Just getting on with it in Budapest

I’m spending four days in Budapest attending concerts in the Cafe Budapest Festival 2017.

This post, the third of four, captures my activities on what turned out to be a gentle day spent on a sightseeing boat trip and tasting the delights of the Gerloczy Cafe and Brasserie. Read the other posts in the series here

I started today feeling really quite flat. I’d had a good night’s sleep – a lack of sleep wasn’t the problem. In fact I slept really rather well.

I woke up of my own accord at 8am, switched on the kettle and made myself a cup of tea with coffee creamer. Europeans – or rather, hotel chains – seem unable to contemplate that some of us need milk in our tea. We’re prepared to compromise on UHT, of course. And we’ll forgive you if you bring us a pot of hot water and a tea bag on a saucer if we order a cup of tea. But just because its possible to make tea with coffee creamer doesn’t mean your guests should be forced to. Really. Come along now.

It wasn’t the lack of real milk that was the problem. Not really. It was Twitter and my reaction to it this morning. This always happens. I start scrolling through the posts of the people I follow – a lot of classical music related individuals – and end up thinking ‘I really should be doing more than I am at the moment. Nice as a trip to a foreign country to hear classical music is, I really ought to be doing more of what they’re doing.’ I’m comparing myself with others when I think that kind of stuff. And comparing yourself with others really does you no good whatsoever. I tell that to plenty of other people. I have no idea why I don’t remember it myself.

So I promised myself to make the day a gentle day. I finished off some long overdue writing and booked myself onto a sightseeing boat trip.

I even left enough time to get to the Legenda Sightseeing Boat Dock I’m now a dab hand with the Metro. (That feels like a natural thing to say and also weird considering I only arrived here 36 hours ago and will be flying home tomorrow night – a reflection of how your own company over a short space of time can play tricks with your mind.)

I like the way you can stroll onto the underground system with your ticket in your pocket and not need to scan it to get through the barriers. I like the way that the doors don’t open automatically when the train stops at the platform, but that others will pick up the slack when your stupid finger can’t make the button work. I like the way the enforcement officers ask politely for your ticket when they want to see it, go to great lengths to say thank you once they’ve checked it and then apologise for the inconvenience. Frankly, I like the fact the Hungarians largely take it on trust you’ll pay your way, and don’t piss and moan like we do in London if you don’t move quickly enough off the train. Us Brits could learn a lot from the Europeans.

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What the boat trip illustrated was the sheer scale of the Danube, the buildings on either side of it, and the sense of pride the Hungarians take in their city’s assets. It is a humbling thing, perhaps even embarrassing. I sat on the boat watching the magnificence of the Parliament building slowly pass by and think of how parochial London seems in comparison. One thousand men worked for 17 years to build the Parliament building. It is a beautiful sight. Defiant. Solid. Unshakeable. The Hungarians know their stuff.

Parliament Building

Come to think of it, most of the buildings along the banks of the Danube share that same commitment. From the bizarre but inventive ‘Whale’ concert hall, to the grand frontages of the University buildings, up the Danube towards the under construction swimming pool ahead of next year’s world swimming championship. There’s beauty in it all, of course, but what’s most striking is the might. Strangely reassuring might too.

The tiredness caught up with me on the boat trip along with a familiar feeling for me: where is all of this going? Fun as it is, what purpose does it serve? The writing, I mean. As convenient as self-publishing is, what is its impact? What is its legacy? What does the process deliver? Does anyone really care? And if they don’t, what should I do next?

These are familiar thoughts for any writer, I suspect. They crop up from time to time and flash their terrifying teeth at you. Then for one reason or another disappear without a trace. I don’t know why they crop up or how they go. I just have to sit it out and remind myself that in the self-publishing world the only person you have to keep happy writing is yourself. I sat it out and let Budapest slowly pass by.

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The rest of the day was spent indulging in an unexpected treat: the Gerloczy Cafe and Brasserie. Lined with Damask wallpaper, dark wood pannelling and studded leather benches, the Gerloczy Cafe and Brasserie knows its turn-of-the-century style and wears it well. It maintains an authentic air and avoids cliche. It’s staff offer a warm welcome and lack pretension, relying instead on elegance and decorum.

The food is a stunning creation too, packed with flavour and stylishly presented. This is a must-visit. Two course meals start at 14 Euro; three courses at 16 Euro. The price should surely be higher than that – the quality of the experience is first rate. But the price is what it is. It is a very special place that will restore your faith in human nature.

It was here I witnessed a Russian (I think) woman engage the charming maitre d’ in a protracted conversation about her specific requirements regarding a sandwich (rye bread, no tomatoes). “Can’t you just make it?” she said at one point. As expected the maitre d’ was accommodating to a fault and helped make soothe her testiness and make her feel comfortable. It was an impressive sight.

When I retrieved my notebook to scribble down some ideas, she spoke to me across the empty restaurant asking me, “Are you a writer?” “Yes,” I said, clearing my throat. “Can you help me please? I am writing a film script but my tutor tells me that it is no good, that is has no story. I have a psychological block that stops me from writing. What should I do?”

Considering my earlier ruminations, I was surprised at the immediacy of my response and the underlying impatience. “Sit for ten minutes. Make sure you have no distractions and write. Just write.”

“That is all?”

“Just do it,” I replied. “Just get on with it.”

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