I’m spending four days in Budapest attending concerts in the Cafe Budapest Festival 2017.
This post, the first of four, was written soon after arriving ahead of concerts, sightseeing and trips to the Budapest Baths. Read the other posts in the series here.
I’ve come to Budapest at the invitation of the Hungarian Tourist Board. I’m as surprised as you are. It’s the things which come out of the blue totally which mean the most to me. I’m always flattered at being invited and grateful for the generosity. This is one of those trips.
Three days of concerts (the Steve Reich gig tomorrow night a particular highlight), loads of free time during the day to get some sightseeing done, and even some time booked in at a couple of the city’s historic baths.
I admit that I am, in a typically British kind of way, a little daunted by the prospect of having to bear my chest in a public space (especially when others will have paid for entrance to the baths), but I suspect that’s because I’ve discovered this evening that I’ve developed very modest man boobs. That’s quite distressing considering that there was a time when I was quite thin. I suspect Budapest may be where I do my first outdoor run. More on that story, if it happens, later in the trip.
I very nearly didn’t get to Budapest.
When I arrived at Heathrow earlier today, Terminal 3 was heaving. My original plan to sit down for something to eat was thwarted by two restaurants where the wait for food was estimated at somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. Given the short amount of time left, Yo Sushi seemed a pragmatic solution. Although swift, I let my appetite get the better of me and left heading for the gate until half an hour before departure.
It was only when the British Airways staff kept looking at their computer unable to understand why my boarding pass wasn’t allowing me through the barrier that I realised I was trying to get on the wrong flight. I ran for 10 minutes in the opposite direction, not stopping until I made it onto the bus that took me, and all of the other passengers waiting for me, to the plane. The endorphin hit from that short burst was quite something. I can’t wait to get running properly.
I always embark on these trips asking myself why I’ve been invited. There is no such thing as a free lunch, after all. It’s the personal question – rather than any brief from an editor – which sets the creative juices flowing. If you’ve not got a question to ask, then there’s no answer to find.
I’d normally start with ‘Why have I been invited exactly?’ Like the last trip to see (part of) Wagner’s Ring Cycle performance in Budapest, I’m reminded its a long way to come for a concert.
Perhaps the question needs rewording a bit: what’s the story the PR wants told? The answer was on the wall of Baggage Claim at Budapest Airport: Budapest Welcomes You to our vision of where an Olympic park can be reached in record time. I’m not 100% sure whether that sentence works terribly well as a tag line, but it’s a signpost to Budapest being a candidate city for the 2024 Olympics. The decision is made on 13 September 2017.
There is another unexpected angle too. In the year the UK voted for Brexit, Hungary is marking the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising which saw 2500 Hungarians die and a further 200,000 flee during the revolt against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and heavy Soviet influence. The pictures used on the digital screens advertising the commemorations tell a heart-breaking story, one I really want to learn more of whilst I’m here.
But before that, food. I tuck into my first goulash of the trip at nearby Pest-Budapest Bistro, a charming place at the top of many flights of steps that cling to the hill on which Buda sits.
At a table near mine is a group of British women trying to work out what more of the bill needs to be paid, who’s contributed what and who needs to contribute more. The alcohol they’ve consumed doesn’t aid their comprehension. Any inhibitions they had have long since been abandoned. I hear one of them moan to the waiter as she counts out her notes, “This is a nightmare, you lot have got Monopoly money.” Sweet Jesus the British can be embarrassing abroad.
The food is good wholesome stuff with hefty paprika chicken and buttered noodles to follow. I pass on the desert. The waiter looks confused. “Are you sure?” I explain I need to cut back on 500 calories per day in order to drop a pound in weight each week. “OK,” he smiles, clearly none the wiser.