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Thursday, August 4, 2011


"Duna" is the Hungarian word for the river, so let's use it while we're here. When I lived on it in Germany, we called it the "Donau." When in someplace other than home, do as the natives do.

Also, it's an easy word to say in Hungarian. Hungarian isn't a difficult language, it's darn near impossible, and to our ears, even the best thing doesn't sound very nice. "I love you" is "szeretlek" (sha-RET-lek). That's almost worse than the German "Ich liebe dich." Better stick to the Romance languages for the best-sounding romantic talk.

However, practically everyone in Hungary speaks English, and they just about have to speak at least one other language, because no one outside Hungary speaks Hungarian, and it isn't remotely related to any other language in the world today. Technically it's related to Finnish. Yeah, they both love "k" sounds, but have fewer than 200 words in common. So forget that. On the other hand, if you meet a Hungarian who doesn't speak English, you may be able to communicate in German, the third most-frequently spoken language after Hungarian and English. And may I just say to my father and grandmother, thanks for nothing for not teaching it to me. It's so damned unusual, knowing it would be the coolest freaking thing on earth.

Anyway, I went there armed with the necessary politeness phrases, and using these gets you all kinds of good will, and willingness to speak in English or German. So if you're going to some nice country with some bizarre language, do yourself a favor and learn enough to be polite. It makes your stay a lot more pleasant.

After we awoke from our lengthy nap, we grabbed a cab downtown. The cabs in Budapest are just outrageous, so be prepared to spend your money on that. Everything else is reasonable. And being on the border of East and West means you can find lots of strange and wonderful things there, like blood-orange gelato. Never saw it before in my life. We were very, very early for the cruise, so we hung around downtown taking seventy thousand pictures of the Chain Bridge.

All my life I thought it had a chain motif, you know, with huge links or something. Not even close. That's the name of the guy who got it built in 1849, and so unified Buda and Pest into one. The official name is Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The sound "chain" is in the surname, but it doesn't mean anything like "chain" at all. This is the West trying to re-make the Center and the East. Like, Peking, or Bombay, or Ceylon, because we can't be bothered to learn. We suck.

Like Warsaw, most of Budapest was destroyed in World War II. Unlike Warsaw, most of it is back the way it was originally, and the Communist Bloc architecture is found only in things built after 1945. One of the other cool things here is roof tiles. They have the most fantastic array of colors, and they don't fade. Remember, "Pest" is "kiln," so their specialty is ceramics. The Buda side is renowned for fishing. They've had a very friendly rivalry going on for over 1000 years. Hungary is one of the oldest continuing political entities on the planet, and the earliest all-Hungarian document dates back to 1162. Since then, it's been drawing further and further away from all other languages in the world. They're hardly isolated there, so I don't know how come. Just stubborn? As a half-Magyar, I can understand that!

So, while we were waiting for the cruise to begin, in front of the designated meeting point, which was a hotel called "Duna Palast" (See! You can read Hungarian! Just say it out loud. Surprise!) we started seeing all these women tarted up like whores, with glitter makeup and ho-heels and carrying garment bags. Some of these were see-through and inside we could see lots of gold chains, sequins and so on, and thought we had stumbled across a hooker convention. So we paid attention and eventually discovered it was a huge belly-dancing school recital and graduation. Well, to each their own, I guess!

So then we trekked down to the river and got on a boat ominously named Millenium and if you don't know why that's ominous you will just have to go read my Galapagos blog.

The trek from the hotel to the ship was actually quite long and involved a lot of handrail-free stairs and several trolley tracks, so we were last to board and got the worst seats on the boat, or so I thought until we saw the others, where people were jammed in sideways with total strangers. Our seats didn't have any backs, but they had a great view, and our table was set for four, but we were the only ones there. so we got twice as many "free" drinks.

On the ship was a little string trio who played lots of Hungarian and European music, none of which was the trashy popular stuff from this or the preceding century. They did know some show tunes, though, so we got them to play "As Time Goes By" for us, which is one of our songs. They went around and asked everyone to suggest a tune, and so they got lots of tips. And the photographer came around and took, and then sold, pictures (It was, after all, a three-hour tour, plenty of time to print out and frame a couple hundred). Joyce hated ours but I loved it, so we bought it, and here it is, along with the other side of the folder it came in.

Would I prefer to show these side by side? Of course! Will this program let me do that? Of course not! Don't be silly.

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