Travelogue EE 3: Budapest / Sziget

11 August 2010

Disclaimer: there may be (more) typos (than usual) in this message as the QWERTZ keyboard is quite different to the QWERTY… and the spell check is in Hungarian so almost the entire message is underlined as we speak, rendering spell check largely useless.

Got up and breakfeasted Kyjev-style and then in a taxi and off to Hlavni Stanica (train station – the very ‘humble’ one mentioned in Travelogue 2) to board for the train to Budapest. Fortunately only a 2.5 hour ride as people fall over themselves to get the seats with a table (the ones where the seats face each other with a table in between), which wouldn’t be so bad if they actually used the table… but most just go to sleep or read a book, which leaves us card-playing-surfaceless for nothing 🙁

Fortunately had emailed beforehand and gotten very clear and literal directions from station to hotel because Budapest is far bigger and more confusing than the previous cities. There’s very little English signage (or spoken) and far more public transport options. Of course, by following the directions so literally we – in our excitement to get to the festival – ended up at Sziget without having taken down our address, so in essence not knowing where we live!

Where we live…

We’re staying at Hotel Lucky (http://www.hotellucky.hu/). A nice enough place, where we were lucky enough to get the round turret room which makes for easy identification and good story 🙂 The day concierge is a bit of a challenge. We’ve taken to calling him Basil (Fawlty)… and not calling him at all. He’s got an annoying habit of echoing questions, eg:

Christian: if we take the blue metro line…

Basil: the blue Metro line?

Christian: yes, the one that connects to the red Metro line…

Basil: the red Metro line?

Christian: the one that runs this way *points to map of underground system*

Basil: runs this way? *adjusts specs*

Christian: how do we get to Obudai Sziget?

Basil: Oboduai Sziget?

Christian: never mind.

Hence, we left ‘home’ without thinking to ask for an address.

We did manage to suss the trams, trolleybusses, busses and trains to get to Sziget though (incidentally, ‘Sziget’ means ‘island’ in Hungarian, and the festival is held on an island in the Danube in Budapest).

The festival is amazing! People streeeaming in all afternoon and evening, but no queues. Very well organised. Sadly, the beer sponsor is Dreher, which isn’t one of our favourites, but the blow was softened when we got to do the ‘Dreher in the Sky’, which is like the Dinner in the Sky concept they had at Monte Casino a while back (which cost R1000 or more) and we were strapped into a seat and suspended at a table 50m in the air to enjoy(ish) a cold pint of Dreher – and the views of the festival below, the city beyond and the countryside for miles around. Very cool. And free (foreign concept for SA, where am sure they’d have charged a fortune).

All the bands we saw were brilliant as well.

First on our roster was The Toy Dolls. THIRTY years they’ve been doing their thing! They were amazing. Never had been on my ‘must see’ list, but super-glad we saw them. Nelly The Elephant seems to be as much a classic here as it is at home and all sorts were jumping around singing along about Nelly’s absconding from the circus. And by all sorts, we mean all sorts – punks, trendy sorts, preppy lots, princesses, mohawks of all descriptions, you name it, they were out to play! Funfunfun.

Caught the tail end of Ska-P, who are a Spanish ska band. Have noted to look them up as their performance was excellent and they seem to be really well known by lots of people (here). Don’t necessarily agree with all their politics (inevitable in this genre), but we can overlook that (especially the bits sung in Espanol hehe).

Then off to grab a slice of pizza (seemingly the staple fast food source of Eastern Europe) and hit Ill Nino. Can’t believe I only heard them for the first time a few weeks ago – very sad that i have wasted so much time!! They were madly excellent. They played in the MTV Headbangers Stage, so was a trifle warm (Mick’s phone weather app would have called it an ‘flan-flopping high 30-somethings and sweaty’… and been right for a change) but still, was totally worth losing the moisture. Definitely going to spend more time on them when I get home.

Managed to work our way back to main stage to catch the last few songs of The Hives. Good performance, lead singer is a bit up his own though.

Beers and Jagers later plus a whirl past the merch stand to see what was on offer (and narrowing down to about 10 tees we simply couldn’t live without) and a flit through the market. Lots of food and drink options … and a Vans stall with prices so heinously low that I was credit card ready… but Christian seems to hate shoes and not want me to have any more ever… and something about impractical to carry around a festival or something.. and I left empty-handed. And -souled. (And -soled).

Madness was incredible. Also a 30 year commemoration tour, with all the favourites and some more fan-pleaser oldies. Awesome stage presence, album-perfect delivery, a TON of fans pogo-ing and walk-dancing about the place. Lots of fun.

Last but not least, Christian’s favourite band of all time – Bad Religion. Also a 30 year tour for them! Am so glad I did the research I did (had been warned) as REALLY enjoyed their show… alongside Christian who was so in his element that there are no words to describe 🙂 They delivered an hour and a half of literally back-to-back songs (not a word or a breath between tracks, just straight from one into the next!) and sounded like I’m sure they did 30 years ago – only giveaway of aging was the bald and balding band and the lead singers ensemble of jeans and red plain golf shirt (which I’m sure that no new punk band would dare, opting rather for some long shorts / angry-message tee shirt and certainly dreads / mohawk / unnatural coloured hairdo). Still, books and covers, they were as energetic and spritely as any of the young bands we’ve seen or saw there). Good on them.

NEEDING merch to commemorate the experience, headed to the tee tent only to be told they’d closed for the night (despite us having checked twice earlier in the day to ensure we didn’t miss out and being told both times that it was open until 3). This was about 1.30 so we weren’t having any of that. After extensive debate we managed a Bad Religion shirt (shh, don’t tell Christian cos it’s a bday present), a The Hives tee for me and a festival tee each.

Then headed for home. Bustling train station, packed train and we ended up at a station we didn’t know (having followed to advice that C got from the Van’s attendant while i was shopping), so ended up looking up the hotel’s address on the internet (what did we do before it?!) and getting a cab. Only got home about 3 in the end, can’t imagine what time it would have been if we’d persevered with public transport!

All in all, an awesome festival. Highly recommend to anyone considering it! (and so civilised to be able to festival and then commute to a warm bed and running water etc).

Thursday we did some sight-seeing. Hadn’t intended to do much with the day having gotten in so early (late), but it’s a city that sucks you in because everything is so close together. Started with the Buda side, checking out the Citadel and Gellert Hill, then on for a walk around the Buda Castle (a whole mountain top complex), through the Palace (which is the opening of the Castle), onto the Church of St Michael and the Fisherman’s Bastion – a look-out point with spectacular views over Pest.

Taking the Chain Bridge (famous as the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest across the Danube) to St Stephen’s Basillica, the largest church in Budapest (and there are many!). Then potentially the most exciting stop of the day – Burger King! Christian had the special – California Whopper, beef burger with guacamole and salsa – and I had the cheese and bacon whopper (obviously). The special also has kettle-fried style chips (but hot like fries), really excellent and we intend to try and microwave Flannigan’s at home to see if we can get the same effect.

All fuelled, we took a quick walk to Parliament Square. What a breath-taking building!! HUGE (691 rooms – largest building in Budapest) and all neo-gothic ‘n stuff…

Had a bit of a hitch there. Decided to go to Acquincum, which is a Roman ruins town just past the Island we’d been on the day before. We had little trouble finding out where it is, nor mapping our route, but couldn’t find the Metro station! Barely perceptible nestled in among the office buildings alongside all the splendour and wonderment of Parliament and Kossuth Park. Eventually found it – and enjoyed the downtime, letting the train do the work for a change. Quite interesting, but the (local) staff didn’t do it justice with their lacklustre attitudes and seeming indifference to us as patrons and interested tourists. Those Romans were a clever bunch, they had underfloor heating and running sewerage systems even back then in 100 AD.

Had a marvellous sundowners session on Margit Island – the one before Sziget Island – named after the poor princess whose dad promised to confine her to a nunnery on the island if some political thing or another was ceded to him. It was and he did. She was only 9, poor thing. place was a bit more upbeat for us and it was great to kick off shoes and sip daiquiris watching the sun set over the Danube.

Stayed a bit too long and ended up on a fruitless mission to try and find a late dinner. But it’s holiday, so still fun to make way back to hotel and have a dinner of plain salted chips over pints of (our least favourite so far) Dreher and playing some cards. 🙂

Friday was chill day. Headed out of town a bit to Memento Park, which is an outdoor exhibition of communist statues and plaques, with memorabilia (that’s what they call it, really just some t-shirts, caps and postcards) and there’s a phone booth where you can listen to communist dictators’ speeches. Was cool to see Stalin’s Boots, which is the remains of a Stalin statue that was toppled during the 1956 revolution and never rebuilt because Stalin was already dead, so they just left the boots. Wouldn’t rush to recommend the park to anyone (except Neal).

Headed back for town – more trains, trams and busses – and another Burger King. Got a ‘Party Pack’ of 2 double cheese and bacon burgers, 2 XL fires, 5 chicken pieces (mini), 6 burritos (more like little deep fried Mexican spring rolls) and onion rings. That ruined our plans of traditional Hungarian dinner; who has space after all that?!

Walked the length of the picturesque, but underwhelming, Andrassy Avenue to see Heroes Square and Varosliget Park and stumbled across a mini German beer fest. Good laugh. And left us on the right side of the park to head to Mexico Street station and catch a tram back to the hotel (we’ve finally got the hang of this transport system – it can get you from anywhere to anywhere, but every journey is complicated with multiple changes and multiple modes of transport). Found a gem of a spot called Randevu (there are lots of cute anglicisations, like ‘csendvic’ which is totally phonetic for sandwich) – where we had a quick beer while waiting for our tram… at R14 for a 500ml AND a 300ml Arany Aszok! We were so marvelling at our bargain that we missed the tram – and had another round while we waited for the next one *grin*

Back at the hotel now and destined for bed – got a super early start for Zagreb in the morning *yawn*

Overall, Budapest was a bit of a surprise after Prague and Bratislava. It is much bigger and more bustling. The people are very unhelpful (we’re inconclusive as to whether they don’t speak English or don’t want to) and the transport systems are very complicated, not helped by all signage being in Hungarian only and the language is VERY foreign with long words and all sorts of punctuation we don’t have. The Communists clearly let the place go to rack and ruin and it’s such a shame that beautiful old buildings are in such a state – grotty and dirty and unkempt – and there is graffiti everywhere (the funniest of which we saw on Gellert Hill’s look out point where people have tagged the pillars with their favourite bands, reading from left to right: Megadeth, Kiss, Satan, Slayer, Warrant, Metallica, Def Leppard, early Bon Jovi. Got a pic of that teeheehee)