Monday, February 12, 2007

My Mate Marmite

I've been living in Hungary for quite a long time now. But while I've got my favourite foods and snacks from Hungary (turo rudi for instance), I still get a craving every now and then for a taste of home.

I weaned myself off the standard English expat fare mainly by not knowing a lot of other English expats when I first came here and also not going back and forth between the two countries that often.

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For some reason, I've been getting the odd pang of hunger for some quintessential British culinary items. I think the blame can be placed squarely on the heads of two people at my work who now visit the UK every few weeks and always ask if I want something brought back.

This means that I'm stocked up on Marmite and Cheddar cheese along with Computer Shopper and Top Gear magazines. Sadly I don't think I could get away with asking for several barrels of John Smiths.

For those that have an even stronger slavering for a slice of home food there's always some small specialty shops that deal in these rare goods. The downside is of course the price you pay.

The most well known of the shops in Budapest I think has to be Culinaris. There's one in the 6th district on Hunyadi tér and another in Buda's 3rd district at Perc utca, though strangely, I've never been in either of them. Although the shops have been at the back of my mind for a while, they were brought to my attention recently by the lovely lady who surprised me with a packet of my coveted salt and vinegar Walkers crisps.

There's a few other shops where the trade in these UK treasures can be found. Quite often, shops that deal with special spices will have a small section dedicated to the expat community. I popped into an Indian shop the other week on Wesselenyi utca, where upstairs was full of Indian furnishings while downstairs was a small supermarket, which as well as normal Indian flavourful food, also had PG Tips, ginger beer and export strength Guinness.

Then again, sometimes you don't have to wander far at all to find these things. Just the other day at my local, standard yet tin CBA shop I noticed that they were selling promotional packets of Tetley Tea. 100 bags + a "free" mug for just under 1,000 Forints. A bit pricey but if you're desperate for decent tea, you might just pay it. It's all a matter of taste.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Unfortunately, I'm not writing about the tag labels that categorise blog posts and news stories. Some little git (I find it hard to believe it was done by anyone over the age of 6 9 13 17) has tagged our building with crappy graffiti scrawl.

I'd still be annoyed if it was the decent, creative and colourful art that adorns a lot of underpasses but this is an especially unimaginative, untalented 5 second spray that stands out a mile on the blank yellow canvas that is our house.

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Worse still, now that we've been tagged the likelihood of it happening again has greatly increased. If the offending mark is painted over, it challenges the original ratboy (or ratgirl) to do it again. They've marked their territory and they have to reclaim it. On the other hand, if we leave it there, it's a sign to other taggers to go ahead and try to outdo each other with bigger and better aerosol autographs.

I can't help thinking that it has something to do with the renovated park close by and the increase in skateboarding activity. Oh and they love those flat wooden benches to catch a bit of air and end in a slide (slides being different from grinds). Won't be long before the seats are just a table of splinters.

I sound like a mean, old man, I know. To be honest, I have nothing against the skaterrats in the park. They seem reasonably well behaved and don't really get in the way or make people feel threatened. But I hope they stick to the skateboards and leave the scrawl alone.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Historical Flags

Staying on the subject of protests from the last post, I thought I'd write a few words on the Arpad flag. Although the flags with the "Arpad stripes" date back 700-1000 years they are fairly new to me. Even after living in Hungary for over a decade this is something I had never seen until last year. It was only when protestors started gathering at parliament and waving them around did I start to notice the different flags.

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Of course there was also the now standard Hungarian flag with the center torn out that turns up at almost every rally. The same used in the 1956 uprising when the communist symbol was ripped out. People use this flag today to express their feelings that something is wrong at the core of the country, namely the government.

The Arpad flag is somehow different. This one isn't waved by small children or little old ladies as the holey flag is. The Arpad stripes have more sinister connotations. Unless I'm very much mistaken, it has become the de facto flag for very right-wing protests, and it's slightly scary.

This is the flag that was picked up by the definitely scary Arrow Cross , a political party based pretty much on the incredibly scary German Nazi party. The Arrow Cross killed thousands of Jews with a lot of the victims being shot and dumped into the Danube river. For a sad reminder of this, just take a stroll by the water next to the parliament building to see a statue comprised of lots of iron shoes set into the ground to commemorate those that died there.

While displaying the Nazi's swastika and the Arrow Cross' arrows are forbidden, flags with the Arpad stripes are still okay to wave around in public. So with it's background and the fact that a lot of the flag bearers are bomber-jacketed skinheads with the odd SS tattoo, I think it's quite healthy for me to be wary of these groups.

I intend to stay healthy, which is why, if I see a bunch of people with Arpad flags, I'll walk the other way.

-- You can read a perhaps more balanced view at Portfolio.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Breaking Down Barriers

There was another bout of political poo-pooing on Friday and over the weekend. Since the riots last September, Kossuth tér - the square where parliament is situated - has been closed to the public. There were protestors camped outside for a while but I think they all got moved on a couple of weeks ago. Some people would come to the barriers and mope around a bit and shout but it seemed to be dying down.

Whether the barriers are a good thing or not is hard to say. On the one hand, it would be good to keep an angry mob away from the nation's big house. On the other hand, the barriers also serve to remind people that there's a restriction of freedom in place.

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On Friday, the opposition party thought it would be a good idea to remove the barriers themselves. So complete with their leader they set about dismantling the cordon. Bemused and unsure, the police that were on watch, just watched. It all made for a good bit of media and so the cameras were out and the speeches were made. Later, there was a lot of huffing and puffing about whether the action was legal or illegal. Or better still, was it right or wrong?

Of course, with the increase in media interest, the protestors came back. With their flags and megaphones they were enthusiastic in exercising their freedom of speech.

All this is fine, but I can't help thinking that the leader of the opposition holding a meeting in front of the parliament and then (perhaps illegally) removing the barriers in front of an eager camera crew is not good for business. Surely you're going to keep or gain credibility with a good debate about why the current government is making a big mistake by keeping the railings up.

By going ahead and getting stuck in without debate, without warning, surely the message to the people believing in you is that the only option available is direct action and forget about the legalities.

People learn from example and this wasn't a good one.

* Images taken from

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Car and a Half

Somehow I don't think I can do this post justice. The Trabant is such an iconic car that it is loved and loathed in equal measure often both by the same person.

Coming from the UK, it's easy for me to think of this as a "quaint" car that fits into the stereotype of Eastern Europe. Yes, I know we're more Central Europe than Eastern Europe but this is the car that's associated with Eastern bloc and was on shown on everyone's TVs in the West as everyone tried to get out of the East when the wall came down.

For some people, it's a symbol of the crap they had to put up with. For others, it's freedom on four wheels and a bit of plastic-wrapped plywood*. For me, while I know they're not that comfortable or good to drive, I absolutely love the design of the body and think it's a classic to be awed and adored. Right up there with other simple but clever designs such as the Mini.

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Because they're so cheap and there's quite a few floating around, they can often be seen pimped above and beyond their normal duty. I've seen bright purple ones with alloys and spoilers. I've seen them chopped up in to cabriolets. I've also seen them covered in moulded plastic to make it into a auto-dog (or maybe that was a Rover).

I saw this a while ago on Andrassy and couldn't resist taking a pic. Someone had used half a Trabant to create a trailer for another Trabant. It looked like a loving conversion with a quality finish. The tired Trabant has been written a death warrant many a time with newer, trendier cars coming onto the market and environmental regulations damning its 2-stroke engine, but with affectionate Trabbie lovers like this out there, I think we'll be seeing them around for a little while yet.

* From that link - Duroplast cannot be further recycled, and burning it produces toxic fumes, so disposing of the bodies of old Trabants is a problem. However, Duroplast's components are edible, and there are stories of pigs, sheep or other domestic farm animals consuming duroplast.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


For my area it started with the building, or rather digging, of the underground garage in front of the Basilica. Before that, the space was just a plain car park with doggy doo lurking around every tyre.

Once the funky, robot, underground garage was created, the surface was turned into a very pleasant cobble-stoned square.

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From this little acorn of an area, the pedestrian zones have spread. At first they claimed a small section of Hercegprimas utca. Then a smidgen of Sas utca. Now the powers that be are expanding the Hercegprimas stretch and zooming down Zrinyi to complete a walkway from the dome of the temple to the banks of the Danube.

It may have something to do with linking up the ultra-posh Four Seasons located in the old Gresham Palace at the end of Zrinyi, but I think the whole project will improve the 5th district and get people wandering up and down. Of course, it'll bring life to those streets as well as shops and cafes brighten themselves up to take advantage of the new thoroughfare.

So here's to pedestrianitis, the uncontrollable growth of pedestrianized streets, and may there be a cafe on every corner to sip a hosszu kave (in a glass) and watch the world go by.

* If this post contains mistakes or is generally crappy, I apologize and rest the blame on the beers and unicum consumed just a few hours before. At least the were good. However, this must be one of the freshest pics on the blog as it was taken just a few minutes before arriving home and writing this article.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Avenue Activists

It looks like not everyone is happy with the work being done to Nagymező. The signs advertise a meeting to be held on the Saturday of last weekend at the church on the corner of Nagymező and Király.

The posters from protesters are warning people that the trees on the avenue shouldn't be turned into toilet paper and they should be left alone so that they can be seen in real life and not just in photos.

I'm not sure if the meeting took place or not last weekend but it seems that maybe it wasn't necessary anyway. According to the news, it's unlikely that the underground garage that was planned will go ahead.

As I've said before, I'm all for underground parking spots but I also like my trees. Hopefully we can have both without building projects being turned into petty political spats.

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