Little Cyclists In The Big City

By Jane Mountain | May 25, 2013

2283 km so far.

Today we celebrated 2 months on the road!!

We are in Budapest, staying with our new friends David and Barbi in their lovely flat. It is so nice to feel “at home” somewhere for a few days. It’s also incredibly nice of two complete strangers to take us in for 5 (!) nights with absolutely no benefit to themselves save being entertained by our witty banter.

No great payment, I can assure you.

Not only are they providing us a bed, they’ve also been tour-guiding us around the city. Barbi has always lived in (or very near) Budapest, but David has only been here a few months, so he is getting to see some new sights as well.

Bigger, Noisier, Crowdier

We started the day by taking our bikes down in the lift to go and get them serviced. The bikes are in need of a professional tune-up after the 2,000+ km they have managed so far. Sadly, the closest bike shop only existed in map land, not real life, and the other shop we knew of was closed. Barbi phoned a third for us, but it doesn’t do service. So it was back up six floors to put the bikes safely on the balcony.

After that, we walked across the river (on a bridge, not by Jesus magic) and into the central market. The market seems half geared to tourists, with plenty of paprika stalls and stalls selling handmade rugs at deliriously low prices. The other half is all fresh meats and vegetables, so I guess the locals must make an appearance here as well. It made me a little homesick for Vancouver’s Granville Island market, which has the same sort of feel, minus the paprika.

woman dressed in traditional clothing in budapest

Traditional garb for the tourists.

Our walk continued down the major touristy streets.

friends checking their phones on the streets of budapest

David, Barbi, and Stephen trying to find the coffee shop Stephen wanted to visit.

This being Saturday lunch time, the pedestrian district was crawling with foreigners, all out for a stroll in the big city. After weeks spent in fields and deserted campgrounds, this came as something of a shock to the system. People everywhere we looked! The other shock is to be able to understand overheard conversations, since so many people are speaking English. It all adds to the noise and confusion in one’s head.

After a late lunch we said “szia” (sounds exactly like “see ya”) to D & B and continued our walk towards the opera.

Things are far in such a large city, so by the time we got all the way there the day was waning. We had booked tickets online for tonight’s performance of Macbeth, but they were so impossibly cheap ($6 for two including service charge) they could only be completely obstructed-view seats. Unfortunately, all the reasonably priced tickets were sold out, so our choice was $6 or $100. We opted for 6.

Standing Ovation

Our plan had been to go home and get all gussied up the for the opera and then turn around and come back. Our plan was not well made and we ended up running out of time and energy for the walk there and back, so instead we (Stephen) found a bar with craft beer and we had a quick drink.

Then we joined the crowds once again, all in more formal attire than we, entering the opera house.

The Budapest Opera House.

The Budapest Opera House.

I was worried we’d feel like country bumpkins, but no one took any notice of our attire. I’m sure we’re not the first people to turn up at the Hungarian opera wearing hiking shoes and slightly dirty yoga gear.

There were actually quite a few scrubby tourists in attendance, and, contrary to reports, no one was in their finest evening attire. Sadly, it was mostly sport coats and tidy skirts.

opera house in budapest

The main concert hall.

As expected, our seats, in a box next to the lighting rig, were of the “listen only” variety. We moved our chairs out of the way so we could stand. Being fairly tall, this afforded us a view of almost half of the stage, so every once in a while we could see what was going on. A good thing, too, since the singing was in Italian and the subtitles in Hungarian.

At least it was Macbeth, so we could sort of follow along.

By intermission, our feet were exhausted, as were our ears, so we decided to go find dinner. I’m sure it was a relief to the two British girls behind whom we’d been looming for the first three acts. We decided it was OK if we missed the end, since we were pretty sure there wasn’t going to be much of a happy ending.

This was Stephen’s first opera, and he is not a fan. Neither of us can really understand why people would want to sing like that. I enjoyed the spectacle, but knowing nothing about opera, I have no idea if this was a good one or not. Certainly the orchestra was amazing (our view of the trombone section was fantastic) and the singers seemed to know a thing or two about holding a long note.

Our view of the orchestra at the Budapest Opera House.

Our view of the orchestra at the Budapest Opera House.

We’re so glad we went and had the experience, and equally glad we didn’t fork over $100 for the pleasure.

Ruined By Drink

After dinner, we met up with Barbi and David who took us to the original Budapest ruin pub, Szimpla Kert. As its name suggests, Szimpla was a simple idea: rent or buy an abandoned building; add some art and colourful, cool decor; finally, open a bar. Since most of the Jewish quarter was destroyed in World War II, and plenty of it has not been restored, finding a ruined building is easy.

Perhaps the idea is too simple, as ruin bars have popped up all over the place in recent years – there are more than 60 in the city.

Szimpla is an amazing place that reminded me of raves I went to as a kid. There are two floors of bars, all overlooking a central open courtyard, and relatively few walls to get in the way of checking out the two hundred or so people drinking there. The place was packed, and we had to push through crowds to find a place to roost, but it wasn’t an oppressive crowd, just a bunch of people out for a casual drink on a Saturday night.

A little friend on the wall of Szimpla.

A little friend on the wall of Szimpla.

We both felt far more engaged and alive here than at the opera.

There were countless stag nights and hen dos going on in the bar (and all over town) as well. We saw guys in bear costumes, guys with red spangly ties, guys dressed in sombreros decorated with plastic penises, girls in maid outfits, a groom dressed as Super Mario… why why why? This is not something either of us have ever taken part in or will ever understand. Though Stephen might be going to a stag do in Berlin in September, so we shall see.

Truth be told, I was a little too exhausted to really enjoy the nightlife. This is the latest we’ve stayed up since leaving LA and my poor body was wondering what the hell I was doing to it. David and Barbi’s couch was calling to me from across the city, so after two drinks we headed back, and here we are safe and comfy once again for the night.  

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  1. Comment by Sam Brady

    Sam Brady May 29, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    High fives to the trombone section. We boners have to “stick” together.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane May 30, 2013 at 7:29 am

      Boo ya!

  2. Comment by Diane

    Diane May 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Loved this post Jane. I remember the opera in Budapest. We saw La Traviata which is much more palatable than MacBeth for a first one. Do you remember the opera in Vienna where you wore a miniskirt upsetting some of the fraus but not their husbands? Anyway we are living vicariously these days thanks to you.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane May 29, 2013 at 1:29 am

      I totally don’t remember that, but it doesn’t surprise me. Kind of like the wives in Hawaii who objected to my doing yoga on their beach!

  3. Comment by Mauricio

    Mauricio May 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Yeah!!! Sounds like it was a grand day indeed ;-) Thanks for sharing

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