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Budapest, Day 1: First Impressions and a ‘Ruin Bar’

September 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Budapest, Prague, tourism, Travel

We spent most of the day on a train. From Prague to Brno (in the Czech Republic) to Bratislava (in Slovakia) to the marvelously named Szob (in Hungary) to Vac to Budapest.

It was fairly direct. Not a “crow flies” kinda straight line but one that takes into account that people might actually want to go through Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, even if it makes for a nearly seven-hour train ride, from Prague to Budapest.

The air was cool, in Prague, and a bit wet, but by the time we reached Budapest, the capital of Hungary, the sun was out and it was almost steamy. High 80s. It is still summer, after all, though we were soon told, “This will be the last day of summer.”

At the Budapest train station we were met by the owner of the apartment we are renting; he practically insisted on picking us up, at no extra charge because, he said, “cab drivers in Budapest are not nice to tourists.”

We had a positive first impression of the place. Very energetic. People moving with a purpose. The city seems big and sprawling. And we had no sense that we were part of a conquering tourist horde, which we had felt throughout our stay in Prague.

We are staying on the Pest (east) side of the river, which is where most people live, in the flat plain that extends out into the countryside.

Our apartment could have been picked up whole from one of Paris’s older arrondissements and dropped here in Budapest. Massively high ceilings. Floor to ceiling windows. Powder-blue walls.

The decor is funky — mid-century modern. The furniture looks like it could have been collected from Mad Men sets and the place includes an old-fashioned turntable for playing vinyl records. (Vinyl thoughtfully provided.)

A nod to modernity — a functional Ikea-issue kitchen.

A nod to tradition — no TV.

It was 7 before we got settled, and we went looking for something to eat. We had spotted what seemed like a big and popular resto/wine bar around the corner from where we are staying. The owner of our place recommended it. “Good for tasting Hungarian wines.”

It would not have been up to Hemingway standards. The place was neither clean nor well-lit.

Perhaps because the place, named Csendes, aspires to be a “ruin bar”.

Ruin bars have become popular in Budapest and, apparently, became a “thing” here first.

The notion is that an entrepreneurial young person (OK, probably a hipster) discovers a rundown, probably vacant store front and just sets up a pub. Very low overhead and cheap beer and booze. (Including absinthe.)

The furniture is, as one story put it, “willfully mismatched.” Chairs from here and there, tables of odd dimensions, weird art on the walls — and cheap drinks.

A pint of local beer costs maybe $1, we found, after doing long calculations from florints — the Hungarian currency — to dollars.

We chose that resto because it had looked busy and successful and local.

The photo at the top of this entry shows a ruin bar during the day.

The one we visited was at night, and not until we got inside the door did we notice the place was so dark it was nearly impossible to read the menus. But we could see some of the bizarre art on the walls, including a mannequin arm holding a rat by the tail. The walls were covered in graffiti.

We had fine, inexpensive meals — and even less-expensive alcohol. I had the local lager, Soproni, and Leah had a glass of Hungarian wine described in the voluminous menu as “Just F*cking Good Sauvignon Blanc.” Which was, in fact, pretty good, for about $1.50 a glass.

Anyway, halfway through the experience we realized the place was not intended for the likes of us — though some people maintain old people can be found all the time in “ruin bars”. At the moment, we were the only ones.

And soon after comes the notion that the “ruin bar” probably has seen its day if senior citizens have taken to drinking there.

So, that was the truncated, non-train portion of Day 1. We had stumbled into a perhaps-still-cool Budapest thing and enjoyed it, and weren’t made to feel out of place, which is always nice.



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