Sunday, September 07, 2008



Last week was my birthday. And last week my brother, David, was lecturing in Budapest at a conference. And as we don't get to see each other more than once or twice a year as he lives in Canada and I live in Israel - and as Budapest is not really so far from Israel - he invited me to spend a few days with him in Hungary after he finished lecturing. And so off I went to Budapest.

Four days - crammed full of sightseeing, eating, going out with his colleagues, eating, celebrating my birthday, eating, lots of catching up - and more eating. We had some of the best meals in Budapest and some of the best pastries - and I don't don't even like pastry as a rule. And what was my first dinner in Hungary? Cliche but true - Chicken Paprikas with little dumplings - and palacsinta for dessert. In fact - we had variations of palacsinta every single day - as both starters and dessert - including my birthday when the restaurant sent us another fancier dessert as a gift. So we ate two desserts. There went the diet - but who cares - back on the diet today.

And if you go nowhere else for dessert - you must go to "Gerbeaud" for coffee and cake - any kind of cake! We had Schwartzwalder Kuchen - cream and chocolate and cherries - divine.

To begin with, David chose a fabulous hotel - and I don't use the word fabulous lightly. We stayed at the "MaMaison Andrassy Hotel" on Andrassy ut 111. (Imagine some signs over the vowels in every word I write in Hungarian and you'll get the picture.) They didn't put one foot wrong. The staff got to know you and your likes immediately, our rooms were gorgeous, the food in their fancy "destination" restaurant, "Baraka" was to die for - and they sent up a bottle of champagne to my room in celebration of my birthday. And when we left to go to the airport at 5:30 in the morning - at which time the restaurant was still closed - we found cups of hot expresso waiting for us when we checked out. Who could ask for more than that?

I won't give you a blow-by-blow of what we did and saw in Budapest - you can read a guide-book for that. But I will tell you my impressions. First of all - it's not hard to remember people's names - all men are called either Istvan, Janos or Laszlo - with a couple of Peters thrown in. The women are called Marta. Yes - I am exaggerating - but just a bit. And the language - completely and utterly incomprehensible. Hungarian is related to Finnish and Mongol - how helpful is that? There was not one word I read that I could relate to any other word in any other language. Oh yes - Opera is Opera and Oktagon is Octagon. And nothing is pronounced as it is written.

We took public transportation - a wonderful, logical and on-time system - and passed some of the same stations each day. For instance - "Vorosmarty ter" is pronounced "Forushmattytare" and "Deak Ference ter" is pronounced "Dayakferentschtare" - although to make matters more interesting Mr.Deak Ference is really Mr. Ference Deak - in Hungarian you write the last name first. Are you still with me?

And the city is clean clean clean - what a joy. And lots of open spaces and green parks and gardens. However - I think that all the extra steps and stairs that were left over from every other country in the world were sent to Budapest. I have never climbed so many stairs in my life and when, on Thursday we spent the afternoon and evening with David's colleagues - Istvan and Marta (see above for names!) - and were visiting a lovely town outside of Budapest and came to a steep flight of stairs my brother said plaintively - "No more stairs, please!" - and we walked up the hill instead.

Of course, any city is more interesting when you are lucky enough to know people who actually live there. Istvan and Marta are not only great guides but fun and funny people. They are Hungarian and live both in Budapest and Canada so their English is quite perfect - a real plus when you don't understand one word in the local language. And we got to go to a little, funky restaurant in a little town we would never have gotten to - and could feel like the locals if even for one evening.

And now - back to real life. My kablanim (contractors) began work again today - my floors - which should have been delivered tomorrow - are still on the ship - which has still not reached port here - and so it goes.

Yalla, Bye.

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