Tag Archives: costumes

Down by the Danube 3 – Ruined Romans, and a Renaissance night.

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I lived in Bath for ten years, so I know a bit about what the Romans did for us and, better still, I know what they buggered off and left behind them. The Roman Baths are one of my favourite places and – as is usual with any of our national heritage – they are meticulously maintained, thoughtfully laid out, and cost a pretty penny to visit.

So when we read about all the Roman ruins in Budapest, we were quite excited – a town at Aquincum, and an Amphitheatre in Buda. Well, alrighty.

And the first place we discovered was the Roman baths. Notice I have not used a capital letter on baths this time. That is because they are not given quite the same level of reverence in these parts.

Well, when I say, not given quite the same level, what I mean is they are treated like old bus stops. Open to the public. Totally unmanaged. And under a flyover.

I’m not even joking.

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But to be fair, they took out the good stuff – you know, plaques to the Emperor Claudius, and interesting tombstones, etc. – and put them on display elsewhere.

Well, when I say elsewhere, I mean they stuck them on the walls of the underpass.

And I’m still not kidding.

 

Slightly appalled, we went in search of the Amphitheatre.

And found it – fenced off, used as a roundabout, and overlooked by crappy flats. Sigh.

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BUT TO BE FAIR…

A few weeks later we visited Croatia, where they also have some Roman ruins; a massive complex at Solin, comprising baths, theatre, forum, amphitheatre, the lot. But, unlike the Hungarians (who I suspect they consider rank amateurs), their disregard for ancient monuments was at a whole new level. How? Oh, they build houses on it.

I am utterly serious, look – a natty little semi-detached perched neatly on the West Gate.

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And if they can’t build on it, they build into it. The centre of nearby Split uses the leftovers of the Diocletian Palace as its foundation. Whole houses have odd windows, arches and decorative stonework sticking out their sides. Shops, restaurants, churches and public buildings – all half Roman and half every age since, with no clear lines in-between. I have to say, I think it works in Split but, to a Brit, it is still very strange; a bit like using Stonehenge as the base for a new roller-disco.

 

BUT BACK TO HUNGARY

Thankfully, at Aquincum – the Roman town just to the north of Budapest – they have got it right. We spent a happy afternoon just wandering around, watching lithe, green, lizards darting under the cobbles, and studying the artistry of the stonework. Yes, it’s right next to the main road, but that means everyone gets a free look as they drive into town.

 

MOVING FORWARD

Our actual campsite was at Domos, to the north of Budapest, and somewhere between Esztergom and Visegrad. We both needed to get our hair cut, so we pottered into Esztergom looking for someone with scissors and a modicum of skill.

Now, Esztergom has been inhabited for 20,000 years, and there is evidence of a very early Celt settlement. It was also the capital of Hungary until that upstart Buda got all above itself in the middle ages. And our old friend King St. Stephen was crowned there.

So although we couldn’t find a barbershop or hairdresser’s (they all shut at noon, apparently), we did find a rather nice castle and a basilica.

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The next day, we left a little earlier, and tried Visegrad. You could say we struck lucky, in that we found one that was open. However, she did cut our hair as if she had a train to catch, and Steve ended up still fairly shaggy, whilst I was lop-sided. Ah well, at least my hair was short enough to stop bitch-slapping me in the face every time I drove along with the windows open. And she did have a rather interesting tiled sink/channel thing.

I’d spotted a nice looking restaurant there, so we popped back later for dinner and found out that, although the Hungarians are a bit blasé about the Romans, they take the Renaissance very seriously indeed. Visegrad had once been the royal seat of King Matthias, and Visegrad wasn’t about to let you forget it.

We walked into the restaurant expecting the usual incomprehensible menu, plastic flowers, and a TV screen What we found was this – a full medieval banqueting hall!

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The waiters were in full costume, but so were the diners! Steve took one look at the thrones and said, ‘I want to sit there.’ We ordered some medieval platter – we’d no idea what to expect – and then went with the waiter to get kitted out in full medieval clobber. We both had crowns, and Steve had a choice of swords and other weaponry.

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The food was fab. Goose liver, and roast goose, and braised red cabbage, and a nice chestnut puree thing for pud. Plenty of leftovers to take home. Happy me.

And that was the end of our time in Budapest, and we were ready to move on down to Lake Balaton. Next time, I’ll tell you about vintage cars, coaches and sleighs, how to mime to a dentist, and what happened when someone backed their caravan into Georgie.

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Down by the Danube 2 – Eye candy

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DO NOT MISS THIS

The Museum of Applied Arts, in Budapest, is an amazingly lovely place. The green majolica-tiled roof alone made me gawp. But then I saw the inside – a moorish, wedding-cake of a building. Sooo pretty. Here, take a look.

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On display were some wonderful examples of of Art Nouveau and Art Deco work, as well as objects from as far back as the Middle Ages that were still in damn good, or even pristine, condition.

The bit that impressed me most was how they had been displayed – not so many examples that you were overwhelmed, or bored by the repetition, but really beautiful or interesting pieces, grouped with style and sensitivity.

This little archer (below) had lost his bow, but fair dues – he was 1800 years old. And check out the ‘hand’ clasps on this original Hussar’s jacket. Fabulous. As for this ivory-inlaid box from 1420: it looked flawless (our favourite piece).

They also had a special exhibition just on colour, which comprised three large rooms, one each for red, blue, and green, and each with exhibits only of that colour. The idea was to intensify your experience of that colour (as if I needed any encouragement).

On the way in there was a scanner that you stood in front of. It picked up on the colours that you were wearing and in what percentages, then found something on display that most closely matched you. Steve was wearing blue jeans and a grey jumper and was matched up with this plate. I was in white linen trousers, and a navy and white patterned top. It found me a piece of navy and white patterned fabric. Duh! I didn’t need a machine for that.

ART FOR EVERYONE

If you like art, there is quite a lot of it to see. There’s the Ludwig Museum, that has some nice Picasso’s, and the National Hungarian Museum, which houses the coronation mantle of good old King St. Stephen. It’s 700 years old, and still survives because it is mostly made of gold thread. And there’s a section on the top floor of the museum that shows objects and propaganda from the communist era that is completely fascinating. Here’s a few of the pieces that I liked, including Saint Cecilia – which had some cleverly knotted fishing wire – and an apostle (I think) clearly saying, ‘let’s hear it for Jesus, folks’.

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The Music Museum on Castle Hill is quite nice, and had a lovely little exhibition of Ditta Pasztory-Bartok’s clothing from the 30’s onwards. And we also went into the utterly brilliant Museum of Trade and Industry, which was funky-old-packaging-and-beer-poster heaven.

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One place I was very excited to see was the Victor Vasarely Museum. I’ve loved his colourful, mind-bending work since I was introduced to it in the 80’s by my sister’s landlady, Veronica. Her house was once owned by the late Ronnie Corbett, and had the highest ceilings I’ve ever seen outside of a church. Ronnie was 5′ 1″ (1.55m), and clearly didn’t have an issue with it. Good for him. But enough of that – check out Victor.

PRETTY PLACES

If you want to have your lunch with a fabulous view, you can’t beat the Fisherman’s Bastion. This is a gorgeous neo-gothic terrace, with Disney-type turrets, built as a look-out and fortification in the late 19th century. We went up in the funicular. Cos, why not? At the top we saw a guy with a golden eagle, offering you the chance to have it sit on your arm (for which read, sink it’s talons into your flesh and peck out your eyeballs), all for a mere 6 euros. Bargain.

And that’s it until I get good WiFi again. The next post will complete this section on the Danube, and take you from the Romans to the Renaissance. Thanks for reading.

Down by the Danube 1 – Festivals, fireworks, and the Hand of the King

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WHEN THE SUMMER COMES TO AN END

Campsites have a difficult time out of season. Most close altogether, becoming strange little glamping-pod ghost towns. Others diversify, letting out the space to groups and organisations. Several times during this trip we’ve been told we can only stay until Thursday morning, because then somebody is moving in to set up an event for the weekend.

At Jasov, in Slovakia, it was the turn of the annual Pit Bull and Staffi Weight-pulling contest. So that week some pretty impressive canine specimens pitched up, along with their proud (and equally scary looking) owners. We used to have a beautiful Staffi called Gizmo, so we weren’t phased, but the campsite cleared incredibly fast, I must say.

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One chap came over to borrow a wrench from Steve in order to fix some tracking that was to be used in the contest. The dogs were going to pull a loaded cart along it for several metres. Here’s the cart, on the left – ready to be stacked with that enormous pile of concrete blocks on the right. I’m not even joking.

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So we left, because we had to, and took a jaunt down towards Budapest, in Hungary. This meant meeting up again with the River Danube. It’s a flighty little stretch of water – it gets about a bit. So far, we’ve run into it in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia.  I’ve noticed that khaki is it’s hue of choice, although it will don shades of silver, slate, greige, black, brown or olive if the mood takes it. But not once, not once have I seen it blue.

BUT BUDAPEST THO

Sometimes we are clever but mostly we are just lucky, which is how we managed to arrive in time to see the start of the St. Stephen’s Day Festival. I’m not going to give you a history lesson about King St. Stephen (Google him if you’re interested) but he was a really big deal. The first king of Hungary as we know it today, and their version of King Arthur and the Pope, all mixed together. They’ve got his right hand in the Basilica, and it gets paraded through the streets to much fanfare and celebration, followed by fireworks.

I was concerned that parking would be an issue as thousands of people flock to the city for the event, but when we got there a helpful traffic cop said, ‘Park where you like – it’s free’. Seriously? We found a spot alongside the river, opposite parliament (here it is beautifully un-reflected in the khaki green Danube).

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We took a very short walk to ‘The Street of Hungarian Flavours’. Here you could taste everything from the soup, to goulash, to langos (a sort-of pizza dough that is stretched, and flash fried, and then covered in garlic sauce and grated cheese), to spit-roast pork, and beer, and ice-cream, and cakes, and more beer – really, lots more beer.

Our UK Health and Safety would have gone nuts. There were open fires with massive bubbling cauldrons, right on the street with no barrier between them and the crowds. I bloody loved it.

CRAFTS AND PERFORMANCES

The ‘street’ led up to the castle on the hill, where the ‘Festival of Folk Art’ was in full swing. There was a hell of a lot of beautiful embroidery, as well as traditional crafts from visiting nations such as Tibet, China, and Nepal. The costumes were amazing.

Of course, there were crafts there that nobody should either make, show, or try to sell…

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…and this strange, hairy, masked guy in bloomers kept showing up. But that was part of the fun.

We also got to see the Changing of the Guard. They have two types here: one is a dainty quick-swap two-step; the other is the full turn-turn-step-turn-kick-turn version, with drums. We saw both.

Then we heard music, and a handsome Australian chap shoved a paper into my hand. He was part of a group that sang mainly Bartok, and they were just finishing their rehearsal.   The paper had the words to the folk songs they were going to sing (with audience participation), so we thought we’d give it a go. Apart from the obvious (we couldn’t understand how to pronounce any of the words, and didn’t know the tunes) it all went swimmingly, until the guy with the bagpipes came to the front of the stage.

Here’s a picture of the soften-you-up-with-some-merry-tunes-before-unleashing-the horror bastards, in their hideous shirts.

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Now, I assume that these were traditional instruments, because there’s absolutely no excuse for them otherwise. Apart from the bagpipes – which both looked, and sounded, as if he’d trapped a startled pig – he had a tin whistle (sigh), and a long, bamboo, tubey thing he blew down. Well, they all did. It was very impressive – not.

And a recorder – which he hummed into as well as blew into it, which added a weird didgeridoo-type of element. To say it was shrill is to be kind. Within a minute I had the sensation that all the fillings in my teeth were vibrating.

Three weeks later, one of my fillings fell out. I know who I blame.

Then It was time for the finale: fireworks over the Danube. And they were great because even crap fireworks are great, and these were not crap. Went on for a full thirty minutes. They included some that I genuinely hadn’t seen before – they formed gyroscopic shapes, which I thought only Gandalf could do.

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COSTUMES TO DIE FOR

As I said, we are lucky, and on our last day in Budapest we chanced upon another festival, a bit like our Harvest Festival, I think. Lots of dignitaries in regional costumes walked up, two by two, to put baskets of local produce on a huge map, outside the Basilica.

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We’d gone to the Basilica to see the hand of King St. Stephen, having drunk too much beer to catch it on it’s jaunt around town the previous week. And here it is – THE HAND OF THE KING, been around since 1038. That’s a set of knuckles you are looking at there.

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NEXT TIME…

I’ll tell you more about Budapest, from the Vasarely Museum to the Roman ruins at Aquincum. Thanks for reading. Ciao. xxxx