14 January 2011

The Budapest of Times

Rubbing his belly brings
good luck for dinner
The final stop on my winter holiday tour of Europe was Budapest - recently voted one of the 41 places to go in 2011 by the New York Times.  The number 41 seems arbitrary, but the summary of the city was spot on.  To summarize what we learned from our self-effacing tour guide Anna: 
One of the first stops on our tour was by the statue of a cheery, chubby policeman, whose bulging belly has been rubbed shiny by tourists wishing themselves good luck for their next meal.  The lawman's physique, Anna informed us, is typical of Hungarian men due the abundance of meat, lard, and paprika in the local cuisine.
We then moved on to Parliament - a beautiful neo-gothic building that looks remarkably similar to London's Westminster Palace.  The resemblence is no coincidence and in fact it was deliberately made a few inches longer than its more famous peer just to one-up English.  At this stop we learned about the workings of the Hungarian bureaucracy, whose employment rosters are more bloated than old Hungarian men.  Anna was not exaggerating, as every metro stop was staffed with 4-6 fairly indifferent controllers - one to check tickets, one to keep him company, and four to supervise.
Hungarian Parliament - Neo-Gothic Rip Off

We also visited St. Stephan's Basilica, an attractive church best known for hosting the severed hand of St. Stephan (his forearm and elbow are in Warsaw and Vienna, respectively).  Tourists can view the hand by just throwing half a euro in the severed-hand automat.  

Our final stop was a flea market in the city park, where homeless people on tarps sold stolen goods and collected refuse at an unbeatable price.  I was creeped out by many of the merchants - including the lady selling opened bags of breakfast cereals - but Maggie found a nice leather purse for 100 Forints (about 30 cents).  The flea market and the nearby Heroes' Square were overall quite representative of my impression of Hungary - half granduer, half filth, a touch of paprika and a real bargain.

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