Budapest: Western on the outside, Eastern on the inside
September 23-29, 1999
At first there really didn't seem to be that much different about entering the former Eastern Bloc. They had billboards for Office Max just like the rest of the western world.
We were put up in grand style by friends of a friend. Henry's buddy Adam from Middle School is friends with Hajni who lives here.
Her brother's girlfriend Noime moved out of her apartment for five days so we could stay there.
Is this hospitality born of a culture of scarcity? We began to wonder.
They have the oldest subway in Europe. The trains are clean, come often and on time.
But as we began combing the city for certain supplies, we discovered some things are hard to find, like professional film and contact lens solution. Here Henry stocks up on non-sparkling bottled water.
But as fast as it can, Hungary is embracing the west, adding its offerings to its own mix. We met this Zen Monk. He took down our URL on his Palm Pilot.
The Hungarian Forint is easily convertible. You can do this into any one of the other European currencies without trying to speak Hungarian to a bank teller.
Hungarian stands out among the tongues of Europe. It's so different from every other language, it's not even of Indo-European derivation. Though we tried, we never learned even how to say 'hello.'
Our schedule didn't allow us a lot of sight seeing during the day, but we did manage to see the main Jewish Synagogue, the second largest in the world, which also has a small museum.
They let anyone in who'll pay, but all men gotta wear a hat.
The museum has a bar of soap the Nazis made from the brains of slaughtered Jews. It's on display in a spooky room with the lights turned down.
Behind the synagogue lies the Holocaust Memorial. Made like a metal willow tree, each leaf bears the name of a victim.
Our nights had more time free. We spent most of them in the Balkan and Hungarian Dance gatherings that happen almost every night somewhere in the city.
We know Balkan pretty well, but not too much Hungarian. The circle dances are fast and look like a lot of fun.
Knowing the dances meant some people introduced themselves. Our friend here e-mailed us in front of our eyes using his fold out cellular phone/palmtop computer.
But before we left Budapest, we knew we needed to take some time out to experience one of their unique pleasures: Turkish Baths.
They have three temperatures: Hot, Tepid and Freezing. They also have saunas that'll fry the skin off 'ya. Folks go straight from the scalding sauna to the freezing pool, then on up the temperate baths until they're ready for the sauna again. We did this a couple of times and felt healthy, clean, and exhausted.
Outside, another crowd enjoys the wide open sky and floating in the hot water engaged in their favorite pastimes.
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