Parliament building, one of the key tourist attractions in Budapest. Admittedly, during my last visit, the place was blocked off, but still, it's one of those places most tourist walk through at some stage. There was a nice fog over the river and some fancy riding required to stay on the dry side of the bank. However, seeing the shoe monument was a little sobering.
After the ride, I went to buy supplies for the pumpkin soup, and walked into a nearby SPAR store. There were several types of pumpkins all in the same section, but with only one price marked. In most places I've seen in Europe, you weigh it for yourself and put a sticker on it, and I got what I thought was the code and gave it a shot. I bought one long one, shaped like Mr Wobbly Man and a smaller, traditional looking pumpkin to complete the set. As I walked past the security guy, he stopped me and shook his head. I made a few "I'm not sure what your talking about" gestures and he peeled the sticker from the smaller pumpkin off, supposedly indicating that this type is sold as a single item and not by the kilo. "oh ok.. Thanks" i say, and do another lap of the fruit 'n' veg section to make sure I hadn't missed anything. On my second passing of the security guard, he pulls me aside to a quite corner of the store and takes the the Mr Wobbly Man pumpkin from me. Rather than fix another error in pricing, he places it in front of his crotch and started making ungodly Elvis-like movements with his new phallus, elbowing me in the side and laughing in only a way a dirty old man can. Too taken back by his actions to swap pumpkins, I made my way to the check out, where I was chastised by the lady for using the wrong stickers on my pumpkins.
Su's invite to a Cuban night was a good one. Admittedly, based on the last Cuban experience I had in Vienna, I assumed our night would be spent in the basement of a smokey club, dancing away to fun Cuban sounds, drinking bucket sized Mojitos, mock smoking cigars and being entertained by old guys cuing up to dance with (read: rub crouches on), unwilling females. But at 200 HUF (about $1.30 AUD), for a 'tap of the nose', "yeah, no worries" ticket, how could I say no?
I met Su near to where she had been checking out her potential new flat, about 1km from where I am staying. Side story: Last week, after sitting through 3 interviews in one day, Su got the call saying she had got the job she wanted. This meant within a week she would have to find a place to live in Budapest, move her stuff from Zalaegerszeg and Veszprém, and start a new job. Thankfully for Su, she's an optimist, so these things were tackled with grace and confidence.|| Su looks at me and my bike and says "you brought your bike? We're catching a tram." So we wheeled my bike back to the flat and left it there, where on exiting the building, I cut my hand on the door. Su gave me a band aid and we hopped a tram. We got off a few stops too early and had to get on another tram. I did see a Trabant with it's rear quarter panel missing, offering the contents of it's boot up to the world. "sorry.. no time for photos" - We get to the interchange and decide not to wait the ten minutes for the tram and walk to the venue instead. It took us 20, and 2 trams overtook us. We walked past an office building and were rather startled by two people running on treadmills in a gym set up on the ground floor.
As we approach the venue, I realise that it isn't some smokey little club in Bumfuck Budapest, but rather the massive and quite new national theatre building. Think a compound for a cashed up new aged religious cult and you've got the mental. We go through the doors, spot the people from Veszprém we were meeting up with and say hello. As soon as we ask for direction on where to buy tickets, an announcement over the PA blares out in Hungarian. No need for a babblefish as the defeated shoulders and disappointed looks said it all. No more 200 HUF tickets. Arse. It was either spring for the full 3500HUF ticket or admit defeat and go somewhere else with our Cuban tails between our legs. Not to be perturbed, a plan was hatched to get us in with the ticket stubs of the others, and we made our way to the top level of the theatre. There we found a bar, two entrances and a huge balcony over looking the southern part of Budapest. Shame I had already checked my bag with my camera. Arse. Su and I were asked to wait for the others to find their places and then come and get us once the performance had started. We waited. We flipped coins, made vague attempts at apologising for making each other late, admired the view and warmed ourselves on the huge pink spotlights which illuminated the building.
Su and I must have been out there for about 30 minutes, when we got the call to meet one of the others in the stairwell for the handover. The ticket stubs were exchanged and we went to our separate entrances. Su did some fast talking (or just polite conversation, I can never tell with the Hungarian language), with the usher and we soon found ourselves waiting in a theatrical airlock, a room between the foyer and the auditorium which bore a vague resemblance to the rooms you go through before viewing Lenin. To the sound of applause, we entered the room, where we were pointed to walk along a narrow pathway, between lights, chains and other 200 HUF paying customers. We found spots on the walkway, about 25 metres above the stage and looked down.
The surviving members of the Buena Vista Social Club accompanied by Hungary's Danubia Symphony Orchestra, with a huge audience of fancy dressed socialites. Nice one. I had a great view of the piano player and his magic hands gliding across the keys, plus I caught some of the more loutish behaviour between the horn section blokes, which couldn't be seen by the rest of the audience. In some of the more uptempo numbers, I found myself thinking some of the magic of this music is lost when you fill the dance floor with seat and make everyone sit down. I was impressed with the 76 year old Omara Portuondo's energy, dancing and belting out song after song for the whole concert. We had to stand for the whole gig, but why pay 3500HUF for a seat when you could pay 200HUF (or nothing), and have the ability to dance. They played for about 100 minutes, with Su and I having a bit of a bop in the funkier bits waving stupidly to the others on the opposite side of the hall. Did I mention it was free?
After saying goodbye, I walked back to the tram and made my way to Vera's place. I made a really tasty pumpkin soup and I told her about my evening while she bitched about her work colleagues. For lunch today, one of Vera's mates came around and we cooked Hungarian food (bacon, cottage cheese and pasta all baked together - yum but heavy), and ate some more pumpkin soup. Later I visited a new photography gallery around the corner and chatted photos with the curator for a while. At some point I'd like to put together photos collected from people's travels, put em up on a wall somewhere, lash out on some wine, invite a bunch of people and call the event "slide night". I've set up a flickr group, so if you have some nice looking photos from your travels which you'd like to add, join up and submit some. Maybe one day I'll get around to the wine and party bit too.
I just got an email from the Hirschengasse peeps in Vienna. It looks like hot wine and snowboarding awaits my return in December. Oh yeah.