Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Before I Go

A quick post of odds and sods and pics carrying on the Christmas theme.

Read moreThe ice rinks are up. I can't vouch for them all but I'm sure the huge one Varos Liget is running (and probably has been since the beginning of November). There's also a fairly decent looking one on the roof of the Westend mall which I glimpsed last weekend.

Plus, while wandering through the streets one night I saw what looked like the beginning of an ice rink outside the parliament. I think the rink outside parliament is free for kids. Maybe.

The opera house had a huge TV screen on its main balcony last night. Though strangely it wasn't there this morning. Either they only put it up when it's dark, or someone's got themselves a huge present under the tree this year.

Oh, and of course the lights have been up in Budapest for a couple of weeks now. Each district trying to out-do the other. The illuminations on Andrassy ut look good.

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Merry Markets

With the gift giving day almost upon us, people are now scouring the shops like mad trying to get the presents they need. Personally, I really don't like the feverish crowds that clog up the streets and malls. There's a sense of desparation about and quite a bit of pushing and shoving too. Luckily, the things I need to buy this year are fairly simple and don't require a lot of trawling.

Read moreIf you're stuck for present ideas then you could always try the markets that spring up every year. You can only really use the markets once for a present, unless it's a Secret Santa gift, in which case you're bound to find something tacky enough within your price range.

The wooden stalls sell the same items year after year without fail. Most goods are not good. Wooden bowls and plates, candles imbedded with dried flowers, honey imbedded with dried fruit, small wooden toys hanging from springs, figures of witches and birds to hang from the ceiling, cigarette lighters and an assortment of metalic goods from fruit bowls to hip flasks.

But don't despair, there are still some things that make a trip worthwhile. Practical stuff like gloves, scarves, hats, wrapping paper are fairly decent and then of course there's the food. Almost everywhere you can find Kürtos kalács (chimmney cake), gofri (waffles) and forralt bor (mulled wine). Plus, if you take a trip down to the Vörösmarty ter markets then you can get a thoroughly fantastic (though perhaps expensive) grilled kolbasz.

So if you have some shopping to do, stop by the markets for a break, a bor and a kolbasz. But please, be careful what presents you buy there.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bajcsy Bicycles

I've written about bikes in Budapest before and I'm going to write about them again here. Some people see cyclists as pests to pedestrians and cars alike, but I have great respect for the people that pedal their way around the streets here. Most drivers in Hungary have a fairly low regard for their fellow motorists but it's almost zero for people on bikes.

Read moreThe cycle lanes that exist on Andrassy are risky places to be. Even though they're protected by small, flat metal mushrooms, most motorists treat them as optional, extra parking space. An area that can be used when they're in a rush and park diagonally, sometimes rolling up onto the pavement as well. Which is probably why a lot of cyclists just use the great, wide pavements and weave around the walkers.

The council must have got wise to this and formed a different plan. After Bajcsy út was resurfaced they decided to add a cycle lane. Not on the road, but on the pavement instead. The lane runs the length of Bajcsy and is highlighted using red tarmac.

However, they didn't just stop at crayoning in the lane. The powers that be have then gone a step further to erect railings at various points, though I'm not sure whether they are to stop pedestrians from wandering onto the lane or stop cyclists from wandering off. Plus, there are mini-zebra crossings so the kids can practise on cycle lanes before they get to the road.

I think the new lanes are good and although it keeps the bikes on the pavement, there's plenty of room. But the mini-zebra crossings are harmless but plain silly. What I really don't like are the stupid railings that pop up at seemingly random points. I'm 100% sure that I'll be nursing a groin injury from not noticing them one evening.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hó Hó Hó

The white stuff is finally hitting the streets. After a brief flurry of snow last night I walked out the door this morning to be greeted with the city slush.

Read moreOne of the reasons I like living here in Hungary is that there are distinct seasons. No cold summer drizzle or warm winter days. In summer it's hot hot hot and in the winter it's hó hó hó. Though, in town that snow doesn't last long. Within a few minutes of touching down it's been trod on by pedestrians, driven over by cars and then there are the dogs.

The correct footwear is important. You don't want to be falling over in this stuff. Which is a problem for me right now as my faithful trekking boots that took a pounding from Patagonia to Peru finally fell apart strolling down Váci utca. It's time to get out to the shops and treat myself to another set of footwear with a good deep tread. Until then, my smarter yet slippery shoes will have to do. I just hope that I won't be hitting the streets too hard.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Crashes & Bananas & Humanity

I've been described as one of the few bloody blogging optimists about town but sometimes even I need some reassurance that there are some decent people out there.

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The other day I saw a car accident at the corner of Bajcsy and Andrassy. Nothing special. The lights were turning red, and all the cars were in their usual dash to get across before being deemed too illegal. Unfortunately for the driver in a small, white Peugeot, the driver behind thought they could still make and slammed into the back of him. Now you might think that my knock against humanity came from the two drivers then sorting each other out on the street, but no, they behaved impeccably.

It was the policeman standing next to the road that witnessed the whole incident. After the crunch, instead of going to the drivers to make sure everything was okay and perhaps offer some words of wisdom / caution, he just gave them the thumbs-up. As if to say, "nice crash there, well done".

My faith in humanity was restored this morning as I bought some apples and bananas from the tiny fruit & veg place on Nagymezõ. Going in, I declared that I only had 350 forints in change and the dreaded 10,000 note. I simply said that if I went over 350 ft, she should tell me before she rings it up and I'll put some bananas back. When the bill came to about 500 ft, she said it wouldn't be a problem and I can just pay it next time I pop by. Wonderful.

Of course, I'll have to find a new fruit and veg place to shop at now that I've got my sneak profit of 150 ft, but it's worth it.

Note - The pic was lifted from a bizarre but great site called Boring 3D. Make sure you check out the archive.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Electric Metric

Our good old electric meter has been switched for a snazzy new one. I quite liked our ancient black metal meter (no picture, sorry) but I'm sure the new, snazzy, minimalist meter will grow on me. It seems that another thing that I'll have to get used to is the whopping increase in electric bills.

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After installation the meter starts counting up from zero. Which is nice. But I fear that it may be counting too keenly. After just a few days it became apparent that we're using about 50% more electricity than normal. Though I don't think we're using any more electricity than we usually do, so it's got to be the meter.

The lovely lady puts it down to a conspiracy by the utility companies. There would be an uproar if the price of electricity, gas and water suddenly rose by 50% but if they just keep the unit price the same and switch the meters to sneakily use more units, then it becomes a hidden problem that individuals have to discover and address.

Perhaps our previous meter was old and slow but you never know. One thing's for sure, I'll feel cheated if I have to pay more for using less.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Death of Opi

A sad post to start off the return of The Hungary Years. Good ol' Opi has popped his/her/its clogs and is now flapping its rusty wings in car heaven.

Opi was still going strong but unfortunately the technical certificate needed to run on the road expired. In fact, it expired while we were away and so got a shock when we returned. It meant that Opi was parked illegally for a few days and then driven under cover of rush hour traffic to the garage to get it looked at.

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We knew it would take some work to get it past the technical test but didn't know how much it would all cost. Being the cheap and fairly sturdy car that Opi is, we figured that if the bill came to 50,000 Ft or less then we'd go ahead and get it done. Any more expensive and we'd have to think about it. When the call came from the garage to say that the work would cost about 170,000 Ft, the answer was obvious. Opi's time had come.

Again during rush hour and running on fumes, we drove it over to the scrapyard. The scrapyard itself was fascinating. Masses of bottles for recycling, huge cranes delving into piles of cars, scrapyard mafia independent scrapies' lorries bringing in all sorts of strange metal and offering to buy our car. We refused the offers, drove Opi one last time to get weighed (a nice round 1,000kg) and then parked it in it's final resting place next to a fleet of battered Skodas. We turned our backs and said goodbye.

Some other pics from automobile death row:

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