Glory by the Danube: five days solo travel in Budapest.

10 Aug
Budapest3

The Chain Bridge and River Danube from Buda Castle.

Budapest took me by surprise, I have to admit. Hungary’s capital is a known destination, but often eclipsed by the other city attractions of Paris, Berlin, Prague or Vienna, Budapest often features lower down lists of desirable European destinations. If this is your mind set, then you could be missing an absolute revelation of a trip.

For those not in the know, Budapest is historically a relatively recent amalgamation of two cities who sat on opposite sides of the River Danube, with Buda having the rockier, higher prominence, and Pest being the low lands of the other bank. Incidentally, a word about the native language; Hungarian is notoriously difficult for English speakers to master, but it’s easy to remember that you pronounce the latter part of ‘Budapest’ as “Pesht” instead of “Pest”.

Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll need to find your way to the city centre. There are several options including bus number 200E. This bus will take you to the nearest metro station from the airport, called Kobanya-Kispest (blue Metro line 3 / M3). However, there is an even better option on pace now, and that is the 100E bus, which is a direct airport shuttle service, which will cost you just 900 Florints (less than 3 Euros). You can find more information on the 100E service here.

Other than that, there is a mini-bus service you can book in advance or jump in a taxi from the airport. Both easily done, but the taxi especially will cost you quite a bit extra.

If travelling by bus, don’t forget, you need to validate the bus ticket as soon as you board the bus, using the slot machine. This is the same procedure with the Metro service make sure you validate your ticket using the machine, before going down to the platform.

Budapest1

My hostel choice was based on good reviews online, and a fellow blogger’s testimony. What was pleasing was to learn that the Lavender Circus Hostel had recently featured in an episode of Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man television series, and excerpt of which is below.

Inviting, bohemian and friendly, I’d recommend the Lavender Circus Hostel to most visitors to Budapest, wanting accommodation that is affordable and full of character. Within minutes of checking in, the staff were falling over themselves to be gracious and helpful. As I checked out to go to my second hostel, one of the girls Anna told me to come back if I get bored. It’s this sort of casual, but considerate attitude that lifts Lavender Circus above the rest. They only had rooms for two nights, so I had to de-camp to another place, which was the Full Moon Design Hostel, which was the other side of the city, near Margit Bridge. It looked promising, and was certainly a great stay with regards to the building and décor. However, the staff were not quite as friendly, and after a couple of days wondering where well known bar Morrison’s 2 was, it ironically turned out to be in the same building! Not just in the same building actually, but was right below as part of a huge atrium, with the second floor hostel balcony corridors looking down on it! The bonus was that there was somewhere handy to get a drink; on the down side, the music was blasting out until 5am, so getting some sleep was problematic!

I met two great Australian chaps, who were doing a tour of Europe, and Lou, who is from Germany. You get to meet some fascinating people in a hostel like this, and for all its many points falling short of Lavender Circus’ high standards, it was probably a more likely place to meet new people.

I did go out for a cold beer on my first evening, unknowingly skirting the area of the so-called ‘Ruin bars’ (more of which later), but it was really the first full day that I got to truly appreciate Budapest. I recommend spending a first full day walking along the banks of the Danube, although in the weather I experienced, walking from Petofi Bridge, right up to Margit Bridge, further north, which is well over 4 miles (about 9 km). It’s a really nice walk, but with temperatures hitting the mid to late thirties, I was definitely in the ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ category, to quote an old phrase. All I can say is wear a hat and lots of sunscreen in summer. The sun will no doubt enhance an already beautiful sight as you witness the distinct character of each bridge, culminating in the iconic Chain Bridge, and the sights of the Palace and Castle on the Buda side, with the wooded and rocky cliffs offering a dramatic vista. This was the point I was sold on Budapest, and realised quite firmly that I’d completely underestimated this city.

A change of hostel on the second day did come as a minor disappointment, as I mentioned before, but once settle in and meeting some of the residents, I set back out on my travels. Making my way to the impressive Catholic St., Stephen’s Basilica, I met for a free city tour. The tour meets at 10:30 and 2:30pm every day on Vorosmaty Square. It’s an impressive space, to be sure, and the historical basilica is well worth a visit on its own (and is to date, still free to enter). The free tours in Budapest are some of the better city tours I’ve experienced, and our guide Riggi took us on an hugely informative and entertaining walk from the Basilica, through to the Chain Bridge and up to the marvellous Buda Castle (which is more of a governmental palace built on the remains of the medieval castle in the 18th century). Up here you can also visit St, Matthias church, one of Budapest’s most beautiful buildings and walk along the verandas of Fishermans’ Bastion, a medieval style lookout point, which offers some of the best views of the city. It’s a tourist photographers dream up there and tends to get very busy during the day time.

Budapest2

Fisherman’s Bastion.

While up there I had a nice meal at Aranyhordo Eteerem restaurant including traditional Hungarian strudel for dessert. I also went in the labyrinth under the castle, which was quite an atmospheric expedition. At this point, I realised I needed some extra money and went to the nearest ATM. This is a cautionary tale, because if you’ve forgotten the conversion between Hungarian Florints and Pound Sterling (or Euros for that matter), it could pose minor problems. For example, I entered 60, 000 HUF before realising that was nearly £200, and far more than I needed, so be careful. I’d say the equivalent of £50 a day for spending money, if you’re planning on eating in decent places and visiting a few attractions, but you could psend a lot less. Budapest isn’t hugely expensive, but as with all cheaper places it’s easy to lose discipline and start over spending. Anyhow, lumbered with a crazy amount of a crazy currency (but no more crazy than any other, if we’re being objective), I paid my way into the labyrinth, and then spend the next half an hour getting lost in a place where (allegedly) the historical Dracula had once been imprisoned. It was actually a lot of fun, but the mannequins in some of the caged displays looked like something out of a Hammer horror film, and the couple who were some way in front of me practically soiled themselves when the demonic sound effects boomed out of a speaker. At this point, there’s no way you’ll be able to see shit, because they pump loads of dry ice into the cavern and the only light you have is some vaguely authentic gas lamp they give you before you go inside. Also, for anyone who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour, I have to give credit to the German guy who waited round a corner for his mates and pounced out on them. It was hilarious, although by the expression on his friend’s faces, I don’t think the same sense of humour was shared amongst the group. One of them had an expression that suggested he needed a sit down and a brandy.

Budapest6

“Budapest by night” as the postcards would say.

The next day took me out in some of the hottest weather Budapest has had in some years (Europe is still having a heat wave as I write), so caution was expressed with the donning of a straw hat and copious sunscreen. I headed east across the city to the impressive Heroes Square and the leafy shelter of the City Park, where I went to one of the city’s many Thermal Baths. Since Budapest was once invaded and occupied by the Turks, it makes sense there would be similar baths somewhere, and as Budapest is built over many thermal springs, they were in luck. Sczechinyi Baths are one of the most famous in Budapest, so I made that one my priority and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s relatively expensive (around 4000 HUF), but well worth it to unwind in the warm water, either indoors or outside (I did both). The sumptuous architecture surrounds a scene which is like a combination of a bust beach and the local swimming baths. Trust me, you won’t want to leave and when you do you’ll feel reenergised. Basically, you’d be a fool to visit Budapest and not try at least one spa.

Budapest4

Sczechinyi Baths

As I feeling quite cheerful at that point, I must have felt some buried Catholic guilt at this state of affairs and headed straight for the so-called Terror Museum, to rediscover Hungary’s Communist past, and the particulars of the police state involved. I didn’t find this as engaging as some similar attractions in Prague, and as interested and fascinated by the Eastern Bloc history of Budapest and Hungary, this museum was big on presentation but a little scant on content. Plus, although much of the audio visual material was subtitled, all displays were in Hungarian only, which could be a problem for some. As a monument of lives lost under a cruel regime, it is, of course, essential, and for that reason alone I do recommend it.

Next time I visit Budapest (and there will be a next time), I’ll probably make more use of the bus services and Metro (Budapest has the oldest underground railway outside of London), but if you’re fit and healthy then walking round the city with a good map is perfectly doable. This is what I did, and enjoyed it for the most part, but in the very hot weather I experienced I would advise caution!

Other attractions I experienced included the gloriously bohemian Ruin Bars, in the Jewish District. The Ruin Bars have been developed since 2001 and are basically abandoned Communist offices and residential blocks re-appropriated as bars and cafes. Most of the Ruin Bars are partly open aired, with a central courtyard arrangement, but with lots of internal nooks and crannies, adorned with a plethora of retro furniture and decor. Well worth a visit. One of the best known, and oldest, is Szimpla.

Overall, Budapest was a marvellous destination for a five day visit and there are still a few things I kept in reserve for another visit (surprisingly for myself, I didn’t visit the National Gallery or Museum, which are situated up in the castle complex on Buda hill). Next time, I’ll also make sure I investigate more of the Hungarian cuisine, with me pleasantly surprised at the amount of vegetarian food on offer. If you’re an avid meat eater, do not be worried though, as the Hungarian diet is usually very meat heavy. One thing I did manage to do, however, is a boat trip down the Danube. I can’t advise this enough, it’s a wonderfully unwinding way to take in the sights for an hour. The boat trip I took was 9 Euros but other more expensive options are available, including ‘free’ drinks. One free attraction I did personally love was the satur of American actor Peter Falk, in character as the titular character from TV series Columbo, appropriately at one end of Falk Mikaa. The statue was put up due to Falk’s tenuous Hungarian ancestry but as Columbo is my favourite detective series, I couldn’t resist paying Lieutenant Columbo and his dog a visit.

Budapest5

So, Budapest is a city I recommend without hesitation, and is not a hugely expensive destination. Just avoid drinking too much palinka (the local moonshine, essentially) and don’t lose track of time in the thermal baths! Once you’ve seen the River Danube illuminated by the night lights, you’ll definitely be sold on this stylish and handsome city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You have a woman’s hand m’Time Lord!” Enter Doctor Thirteen!

16 Jul

Whittaker

Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, Davison, Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Capaldi…Whittaker.

I’ve been watching Doctor Who since “Horror of Fang Rock” in 1977, when I got put in front of the telly as a little kid to watch this (frankly) scary as hell and occasionally subversive series. Doctor Who was just coming out of its ‘gothic’ period, led by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, and in retrospect is not the kind of show you’d necessarily think best suited to the average five year old, but that edge of scariness and the sheer imagination of many of its stories is a gift at any age. I’ve been wondering if the fact that the lead character was played by a man was pivotal to me enjoying it back then and ever since, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think it would have mattered. Having said that, I’m not sure the series could have started with anyone other than William Hartnell in the role, and a female Doctor might not have worked until now. I just hope Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker has been chosen because she IS The Doctor and not because she’s a woman.

Former Doctor Tom Baker teased us with the idea of a lady Doctor on his departure from the role in 1981, and Who co-creator Sydney Newman once suggested it’d be something for the series to do one day. That day has finally come, in a decision that is going to prove divisive to fans of the 53 year old series. But while it’s easy to think that Hartnell may have struggled with the idea, I do like to believe that somewhere, original producer and co-creator Verity Lambert is smiling. After all, if it wasn’t for a remarkable woman, Doctor Who might never have got started.

As for the character of The Doctor, I would like to think as an extraterrestrial, the fact he or she has a human-like body of either gender will not make much difference to this most asexual of television heroes.

Jodie Whittaker: Welcome on board the TARDIS.

 

(P.S. Major kudos for anyone who recognises the reference in the blog title!)

Peter Capaldi will appear in his final episode of Doctor Who on BBC1, Christmas Day 2017.

Project 22: beautiful faces for a beautiful cause.

25 Jun

For the past months now, the second floor studio of St. George’s House in Bolton has been home to photographer John Bentley, who has been a man with a rather big project on his hands. Some doubters may have even suggested it was a project that was far too big for one man, but regardless of the challenges, John has largely met his challenge. And what was this challenge? To photograph 2,222 images of faces between the new year and June, all in aid of a worthy cause: The Lagan’s Foundation to supply home respite and support services for young children with heart defects and feeding issues across the UK.

 

Intrigued and inspired by the apparent significance of the number 22 in his life, John settled on his ambitious number of portraits. Having pared down that final number to ensure completion, John has worked morning, noon and often night to complete his project. The final aim is to have a minimum of 222 portraits to present at an exhibition at The Gallery At St George’s House, Bolton this Summer, although he has taken so many more. Sadly, you’ve missed your chance if you wanted to get your photograph taken for this astounding endeavour, but you can still see John’s exhibition and support a very commendable cause. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then John has provided beautiful insights into each of those and given us a strong clear, message: we’re all beautiful in all our own special ways. What better message to give while supporting a noble cause. In addition, ensure you come down to St. George’s House in July to view these remarkable pictures.

Hopefully John is quite happy to have some extra promotion, or as he once said to me, “F*** off, Simon!” Seriously though, you won’t find anyone who hasn’t had a fun and often self affirming experience being involved in this project, and we all owe John a great lot of thanks, as do the Lagan’s Foundation for the generous support.

To find out more and to make a donation, go to John’s site:

http://fourtwographs.co.uk/project-22/

 

Project 22 is a photographic exhibition by John Bentley, showing at The Gallery at St. George’s House, Bolton, from 7th July (9am-5pm) to 8th July (10am-2pm),

A UK election analogy: A New Hope

2 Jun

general-dodonna-in-the-briefing-room-pyxurz-blogspot-com

With respect to George Lucas.

 

These are OUR Election Wars. Not so long in the future, in a galaxy not so far away…

The Tory Government is heavily shielded from criticism and carries media firepower greater than the other parties. Its defences are designed around a direct, large scale campaign assault. The everyday votes of the apathetic, young, infirm and the poor, however, should be able to penetrate the Tory majority.

The Conservatives don’t consider these good people to be of any threat, or they wouldn’t need so much defence around their policies; with no consideration for these voters. An analysis of the Conservative manifesto demonstrates huge weaknesses, that no amount of sound bites can disguise. But our approach will not be easy. We will be required to manoeuvre through Tory controlled media which will merely skim the surface when discussing Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to promote him as unelectable. The target is only open for one day. It’s a small new hope, dependent on the right votes. The positive result leads right to number 10 Downing Street. A precise amount of greater votes will start a chain reaction which will oust the Conservative government from power. Only the right, humane and considered votes from the masses will set off this chain reaction. The government is controlled by Tories with no consideration for the common man or woman, so you’ll have to use your humanity.

On June the 8th, man your polling stations. And may the Left be with you.

Labour 2017

Review: John Cale presents The Velvet Underground and Nico, at Liverpool Sound City (26th May 2017)

30 May

Velvets John Cale

Of all the revered groups of the ‘60s, none probably deserve the accolade of most influential group like The Velvet Underground. An east coast contrast to the (superficially) loved up Summer of Love, mainly concentrated on the sunny west coast, The Velvets were a very uncommercial consideration in 1967. But, years later, Brian Eno famously quipped that although their debut album had only sold 30, 000 copies, every one of those people formed their own band.

Fast forward fifty years, and the band’s most famous and successful member is no longer with us. Lou Reed’s death, and that of Sterling Morrison and chanteuse Nico, leaves only founding member John Cale and drummer Mo Tucker. Not one to get overly nostalgic, Cale felt an overwhelming urge to pay recognition to The Velvet’s legacy and fans by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground and Nico, which leads us to this first of two celebratory concerts (the second to take place, quite naturally, in New York).

My first reaction to the music was how strange it was to hear it at what was essentially a stadium gig. The album’s dark and insular themes are perhaps best suited to a more intimate environment, most likely an indoor one, so hearing The Velvet’s music in a stadium setting was a surprise to the senses, but not a completely unwelcome or unsuccessful one.

Cale

 

Taking place on the first night of Liverpool’s annual Sound City urban festival, Cale’s performance took place in a post-industrial wasteland not entirely in tune with The Velvet’s nilisitic and bleak New York origins, but not entirely at odds with it either. The dead pan cool of the band’s hey day was reinforced through a selection of images projected onto the huge screens at either side of the stage. What didn’t serve the music as well were a less than dominant sound system and a rosta of supporting players who were of variable quality. Cale started proceedings with a decent performance of ‘Waiting for the man’, although he would struggle to replicate Reed’s scornful vocals throughout, but would return to the microphone at several points in the concert. In-between, however, appeared a mixture of the very good to the mediocre. The Kills’ Alison Mossheart in memorable leather clad rock chick glory, contrasted with my favourite Velvet’s song ‘All tomorrow’s Parties’ , unfortunately diluted by Lias Saoudi from The Fat White Family. Far better when Saoudi tackled the glorious cacophony that is ‘Heroin’, with a lot more verve, and Nadije Shah delivered a pleasing ‘Femme Fatale’. None of the album’s songs were played in original order, but mixed up with other Velvets tracks. I didn’t mind this; any pretence to presenting these songs as some first heard them in 1967 or actually on disc, was quickly abandoned. That was wise; rather than a note by note reproduction, this was more of a celebration of that music’s essence, in a setting unfamiliar to the ‘60s Factory crowd.

The concert ended with an epic version of ‘Sister Ray’, where the numerous guests appeared to surrender to the music and offer their best. Cale was present throughout, an obvious talent and occasionally eager to show off his viola skills. Cutting a stylish and relatively youthful looking figure, despite his white hair, Cale remains the only original Velvets band member to remain musically active. While this might not be his finest hour, it was still an engrossing presentation of a songbook that continues to influence and inspire. While Cale is not a man who usually looks back with obvious nostalgia, and despite any weaknesses in the presentation, I was very glad he had made an exception.

 

From Rolling Stone Magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/john-cale-on-the-chaos-of-velvet-underground-w470828

John Cale will also perform The Velvet Underground and Nico with The Wordless Music Orchestra, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, on November 16th and 17th.

 

Photograph used with respect from Liverpool ECHO site.

A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar

67-beatles-sgt-pepper-gatefold_02-960x653

My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1967/03/30/cover-shoot-for-sgt-pepper/

 

Same procedure as last year?

1 Jan

dinner-for-one

As we enter another year on the Gregorian Calendar, I was reminded of a slightly eccentric tradition from Germany and other European nations. Now, Germany introduced us Brits to the Christmas Tree, which on reflection is a pretty odd idea, with more than a little pagan influence about it. Putting a full sized Douglas Fir in your living room is a pretty bizarre idea, whichever way you look at it, let alone decorating it. In more recent decades the Germans still haven’t let us down. Where UK television prides itself on the Queen’s Speech, German television have been repeating a archaic black and white comedy sketch for the last fifty years. As odd as it seems, this has become an expected tradition. Apparently their festive viewing wouldn’t be the same without it. The television recording in question is Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday (German: Der 90. Geburtstag)

I first became aware of it last year, when a colleague commented on the agenda for some student assessments. “Same procedure as every year, James”, he said. I had to ask, “who’s James?”, and he explained the reference to me.  This is the catchphrase uttered throughout the sketch, and is also the final comedic pay off. Ironically, for a sketch by a British writer, originated in England and performed in English, the sketch is largely unknown in Britain and other English speaking countries, although social media is making it better known than it was.  A major tradition in Germany, where half the population watch it every year, its charms have spread to other lands. As Wikipedia informs me, the sketch is also regularly broadcast and enjoyed in “Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands and Austria; on New Year’s Eve 2003 alone, the sketch was broadcast 19 times (on various channels). As of 2005, the sketch had been repeated more than 230 times. It is known in other countries as well, including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and South Africa” (of all other places).

An admittedly farcical but highly amusing piece of comedy from, Dinner for One revolves around the birthday dinner of upper class Englishwoman Miss Sophie. Miss Sophie’s male suitors have all died, but the table is set for them, with Miss Sophie’s butler James serving all four imaginary male guests, and drinking their alcohol as he does so, getting progressively more drunk, while failing to avoid tripping over a tiger skin rug. The reiterated instruction throughout is, “the same procedure as every year, James!”, which is repeated to rather more lewd and hilarious effect at the end.

So, as a treat for any of you who have never seen it, here is Dinner for One, filmed in 1963, but written by Lauri Wylie as early as the 1920s, and performed by May Warden and Freddie Frinton. Also, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this at any other time, in which case, do keep up!)

May all your procedures for this year be the best ones and do your very best!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinner_for_One