Sunday, March 13, 2016
(written by Janel)
Like Spain, Hungary all but shuts down on Sundays. It’s a day for God, hangovers, and sunshine (if you’re lucky).
As such, I’ve plotted out a handful of alterna-activities to fill our morning with goodies that don’t involve going to confession (mostly, I’d have to own up to severe gluttony. But if that’s truly a sin, why did Jesus invent foie?).
The Internet whispers tales of a weekly organic farmers’ market taking place in Szimpla Kert. Yes, the very same hipster ruin pub we visited two nights back. My disbelief pulls me as much as my intrigue.
Right as we are drawing up the street, I get that super familiar playing-host jitter, the persnickety paranoid little voice that whines “but what if this sucks?” right before the event in question. I envision a bizarro-mart with some smelly man selling naught but rotten carrots. Shit.
But it doesn’t even come close to happening that way: Budapest is determined to knock it out of the ballpark. The squat-chic bar is abuzz with bright fresh veg and rainbow jars of surely full of delight. It smells like sausage. Oh yes. We must have coffee (“Er. Long and dark, please.“), which the bar itself sells in quantity. Our caffeine perch is just in front of a stall selling apples, garlic, and hunks of cured meat. The classic what-do-I-munch-first problem is handily resolved when a Hungarian couple prompts the girls at the stall to reveal a tupper overfull with cooked sausages. Yes.
The girls cheerfully offer to cut half-portions of each variety: paprika, liver, and blood. They’re robust and magnificent in the morning’s apricity. Maslow needs taken care of (caffeine, calories), we begin to peruse in earnest. Oh man, this is way more what I had hoped to find yesterday at Prima: uncountable handmade jams and spreads, cheeses swirled with everything under the sun, dried mushroom spreads to rival Catalunya, brioche rolls exploding with poppy seeds. Plenty of fresh goods here too, with an emphasis on fat root vegetables and beautiful salad greens (there’s even a sprouted microgreens stall!).
We have a lengthy conversation with the mushroom man, who picks ’em himself. We also chat up the truffle guy and the chile girl, and strew our remaining HUF hither and thither in the process.
It’s not a tourist event whatsoever, although foreigners are cetainly present in the mix. Neither is it the domain of the young nor the old, of neither hipster nor yuppie. Like so many of the spaces we’ve explored here, this context feels wide open to anyone looking to enjoy it, to take part and make it theirs.
I recognize that Budapest has been putting stars in my eyes since long before we even got on the plane. But this city gives me an unprecedented sense of accessibility, of characteristic coolness minus the pretension.
I’m giddy. I buy mustard.
Szimpla’s not the only Sunday transformation. A few minutes walk brings us to Gozsdu Udvar, for the second time, this round in daylight and lined with handicrafts. It’s much less my kind of impulse buy, but I end up with a trippy print of the Budapest cityscape anyway.
We’ve got two hours left til the one o’clock lunch rez I made way up in Buda. No idea how to spend them, so we swap into full-on wandering mode. It feels like spreading my wings.
We stumble across the Basilica, an imposing building in the middle of a tiled plaza. Peeking aside reveals a giant Sunday mass, complete with ethereal choir that sends shivers down both our spines as we gape. It’s over soon after we enter, however, so we hightail it outta there before the faithful can bottleneck the doors.
The next stumble is Parliament. It’s rare that I ever intentionally lead a trip towards the postcard landmarks, but it turns out that there’s a spectacle at 11:30 that makes it immediately worth our while.
At first we think the goose-stepping must be another changing of the guard, but after trumpet fanfare and some requisite brandishing of sabers, the uniformed dudes line up still as statues. Their leader says something in Hungarian to the teeming crowd of tourists. Judging by the subsequent mobbing of the uniforms by snapping shutters, it’s an invitation to take yer picture with ’em. I indulge MP.
Sun’s out and we’re in love with this city.
Finally one o’clock rolls around, and we saunter into Kacsa Étterem. I figured we needed at least one ultra-traditional Hungarian meal, and this place looked just right on Google. The decor is all dark wood and heavy curtains, contested by serious sunlight streaming through the windows.
I tell the guy we have a rez, and his demeanor immediately changes – whereas before he was friendly, now he’s ready to roll out the red carpet.
It’s our big meal of the day – we’re already anticipating skipping dinner due to travel – but neither do we want to overdo it. We’re thinking we’ll split three apps and a main. I zero in quickly on the cold goose liver in its own fat and the traditional fisherman’s stew, both Hungarian specialties that I’ve read plenty about and are as yet missing from our repertoire. House specialty is duck, and the waiter suggests rounding out the spread with mushrooms. Done.
We discover the joy of crunching into the local hot green peppers, which accompany the goose and then the soup upon request. The heat is almost akin to wasabi in a way; it kicks hard but it doesn’t stick around to fight.
The crispy duck with potatoes and red cabbage is outstanding. MP declares the just-sweet, cinnamon-y cabbage the best of her life; I think the depth of flavor comes from being pickled and then sautéed.
I nix the possibility of dessert because I have a thing in mind, but we both opt for coffee, which turns out to be an EXCELLENT decision. Is Hungary known for its coffee? Maybe we just happened across the place that brews a better cup than anyone else. It’s unbelievably good. Seriously, this place is worth coming to exclusively for the espresso.
Our trip back into Pest takes us across the Chain Bridge once more. The sky’s turned overcast, causing the Danube to do wonderful things with color and shadow. I lead us back towards the Basilica, towards a place I’d hoped we might find the right moment to visit somewhere within the extended weekend. I’m not much for sweets, but a cone of gelato shaped like a rose is far too cute an idea to pass up.
Gelarto Rosa booms with international visitors, but the line moves happily along. We quickly hone in on the Turkish pistachio, which I combine with chile chocolate (MP pairs it with chocolate, straight up).
Oh man. Ooh la. Wonder what percentage of the cones sold here go on Instagram?
We finally make it back to our princess chambers – no chance for a beauty nap today – and pack up our bags. Not only have we managed to acquire an array of liquids, but we’re also flying Whyanair on the way back. I’ve checked a bag in advance in anticipation, but we still need to do some serious finagling before everything fits into passable bags. This with each of us decked out in our fattest layers, of course.
After check-in, security, and lounging it a little, we head to our gate. Which turns out to be in Marruecos. No no, seriously – you have to scan your boarding pass to get past a certain point leading you in an alternative path far from the other, normal gates, after which you descend into what is essentially a flimsy industrial warehouse half-open to the elements. After you get through passport control, you’re corralled into a maze of chains that include about six seats for all 100+ passengers. Just as you’re getting comfy with your new surroundings, you’re ushered outside, where you have the privilege of lining up within a further series of chains, but this time totally exposed to the cold and the wind.
Perhaps it’s Ryanair’s retribution for all those sneaky passengers who wear half of what they packed so they don’t have to pay to check a bag? Either way, you’ve never seen cheap seats like these.
It sounds like a whine, but really we just take it on the chin. It’s great to be hopping on a late flight that goes direct to Barcelona – no way would we want to deal with a connection tonight.
A 2.5 hour hop brings us back to BCN, where we catch the train and subsequent zzzz’s around midnight.