16 Sep 2011

Budapest Day 2 – Thursday, September 15, 2011

Posted by Deborah

(By Seth)

We started the morning with a late breakfast at the Ring Cafe a few blocks down Andrassy Ut, one of the main city streets. I went for the perfect alcohol/late night remedy with an “American breakfast” of eggs, pancakes and bacon while Deb got eggs with veggies. It wasn’t anything special but it got the job done. We then walked a few blocks to the National Opera House to buy super-cheap last-minute tickets to the ballet version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for later that evening.

There, we got some firsthand experience with the generational divide. We had looked up the prices and seating areas for the theater online, so when we walked up to the window and asked for tickets we were all prepared with the proper amount of money (essentially $2.50 per ticket for the top balcony). I made the mistake of setting the cash down on the counter. Like a 65-year-old ninja, she swiped the money and handed us tickets before we knew what had happened. Once the dust settled, we realized that she’d given us seats way to the side of the balcony when there were still plenty of identically priced seats more toward the center. When we complained, she wouldn’t even look at us. Literally. When we got back to the hostel and explained what happened to the super nice owner, he just smiled, shrugged, and said something to the effect of, “That’s our generation gap for you.”

To save ourselves from another potentially frustrating ticket counter experience, he set us up with passes to the Szechenyi thermal bath. It’s the largest bathhouse in the city, with an incredible number of naturally heated pools. The complex was massive and obviously very popular based on the number of people there. Each of the pools was a different temperature so you could pick your poison. In one of the indoor pools a woman was leading an “aqua-cize” class so Deb joined in. By her reviews, the teacher was very straight-faced but had excellent posture and decent moves. I was amused because Deb brought the average age of the class participants down a few decades. We eventually made it back outside to the larger pools where we found a pretty intense circular wave pool. Once you slip into the current it whisks you around in a circle. In fact, trying to escape the pool is quite a challenge. I nearly wiped out face first into a wall. After about two hours of spa time, we headed back to the hostel to change and meet up with a “free” Jewish tour run by the same company that we had toured with the day before.

Two guides ran this tour, a younger woman and an older man who did most of the talking. He was extremely knowledgable, but needed some work on his tour organization. The best tours we’d been on so far had a cohesive story or theme that tied everything together. In this case, it was random anecdotes and information about the buildings we happened to pass, which included three synagogues and a few kosher eateries. We did wind up with a pretty good sense of the history of the city’s Jewish community, and an unexpected media connection: Along with us on the tour was Alex Weisler, a reporter who’s touring Europe as part of a grant project for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Given the size of the Jewish press, Alex and Deb together in Budapest almost constituted an international Jewish media convention.

After the tour, we stopped for a quick dinner at a no-frills local place called Frici Papa on the recommendation of our tour guide. It turned out to be another one of the best meals we had on the trip. Deb had creamy chicken paprikash with sweet red wine and I had a beef stew with surprisingly good Hungarian beer. Everything was absolutely delicious. All told, the dinner cost barely $10.

From there, we hustled over to the opera house for the ballet. We immediately found that we were quite underdressed, but no one gave us any nasty looks…that I noticed. The building was beautiful and immense inside. We’d never seen a stage so deep before; it was probably three or four times the depth of a typical Broadway stage. Of course that only exacerbated our viewing angle issues. Eventually, Deb stood up behind the last row in the center of the balcony (along with several other folks) to get a better view. I did some neck craning and napping in my seat. Aside from the crappy seats, the production itself was pretty impressive with quite a large cast. It was well worth the $5 we paid, but next time we’ll be better prepared for our encounter with the ticket ninja.

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