Posted by kernelbob on August 7, 2009
We’ve been in Budapest for two days. Budapest feels more foreign to me than any of the other cities we’ve been to. The architecture has a bit of a Russian flavor. The people seem less Western and almost dangerous. The language is completely incomprehensible.
Update 8/16: Please click this picture. The thumbnail has none of the interesting detail.
Budapest is actually two cities on opposite sides of the Danube River. Pest, on the east side, is where St. Michael’s and the Central Market Hall (see below) are, and our hotel, the palace, and the cathedral are on the west bank in Buda. It’s sort of like Raleigh-Durham or Ankh-Morpork.
Anyway. Yesterday’s diary: Left Vienna in the morning on the bus, crossed into Hungary, and reached Budapest in about three hours. (These countries are tiny.) In Budapest, we had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, then the choir went into St. Michael’s to practice while I and some other choir members wandered the tourist zone. At the end of the tourist zone is the Central Market Hall, which holds a two-story bazaar. It reminds me a little of Boston’s Quincy Market, but with a third world feel.
The Hungarian unit of money is the Florint (Ft). The exchange rate is about 190 Ft to the US dollar. In this post, I’ll use 200 Ft per dollar to keep the numbers round.
So. I went to a fruit stand in the Central Market and bought a box of mulberries. The price was 200 Ft. ($1 US) The smallest bill I’d gotten from the ATM was 5000 Ft ($25 US). So I gave it to the lady, and she gave me change: 4750 Ft. She shortchanged me 50 Ft ($0.25 US)!
A few minutes later, I was looking at a souvenir. It was marked 500 Ft. ($2.50 US). The clerk told me I could have it for 3 Euros ($4.20 US).
That evening, the whole choir went to a restaurant where the meal was included in the tour but the drinks (including water) were not. Our table, six people, got a bill for five beers, even though we’d only ordered four. Other tables also had been billed for extra drinks.
So. Cheating the tourists is a local sport. We were very careful after that, and even checked the math with a calculator as needed. Fortunately, Anne and I are both good at arithmetic. As of last night, I was feeling very unfriendly toward the Hungarians, but today I tried to regard it as a game, and go with it. But it’s hard to be in generous tipping mood when you’ve just scrutinized the bill like an IRS auditor. Today, for example, a choir member made a waitress redo a bill over a 40 Ft ($0.20 US) “mistake”. Then we had to decide on her tip. Sigh…
Back to the diary. The choir sang at St. Michael’s. It was the last concert of the trip, and it went very well. In Prague and Brno, they had a small orchestra, but in Vienna and Budapest, they just had an organist (from Eugene), a harpist (local) and a drummer (local). The acoustics in St. Stephan’s in Vienna were not ideal – a cathedral is just too big and echoey. But the acoustics at St. Michael’s were excellent. The audience was enthusiastic.
After the concert, we went to a restaurant for another boisterous dinner. There was music, and a few choir members danced. And the bill was padded.
Then we were bussed to The Citadel on top of a bluff beside the river, to look over the city at night. That’s where I took the picture at the top of this post.
It is late, so I’ll write about today later. The choir is getting onto the bus at 4:00 AM, flying to Frankfurt and then on to Portland. But Anne and I are not. We’re getting into a taxi at 6:00 AM and taking a different plane to another European city.