September 21st, 2009

A rather restless morning, what with Robert getting up at 5.00am and Claire heading for the shower about 9.00, it seemed to take a long time for the family to get up. I nibbled on a bit of cake while waiting. Once we had mopped up the bathroom from Claire flooding it, we headed off to breakfast and then off to the Mátra hills. We were having a folk arty day. We first went to Heves to see some weaving and off course buy some, Claire is as bad as Maria, in fact she spent even more than her.
Then we went off to look at some dolls in traditional costumes. They were nice, but once you’ve seen 3 or 4 I feel you’ve seen enough. Maria however got chatting to the lady who runs the place and it took forever to get away.
We bought a watermelon from a roadside stall, so since we had no knife we paid a visit to a Tesco. We needed more water anyway and Maria and Claire were keen to re-sample Traubisoda, a drink made from grapes and various chemicals. They have fond memories of it from years gone by.
By the time we got back to the hotel/csárda time was getting on, and I had been promised a visit to the wine cellars. Maria decided not to come with us and sat under the vine drinking wine and dabbling in a bit of embroidery.
The csárda does look attractive.
We visited several cellars and John made us give him tasting notes, so he would know where to go back to and buy later. I was really looking forward to cellar number 16, Molnár Pince.I made friends with a very nice young lady there last time we visited 2 years ago. As it happens she wasn’t there, but the young lady who was there seemed to take a bit of a shine to me.
We then joined Maria under the vines at the csárda and had a bite to eat. Tomorrow is another busy day, I hope this lovely weather holds.

Feeling poorly

September 20th, 2009

I think I must have picked up a bug yesterday since I’m feeling rather poorly this morning. We had a lovely time at the wedding yesterday, the people were friendly, generous and very hospitable. The bride (and the bridesmaids) were beautiful.
The pálinka flowed freely and it was rude not to accept since people were constantly offering toasts. I may have had slightly more than I should.
The food was excellent, particularly the mutton pörkölt, cooked in pots on open fires. There were lots of opportunities to socialise in between course, Maria chatted a lot to the grooms mum, a very nice and generous lady. And of course the wine flowed freely.
Eger is of course famous for it’s red wine. By about midnight we were flagging, the party was going to continue until about 7am when they were going to move onto one of the local wine cellars. We just stayed to sample the brides cake (lovely) and take part in the selling of the bride. Not as bad as it sounds, it is a Hungarian custom that rather than buying lots of (sometimes useless) presents guests pay (whatever they want) for the privilege of a dance with the bride. Before we could leave, the grooms mum very kindly loaded us up with a bottle of pálinka, some savoury snacks and stacks of cakes. We won’t need to buy any cakes during our stay here.
John was fast asleep by 1.00am but Maria kept me awake for ages singing along with the gipsy band and the revelers downstairs. Luckily she eventually fell asleep so I could too.
She woke me up far too early, apparently we had to fetch Claire and Robert from the airport. I told her I wasn’t feeling well but she insisted I went along, and she kept muttering something about a hangover. I was rather surprised since I didn’t think she had that much to drink.
We have now picked up Claire and Rob. We haven’t done much today, eaten and drunk a bit and then planned the rest of this week.

And on to Eger

September 19th, 2009

So off to the operetta, it’s all go around here, Maria seems to have tried to fill every evening. Still it should be quieter in Eger. We arrived outside the Operetta Theatre to find a street show being put on by various stars of the Operetta and Thalia theatres. Shame we didn’t get there earlier but at least we were in time to see one our favourite numbers from Csokos Asszony.
We then went in to see The Bayader, enjoyable but not destined to become one of our favourites, too many scene changes and too complex a story, and the songs weren’t as memorable as some. Still we enjoyed it.
We got back to the hotel too late for the restaurant (it closed at 10!) so we had room service. Arrived promptly enough and nicely set out but they had forgoten the cucumber salad.
We meant to get up early this morning, but as usual overslept and packed in a hurry. At check out John told the girl on reception the hotel was not what he expected of a Hilton, when she said she hoped they could make it up to us next time, he told her there wouldn’t be a next time. I don’t think he was impressed.
Anyway on to Eger, we are staying at a hotel we have stayed at before but we’ve taken a suite ‘cos Claire and Robert are joining us.
We thought we’d drive into town first and visit a tourist info. As it was we arrived after 1.00 and it was shut but there was a market in the square so we had a wander around.
John found some nice wine so I think we’ll be visiting their cellars later in the week, Maria found a furniture painter from Mezökövesd who she has arranged to visit. We were also lucky enough to see the ‘Queen of the Wine’ drive off after being crowned.
We then drove out to Szépaszonyvöly, which is where the wine cellars are, and incidentally our hotel. We found the suite is in fact a little house in the grounds. It’s lovely, but Maria said she’s happy that she is in the downstairs bedroom, she dislikes spiral staircases.
We also got a nice surprise. The hotel (apart from our room) has been taken over by a wedding party and they have very kindly invited us to the wedding. I’ve never been to a Hungarian wedding, I hope I’ll know how to dance.

Tired and emotional

September 18th, 2009

So we were off to Gundels last night, to celebrate Maria and John’s wedding anniversary. I don’t know, it’s one celebration after another. We decided to take a cab, since it was still raining, not the easiest thing to do, there doesn’t seem to be a doorman at the Hilton and although there were cabs parked outside the drivers were huddled in a corner having a cigarette. It’s not like the Gellért.
Still we got there and got in the mood with a nice champagne cocktail.
The menu looked fantastic and extensive and the sound of gipsy music was floating out to us. Maria noticed they offered several five course set menus with appropriate wines to go with each of the courses, so we decided to be adventurous and go for the one called, ‘Gundel specials , past and present’. Goose liver with a sweet white wine, fresh pea soup, pike perch with a dry white, duck with a full bodied red and Gundel pancakes with a tawny port. Excellent!
Just as we were about to start our desserts the ‘primás’ from the gipsy band came over and stated playing Anniversary Waltz to Maria and John and a cake with a candle on it was delivered to the table.
Maria got pretty emotional, especially when the primás played a couple of her favourite tunes.
We got a cab back to the hotel. I was pretty tired by now, which is why Maria found me asleep in her bag.
It had nothing to do with the amount I’d had to drink, whatever she says! I know my limit!
Today we headed off to Gerbeaud for our brunch, the weather being back to warm and sunny. We spent a nice hour or so there having our last cake and iced chocolate for this visit, we’re off to Eger tomorrow.
There are elephants all over Budapest. They are sponsored by various people and companies, with the money going to charities for the homeless. We saw some outside Gerbeauds…
And some outside the Zoo next door to Gundels…
And of course lots of other places.
As it’s our last day here Maria wanted one more visit to the craft shop and a visit to her favourite book shop, Alexandra’s. We noticed they had LOTS of copies of Claire’s book.
It must be popular.
We had a nice surprise when we got back to the hotel, they must have noticed the birthday and anniversary cards in the room because they delivered some complimentary cake. I always say, you can never have too much cake.
Off to the Operetta tonight.

And the rain came down

September 17th, 2009

What a difference a day makes. We’ve spent the last few days complaining about the heat and trying to find a bit of shade to sit in. Today we woke up to grey skies and drizzle. John said Maria wouldn’t need her umbrella since we would be spending most of the day in doors.
First we set off to the Museum of Applied Arts. We’d seen the building from the outside before and it always looked interesting. We weren’t disappointed.
The roof is covered in Zsolnay tiles. The entrance and the central gallery are also spectacular. We didn’t know what to look at next.
There was alot of renovation going on and so only a selection of the museums collection could be viewed. The idea for the collection was to create a stock of artifacts of real merit for artisans to study and thus inspire them to create great work of their own.
There was everything from glass to carving to porcelain to textile to painting to….. Generally the items were also of practical use, to follow the Hungarian proverb…’It is beautiful to be useful, but it is also useful to be beautiful.’
We then braved the rain and headed for the Gellért, when we were last there they did not have any halászlé, John favourite fish soup, and Zoli had promised him some if we came back today. He was as good as his word and we had some soup and a bit of cake to keep us going until tonight meal at Gundels. Maria couldn’t decide between two of the deserts, so Zoli arranged for her to have a half portion of each. He spoils her rotten (well both of them realy, fish soup isn’t on the menu in that restaurant). The other nice thing was, since it was John and Maria’s wedding anniversary, the restaurant wouldn’t let them pay for their meal.
We then went across the bridge to the Great Market, we had heard they had some special stalls from Czechoslovakia. They were a bit of a disappointment but the rest of the market was great as usual.
We were feeling a bit like drowned rats by this time, (she should have brought her umbrella out with her) so decided to head back to the hotel, pausing only to buy Maria another bag (how many does she need?).
We’re off to Gundel tonight so John has to put on his suit. I think we might take a taxi.

A Night at the Opera

September 16th, 2009

Last night’s meal was lovely. We went to the Bagolyvár Restaurant. it is right next to Gundels and owned by the same people.
The restaurant is staffed totally with women, manager, cooks, waitresses etc. It is apparently a long standing tradition. The only man on the staff was the cimbalon player. He seemed to quite enjoy being surrounded by women. The food was excellent, perhaps not as posh as we will get at Gundel tomorrow but very tasty.
Afterwards when I showed an interest in his music the cimbalon player offered to teach me a few basics. He said I had real aptitude.
Today being John’s birthday (he’s now as old as Maria) we were going to go to Gerbeaus’ for breakfast. By the time we got up and left the hotel it turned into brunch. It was very nice for all that.
Wilbeary at breakfast
Then we had a short walk (or as Maria puts it ‘we walked and we walked and we walked..’) to a shop called Eclesiastika. John has lost his St Christopher and Maria is trying to replace it for him. In the event they didn’t have anything suitable, but Maria did spot a nice bit of old Zsolnay porcelain, which she collects, so she bought that.
We then had to hurry ‘cos we were due to see a cousin of Maria’s, Ili, at 2.00.
I’ve met Ili lots of times and always enjoy seeing her and I know Maria is very fond of her. We spent a nice hour or so chatting.
The only problem is, she lives in a convent that is rather out of the way. We always take a cab there but then walk back. By the time we got back to our hotel we were all shattered. Even John said one of the problems with this hotel is it’s just a little further from the tram than he would like.
We had tickets for the opera this evening so we had to smarten ourselves up a bit and head out. Honestly it’s non stop.
This was my first visit to the opera (I think Maria’s too). We went to see Fidelio by Beethoven. It was a very modern production, the music and the singing were beautiful but I found the story a bit confusing (the singing was in German and the surtitles in Hungarian), so I did have to ask Maria what was going on rather frequently. Half the time I’m not sure she knew either, I think she just made something up, it all seemed rather implausible.
We sat in a box, and the opera house was truly amazing. Gold leaf and chandeliers everywhere. I’m glad we dressed up.
Opera House1
Opera House
We grabbed a bite at a rather nice wine bar and didn’t get back ’til late. We’re supposed to be up early tomorrow. I’m sure we will be.

Morbid Taste for Bones

September 15th, 2009

It’s Maria’s birthday today (she’s getting ancient) so she chose what to do today. She chose to visit a cemetery!! These are not even graves of people she’s related to. I’m getting a bit worried about her.
We went to the Kerepesi cemetery where all the great and the good are buried (and the not so great and good). The monument are something to behold, I’ve never seen so many weeping women, howling dogs, and cherubs anywhere else. The cemetery is enormous, I’m glad I could get a lift and didn’t have to walk, Maria kept moaning that what was needed was a hop on hop off bus. Mind you it was her choice that we were there. We saw the graves of some famous people, Maria went on about Kossuth Lajos, Petöfi Sándor, Deák Ferenc, Jokai Mor and others but it didn’t mean a lot to me. I did like a couple of graves, there was one of an elderly man in his shuba (coat) with a couple of rams, I particularly liked the expression on the rams faces.
My other favourite was the grave of Blaha Lujza. She was a music hall performer and known as the ‘nations Nightingale’. Her grave is in the shape of a four poster bed on which she is lying dying, at the foot of the bed is an elderly gentleman playing a lute and the bed is surrounded by cherubs singing their hearts out. It was so over the top that it was brilliant.
I could see Maria eyeing it up, I thought she wanted to be cremated.
I was also please to see the monument to all those who died in 1956 and since and whose last resting place is unknown.
The grave of Emil Gerbeaud reminded me how much I like his cakes and chocolate, so I suggested we visit his cukrázda for a well earned rest.
It did mean we had to travel on the Metro and Maria did not like the escalators but the food at the end was lovely. A nice mixed plate of Hungarian sausages, cheese and salami with pickles, washed down with iced chocolate and a lovely fruit and cottage cheese slice.
We’ve had a bit of a rest and are now about to go out for an evening meal at Bagolyvár restaurant. It is owned by Gundels but totally staffed by women (no idea why) and the food is supposed to be more homely than Gundel. I’m looking forward to it. Claire is interested because she is trying to learn Hungarian and 2 of her lessons have been totally taken up with discussing whether to eat at Bagolyvár or else where.

Budapest here we come.

September 14th, 2009

We invited Hedi and her family to tea last night. We had intended to eat at our hotel, but found out the restaurant was closed on Sundays. So we followed the advice of The Rough Guide to Hungary and booked the Arany Griff in the centre of town.
Well we had either caught it on a bad night or it had changed a lot. We were very disappointed. First we were the first group to go to the restaurant (another group joined us much later) and the room was dark and unwelcoming, we were just sent in, not shown in and left to sort ourselves out. The menu looked ok (once we got it) but there seemed a fair few things unavailable. Service was very slow and by the time everyone had got their food it was cold. The quality was very mixed. On the whole Maria and John were rather embarrassed by the whole thing and would never take anyone there again.
Still, at least the company was good. Young Hédi ( I can’t call her little any more, she’s getting quite grown up) had made a bear who took rather a shine to me.
In fact he tried to stow-away in my rucksack. Hédi has potential to be a real good bear maker one day.
Despite the restaurant everyone seemed to have a good time.
We had to break up early because the next day was a school day for Hédi and Gabi (the youngsters) and we were due to set off for Budapest pretty early.
We got up in good time and had a quick breakfast before checking out, luckily one of the young men helped carry the bags down, for which Maria was grateful, she doesn’t mind going up but hates coming down, especially if she is carrying something.
We first set off for Ajka to look at the crystal factory. The crystal comes in lovely colours and Claire has hankered after some for ages. Having now seen it (and the prices) I can categorically say, ‘she can’t afford it.’ John kept saying he couldn’t afford it but he still ended up paying for six liqueur/pálinka glasses.
We then went to find the Herend Majolica pottery. We had picked up a leaflet about it and the dishes looked lovely, bright and colourful. The trouble was all we could find was a derelict looking factory. In the end we phoned, and found out the derelict looking factory was the right place, we just had to go round the back. Maria fell in love with a very large soup tureen. John tried to divert her by saying it was far too big and pointing out a small casserole, a bowl and an oval plate to her. The end result was he had to pay for a small casserole, a bowl and an oval plate as well as the soup tureen. As a reward Maria said we didn’t have to go the Herend Porcelain factory as well. So we quickly headed off to Budapest.
We are not staying at the Gellért, John got an extremely good price at the Hilton. The room is nice and comfortable, it even has air conditioning (very welcome in the heat) but it’s like a Hilton anywhere, you’d hardly know you were in Hungary. So in the evening we went off to have a meal at the Gellért and see our favourite waiter Zoli. Then we really felt we were home.
They have finished work on Szabadság Hid and it looks fantastic.

Poking about in graveyards.

September 13th, 2009

After seeing how upset I was yesterday John did a bit of a search and found a couple of cukrázdas. Since one was pretty close we decided to go, in our ongoing quest to find the best Dobos Torta in Hungary. Sadly they did not have any, but they did have a very acceptable alternative.
It was very busy with people in and out for cakes and ice cream. Since Maria insisted on sharing my cake I still had room for some ice cream afterward. I had Black Peter (a very dark chocolate) and a lemon. They were delicious.
We had invited some relatives of Maria, a cousin called Gabi, her husband Pisti and their daughter Bernadett for tea. It was a lovely meal and a nice time was had by all, the only problem was Gabi and Maria were so busy gossiping no one remembered to take any photos.
Today we were going to go to Herend and Ajka in search of some porcelain and crystal. But we discovered several places we wanted to visit were closed on Sunday, so we diverted. First we went to Pannonhalma, the monks there, like monks everywhere make some excellent wine and liqeuers, so we bought some.
Then we decided to look up some more of Maria’s relatives. Dead ones.
She knew both her parents were born in a village called Kajár. We could not find it on the map but were eventually told it had joined with another village called Kispéc and was now called Kajárpéc. By asking around we found the right cemetary, there were lots of graves with Toth on them (Maria’s mum’s maiden name) and a few with Kocsis on them, (Maria’s dad’s name). I don’t know if any of them were the right ones but Maria seemed happy.
We then moved on to Lovászpatona, where she grew up, well partly up, she left when she was 8. Again a visit to the graves, (at least she knew which ones were related to her) and then a drive through the village, with running commentary.
This is where I went to school…

Lovaspotona School
This is the street I lived on, and Santa always visited that blue house before ours…
Uttoro utca
Etc. etc. She videod all of this and apparently she’s going to put appropriate commentary on it and present Claire with it. (I must remember to warn Claire).
Tonight we’re seeing some more relatives, Hédi, Kati etc. I’ve met them before. Maria and John might even remember to take photos.

How could they!

September 12th, 2009

After breakfast Maria and John said they were going for a stroll to refamiliarise themselves with Pápa and find the restaurant we are eating at tomorrow night.
I didn’t particularly want to go for a walk, I was still pretty tired from the journey and I wanted to post on my blog, I said I’d stay behind. They promised to be back soon. I was starting to worry about 2.00pm (I was getting hungry for a start) and wondering how long before I reported them missing, when they came back.
They had had a pretty good look around and visited places I wouldn’t have minded going to.
The church in Fö Tér (Main Square) looks lovely for a start.
Pápa in general looks rather nice.
They went to the Blue Dying Museum because Maria wanted to buy some indigo Dyed fabric. I don’t mind them doing that on their own, I’m not particularly interested in indigo dying and I went to the museum last time we visited Pápa. BUT I do feel when they found there were crafts people in the gardens demonstrating and offering a chance to have a go I SHOULD have been fetched. I can understand Maria got rather caught up, but all John was doing was watching, he could EASILY have fetched me, it’s not even as if it was a long way from our hotel. Instead he just left me to worry.
Maria apparently had a lovely time, she learned to make dolls and flowers out of corn husks. she made great friends with the lady running the class.
Maria taught the lady how to make bears out of pipe cleaners and they have exchanged addresses.
I must admit Maria’s doll does look nice, but I SHOULD have been included.