Café Crawling in Budapest

30 05b

(This is a book shop with a cafe…)

We went walking very early this morning to begin our tour of the cafés. There’s a lot. Budapest is famous for it’s cafe culture dating back to the time of the Turkish invasion in the 1600’s (I looked that up) They were the perfect place for artists, poets, writers and revolutionaries. So nothing new then…

30 05a

(This is one of the traditional Hungarian cafés – Müvész)

I was going for the ambiance (read cake) Denis was going for the coffee. We’re both a little hyper now and have proved the saying, too much of a good thing etc. Anyway, we got some pictures along the way so not all bad.

30 05d

(Another traditional – Gerbeaud. I had a great salmon and cream cheese baguette here)

We’re going home tomorrow morning and due to a technical oversight (didn’t notice the very very early flight departure time) on my part, we will be getting the airport shuttle bus at 4am. So, I’ll be writing tomorrow’s blog under the influence of sleep deprivation. Just to warn you, I might continue to be grumpy for a while…. so don’t say hello to me if you meet me during the next few days.

30 05h

(This is McDonalds… almost. This is a railway station and McDonalds is right beside it in an identical building. We were just passing)

30 05x

(Inside the railway station)

I’m not ready to come home yet, Mairead.

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Lost and Alone in Budapest…


29 05d

(Beautiful Buildings)

Budapest is quite beautiful and quite big, so we gave up the walking tour for a bus tour… not our finest hour. Not just because of the lack to exercise but for the choice of tour. Our home for the next two days is situated beside Margaret’s Bridge or as we’re saying now Mairead’s Bridge (Well, I’m the only one saying it… if you don’t know Mairead is the Irish for Margaret… ) And as there’s a bus stop for the tour on the other side of the bridge we went looking for it. Took us a long time meandering around trying to find it with a less than useless map. Eventually Denis went into a chemist to ask for directions while I waited outside taking pictures of all the beautiful buildings.

29 05f

(Mairead’s Bridge… well ok it’s still officially Margaret’s Bridge)

Now, you may not know but as soon as you tell people you’re off to countries like the Czech Republic or Hungary the stories of adventure gone terribly wrong start surfacing. The worst of the stories were generated by the mention of Budapest. (Just as an aside, while we’ve been away I’m keeping up with news of car hijackings around Ireland and murders in Dublin, we’re at the moment attempting to change our flights to land in a safer country…..) While it is very helpful to be wide awake and notice what’s going on around you, it’s not so great to be walking around in fear. It makes the walking around noticing all the amazingly beautiful things very difficult.

29 05c

(Street Scene)

Anyway, there I was on my own with an expensive camera in my hand in Budapest. I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t speak the language, did I mention I was all alone? …and nothing happened.

29 05g

(Beautiful Parliament Building)

Well, nothing bad happened. There was this older man and his wife who practically crawled along the ground so as not to get into the shot I was taking of a building across the street. When I realised the pains they were going to for my art I was mortified and grateful. I said Oh sorry and thank you and smiled. The woman smiled and the man was a joker and said something funny in Hungarian to me and I smiled in return. Of course, I have no idea what he said but I completely know from the way he said it and his body language that he was being nice to me, making a connection with me, encouraging me. That’s what humans do. It’s hard to spot when I’m afraid.

29 05b

(Look at the cute car!)

Meanwhile Denis was in the chemist having little luck explaining in sign language to the people behind the counter what he wanted when one of the customers spoke in English and said he might be able to help. He did help and we found the bus stop but we might have been better off going for a coffee instead.

29 05h

(A public transport bus with the reminder that Budapest is two cities, Buda and Pest)

We’ve had great tours with great guides in Prague and Krakow (sigh) and now we were on a bus listening to a recording. Prague and Krakow have ruined the simple pleasures of a bad bus tour for me…

From lovely Budapest, Mairead.

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Somewhere Between Krakow and Budapest

28 05c

(Time to go…)

Right so, we’re in Budapest. It was very late (well, 8.30pm) when our train arrived into Budapest Kel station. But in spite of the lateness, the ten-hour train journey and our tiredness we managed the transfer from diesel train to underground metro to city tram very efficiently. Our new host met us at the door (just around the corner from a McDonalds… so if the wi-fi doesn’t work we’ll know where to go… of course we won’t) and when we understood the door code and the previously mentioned wi-fi code we set off to eat. We took the first easy to understand restaurant… we had pizza.

28 05b

(Part of Market Square, Krakow)

All that means we didn’t see Budapest yet, but I’ve been scanning the multiple guidebooks left for us on the coffee table and if the photos are anything to go by Budapest is beautiful. We’ll get a chance to confirm that as we’re planning to go on another walking tour later.

28 05d

(They do like their meat)

Meanwhile, I feel like I’m in a travelling zone between one country and the next where I’m the same as I was yesterday but the place has changed. When we get to a new place we immerse ourselves as completely as possible in that place. You can’t help but eat the food, use the money, try the language, connect (even superficially) with the tour guides, the ticket sellers, the waiters and waitresses. But added to that you hear the history, the history of the living. There are people living here who have lived during a terrible war, through a communist take over, through communist ruling, through the fall of communist rule. And they continue to live through the emigration of their children. So I’m still emotionally still in Krakow (even though the history is probably very similar in the Czech Republic and in Hungary.)

28 05g

(Shade and a coffee, sigh)

As we walked around Krakow we often saw little groups of school children walking in twos after their teacher. They usually had matching peaked caps, bright yellow and orange are popular. The first time I saw them I was struck by the thought that they may grow up and move to Ireland and I felt really sad. Even as I write it makes me feel sad again. Not because I don’t want them to come… I don’t want them to leave…

28 05e

(Not the hammer of safety this time… probably the electricity of death)

And I don’t want to leave Krakow either, Mairead.



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So Long, Farewell!

27 05b

(Last night’s storm ( and our drain pipe) on the balcony)

Another Tuesday, another train journey. We’re off to Budapest today and we’re sad to leave Krakow. It’s really beautiful. It’s also friendly and easy-going, and they have great food. And great weather, well it was this week. We got caught in a spectacular thunder and lightning storm last night. Very beautiful and only a little damp. But still great.

27 05h

(Last night’s storm in the Market Square)

Before we got here we noticed a ring of green on the map of Krakow and wondered what it was. It’s a park where once there were walls and a moat and now there are trees and paths. It’s shady in the sun and provides some cover in the rain. There are always people here, walking or running or skateboarding or cycling or sitting or sleeping. It’s an easy route to find your way around the old town and it’s the route we’ll be taking to the train this morning. It passes churches, restaurants, the university. Through the trees you can see and hear the blue trams and when you get to the street intersections you can see all the way to the huge main square.

27 05g

(A small section of the park around Krakow before the storm)

Speaking of street intersections, when you get to a pedestrian crossing point the traffic stops to let you cross the road. Everywhere we’ve been in Krakow crossing the road has been a joy. It’s almost like the pedestrian is king not the car (or bus or tram) We stand at a zebra crossing and a car, which up to that point is moving, just stops. We’re crossing a road and there’s no zebra stripes, the cars stop. Sometimes we’re about to cross but think the car is too close to stop, the car stops. It’s good to be the king.

Goodbye beautiful Krakow, Mairead.


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Free Tea! Free Coffee!

25 05a

(Art on the old city wall)

Before we got here I was researching Krakow (with help, thank you Magda!) and one of the things I found was a free cafe, called Cafe Fińska. Well, almost free… in return for a cup of coffee or tea you add some art work to the paper tablecloth. I was very interested. Imagine having a place where people could get together, share a tea or coffee and do some art…. it’s probably not surprising I was interested. So I searched for more information about this place and as it wasn’t too far from our apartment, I thought it might be nice to go visit.


(The old (city gate)… and the new (McDonald’s arches)…)

I wasn’t sure what to expect and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to communicate with only one word of Polish. But nothing ventured… so on Friday with a map and google directions (really miss data) scribbled on top we started walking in the direction of the (former) Jewish Ghetto. It took nearly an hour and the weather was very warm so we were a little flushed when we arrived. Denis made sure I went in first…


(A sign…)

The cafe is on the ground floor of a triangular-shaped building at the junction of two streets and it is tiny inside. The walls are covered in art, as is the (paper) table-cloth. There are mugs and a tea-making area in one corner (do you call it a corner if it’s a triangle?) There’s a six seater table down one side and a two person sofa on the other. When we walked in there were two men playing chess at a small table in the middle and one man on his iPad on the sofa.


(Low flying helicopter)

Not knowing the etiquette for this situation I decided to go ahead and announce myself. I spoke as slowly as my nervousness would allow, hi I’m from Ireland and I heard about your cafe, would you be able to tell me something about it, please? Silence. Oh, do you speak English? The older of the men at the chess board pointed to the two others and they laughed sheepishly and said yes. In the end the older man explained the history of the cafe while the younger one translated. The third man made our tea.


(See the bugle peeping out the top window of St Mary’s Church? Every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day (yes someone gets up in the middle of the night to do this) the bugle sounds over Krakow. To commemorate the bugler who was shot with an arrow to the throat as he warned the town of invaders)

It started last year when there was an art festival in Krakow. A guy called Michał Mioduszewski, an artist all the way from Warsaw created it as an art installation in the Grolsch ArtBoom Festival, June 2013. His working title: Revolutions happen in cafes. It was a great success and then the art festival was over and it was time to close everything down. But it didn’t close. The locals loved the cafe so much that they decided they wanted to keep it. They have been paying the rent ever since. They are also donating their time, their tea, their coffee and sometimes their baked goods. It opens six days a week from 4.30pm and sometimes they have concerts and classes. Everything is run on a voluntary basis with donations going towards the rent. No one makes any money out of this venture, except maybe the landlord!


(The foot bridge over the river covered in locks declaring love)

We left after our tea and I thanked the men (in Polish – thank you, Kinga!) All the way back to town I wondered…. is this only possible in Krakow or in Poland?


(Tram tracks through the park)

Maybe… maybe not… Mairead.

P.S. A link to more information about Cafe Fińska.

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In Search of Hope


(Barbed wire and electric fencing everywhere)

We went to Auschwitz yesterday. I was steeling myself for the experience but I needn’t have. The numbers of people murdered here is very difficult to imagine, so I couldn’t. The cruel punishments that were carried out were difficult to understand, so I didn’t. The lack of water, food, privacy, kindness was difficult to imagine so I can’t.


(Bricks in the wall of one of the woman’s dormitories)

And at some point I stopped trying. I couldn’t make it make sense. I disconnected from the experience. There wasn’t even the smallest scrap of hope to cling to, so I gave up.


(Wall covering outside the commander’s office in the punishment block)

So I wandered behind the tour group and started taking pictures of close up normal bits and pieces. The bricks, the wood, the wall covering, the barbed wire. When we went inside I saw tins of shoe polish and face cream so I took pictures of that. And then I saw a grater, a normal everyday grater.


(The grater. I didn’t realise there were two until I was adding this picture, the one I am referring to is on the top)

When the people were deported to Auschwitz (or other concentration and death camps) they were told they were being relocated. The Polish had heard rumours and began to doubt that it was that simple, but people from occupied countries further away (like Greece) believed. So when they were allowed to bring 25kg of their belongings with them they brought all they might need to set up a new life. On their backs.


(Detailed records were kept of every prisoner)

When they arrived at the camps, everything was taken from them and they never saw their possessions again. I began to imagine the grater was owned by a woman from Greece. And over seventy years ago she had thought it important enough (probably to feed her family) to carry for hundreds of kilometres to her new home. And they stole it from her. And she would never need it again anyway because she never got to cook for her family. She probably died from starvation or she was gassed.


(In among all the tins of shoe polish there was a tin of Nivea cream)

And that’s not fair. I’m reconnected again. But it’s way too hard to be there and be connected to even one person who was brought here, even in my imagination. And then our guide tells us to turn around and see the old man in the suit slowly walking with two people on the other side of the barbed wire to us. He tells us that this man is a survivor who escaped from Auschwitz. He has returned for a visit. And the old man notices our group of fifty turn to look at him and he slowly lifts his arm to wave. And slowly, tentatively fifty arms rise to wave back. We’re on one side and he’s on the other and in that moment I find a scrap of hope and a small enough connection to cope with for now.


It is much easier not to imagine what happened here, Mairead.

PS Here’s a link to Kazimierz Piechowski’s (the old man on the other side of the barbed wire) story.

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Top Floor in Krakow.


22 05a

(Our little balcony)

We’re going on a tour today so this will be short. When I was choosing a place to stay in Krakow I used Airbnb again and our host did mention five flights of stairs and no lift, but I thought by the time we had arrived in Prague we would be well able for five flights… We shouldn’t have used the lift so much in Prague… and maybe not the metro either…. and that time we got the tram we should have walked…

22 05c

(Our view west)

When we arrived the first evening from the train with all our bags I realised I had forgotten to tell Denis about the lift. or lack of it. So it was a bit of a surprise for him when the stairs went on and on. Since then it’s been getting easier. And being on top of the building is worth the effort, for one thing I have a great view of a stationery shop (fancy paper, ribbons, potential craft supplies) we spotted on the first evening. I keep forgetting it’s there when I’m on the ground so it calls to me when I up top. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be on the ground when I remember.

22 05d

(That little window on the ground floor is my stationery shop)

One of the reasons the stairs is getting easier is that I know what to expect now. I know there are ten landings to stop on if I need to. I know on the second last flight of stairs there are two bikes chained to the bannister (how I love when those bike come into view) I know it doesn’t last forever, I will soon reach our door. It’s reassuring to be so convinced of the outcome.

From the fifth floor, Mairead.

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