Today I wake up with no plan but to wander. That’s the thing about Budapest, this place was made to wander and discover. I need to get my bearings and therefore explore different directions. I walk out the door and to the left as I know if I turn right, within a few minutes I’ll be at the Central Market and the Danube. I head left and find the beautiful Astoria Hotel, the not-so-beautiful, yet somehow necessary Burger King and McDonalds, and a really cute retro clothing store where I spend quite a bit of time finding the perfect $18 watch. With a leather band and old fashioned face, it looks to me like an adventurer’s watch. I also find a place with a sign, “Pizza and Apartments.” Hmmm, sounds like a good combination so I enquire. Unfortunately, they have none available – apartments, not pizza.
I move on and find myself, once again, in District VII, which is the Jewish Quarter (apparently this wandering Jew has a built in GPS). As I said, it’s in District VII. Budapest is divided into twenty-three districts which can really help with finding your way around. Also, the city of Budapest is divided into two areas by the Danube River – Buda and Pest. I’m currently staying in Pest, which is the flatter, more bustling part. Buda has different areas but is mostly known for the castles on top of steep hills. It’s known to be wealthier and more sedate.
Today, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel is visiting Budapest. (Didn’t I just leave her in Germany? Apparently she misses me.) Word has it the she’s going to visit the Synagogue, which is why it’s “closed due to technical issues” as the sign says. It’s also why the street parking has been blocked by police tape for two days and police cars are everywhere. I ask the police officer stationed at the door if she knows what time Mrs. Merkel is arriving at the synagogue and if she’ll speak. She will neither confirm nor deny that Mrs. Merkel is coming. I decide to have lunch across the street as there’s a seat at the window and I’ll have a great view if she does.
I enjoy a nice lunch sitting inside the café while watching the goings on across the street. A platform is set up and people with earpieces and dark coats come and go. It’s amazing how much preparation it takes for just a couple of people to come by.
When I finish lunch, I head out and ask a different police officer if Mrs. Merkel will be speaking as I’ve noticed they’ve set up a platform. Again, the officer won’t even confirm that she’s coming. I think it’s strange that, if she’s speaking, they won’t tell anybody so there will be nobody to hear her speech. She’ll be like me, talking to herself.
Soon enough, helicopters are buzzing overhead. I’ve been in Washington DC when President Obama’s motorcade came through and I know that helicopters are a sure sign that someone big is coming. I see men gathered on the corner in front of me, but I continue to wait in front of the synagogue. The helicopters get closer and, before long, a procession of police cars with sirens blaring, and various other cars of head down the street to pass the men on the corner. I run across the street to catch the tail end of the motorcade and then stand there wondering what all the fuss was about as, well, I can drive on a Phoenix highway in rush-hour and watch a long line of cars as well as police cars with lights blaring pretty much any day of the week.
Irritated with wasting a good part of the day stalking, um, waiting to hear Angela Merkel speak at the synagogue, I move on and do some more shopping. I decide to pick up something to eat and take it back to my hotel to work for just a bit before leaving to check out an apartment for rent in Buda as I have plans down at the river tonight.
I pick up a Burger King; a little explanation is required here. I don’t eat fast food at home yet, I’ve been traveling for over six-weeks and I just want a little taste of America. (So put your judgy-wudgy pants away. One Whopper won’t kill me.)
As I walk down Muzeum Street, police line both sides. When I go to cross to the side of the street my hotel is located on, I’m stopped by a police officer indicating that I’m not allowed to cross now.
“But my hotel is there,” I say.
He waves me to go down the street but I see police all along the street preventing people from crossing. I finally accept the inevitable and stand there eating my Whopper. Protesters carry signs and flags in preparation for Mrs. Merkel to pass by. I speak with protestor Sándor Hegedüs, President of the European Federalists of Hungary, who tells me the protest has little to do with Angela Merkel and much to do with Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary. Many are unhappy with him as they view him as right-wing and feel that he’s straying from the EU. They’re nervous as Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will visit here in two-weeks. Remember, Hungary is still not using the Euro and the Ukraine had recently made a decision – going towards Russia or towards the EU – just before Russia invaded them. I’m glad I’ll be here for Putin’s visit and will search for locations of demonstrations.
We watch as police surround a man carrying a cardboard sign showing a swastika with a red-line drawn through it. It’s illegal to show the sign of the swastika here in Hungary and police are questioning him. He explains that the red line shows that he doesn’t want this for his country. After a few minutes, they allow him to leave.
I stop by my hotel, change my clothes, and head down to the Danube. The hotel staff says I should take the bus or trams as my destination is a thirty-minute walk. This is a beautiful city to walk in and I see no reason not to take advantage of that.
The lights of the city give me energy and, with no police to stop me every five feet, I breathe in the city. I have no time to go to Buda to check out the apartment as, tonight, I’m taking a cruise down the Danube. I walk to Dock 7 and board the Legend river cruise. With glass windows surrounding its two decks, there’s no problem getting a full-view of the city while staying warm (go upstairs if you can). The headsets provide commentary in a variety of languages and the waitress provides a variety of drinks. We see Buda Castle , the Matthias Church, the Hungarian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the striking Hungarian Parliament building. The Budapest Panorama was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. It’s a full moon tonight and the city is lit up like me after a few margaritas. This might just be the most beautiful city in the world. If you come to Budapest (and you must), you should do a nighttime Danube River cruise. You won’t forget it.After an hour, a glass of wine, and an unforgettable view, I step off the boat and stop at a Thai restaurant nearby, where I meet Terry, a gentleman from Detroit who’s here on business, along with a man from Mexico (crap, what’s his name?) who he supervises. They notice that I speak English to the waitress and invite me to join them for dinner. I order my food, a Thai iced tea and a glass of tap water. The waitress looks at me and says, “Tap water? We don’t even drink tap water.”
I consider her statement and decide that I’ll be eating and drinking worse things along the way (I’ve already tried conch penis in the Bahamas) and tell her I’m a simple girl and I’ll take my chances.
Both Terry and uh, Mr. Mexico are really interesting and we have delicious food and entertaining conversation. It’s one of those lovely, long dinners that make you feel both satisfied and sleepy afterwards.
I head out for the walk back to my hotel, breathing in my new love – this wonderful city of Budapest.