5 layers of love

I’ve never cried over a cake… until today. It was so good. I couldn’t help myself. While in Budapest today my friend and I decided to venture over to the Hungarian National Art Museum. On our way there we walked into a little paper shop that sold things like postcards, journals and posters. Inside we met the curator of the shop who after a few minuets of conversation suggested a little local cafe and pastry shop. After we had spent about three hours looking at the seemingly endless maze of Picasso’s most famous works, we headed over to the place called Asztalka.

I can honestly consider this one of the most pleasant afternoons I have enjoyed in a while. The weather was perfect on this afternoon in late May. We bathed in sunshine. Flowers and spring foliage decorated the Buda hills. Across from Asztalka wedding bells rang and churchgoers flooded in to the chapel.

As we walked into the pastry shop there were only about five choices of cake, but they offered a full espresso and coffee bar. I decided to take my chances on a layered caramel cake accompanied by a strait espresso. My friend had a flat white and what appeared to be a very fluffy cheesecake with a layer of fresh fruit compote on the top.

Asztalka’s sitting room reminded me of something out of the book Alice in Wonderland. It looks like the aesthetic equivalent to a little girl’s imaginary tea shop.  Drinks are served in mismatch teacups and pastries on crystal platters, lace curtains grace the windows, a pink area rug covers the floor and tiny armchairs beckon patrons to take a seat.

But, the best part of the entire experience were the pastries. My cake had over 5 layers of rich caramel, fulfilling even my wildest hopes and dreams. The crust which held it all together was flaky, buttery and absolutely delectable.

Needless to say, we will soon be back for more. I absolutely recommend Asztalka to anyone traveling through Budapest.13220858_567843270052043_3372933804885901259_n.jpg

Street Harassment and Self Respect

Today began with a rough start. My friend and I are in Budapest and we had stopped to take a picture of a bridge when suddenly I felt a tap on my butt.  I figured it was someone passing by, tapping my with a handbag or hip by accident on the busy street. I was wrong. Glancing behind me I saw a guy driving away on a tiny little moped, accompanied by a group of guys laughing hysterically and glancing back at me. Naturally I was pissed off and ready to fight this guy. Under no circumstance was this acceptable. But, then it hit me just how hilarious and pathetic the situation was. Not only did he mostly miss my ass, he didn’t even do it for his own pleasure. Instead, this was his sad attempt to try and prove his fragile (or possibly nonexistent)  masculinity to his friends. He is so insecure about his image that he was literally willing to physically assault someone on the street. Also, if the guys who assaulted me (or any other guilty of street harassment) happens to read this, I have a special message for you. You disgust me.

I desperately wish people would understand assaulting people (verbally or physically) does nothing to enforce gender norms or masculinity. It only deteriorates any respect that people might have had for someone before the incident. As a society, its pathetic and deplorable that we allow this to continue. Admittedly, it is an easy thing to blow off. Women and men both find various ways to justify the behavior. Even subconsciously, we have a tendency to do it. When the incident occurred this morning the first thought that came to my mind was that I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk. It was “rude” of me. I thought that perhaps that he slapped my ass because I was in his way. But, then I thought about the MILLION other ways he could have told me to move. For all I care, he could have yelled at me, called me an ignorant tourist. Even that would have been better then the call he made. This behavior was simply disgusting and I was not to blame for the incident, nor is anyone who has even been harassed on the street.

Bohemian Pubs and American Politics

Last night in Budapest, my friend and I decided to try our chances at a little place called Szimpla Kert. Considered something called a “ruined pub”, Szimpla is part of a network of bars and clubs that specialize in Budapest’s bohemian culture. These establishments are located in abandoned buildings and courtyards throughout the city. They are decorated with a mixture of eccentric art and graffiti.For those of you familiar with Boulder, Colorado, this place would have fit in perfectly on Pearl Street. They serve a large variety of drinks and everyone over the age of 18 is welcome. Tip: It might be a good idea to bring an official form of identification if you plan to visit. Unlike many other establishments in Europe, they check ID for anyone that looks like they might be under 18.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the bars are the variety of people that they draw in and how relaxed everyone seems to be. People from all the world gather, hoping to mingle with interesting people. Compared with other Bars and Clubs that I have been to in Europe, people who come to Szimpla simply want to relax and take a moment to enjoy a chill night out. At the beginning of the night my friend and I were pleased to walk in and hear one of our favorite songs “All Night” playing. Szimpla mostly plays a mix of electro-swing. For anyone unfamiliar with this genre, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C7UgR_sIW0  by Parov Stelar. Although a little quirky, the lyrics and beat are sure to stick with you.

Before we knew it, we had met two students from the United Kingdom and a pair or friends from Canada taking a gap year. Talking to people in environments like this is low key one of my favorite things. Everyone is in a similar situation and everyone clearly has a passion for travel. This combination has always proven itself to make for great conversation. To hear everyone’s backstory and plans for the future of their journey is inspirational. We talked with the two guys from Canada for about an hour. We traded our best travel stories and shred tips about cities. But things really got interesting when they decided to bring up the upcoming American election. To hear an outsider’s perspective on the “circus” that people call the American Election system was humorous. For a while we debated on Hillary’s strengths while my Canadian friend referred to her as the “Attractive Boss Bitch” (he might have been a little intoxicated… to be fair) I found it relieving that everyone else in the world is horrified that we would let Donald Trump get this far in the election and they pass on their sympathies if he wins. One guy even told me that he hopes to visit the states before Donald Trump “takes over” and ruins the country.

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Szimpla during daylight hours. They serve cocktails all day, but they don’t get busy until 11 pm.

 

Labyrinth of the Vampire Cult and newly founded anxiety

So let me rewind. Our first day in Budapest, we were wandering around the outskirts of Buda Castle and just outside the Hospital Museum when we came across something peculiar. We spotted a dimly lit underground ally and decided to venture into it when the curiosity grew and we decided it was too late to turn back. It had an eerie feel to it. The dim yellow lights cast huge shadows in front of us. Water dripped from the ceilings in a way that send a shiver down your spine. Confused, we continued on looking for an exit or an end to the tunnel. Instead, we came across a ticket booth and a stairway that lead up to a side street on castle hill. There, a plaque quickly explained that the “tunnel” we were just in was actually a labyrinth where the leader of a vampire colt ( supposedly Dracula himself)  was held prisoner until his death. Honestly, I figured this was a tourist trap. But after some research, my friend and I found that the tunnels were actually legitimate and expanded underneath the entire castle. We also found that they give tours of the labyrinth. My hesitation of the tour was overruled by the argument that”no one would believe us” unless we actually took the tour for factual support.

The next day, after our morning run to Krystali Cukraszda (a delicious little bakery and espresso bar), we made our way back up to the castle and once again ascended into the darkness of the labyrinth. I was hopelessly unprepared for what was about to follow. Supposedly a self guided tour, the passage started with a brief explanation and exaggeration of the labyrinth’s history. Wax figures set the scene for a murder most foul, ect…

It wasn’t until maybe a 1/4 mile into the caves that things turned unexpected. Suddenly the wax figures stopped and was replaced with a sign explaining the complexity of the tunnels and the purposes they used to served. The sign also explained a human phenomenon about how paranoia, the dark and thick fog has the potential to mess with our heads.

I instantly felt my anxiety levels rise as I came to the realization that the only way out of the labyrinth lied within the darkness. To gain understanding about the labyrinth, you ad to experience it without outside assistance. I have a huge fear of caves and getting trapped in unescapable places. Before we knew it, we were launched into complete darkness. I couldn’t remember the last time, if ever, that I had faced with such circumstances. The darkness was solid, it fell like a curtain. Darkness is usually different. Even at night, there is moonshine, there are streetlights, or there are the little blue and red glowing lights that come from smoke detectors or a charging cellphone. But it is almost impossible to achieve absolute darkness like this. True darkness like this crushes light. Even when we tried to use cellphones, they had little effect. Miles underground, without the technology of modern society, we were suddenly transported back to the literal DARK ages. The only things that clued me into my location were echoes of water droplets and the smell of decay that came from the cave. Besides that, we were blind. It might not have been as bad if we were somewhere else, but thinking about how were were sitting in a historically proven medieval torture chamber (regardless if the vampire myth was true or not) probably pushed me over the edge. I see no shame in admitting I was terrified.

My best friend lead the way while we slowly worked our way out. If it hadn’t been for her, I probably would have lost ability to move and just died there from an anxiety attack. I still get dizzy and squeamish thinking about it.

The rest of the labyrinth turned out to be okay. Instead of darkness, it was replaced with a tick fog that they highlighted with bright with lights. Every so often you could see artifacts that they recovered form the old uses of the labyrinth. Bits of columns sat in corners while iron gates of ancient jail cells were covered in rust.

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We take a selfie with the last bit of light before we enter the labyrinth. 

Best Bite of Budapest

Tonight, I enjoyed the best meal that I have had in months. Down a little ally there was a place called the M Restaurant. It couldn’t have been much bigger then a tiny cafe, but the food was superb. My friend and I walked into the crowded place and ended up scoring a patio table right outside the door. It was lucky we arrived just in time, because six or seven couples were turned away after us by wait staff because lack of availability. The place is off the beaten path and it is clear that it is predominately frequented by locals. Outside it has a very cute atmosphere. The wooden tables were covered in cushions and had a wall which opened, connecting indoors and outdoors. Happy conversation and clinking glasses could be heard down the street where it resides. Early summer is the perfect time to enjoy patio seating. The temperature is just right and the flowers are in full bloom.

As for my food, it couldn’t have been better. I ordered chicken goulash with a side of dumplings, accompanied by a glass of white house wine. The chicken was tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. The Goulash sauce was savory and perfectly seasoned with paprika and basil. The plain dumplings with light sour cream created a nice balance for the dish.

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Their website can be found at http://metterem.hu

 

Radioactive Art

Today my friend and I wandered into the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, unsure what to expect. From the outside, the museum actually looked closed. Banners draped across construction boardwalks made us question if we could even go inside. But after some investigation we finally found the front doors. From the few exhibits that we saw, my favorite was the “Explore Color” portion. There were four different rooms that divided art by blues, reds, greens,  and browns. Each room displayed different types of dishes, cloths, paintings, furniture, and other random items. One particular feature that caught my eye was an ultraviolet light that caused these jars and glasses to glow a bright, an almost bioluminescent green. Curious about it, we looked on the nearby plaque and found a description. Turns out that the secret ingredient that made the pieces glow was legitimate Uranium. As in, these pieces of art were actually radioactive. The artist supposedly designed them to make a statement about nuclear warfare and other radioactive social problems. Although the art curator seemed to feel safe being around these, I didn’t.

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The Downpour

Today in Budapest was significant  because of the amount of rain that fell. Being from Colorado, my friend and I drastically underestimated the rain in Budapest.

We woke up around 9 that morning and headed across the river to the “Buda” side of Budapest. From there we hiked to the fisherman’s bastion and castle hill. Coming from an elevation of 9,000 feet actually makes life much easier. As we passed other tourists that seemed to be breathing heavily from the hike, we were rolling in the extra oxygen. We felt like super-humans. From the top of the funicular (a little train that takes you up to the top of the hill) the view seems surreal. You can see the entirety of the city on a clear day. After we soaked in the view properly, we headed on to go explore the contents within the castle walls.  Besides pretty buildings and a few nicely kept gardens, there wasn’t too much to see until we finally found a museum, which had been suggested to me by a friend who recently studied abroad here.

Called the “Hospital Museum” it was actually a 5-mile long nuclear-proof bunker the had been transformed throughout that ages by different political parties and governments within Budapest. During its time it served as a hospital for both Soviet troops, nationalists, and German solders as a red cross certified safe place for everyone. Because of its intentional certification, the place was respected and spared by raids. During the later part of ww2 through the end of the cold war, it served as a nuclear-safe bunker.  On the tour, we had the chance to see the old generators, water storage supply units, air circulation systems for the tunnel, and giant diesel fuel tanks that could run everything in case of power loss. Fun Fact: We learned on the tour that the Hungarian word for “radiation” is actually “sugar.” My mind immediately went to “sugar cookies” and I wondered about the confusion and worry this might bring to Hungarian tourists in America.

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This is the entrance to the Hospital Museum / Nuclear Bunker

By the end of the day we ended up outside the Hungarian Parliament. This giant building is actually a little intimidating. Despite the armed guards every couple feet, its gothic pillars and tours accurately represent its prestige. When we sat down to enjoy the view, it had started to sprinkle rain. But by the time my friend and I had made it back to our hotel, we were drenched. My jeans were soaked and I could feel water squish between my toes as I walked. My hair had begun to drip onto my face. It seemed everyone was carrying around umbrellas except for us.  When we made it into the hotel, the front desk assistant gave us a look that might have been a mix of sympathy and disgust at the mud we just tracked into his clean lobby.

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Me, enjoying a calm  drizzle before the downpour.

It is the people who make the trip.

It never really gets old. It seems cliché, but it is true. Every time I fly through Europe to some new and unfamiliar destination, the people I meet amaze me. I don’t really consider myself to be much of a conversationalist but for some reason people always end up talking to me.

Today I was on my way to Budapest, catching a connecting flight through Heathrow, when my friend and I met two distinctive people. The first was a TSA officer who clearly wasn’t in the mood to deal with my optimistic outlook and the second was a Hungarian lady who attended the University of Colorado Boulder, where I currently study.

It wasn’t half an hour into our trip when someone said something strange to me. My best friend and I have this theory; whenever we are together some randomly guy will say something to one of us that takes us completely off guard. This time, it was a TSA officer in Denver. I was about to take off on an international flight with my best friend to explore an exotic city in Eastern Europe. Can you blame me for being excited? Opportunities like this are what I live for. So when he asked me why I was smiling so much, I just told him that I was excited. I wasn’t about to lie to TSA officer! To that, he replied with an overly salty and dramatic response of “Well aren’t you just a cheeseball.” A cheeseball? A cheeseball!! I have been called a lot of things, but this was a first.

For this flight, we took British Airways from Denver to Heathrow The downfall to British Airways is that they always have trouble being on time. Every single time I have flown on a direct flight on BA, which granted has only been 3 occasions, the flight inevitably ends up being delayed by at least an hour. By now I’ve learned that in order to make a connecting flight from Heathrow, you need a minimum of two hours unless you plan on booking it down the concourse. In March of 2015, I wrote about about yet another one of this airport’s many dysfunctions. But instead of having trouble with the airport this time, it was security that caught me off guard. I made the mistake of assuming that just because the Denver TSA approved my carryon items, Heathrow security check probably would would too. As I was headed down the line, I was pulled to the side and told to remove the contents of my bag and was forced to re-sort my luggage no less then three different times under the supervision of the security officer. Turns out that I had accidently left a bottle of sunscreen at the bottom of my backpack. Oops…

What this experience produced though was a friend. When I was shuffling everything so it fit back into my backpack, the Hungarian lady mentioned earlier caught sight of a CU sticker on the back of my phone. While waiting in the terminal this lead to a half hour discussion of the Culture of Boulder Colorado, the “trust fund hippies” that inhabit it, and the “communist design” of the engineering building. I use those quotations not as paraphrases, but rather as direct quotes. She clearly chose her words with precision because those might just me the most accurate descriptions I have ever heard. The quote about the design about the engineering center caught me off guard because she followed up the “communist design” comment with a personal anecdote about her experience with the communist regime. She also mentioned that in her day the Alfred Packer Grill served great panini. Personally, I still think this stands true today. Although our college may have added new additions like buffalo sharped pools and fancy community centers, they at least have managed to keep their panini priorities strait.

As we finally arrived in Budapest, I was shocked how green that the city is. I don’t mean necessarily earth friendly, but rather luscious. The trees were covered in huge leaves, many areas were landscaped in flawless lawns and flowers were abundant. Unlike many other European cities that I have visited, they also have lots of parks and greenbelt areas hidden within the city. These all make a wonderful foreground in pictures (for all you aspiring photographers out there.)

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