Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Whoo!!! I love this city...

So, Monday evening I "went to bed" at five, assuming I'd wake up again later for dinner or something... Well, I woke up and it was 9:47; I lay in bed comfortably for exactly two hours and then fell asleep again and woke up at 7:30... I think all that sleep must have done me good, because while I wasn't 100%, I felt much better, and I had a lot of energy at school today.

So, last Wednesday was the national holiday of Students' Day, which commemorates the Velvet Revolution. (See Prague post: Wenceslas Square for more info.) It means no school, so Tibor took me to the circus in Budapest!

Lenka, Ruth's cousin, was also coming, so she had stayed over the night before... We had to get up early and left the house at seven exactly. We picked up stara mama, who was also coming, and then we were on the road to Hungary.

When we arrived in Budapest at 9:30 or so in the morning, it was a clear, crisp, beautiful day-- all blue skies. Tibor dropped off the three of us at the castle complex, and then left to do errands and so on.

The castle complex is on the Buda side of the city. It's on a giant hill overlooking everything. It includes the castle, the coronation church, and many other buildings I don't know the history of. We didn't go inside the castle, but I certainly saw it: a large building (not particularly old-looking) with a dome on top, and a memorable statue of an eagle out front.

We saw much more of the church, site of Hungarian kings' coronations. It wasn't very large, but it was intricately painted on the inside, every last square inch covered with designs, mainly in dark reddish-brown or green hues. The stained glass work was very nice. Also of note on the church was its roofs: one was decorated with different colored tiles in a kind of mosaic; the other was very high, spindly, and pretty; all white.

Near the church was my favorite part about the complex: A series of maybe four or five spire-capped, white towers, a series of archways running between them, a wall overlaid on the arches. So, from the ground, you looked through these archways that were on the edge of a cliff, and you saw all of Pest laid out across the river from you; you climbed up to the wall for a better view.

I could have spent all day leaning over the side of that wall; Budapest was before me! And what a city it is. I just love it. You know, sometimes certain cities and places just grab you, and you don't know why them in particular, you just know you really, really like them and want to return again. For a lot of people, I know, Prague is such a place (except, of course, the reason why is obvious: it's incredibly beautiful); I don't know why I wasn't that taken with Prague, but I am with Budapest. Just the way things go.

So I drank in the view. Immediately across the Danube, wide and flat, was Parliament, a very pretty building. Far below you could also see the many bridges which transverse the river; this is one thing I particularly like about the city, that its sort of center is the river, that it's spread out across two sides of the Danube. Also visible in the river was the large, forested island. From the viewpoint I could see so many uncountable domes and spires of distant churches in a sea of red roofs, all under the perfect blue sky. What a day!

We stayed up there for quite some time, and then finally we began our descent down the steep hill, most of the way on stairs. At the bottom we walked along the sidewalk (still thickly covered in dry, brown Fall leaves, while Nitra has been swept clean), on level with the Danube. It looks even wider and flatter up close. It's kind of strange, actually, the flatness, and that Parliament, on the other bank, seems to be built on the exact same plane, so that it looks like it's maybe built on the river itself... It looks like there are no banks at all.

We walked to the very old, very famous bridge; I don't remember its name, but I was strongly reminded of the Brooklyn Bridge. The entrance was flanked by stone lions. Stara mama told Lenka and me that one of the lions on the bridge (I think there were five?) supposedly had no tongue. Lenka and I looked hard for the one, but we never were sure which one it was, because the lions were high up and all the tongues were hard to see.

So, we walked the bridge slowly, looking all around all the time. There were many flags along the sides; they alternated Hungary's and Budapest's. It was fun to look back at Buda and see where we'd been; it seemed so high up now that we were down. I saw on the other end of Buda a high, forested hill was topped by a statue--it was hard to see in the haze; it looked like a dancer to me, though I doubt that's what it was.

Stara mama told me as we went that this bridge had been bombed during WWII; all of Budapest had been bombed; she remembered hearing about the bombings on the radio as a young girl. I had not known this. "What?" she said. "You didn't know? But the Americans were the ones doing it!"

Now in Pest, we walked towards Parliament. It was lunchtime and we were all hungry, so we went to a narrow little food shop and got hot dogs and fries. We went up a very narrow, steep staircase to the upstairs, a very cramped space, to eat. You really felt the lack of space in a city there. But this was in ironic contrast to outside, on the streets of Budapest, which feel incredibly spacious. The streets are all very wide (wouldn't want to risk jaywalking there); everything feels broad and easy. The streets in Pest are flat, too; like a continuation of the river.

After lunch we continued on to Parliament, and saw it from a pretty close distance. Across the street we bought metro tickets, and then went down to the second-oldest Underground in the world (first is London's Tube). We took many different trains all over, and finally we emerged in a park with a signpost in front of us that pointed to "Grand Circus" (it was in English).

There we met Tibor. Next to the circus (that's cirkusz in Hungarian, cirkus in Slovak) was a zoo; from across the street I thought the zoo was a mosque (it looked just like one! Big dome and what looks exactly like a minaret), and I was quite surprised. We bought tickets for the circus (thank you, Tibor's perfect Hungarian), and then had an hour or so to go.

Lenka and I quickly went across the street to what was apparently an old, famous bathhouse (Hungary's known for them, you know). We took a peek inside; it was a luxurious spa, and we could smell the water (not sure how to describe that) and everything sounded like waterfalls.

Back in front of the circus, Tibor took Lenka and me on a little walk to Heroes Square, a famous place in Budapest. We went across a green-bronze bridge; there was no water beneath it, just cement, but Tibor says when it gets colder it will all be used for ice-skating.

And then we were in the square! What an awesome place. Like the rest of the city, it was huge, and broad, and flat. It was all black and white cobblestones arranged in a kind of mosaic to look like tiles. Directly in front of us was an incredibly high pillar, Roman-style, with an angel on top, wings set alight. Flanking the angel were aqueduct-like pillared walls, bowed in a kind of semicircle. Standing in proud lines between the pillars were great green-bronze statues of former kings of Hungary. There were more at the base of the angel's pillar. It was quite an impressive sight.

Flanking the square was a dark brick castle; also, two art galleries facing one another, all beautiful works of architecture. One of the art galleries in particular had gorgeous gold mosaics on the facade.

So, Tibor took pictures of Lenka and me at the kings' feet below the angel, and then we walked across the huge, empty expanse... A lot of Budapest is like this; you have the giant streets, and then giant, imposing things--buildings, or statues, or whatever--around them, and it's all large and sort of feels too big for the people walking between it all, but it's wonderful, too.

We walked back to the park next to the circus and Tibor got Lenka and me "langos"es, which are these big pieces of fried dough with cheese on top. The park was still in the last stages of Fall; there were some leaves left in the branches, but most of them, all dried out, were thick on the ground. There were lots of vendors selling cheap things in the park; if I'd had some Forints I might have eyed one of the inexpensive Hungarian flags; they were pretty cool.

We finished the food and it was time to take our seats for the circus. The circus dates from 1889. (Hey, that's when Washington became a state!) On the inside it looked like a carnival, which is what you expect from a circus: The popcorn and hot dog and cotton candy vendors; win a stuffed animal if you can knock the pins know.

The seating was through a set of heavy, red-velvet curtains. We were on the second floor--or was it the third? I'm not sure. All the hundreds of small children, maybe kindergarten-age, that we'd seen out front with their hassled schoolteachers and chaperons, now filled the arena, which was circular-- a giant cylinder. Everyone was talking and laughing and screaming and happy to be there.

The lights were interesting; the four of us were right under one of them, and while it wasn't bright at all to look into, it washed everything in a thick orange-red that was somehow calming. The center, which was flat (the "stage"), was colored blue. Above the "stage," on a high platform, were musicians; and above them, a screen which was flashing words in Hungarian.

There were two clowns walking around. (The word for "clown" in Slovak is "saso"--pronounced "shah-show".) They had makeup, but no creepy red noses. They were dressed like tourists, with Hawai'ian shirts, khaki pants, Panama hats, and big cameras around their necks. I definitely prefer this kind of dress to typical clown-wear. They were going through the crowd, snapping pictures with and of people.

I forgot to mention! The circus currently there was called "Circolombia" and was a group of Colombian circus performers, about forty altogether, I think. (So yeah, the clowns were Colombian.) Before this, I hadn't known that some circuses cycle through groups, or that there are traveling, touring circus groups. I always just assumed it was the same people in one place. I guess not!

So...I don't really want to write out every last second that happened, but I'll try to summarize. Some of the coolest tricks were the stacking ones, when the guys would stack themselves and continue to flip over each other and keep stacking one on top of another... Lots of cool springboard tricks in there--a few incredible ones were flying at least twenty feet in the air and doing all sorts of flips and twists in mid-air. It was amazing.

There were several trapeze artists and a "tissue" acrobat (that's the term for a very long, thick cloth that hangs down from the ceiling; people who know how to sort of wrap themselves in it and do all sorts of things). There were the double bars that people swung between. There was acrobatic flipping over jump ropes; a woman who balanced and did tricks within a thin metal hoop that was supported by a thin metal rod on a man's head; the same woman also balanced on a narrow metal swing and did tricks on it while wearing high heels.

There were also animals: There were seals--incredibly beautiful, their skin was unreal--which whistled, balanced and caught balls on their noses, clapped, and made noises; and parrots, which pushed little carts, played dead, and one of which flew all the way around the ceiling beautifully and then landed on his trainer's arm. Sad to say, I couldn't fully enjoy the animals... They're so wonderful to look at, but I can't get past the fact that they're in captivity. I'm not the biggest fan of zoos, either.

There was lots of music and dancing and the energy was really high; I really enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun. Much better than my only other circus experience: When I was eight or something, I begged Mom to take me to the circus, because I'd gotten a free ticket at school. I ended up sobbing almost immediately when I saw one of the trainers cracking his whip at a tiger, and we left... So yes, much better second time around.

The circus lasted three hours, from 2:30 to 5:30 (though we were in the car at 6). It had been bright daylight when we went in, and when we came out it was dark night. Lenka and I were sleepy and curled up in the backseat; there wasn't much to see of Budapest at night (or maybe I was too tired to be looking).

But we didn't head straight home; first we went to visit Tibor's aunt (on his father's side) and her daughter in their apartment. Tibor's father was originally Hungarian--thus Tibor's linguistic fluency--though he lived in Slovakia; Tibor's aunt and cousin also lived in Roznava, Slovakia, while Tibor was growing up, but apparently they moved back to Hungary eventually.

When we were getting out of the car, it was too dark to see anything, and I put my foot down on what I assumed was going to be pavement... Surprise! It was a giant, deep pothole (it went up past my ankle), and it was entirely filled with some none-too-clean water. I was wearing my boots, but water got inside them anyway... Yeah, I wasn't happy about it.

Up at the apartment, they laid out juice and coffee (none for me, thanks), and the adults talked for a while. They offered us dinner, but Lenka and I weren't hungry. When we finally left, after forty-five minutes or so, they gave the family two large fur coats, which they apparently had no use for... Later, in the back seat, those fur coats made an excellent pillow for Lenka and me!

Back home in Slovensko, Tibor dropped off stara mama and Lenka, and then we went back to the flat for bed. It was only 9:30 or so, but I was so tired... I slept well that night!

Much love!

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