Sunday morning, the twenty-fourth of June, in a rented apartment near the Budapest Opera, I was waiting for a lift to go and see the Danube Bend, a Duna kanyar. I’d left an empty Beckett’s bar early the night before to be as fresh as I could for this, in the circumstances. The manager was standing outside. He said it was demoralising. In effect, the pub had seen its best days before the Crash. That and the fact that numerous Hungarian dentists had set up shop in Ireland meant the Irish weren’t coming any more. The foreign students in the city kept the pub going during the school year but the summer was a dead loss.
Budapest (esp. with a sore throat) was hot but at least at night it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Under the weather, and not in a self-inflicted way, I’d got a bit lost after leaving Beckett’s Thursday night and trying to find Jack Doyle’s, for a last one. A pretty but forlorn-looking young hooker called out to me on Rákoczi út (“Where you go?”) but I waved her away. I might have said, “Hol van a gengszter veled?” (‘Where is the gangster with you?’) but I was already lost enough by that stage.
There was a major thunderstorm in the early hours but that was less of a bother than the sore throat. The next morning I met two girls I knew – they had lived in Ireland – for coffee at Corvin Negyed. That was a pleasant experience, as was asking two cops for directions on the way. Hungarian is the only unusual skill I have and even police officers are friendly when they witness a foreigner not make a dog’s dinner of it. Later I got tablets and went back to bed until the mid-afternoon.
The first sniffle arrived on Saturday morning. It wasn’t just the noisy air-conditioning that had me awake at half past seven, Irish time. Before a bath later, I felt a bit stoned, naked in the apartment. It felt like I’d been there a long time. There’s a tickly cough now. Sleep more if you can. You’ve nothing else to do.
Passing the afternoon with a river cruise turned out to be a good idea. I met a middle-aged American couple (Sam and Diana) while boarding the boat. They were some fun and I felt better after it, physically and therefore mentally. Originally from the Bahamas, Sam had enjoyed his time in the US National Guard, back in the days that were out of harm’s way, when it only meant getting to play cards and drive military vehicles.
On Sunday morning, after a Hungarian friend picked me up, we headed north out of the city with a couple of his kids on the back seat. First stop was the Roman ruins of Aquincum, before we got to Szentendre. He didn’t show me the picturesque town but instead headed for the folk museum or Skanzen, 4 km outside it. It’s a big site with village reconstructions from the country’s five regions. I didn’t get a kick out of the sun, which was still too high for the state of my head. A head cold is odd to feel in such heat.
I took a photo of a guy asleep in a back room in one of the houses. That’s nice work if you can get it but most of the guides were old ladies, even at the house where this guy was at, on a bench by what looked like a lunch table.
After that we continued to Visegrád where I got a short coughing fit before we bought ice cream cones.
My nose was running up on the Vár, or castle, which offers a sensational view of the Danube and the wooded hills that mark both banks, up around the bend. The evening sunshine lit up the panorama. It was after five when we got there and though the man on the gate said it was zárva (closed), a bribe of 500 forints was enough to get us in.
I still felt quite wrecked on the way back to Budapest but stopping for burgers started the comeback and then I had a few bottles of Carlsberg while watching the Italians make a show of England at soccer but not beat them until the penalties. Then I left Beckett’s, which had emptied swiftly after the match.
It was raining Monday morning as I made my way to a colleague’s office in Hattyu ház, opposite the Mammut shopping centre in Buda. He wanted to explore other possibilities once I told him the dental tourism thing was gone, in Ireland. I could only think of showing them tourist wonders like the Vár at Visegrád.
The rain had stopped briefly by the time I headed back to Pest (on a tram) to pick up my bag and hand back the key but it was heavy again when I got to Beckett’s to kill a few hours. I got something to eat there but a cold sweat on my neck led me to down a couple of hot whiskeys too. I didn’t fancy looking for an ATM in the rain but the manager then charged a fiver to change fifty euro into forints (business must be bad, I mused) so I slipped away and hailed a taxi. As the plane crossed over the Danube Bend I got a photo of the Vár and the bend from another angle.