A Swiss Guy, An Irish Lass, A Swedish Gal And I Hubba Bubbling: The Jewish Quarter is where it happens in Budapest - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

October 28, 2013

A Swiss Guy, An Irish Lass, A Swedish Gal And I Hubba Bubbling: The Jewish Quarter is where it happens in Budapest

The Ruin Bars are the place to go of an evening. Called "RUIN BARS" because at a time back in the nineties, after the communist went home and people could lighten up again, there was a need for places where people could meet for an evening out. There were people that thought, lets use the many large houses in the Jewish quarter which for one reason or other had lain vacant and fallen into ruin during the post-war decades.

There are people out there still reading the title, wondering what hubba bubbling is: I'm waiting for them; all will be explained in good time if they just read on.

The three storey empty townhouses with courtyard-cores, had through the years reached a stage were much of the roof was missing, though the masonary floors and stairs remained intact. Then about twenty years ago, to bring them into use as bars inexpensively, steelwork structures were mounted, and the whole covered over at roof-level with sheeting or even tarpaulin, including the formally outdoor courtyards; so today's visitors sits in an ambient environment, either in the courtyard with a background of rustic brick walls with various artefacts like old bicycles parts and squibblings, or, inside the houses, downstairs or upstairs in rooms with old furniture were it's cosier.

I come upon them through the free city-walking tours; in which, the Communist era tour was the most entertaining.

Our tour guide divided up the occupation of Hungary after the war, firstly into "Sad Communism": the period from 1947 to after the uprising in 1956, when the president at the time described himself as Stalin's best pupil. To speak ill of the system, even in the home, as there were spies everywhere, could mean a long prison sentence. And it was illegal for more than two people to assemble in public.

Then, a few years after the 56 uprising began the period "Happy Communism"; where the authorities realised it was best to back off. People could criticise the government in private, but they always had to smile and say how good the system is in public. What had they to complain about: there was full employment and the government provided cheap housing in the tall tenement blocks of the era. There were three weeks paid Summer holidays per year with the possibility of government subsidised travel abroad to other communist countries, which could mean as far a field as North Vietnam.

Travel to the West was also possible, for people in procession of a blue passport in addition to the normal red passport; the privileged, such as members of the Communist Party; or, just people needing to travel to the West for whatever reason, the state didn't stand in their way; it was "Happy Communism" after all; but as well as the right passport, a visa was required and it could take two or more years to obtain, with stringent questions to answer.

The economy ran on little money, but the state through exchange with other East European countries provided all that was needed, such as cheap mass-produced clothes which were grey and lacklustre. Which takes us back to passports and visas to the West. The guide told a story about a couple that travelled across the border to Vienna. The woman couldn't believe how well-dressed everybody was and asked her man, "why are people dressed so well. Is there some festival today?" The man whom had been to Vienna previously replied "No. This is how people here dress everyday"; to which the woman replied, "If that's the case, I'm not going back to Hungary, I'm staying here."

The tour ended with an exhibition in a Ruin Bar. Don't worry I'm getting to Hubba Bubbling soon.

But, before we got to the Ruin Bar, our guide took us to Liberty Square, which is special to the Russians, as there's a memorial in the centre to the Red Army which Russia insists remains, much to the displeasure of Hungarians; it cannot be defaced in any way, so there's a police guard at all times. Our guide said this has more to do with gas than remembering fallen soldiers, as Hungary relies on Russian gas. Really, the Russians just want to poke fun at the Americans, whose Embassy occupies one side of the square and thereby the Red Army memorial can be seen from every window of the Embassy. But, the Americans have got there own back, well a kind of: they've had a life-sized statue of Ronny Reagan unveiled approaching the memorial. The guide said before moving on, if you want, you can take a photo with the former president, then we'll move on; but, no one in the group was interested, as Ronny's grinning face aroused a look of disgust on most faces.

The exhibition in a room in the Ruin Bar at the end of the tour, was a collection of communist era memorabilia; essencial reading: Stalin's autobiography, the red and blue passports, identity cards, et cetera... The guide also mentioned that Hungary is now in what she called a "third period of communism" A nostalgia for the old days before 1989, as prices have gone up. We from Western Europe can easily travel to Hungary and it's a cheap holiday destination, but for Hungarians, the average salary is five-hundred Euros a month, so making ends meet is hard and travel to other European Union countries is usually only for work or study, so there still exists a lack of freedom.

I returned to the Ruin Bar later that evening. There was only place to stand and there were lots of people from everywhere. The group of boys and girls on my right side were speaking French and, on my left, a group were speaking Spanish. And sat in front of me were English and a Dutch guy.

I spotted a free seat over by the wall and went over and sat-down; a park-bench with only a young guy sitting smoking one of those Turkish contraptions, called a Hubba Bubble; hope you're paying attention now; like a large candlestick with a small bowl on top, where the tobacco or whatever is burning, it had a fruity jasmine scent, and a watery glass bulb halfway down which bubbles every time the smoker draws on a hose with a mouth-piece end between pursed lips stemming out from the base.

We were soon talking and he offered me a smoke as the fragrant scent whiffing the air was irresistible. He'd a kind of German accent but not quite. He said he was Swiss and worked in Budapest for an engineering company supplying medical equipment to hospitals.

Two girls squeezed in, sitting on the bench's remaining space at my side. The one next me asked when we got talking "where-er you from?" "Ireland" I replied. "You are not! I'm from Cark." It's usually nice to meet exotic East European girls, not girls from near home, but she was cute with a foxy sparkle in her brown eyes. When I told her Is from up North, she said "I was up in Belfast in July" "July is the best time to visit Belfast, what with all the flags and rioting" I joked. Her friend was from Sweden and had cold eyes; when I said where I'd cycled, she asked coldly "How is your Health?" "Oh, I'm Insane" I said with a bit of a laugh, to which she agreed, saying "that's what I mean!" "but my physical health is fine?" I added; usually people comment "You most be fit" but not this girl. And so all four of us shared the Hubba Bubble.

A week has past since I arrived: I've bought maps for Hungary and Serbia and I'm at the stage of planning the way ahead. An Australian in the hostel mentioned he's heard Pecs in the south of Hungary is nice; he's off there today by train.

I discovered a bike-shop today with a fair selection of spares, including, kick-stands and the hard to find pads for the bike's cantilever brakes.

The walking-tour guide said I should check out the Pub-Crawl night, as it's a good way to see Budapest's nightlife, so that'll take another day as it's could take until late. Perhaps I'll meet Hungarians this time.

And finally, it has been horrible grey weather and raining this last few days, so I'm waiting for a clear sunny day to get out and take some photos before I leave. According to the long-term outlook on the web, it's to clear-up Wednesday, though, with one thing or other it'll be the weekend before I get back on the road.

The boring sightseeing part of my stay in Budapest. Why do I feel propelled to photograph churches?
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I wondered could I find these roofing tiles in a Builders Suppliers; apparently not.
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From the hill on the "Bude" side of the city, looking across at the "Pest" side.
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Looking across at the parliament building.
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A cycle route to a place 22km to the south of the city: the same direction I plan taking.
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Humour on printed T-shirts.
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Crossing the street to the grand market house.
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Inside.
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A wheat beer.
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Wet floors are dangerous.
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A book in a book-shop window about a cycle-tour in the Middle East.
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The newspaper headline is about Hungary's great football team of the 1950s when Hungary beat England 6: 3, according to the headline.
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A mural brightens up a playground.
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A room in a Ruin Bar: the bath has a cut-away and is used as a seat.
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An old fridge.
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