Shopping in Budapest

If you are spending a week in Budapest for dentistry – which we were – there are some basics you need.

And the means to create tasty adult baby food is one of them.

That means trips to the Spar supermarket in the nearby shopping mall called Mammut.

In it, you can get a Thai massage, shop in H&M or indeed in Marks and Spencers, buy and apartment or a pet bird, and buy a potato peeler and masher – necessary for the obvious reasons, and not supplied in the apartment despite the fact it is rented almost exclusively to those coming on dentistry missions.

I am sure there are quiet times in Spar when you can waltz through the checkout but I don’t manage to hit on any.

So, I queued up with everyone else, hoping that my grasp of the currency would mean that I didn’t brandish the equivalent of a £20 note for some milk and potatoes – and that I would get change that was in notes rather than the completely incomprehensible coins which I can only distinguish one from another with my glasses on and in a good light.

( A very nice young woman at the bakery stall in the market had kindly taken all my coins and given me the note equivalents the day before – it made me absurdly grateful.)

One day, there was a young Goth on the Spar till. She had white eyelashes and very white makeup and some rather painful looking tattoos on the back of her hands.

She dealt with the man who seemed to be discussing at length some issue around his store card points – though he could have been talking about the national debt for all I knew.

Then there was a woman who seemed to have bought the complete frozen fish stock of the place and wanted each item put in a plastic bag before she would move on.

And then it was my turn. I smiled and  packed my rucksack as quickly as I could – despite, or maybe because of, the long queues the till women are ruthless at getting everything processed quickly.

Then she said something to me and I was lost. ‘Sorry, mm, sorry,” I said.

‘Oh,’ the nice Goth girl said, ‘ I was just asking if you wanted a voucher but don’t worry, it probably won’t be of any use to you. Are you here on holiday or for dentistry? Have a very nice stay in Budapest and have a good day, thank you for shopping Spar.’




The Swan Building

Opposite our modest apartment in Budapest is a rather remarkable building.

Originally built in the 1800s as a military hospital and then turned into a concert hall, it was ‘transformed’ in the late 1990s into a stone, wood and shingles building stretching down the street and round the corner.IMG_2537.jpg

This is a city with some very big buildings – modesty in architecture seems not to be a Hungarian trait.

The parliament building is huge – makes our Palace of Westminster look positively unassuming. I am not sure what ratio of laws to square metres each produces but if there is a direct link, then the Hungarians must have more laws than they know what do with.

So, here we are for a week and this is our view which is not bad, but the Swan Building also had a nice little secret.

I spotted a board on the street not a minute’s walk down the road.IMG_2487.jpg


You go through a chain link gate and follow the path – halfway along, there is another notice telling you  to ‘be brave and keep going.’

And then there is a bar semi-sourrounded by the building and under trees with outside tables and chairs  – and the promise of a rabbit.IMG_2485.jpg

Needless the say, this is where we can be found every early evening.

Last night we sat next to a table at which were a group of students and a (almost inevitably) pony-tailed ‘professor’ talking about creative writing.

One of the students volunteered to read out what he had been writing.

Suffice it to say, his explanation afterwards of his hero was, ‘Jimmy was a randomnist and before that, he was a contrarian.’

( No, I haven’t translated this from the Hungarian – they were English-speaking. My grasp of Hungarian stretches to hello and thank you….)

As Nick said, sotto voce, ‘ The crucial thing is how to break the silence at the end of that reading.’

When I went in to pay the bill inside, the nice young man at the bar told me that the building was controversial when it was built because ‘ many people still had communist ideas of architecture and this was a fairy house.’

He also told me the building was problematic, ‘ an architect’s idea, but not really practical.’

The roof leaks, the offices – for it is mostly businesses in there – are too small and the windows shadowed by the stonework make them dark and pokey.

(Not like the big windows and un-leaking roofs of proper communist style buildings….)

But, he told me, you get an interesting cross-section of people in the garden bar, like the writers, he said.

‘Is the one talking all the time any good? It sounds not so good to me but then I don’t speak English that well.’

‘Oh, you do,’ I said.

I asked if the promised rabbit was in a stew.

‘No, no not at all, he is on holiday until the sun is warmer and it stops raining.’

‘Are you here on holiday or for dentistry? ‘  The question everyone in Budapest asks a British visitor.







Budapest or Seville

I do realise that just mentioning a choice of spending time in either of these very nice European cities is not an issue that anyone but the luckiest of people have to think about.

But my best beloved, wants to get away for the dreary month which is a  British February, and we went to Seville this year for a week’s scouting.

I came back pretty convinced that I would not be a happy Spanish camper unless I could find a mission to keep me occupied for the month and no, learning Spanish is not the answer.

Budapest however is much more promising.

It is considerably bigger for a start so there is more to see. It has shed loads of history – admittedly most of it grim.

Liberation of the city from one occupying invader or another rarely seems to have turned out happily for the Budapesti.

Even outside the shopping mall is a monument to those who tried to stop the Soviet tanks in 1956 and the former Soviet prison stands next to the bus station.

( I spent, by the way, a  good ten minutes watching four abseilers wash the front facade of that shopping mall on my way to fetch croissants one morning.)

So, there is lots of history to go at.

And given that history, I am not sure what goes on in this building…..


On one of my walks, I came across this protest against the erection of a memorial to the German occupation of Hungary.







The man in the anorak could explain about the pebbles, artefacts, history of the occupation and deportation and killing of Jews, in any language you wanted – I am sure I don’t need to point out the contrast with the kids playing in the fountains.

In any language it is clear that Premier Viktor Orban is not good news.

Anyway, The Rough Guide to Budapest suggests 17 things you have to do whilst you are here and I have not managed to tick off anywhere near all of them despite the week I have had.

(Admittedly, the art gallery is closed for renovation, the Hungarian Glastonbury only happens in August but even so….)

One of the things we have not managed is to go to a ‘ruin bar.’ Apparently they are set up within deserted buildings or courtyards and have a great ‘Bohemian’ feel.

I have however developed an interest in the shop signs and manhole covers. That could keep me going on a mission for a month…..


Tomorrow, are the thermal baths and this afternoon the biggest market hall in Europe.

And maybe the clincher, is the fact I have stumbled across charity shops – one where you can buy clothes by the kilo.

(Surprisingly, they were familiar makes such as M&S and Phase Eight and a nice little number from Sandwich but at a size 10 was not even in my wildest dreams.

Mind you, even in my rose-tinted look at Budapest would I describe the womenfolk as universally stylish….)

So, whilst my best beloved nurtures his Stockholm syndrome and says he feels ‘a bit lost and flat’ on the day off he has from the machinations of the Transylvanian dentist, Johanna – I  am considering of a snowy Budapest February.