Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cafe Tér

As I've said before, I like my cafes and restaurants. Don't eat out much these days but it's always good to know that there's a delicious meal around the corner if I fancy it. Also very useful for when visitors arrive from afar and need filling up with good grub.

I'll start the post off with a place where I have no intention of going. The old Est Cafe was gutted and remade into Barokko. The place with an unfeasibly large sign hanging off its frontage. If there's a legal maximum size for a sign in Liszt Ferenc tér, I'm sure they've gone over it. As I said, I don't plan in entering the establishment mainly because of the terrible times I've had at Est Cafe, but peeking in through the large windows reveals a move around with the bar and a huge plazma screen showing either Viva or Fashion TV. I hate Fashion TV.

Now, one of my favourite places is Két Szerecsen. The name translates as "Two Saracens", or if you're using the politically incorrect dictionary from Startlap it's "Two Darkies". Oh well, I think I'll choose the former.

Read more

They've been undergoing a drastic looking rennovation during the Christmas period and while I remember a sign saying they will open in January, they're still very very unready. It looks like they'll be lucky to open in February but work is definitely going on so there's hope.

Some of the reasons why it's one of my faves and I hope they haven't changed it too much:
- Good service
- Tasty food
- Interesting specials
- Outdoor tables away from Liszt Ferenc tér crowds
- One of the best ice-coffees in Budapest

On the subject of cafes and dredging up a well worn theme on The Hungary Years, Fresco Cafe (formerly Leroys) on The Tér was in the spotlight this morning. Literally. They had commandeered the cafe for some filming. Couldn't see what it was about but there was plenty of activity going on and the car park out the front of the music academy was full of vans for lugging the equipment about.

As I'm not a real mover or shaker (more of a moccha and steaker) I don't know the full ins and outs of the change from Leroys to Fresco but what I can say is that bugger seems to have changed except the name on the front. The decor is the same and thankfully the food too. It can get a bit pricey in Fresco but they do excellent food and they also serve decent napi menus. It's becoming the mid-week Meaf venue of choice.

Of course, it's all just a stop-gap until good ol' Dupla comes back from the dead. At least there's it's sister Szimpla for an post-lunch coffee.

Back to home

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nespresso So So

The Nespresso place opposite the Opera on Andrassy has finally opened. For months it has been teasing me with arty coffee posters making me dream of a time when my days are spent sipping coffee, reading articles and watching beautiful people pass by. It really does look slick and sophisticated.

Read moreI was looking forward to another cool cafe to open up so I was very disappointed to see what Nespresso really is. Okay, so it looks like there is a place where you can buy and drink coffee in there, but it appears to be as comfortable as the "IT" transportation device that South Park's Mr. Garrison invented. The rest of the shop is a shop.

So, it's not really a cafe at all. Just a place where people can buy hideously expensive coffee machines and the accessories that go with them. It's not really a cheeky twist of Nescafe and espresso but a full-on brand of erm... Nescafe and espresso.

Nespressos are little capsules of coffee that fit into the pricey coffee machines to provide that neat shot of caffeine. Different coloured capsules for different strengths or flavours of coffee. I didn't search before but I now see they have a dedicated site.

I know there are plenty of other cafes around, but as Liszt Ferenc tér has proven summer after summer, there's always room to squeeze in one more.

Back to home

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Name That Day

One of the things that's great about Hungary is it's love with Name Days. Never knew they existed until I came over here. Imagine my surprise when I learnt that there's yet another day you can get gifts outside of your birthday and Christmas. Fantastic. Okay, so you can't get gifts on the same sort of scale but I'm all up for a bit of extra chocolate, a pair of socks or aftershave (well, no, not the aftershave).

Read moreEach day in the calendar has at least one name attached to it. Some are obvious, like Éva on Christmas Eve (shared of course with Ádám) or Miklós on December 6th (day of chocolate), Szilveszter on New Year's Eve. The names are printed on the ubiquitous desktop paper calendars that are obligatory in every office.

This way you not only remember the name days of your friends and colleagues but provides a healthy discussion points on long lost names such as Petronella, Menyhért and Líviusz. Please also spare pity for Fanni whose name is unfortunate in both British and American English, and poor Albin whose name day crops up on February 29th.

Some foreigners can assume a new identity by taking the Hungarian equivalent of their name. For example, Michael becomes Mihaly, Paul is Pál, Mary turns into Mária. For me, Timbo became Timót. I've been told that it's not an exact match and that apparently there isn't a proper Timothy in Hungarian. Never mind, my new Hungarian name is set and now the gifts of sweets, soap and socks flow.

Timot day lands on Jan 24th, which was yesterday. I celebrated royally with a great (but sadly not óriási) Túró Rudi.

Mmmm.... Túró Rudi. Now there's another brilliant Hungarian tradition.

Back to home

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Brass Monkey Weather

Sipping my morning cuppa I took a curious glance out the window to check the little temperature gauge we have stuck to the outside of the window frame. Although it's a bright blue sky, the temperature in the shade at this point was -7C. Which is low. It can be thought of as very low as the temperature in our courtyard is normally a good 4 or 5 degrees above the heat on the street. This means that at approximately 8.30am it's -11C or -12C out there. That's cold!

Read moreLike the cat that's about to get it's comeupance, I clicked over to the Hungarian met office for a fab map of the country covered in chilly blue splodges. Current temperature -14.7C in Budapest. It also tells me that the warmest place in the country right now is at -9C while the coldest is a bone chilling -20C.

I read that in order to stop the elephants freezing to death at the Russian zoos in the current cold snap, their normal buckets of water were spiked with vodka. Acting like anti-freeze, the vodka should prevent them from icing up. I wonder if it's a good enough excuse to get tanked up in the office.

* Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Back to home

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pootling Pensioners

When thinking of senior citizens in Hungary, most people conjure up the idea of frail, white-haired folks clogging up the post office collecting their pensions while complaining about how that pension is buying less and less, why the weather isn't like it was, how nothing is safe anymore, how the government is letting people down and what their latest grandchild is up to. Well, actually, that might be a bit of a pessemistic view of the old folks but we've all been there, standing in that particular queue waiting to pay our bills.

Read moreHowever, I think that most of the elderly are still young at heart and want to get out There to do their thing instead of just pootling about in some dusty flat. This theory is backed by spotting huge numbers (2) of sporty seniors out and about on the streets of Budapest.

I regularly see a sprightly man who must be in his late 60's tearing up the streets on rollerblades. And he's no slouch either. I can imagine he spent a lot of his life on skates (ice or roller) and has now moved on to in-lines. I thought he was the only one in town but the other day I witnessed a little old lady who had to be in her 70's speeding down Andrassy's pavement on one of those small collapsible scooters. I would have taken a picture but she was too fast. The sight was made more bizarre by the fact she was wearing her normal little old lady outfit and handbag. At least the roller-blader puts on some sporty garb.

It all gives me a little bit of hope that when I get to that age I'll be doing the same. It means I can put off the exercise for an even later date.

Back to home

Friday, January 13, 2006

Tourist Trap

The phrase "Tourist Trap" doesn't really sound that bad. While Merriam-Webster describes it as simply a place that attracts and exploits tourists. Wikipedia takes a more friendly perspective.

Tourist trap, sometimes called T.T. for short, is a catch-all term for any establishment or set of establishments that have been created for the purpose of drawing travelers in to spend money. While the term would seem to have a negative connotation, such establishments are typically viewed by travelers as being fun and interesting diversions, with realistic expectations as to their true importance, or lack thereof. In the Southern United States, these attractions are often called "Yankee" traps.

Read moreWhile the lovely lady walked home the other evening, she met a couple of Brits who had been severely ripped off. New to the city, they'd gone to the most touristy places in town and ended up having beers in a place on Vaci utca. You can see where I'm going with this one. I'm not sure of the full details but it seems that after having the beers they were presented with a grossly inflated bill. Now it wasn't just an extra tip added on, or a few extra drinks. Instead it was a whopping 400,000ft bill. That's over 1,000 GBP and getting on for $2,000!

Gobsmacked by the cheek of it all, they refuted the bill. Then they were threatened. What they were threatened with, I don't know but it was enough for them to pay. Apparently their chances of just legging it out was scuppered by the fact that one of them was in a wheelchair.

Worse still is that they were so glad to finally get out of there that by the time they were recalling the story to the lovely lady, they had forgotten which precise establishment it was. This means that even if they go to the cops the next day, they're stuffed.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be that rare to happen in certain parts of the city. I told the story to a friend who brings in tourists and he wasn't shocked about it at all. An everyday occurance perhaps. He's of the opinion that even if the victims do go to the police to report it there's nothing that can be done and the police don't care about it. Apparently, if tourists are getting ripped off in this way, it's just bringing money into the economy. They're not bothered about the longer-term effects of frightening away visitors because of the horror stories.

It's basically theivery and should be treated as such. It's shameful that places like this exist.

Back to home

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Friendly Websites

I normally write about things from the real world. Physical things that really exist and you can reach out and touch. But I'm putting that on hold for this post.

Recently I received an email from a friend telling me about a site I should join. I knew they were a friend, not just because I've known them for a while but also because the automatically generated email told me so. In this way, I signed up to be a member of iwiw.

Read moreI'm not sure what iwiw stands for but the site's FAQ says that it's been around in various forms since 2002. Almost makes me feel left out for only receiving an invite at the end of 2005. Oh well.

The iwiw concept is Hungarian personal networking site, just like good old Friends Reunited. You get invited by someone you know, you add people from the site to your list and invite other people who aren't registered yet. Sooner or later you'll be bumping into (albeit cyberly) all those people you used to go to school, work, the pub with. Myself, I tend to stand at the back of the room and just read peoples profiles to find out what they've been getting up to with their lives. My profile is normally up-to-date but I'm not an active-seeker.

But with these sites come a few questions of etiquette. The idea is to form your group of friends so that you have everyone you like and want to keep in touch with. But what happens when someone you didn't really get on with drops a friendly invite into your inbox? Reject it and it's a flat dismissal of their friendship but accept it and you're slowly diluting your group into meaninglessness.

Here's another question. While using the "friends of friends" feature the other day, I happened upon someone I knew, or thought I knew. Then I realised that I've never met or talked to the bloke and only know him through his blog. It'd be pretty neat to add him and say hello but it feels so stalkerish that I just can't bring myself to do it. Then again, as I know who our mutual friends are, there's the possiblility of meeting in real-life by just going out and meeting the mutuals more often.

And there lies the conclusion. These friendly sites are all well and good for finding those long lost buddies, but if we all went down the pub more often they wouldn't be long or lost in the first place.

Back to home

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Guerrilla Marketing In Budapest

The big junction where Andrassy meets Bajcsy, Jozsef Attila is often the source for my posts seeing as that's where the diplomats fly by, the cars are crashed, roads dug up, cycle lanes installed etc. It's doing it's thing for me again.

Walking to work the other day in the rain I noticed what may be a new form of advertising in Budapest. I've seen similar things before elsewhere but not in Hungary. I noticed 3 men at the traffic lights on Andrassy wearing bright jackets and holding big boards. When the lights for the cars turned red, they marched out into the road and displayed their message to the captive driving audience. Just before the lights turn green, they scurried back to the side of the road, out of the way until the next phase of lights.

Read moreNow I'm thinking of several things here.

1) Well done to the guerilla advertisers. I'm all up for a bit of creativity. You've basically created advertising space from nothing. Used to think up these schemes all the time but never put them into action.

2) Sorry for the drivers that thought they only had to listen to the ads on the radio and not have them thrust into their faces at the traffic lights. Never mind. Perhaps you can console yourselves by accelerating hard when the lights go green and try to catch one of them. Oh wait, maybe you do that already.

3) Bright, yellow, reflective jackets? Good lord, has health and safety come to protect the lowly street workers? To be honest, this was the most surprising point. Soon they'll be putting barriers around men working down holes in the street so that people don't fall down them. Maybe.

4) Hurrah for the advertiser (who is probably the one who thought it up in the first place anyway). The company paying for the ads was a strip-joint round the corner on Nador utca. Oops, I might be wrong on that point. Could be something else. Nothing against those nightclubs, in fact I'm all for The Places and look forward to seeing The Candy Shop one day.

Note - Perhaps this method of advertising may already be patented. Just take a look here.

Back to home

Monday, January 09, 2006

Celeb Spotting

The orange clad SleasyJet was the airline of choice to bring yours truly back from Blighty to Budapest. Chosen mainly because it was the cheapest flight between the two countries. I can't help thinking though that if I was feeling a bit more flush, I'd be paying that little bit extra to fly in an airplane with legroom and the chance of a couple of free whiskies.

Read moreI was surprised to see Koós János in the departure lounge at Luton. Surely an established Hungarian star such as him would have the cash to ensure a more comfortable trip. It's certain that Hungarian celebs don't have nearly as much opporutunity to make as much cash as they do in a lot of other places (UK, US) but I wonder how much money really is in the business.

He could have just been saving his forints like the eccentric sensible millionaires. He seems to be a hard worker and hard-earned cash is much harder to part with than the easy-to-come-by stuff. I too, loathe to hand over money for, well, pretty much everything. So, is Koós János a penny-pincher or a true pauper?

Or, it could be that he just wanted to visit Luton and see how orange it has become.

Back to home


It's a bit late but buék to all of you. Normally said within the first few minutes of the new year, I think it's still okay to greet people with it a few days into 2006. Buék of course being "Boldog Uj Evet Kivanok" or "Wish you a happy new year". Said in one short word, a bit like enthusiastic frog or a semi-stifled burp.

Christmas was spent away from The Hungary Years and Hungary itself. Back in Blighty there was much running around visiting people, pubs and purveyors of reduced price products (or in other words, "The Sales"). Plenty was ate and drank in the spirit of Christmas over-induldgence but there were a few walks around the countryside, parks and blizzard-swept, vertigo-inducing bridges thrown in too. Got up to the Lake District which was as muddy lovely as ever. Even so, the food has taken it's toll and so I'll be trying to walk even more around Budapest to shed the weight. Well, as soon as I've finished all the chocolate that was brought back.

I'll be back with more Hungary-related posts in just a bit.