Category Archives: Traveling

The Road Whisperer. Roads less traveled. Travelogues.

That other city on seven hills

The visit to Lisbon has been in the pipeline for me for almost 20 years, ever since I read my first poem by Fernando Pessoa as a sophomore in high school, and started teaching myself Portuguese so that I could read him in the original. The fascination with the poet quickly extended onto his country and culture, with the trip to Lisbon becoming this gargantuan milestone for my soul. Somehow, life interfered, and despite my best efforts it took nearly 20 years to finally see it. (London, my other obsession, suffered much the same fate though not for quite as long.)

View over Baixa and Alfama to the Tagus River
View over Baixa and Alfama to the Tagus River

I cannot properly describe to you why this place has meant so much. There were times when I thought it was just an obsession produced by my overheated, hyperactive brain, but I have always felt this sort of link, a spark of recognition if you will, between myself, the poet, his hometown, and the language. There are really no words for it, it’s just something that clicked inside me and made perfect sense for no apparent reason or cause. (At least with London, I can blame my parents for inceptioning me with this utopian ur-tale of cultural cool. But with Lisbon, the universe must have conspired.)

View from the Castle of Sao Jorge
View from the Castle of Sao Jorge

The brilliant German director Wim Wenders caught a whiff of the same thing, I think, because there is no other way to explain how he came up with his 1994 film Lisbon Story. He somehow managed to encapsulate the spirit of the city in this little unassuming movie showcasing fado music and culture, and a few pointed references to Pessoa.

This 3-minute clip packs a cultural punch: the main protagonist is first seen in an old, shabby apartment with typical blue azulejo tiles and hears faint sounds of guitar music, both signals for a probable location in the Alfama district, the heart of Lisbon and the birthplace of fado music. He follows the sound of music to a room where a band (Madredeus – probably the best-known Portuguese band in the realm of “world music”) appears to be having a rehearsal, with the lovely singer, dressed in strict black fado garb, standing in a semi-circle composed of a guitar, accordion, keyboard, and cello, and trilling a song about a guitar. I was 19 when I first saw the movie, high on my Portuguese lore, three Madredeus and two fado CD’s, and I thought this scene said everything that needed to be said about Portugal. I haven’t changed my mind.

Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon, perched almost in its entirety on a steep hill crowned by the Castle of São Jorge, and also the only part of the city that escaped the terrible 1755 earthquake practically intact. Experts chalk it up to the district’s compact layout of narrow streets and small squares. Its Arabic name reflects its Moorish legacy, as the city was under Moorish dominion from the 7th to the 11th century when it was reconquered by crusader knights. To this day, it retains its reputation as the neighborhood of the poor, and is one of the most soulful, atmospheric places I’ve ever seen.

View over Alfama from Miradouro de Santa Luzia
View over Alfama from Miradouro de Santa Luzia
Azulejo wall in Alfama
Azulejo wall in Alfama
Historical tram 28 trundling downhill in Alfama
Historical tram 28 trundling downhill in Alfama

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One of many sets of stairs in Alfama
One of many sets of stairs in Alfama

Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe, and one of the oldest in the world. One of its several origin stories claims it was founded by Odysseus after he left Troy (hence the city’s name). Archaelogical excavations suggest a Phoenician connection. It was also a significant Roman outpost before it was swept by the Moors. Modern Lisboeatas, however, view the city’s past very simply as pre-earthquake and post-earthquake. The All Saints’ Day earthquake in 1755, followed by a tsunami and fires, was so devastating that it literally razed the city to the ground, and burnt itself into the collective psyche. The ruins of Convento do Carmo on top of the Bairro Alto hill were left to bear witness to the event.

Convento do Carmo seen from the Castle of Sao Jorge
Convento do Carmo seen from the Castle of Sao Jorge
Entrance to Convento do Carmo
Entrance to Convento do Carmo
Convento do Carmo from the Santa Justa lift
Convento do Carmo from the Santa Justa lift

All that you now see as you stroll through Baixa and Chiado, in what is considered the center of the city, even down to the rectangular layout of the streets and squares, was rebuilt after the earthquake and given a more updated, “European” feel. I don’t see that this part of the city lost any of its charm, though: alongside high street shopping outlets, small old world shops survive, selling such anachronistic things as stamps and coins, flanked by century-old patisseries and wine shops. A wave of nostalgia washed over me when I saw this and remembered that old-Europe atmosphere of my childhood which you could still see in cities like Trieste, Zagreb, and Vienna in the 80’s, and which has long since vanished. I really didn’t expect to find out that it’d somehow survived in this far-flung, westernmost pocket of Europe.

Rua Augusta, main shopping street in Baixa
Rua Augusta, main shopping street in Baixa
Praca do Comercio with the Arco da Rua Augusta
Praca do Comercio with the Arco da Rua Augusta

This part of the city, nestled between the two hills of Alfama and Bairro Alto, is also the only flat one you’ll see for miles around. When you visit Lisbon, prepare for the fact that you’ll spend most of your time climbing either up or down incredibly steep streets and stairs. Everything that you see is at an angle. Like Rome, Lisbon spreads over seven hills.

Bairro Alto
Bairro Alto
Bairro Alto, tracks for the Elevador da Bica
Bairro Alto, tracks for the Elevador da Bica

Apart from cars (bikes are not really an option), the only other vehicles seemingly able to negotiate the narrow cobblestone streets and varying degrees of ascent/descent are the übercute trams and elevadores (funiculars), which create so much noise as they trundle along that you can hear them well before you can see them.

If you want to avoid paying for a ticket, you can hang out
If you want to avoid paying for a ticket, you can hang out

But the river Tagus is also there to remind you that the sea is never far away, and that you are, after all, at the edge of western Europe, at what was once the starting point of many voyages of peril, discovery, and glory. The Portuguese are extremely proud of their maritime and colonial history, choosing to gloss over the fact that they practically invented black African slavery in the 16th century. The nostalgic imprint of the ex-empire is etched into the national psyche, however, as in all countries which had once thrived on colonies and sea trade.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos - monument to the Age of Discovery in Belem
Padrao dos Descobrimentos in Belem
Close-up of Padrao dos Descrobrimentos
Close-up of Padrao dos Descrobrimentos

The mouth of the Tagus, where it joins the Atlantic, beckons to you as you stand on the shore at Belém, in the shadow of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos – the imposing monument to the Age of Discoveries, and you can almost understand what the phrase ‘call of the sea’ means.

Torre de Belem
Torre de Belem

Torre de Belém, or the Tower of St Vincent, stands ceremonial guard for passing ships as the gateway to Lisbon, all curlicues and turrets as befits a prime example of the Manueline style, itself drunk on Moorish influence. If you think the style is cute and romantic, its neighbor, Jerónimos Monastery, might cure you of that notion with its over-the-top Gothic floral intricacies. It functions primarily as the resting place of great Portuguese men, from explorer Vasco da Gama to the national poet LuÍs de Camões, and of course Fernando Pessoa.

Jeronimos Monastery, Belem
Jeronimos Monastery, Belem
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
View from the cloister
View from the cloister

The crowd-phobic in me was happy to see that Lisbon remains a curiously under-visited city. (It keeps popping up in various ‘best underrated/cheap places to visit” lists compiled by Lonely Planet and such.) It’s fantastically cheap, both in terms of victuals as well as accommodation — and the food and drink are to die for — and it’s chock full of history, art, and culture. And if that’s not enough, several more Unesco World Heritage sites, picturesque fishing villages, religious pilgrimages, quaint old university towns, and the city of Porto are all a few hours away by car, bus or train. So what are you waiting for?

Tram no.28 with the Church of Sao Vicente da Fora in the background
Tram no.28 with the Church of Sao Vicente da Fora in the background

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View to the Tagus from the Castle of Sao Jorge
View to the Tagus from the Castle of Sao Jorge
Azulejo detail on a facade in Chiado
Azulejo detail on a facade in Chiado
Elevador tracks
Elevador tracks

All images in this post are mine. You are welcome to use them if you kindly link back to this site.

How I got lost on the way to Rome

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, but people tend to stray. I for one certainly do, and have done just that with my little blog. I got a little sidetracked by the deadlines on my translation project back in July, then I was learning the ropes in my new job as a teacher in August and September, and I also took some time off for vacationing and visiting family and friends back home. And last but not least, I fell off the exercising wagon about two months ago.

But now I’m back. The last couple months have been truly eventful. My boyfriend and I spent a week in Gothenburg, Sweden in early August at the invitation of a few friends who live there and procured cheap accommodation for us. Both of us were so exhausted from work that we ended up not doing many touristy things, just relaxed and slept a bunch, and spent a lot of time with friends who treated us to home-cooked dinners, BBQs, pub quizzes, and afternoons in parks. The weather was rather dismal, too, so we didn’t find it enticing to spend much time outdoors.

Typical street in Haga, the oldest part of Gothenburg
Typical street in Haga, the oldest part of Gothenburg
Feskekyrkan, or Fish Church, is a famous fish market hall notable for looking like a church
Feskekyrkan, or Fish Church, is a famous fish market hall notable for looking like a church
Gothenburg, Sweden
Gothenburg, Sweden
Glimpse of the port in Gothenburg. The weather didn't serve us well
Glimpse of the port in Gothenburg. The weather didn’t serve us well

Once back from our all-too-brief holiday, I started teaching at a private English language school here in Dortmund. I was lucky to find a school paying relatively decent money (I work half-time) with a friendly, supportive team. I enjoy teaching, my work is appreciated, and I don’t go to work with a knot in my stomach, which is really all I ask for these days.

Towards the end of August we were again invited to stay with friends in Antwerp, Belgium for the weekend, and I fell in love with the city. It has just the right mix of history, architecture, culture and urban flair that I always look for in cities; it also seems like a good place to live. I loved our time there.

Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium
Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium
Grote Markt, Antwerp
Grote Markt, Antwerp
Promenade along the Scheldt with a view of the Port of Antwerp in the distance
Promenade along the Scheldt with a view of the Port of Antwerp in the distance
Hendri Conscience Square, one of the prettiest in Antwerp
Hendrik Conscience Square, one of the prettiest in Antwerp
MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom), one of the cultural highlights of Antwerp
MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom), one of the cultural highlights of Antwerp
View from MAS
View from MAS

At the beginning of September, my best friend came to stay with us for a week in Dortmund, and we used the time well to visit two wonderful cities in the area – Köln (a/k/a Cologne) and Münster. Köln is the biggest city in the Nordrhein-Westfalien region, and well worth a visit. Its architecture is a weird mix of old and new, it’s buzzing with life, and offers quite a few interesting sights, first and foremost being its famous cathedral:

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Another stunner from Cologne are the ruins of Old St. Alban’s Church in the old town, best seen at night when they’re fantastically lit:

Alt St. Alban's Church, Cologne
Alt St. Alban’s Church, Cologne

Münster is a small gem of a university city whose historical center can be comfortably “done” in 2 hours of leisurely strolling. Thousands of bikes, college students, beautiful architecture, numerous churches, slow pace of small town life. Warmly recommended as a day trip from one of the bigger cities in the region.

Old town, Münster
Old town, Münster
View from City Hall, Münster
View from City Hall, Münster
Münster old town
Münster old town
St. Paulus Dom, Münster
St. Paulus Dom, Münster
Überwasserkirchplatz, Münster
Überwasserkirchplatz, Münster

To cap it all off, I visited my home town Zagreb at the start of October, which I found quite a bit changed since I left in April: the city center is much improved with dozens of quirky little eateries, cafès and shops, and some – ahem – interesting new architecture:

Brand new building of the Music Academy, Zagreb, Croatia
Brand new building of the Music Academy, Zagreb, Croatia

As you can see, it’s been a whirlwind. I’m still trying to settle into this new rhythm of life and establish a new routine of regular exercise and good eating. As for my forays into gluten-free territory, things have changed somewhat since I last wrote about this topic, inasmuch as I was able to establish that I appear *not* to have an  allergy to gluten, but I still try to stay gluten-free as often as possible simply because it seems to help me digest carbs better. I’ve discovered that gluten-free pasta is really not a taste I can acquire, but gluten-free pizza dough, bread, and cereals I find to be super tasty, so that’s what I stick with. And as my boyfriend embarked on a low-carb diet about six weeks ago, I kinda joined him insofar as I try to avoid carbs in the evening (we treat ourselves to gluten-free pizza once a week or so). In general, we’ve been very careful about what we eat and drink. The only thing that’s missing from the equation at the moment is exercise, but let’s hope I can push myself back into the workout-state-of-mind I was in up until a couple months ago.

What have the rest of you been up to? I look forward to catching up with y’all.

 

Blogging my block – The Cemetery

It’s been 2 months since I moved to Dortmund, Germany, so everything here is still new to me, and I find even the most mundane things and places interesting. I’m still looking for a job and therefore find myself in a unique position with lots of time on my hands, and one of my favorite ways of spending it is to roam my neighborhood, Kreuzviertel, exploring its nooks and crannies and snapping pictures.

The other day my friend over at The German Perspective thought she might show me a place in our neighborhood that I hadn’t seen yet. So we found ourselves at Südwestfriedhof (South-Western Cemetery). If you’re weirded out by the fact that they accommodate people’s remains, consider that cemeteries are actually beautiful parks – minus the presence of many (living) people. As such, they represent peaceful havens of quietness and solitude within urban jungles. And in the summer, they also offer a shade and respite from the heat.

Südwestfriedhof, Dortmund
Südwestfriedhof, Dortmund

The Südwestfriedhof is over one hundred years old and beautifully landscaped with amazing trees and shrubbery. Lofty headstones and mini-mausoleums abound.

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Some are completely hidden from view by the shrubbery.

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And some are subject to vandalism.

= God is in you
= God is in you

This one doesn’t seem to be a contribution from Lucifer’s newest pal, but the messages on these white stones scattered around the cemetery do seem to indicate a slightly disturbed mind. I’m happy to give them a small measure of Internet exposure.

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What interesting things have you found in your neighborhood?

All pictures in this post are mine. If you’d like to use any, please link back to this site.

Daily prompt: The Wanderer

When I was roughly 7 years old, I found a rather large book in my grandparents’ library called “All the Wonders of the World,” written by Roland Gööck. Beside the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, this book also illustrated and briefly described at least a dozen more “modern” destinations that were deemed marvellous and not to be missed on your travels, which I guess sort of made it a bucket list of the mid-80’s. For me, it was an absolute revelation, an eye-opener and a life changer. My hunger for travel was born.

A few places depicted in the book really stood out for me, either because I found the images striking, or because I was moved by the stories around them. They formed my first ever bucket list, and coincidentally, they were five in number, which fits perfectly the purposes of this writing prompt. And interestingly, they still hold their spots firmly on my adult travel list.

Courtesy of French Wikipedia
Courtesy of French Wikipedia

Seeing pictures of Stonehenge for the first time literally blew my mind, in the way the apes of 2001: A Space Odyssey were transformed by the arrival of the black obelisk in their midst. I’ve yet to visit it.

Photo courtesy of grab-film.com
Photo courtesy of grab-film.com

The book hailed the Mont Blanc tunnel, connecting Italy and France underneath the French Alps, as a great engineering feat, and my mind was riveted by the images of the mountain, which seemed unassailable. Something about those Alpine peaks spoke to me on a very deep level, and awoke my fascination with the Alps, which I’ve had the chance to explore a few times since, but not nearly enough to quench my thirst. To this day, driving through the Mont Blanc tunnel remains on my bucket list.

Mont Blanc tunnel, courtesy of Google
Mont Blanc tunnel, courtesy of Google

Another absolutely fascinating location found in the book was the Forbidden City in Beijing, rife with mystery. What touched me as a child was not so much the majesty of the architecture, as the very word ‘forbidden,’ which of course made me want to see it all the more. In my twenties, I came across a book entitled The Forbidden Purple City, by Victor Segalen, which shed a rare light on this ancient place and only increased my curiosity. I realise the location held much more mystique before it was first stripped of its treasures and then ravaged by tourists, but it holds a spot in my heart as a place that I’ve always wanted to visit.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China courtesy of hdwallpapers
Forbidden City, Beijing, China courtesy of hdwallpapers

Another picture that instantly shifted tectonic plates in my mind was the Great Pyramids in Giza, accompanied by the Sphinx, of course.  What more can I say?

The Pyramids of Giza, courtesy of Google
The Pyramids of Giza, courtesy of Google

Last, but not least, is Venice, the only place on this list that I’ve actually visited, many times. A city that is never removed from my bucket list, because there’s just no getting enough of it. Back then, what grabbed my attention was the caption beneath the title: Venice – A Dying City. (“What do you mean, dying? How can a city just die? Oh, it’s sinking. Every day! Wow. Mom, can you actually go and watch with your own eyes as it sinks?”)

A canal in the quarter of Cannaregio, Venice, courtesy of Google image search
A canal in the quarter of Cannaregio, Venice, courtesy of Google image search

Eat, play, love in Budapest

Being a very budget-conscious traveler, one of my greatest delights is discovering places where you can eat and drink well without breaking the bank. Finding such places in big European cities usually requires some work and research, and depending on guidebooks for recommendations. Every savvy traveler, though, can tell you that the best way to find such places is by asking the locals. This can be daunting, however, when you find yourself in a place where you don’t speak enough of the language to get by, and the locals aren’t on best terms with the English language, or even any other language than their own. Asking your hotel/hostel staff may not always be the answer, either, as they are more likely to recommend something they assume you’d like to experience as a tourist, rather than pointing you somewhere they themselves might go. It’s worth trying, though, if you run out of other options.

Budapest was such a place for me on my first couple of visits. Seven years ago, even in the service sectors very few people spoke English, menus were printed in Hungarian only, and few Lonely Planet recommendations suited my budget. And my visits were so brief each time (3-4 days) that I didn’t have time to go looking for cheap but good food, and I didn’t know any locals.

This time around, however, last October, I had the time, the means and the local knowledge at my disposal, and boy, did I discover a food scene that will stay with me forever. For a whole month I ate out once a day virtually every day without breaking my budget, and more importantly, I never once ate something bad and overpriced (which constitutes a typical experience in Zagreb, for example). Hungarian cuisine is rich, filling and diversified enough so that each palate will find something to suit its taste. Budapest represents a rare example of a big city where eating and drinking out can be cheaper or the same as buying stuff at the supermarket and cooking it at home. And finally, they cottoned on to the fact that English is the language most tourists will resort to.

So I have compiled here a list of pubs, bars, restaurants and eateries I’ve personally tried out, most of which I’d also kept going back to religiously.  They represent for the most part only budget-friendly options. I’ve left out  a few places that didn’t impress me or were not good value for money, but those were very few and far between. They are organized by city area or district, and centered around those areas where I lived and worked (6th/7th district and Szell Kalman Ter, respectively), which means there are still dozens of places for me to explore when I go back some day. Included are also brief reviews of each place/area, instructions how to get there by public transport, and in some cases, photos.

Buda

Trombitás Gösser Ezö – low-key eatery serving traditional, hearty Hungarian fare.  A Wienerschnitzel with fries and a half liter of beer will set you back appr. 5 euro. Right across from the tramlines 4/6 terminal on Széll Kálmán Square.

Gastland Bisztró – all-you-can-eat for circa 4 euro right across from the tramlines 4/6 terminal on Széll Kálmán Square. Clean, neat, always busy around lunchtime, great selection of traditional Hungarian cuisine. I ate lunch there almost every day of the week.

Marxim Pizzeria&Pub on Kis Rókus Street – some of the best and cheapest pizza I’ve had in my life. A quirky, spirited place decorated with Communist-time memorabilia, and a humorous menu. A mouth-watering pizza with a drink will set you back about 5-7 euro. Get off tram 4/6 on Mechwart liget and walk up the street, taking the second street on your right, and then walk down that street for another 5 minutes.

Bars on Lövöház Street – parts of the street are pedestrianized and the whole area is quite up-scale so you can’t go wrong with any of the bars here.

Angelika Kavéház – a coffee bar-cum-restaurant with lovely outdoor seating and views to the Parliament across the Danube, right next to Batthyány Square and across from the tramline 19 terminus. Good lunch options with set menus at about 5-8 euro.

View of Parliament from Batthyany Ter
View of Parliament from Batthyany Ter

Hadik Cafè – worth a short lunch break on a warm day in nice weather. Get off tram line 47/49 on leafy and small Gárdonyi Square, where you will see this wonderful little terrace. Great lemonades. The food is not exactly good value for money, with reduced-size portions and price tags climbing up to 8-10 euro, but it’s worth making an exception for the sheer beauty of the setting.

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Pest

Ruin pubs of the 6th/7th district – Szimpla, Kuplung, Pótkulcs

The so-called ruin pubs (romkocsma) are a truly Budapestian experience, but one that has grown quite touristy in the last few years, which means you’ll have to duck into side alleys or walk 10-15 minutes to get away from the crowds and the tourists, if that’s your thing. They’re called ‘ruin’ pubs because they were for the most part set up in disused, dilapidated courtyards and buildings of the seventh district, and nothing was done to make them look more attractive or tidy. This gave them a certain bohemian, shabby-chic vibe which is now slowly disappearing as the it-crowd and tourists are rushing to enjoy the experience, but a few places remain intact.

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Decor at a ruin pub, photo courtesy of Google images

Szimpla Kert, right smack in the middle of the Jewish District on Kazinczy Street, is sadly not one of them anymore. Hailed as the original romkocsma, the place where it all started, it’s now a very hip place, especially among the tourists. If you ask the staff at your hostel to recommend a ruin pub, they will direct you here. The place is huge, a series of interconnected courtyards and vaulted galleries, and heaving with people. Sure, it’s cool to see it once, but that was my limit.

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Szimpla Kert, photo courtesy of Google search

Kuplung, on Kiraly Street, made for a convenient pit stop for me as it was right around the corner from my apartment, but being located on the it-street of the seventh district translates into getting quite a bit of traffic. It’s quirky, it has a sense of humor and still doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Kuplung

The real insider’s tip on ruin pubs, however, is Pótkulcs, a small, unassuming pub tucked away in the sixth district, at the end of Csengery Street near Nyugati train station. This is where the clientele looks and feels truly bohemian and laid-back. Jazz is the preferred music genre played on the small stage inside the bar. But the real draw of the place for me was the enclosed garden with a huge chestnut tree spreading its branches over it. Very relaxing and quiet, although I understand it can get quite crowded at times. To get to it, the closest metro/tram stop is Nyugati  Pályaudvar.

Potkulcs garden
Potkulcs garden, photo courtesy of Google search

Restaurants and eateries

Két Szerecsen – by far my favorite restaurant in all of Budapest. I don’t know if it was its quaint decor and warm, homey atmosphere, the kind waiters, the affordable price range (5-8 euro on average), the exquisite food with a Moroccan slant, or the closeness to my apartment that won me over so completely, or maybe all of the above. The place is fully booked by 6 p.m. every single day of the week, which testifies to its popularity. Located just off Andrassy Avenue on Nagymezö Street, in between the Opera and Oktogon metro stops.

Ket Szerecsen
Ket Szerecsen

Trattoria Mamma – recommended to me as the best Italian restaurant in town by my host, it didn’t disappoint. Mid-range rather than budget, but the food is excellent and the portions huge. Located very near St. Istvan’s Basilica, on Hercegprimas Street. Get off at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky metro stop.

Trattoria Mamma
Trattoria Mamma

Trofea Grill Étterem – another all-you-can-eat restaurant, this being the newest of three branches, located on Kiraly Street, again very near my apartment, very convenient and very affordable in a pinch. Wide selection of food, decent pizza. They do takeout and home deliveries, as well.

The Gozsdu Udvar complex, running between Kiraly and Dob Streets, is the perfect, shining example of gentrification going on in the seventh district: a series of interconnected courtyards that have been salvaged from ruin and turned into a trendy nightlife area, sporting dozens of bars, gastropubs and eateries at affordable prices. Called “the Portobello of Budapest,” the area seems to be quickly taking over the torch from nearby Liszt Ferenc Square, which used to be THE place to eat and be seen in this district, but is now an overpriced tourist trap (much to my dismay). Some of the places I tried here and left satisfied: Bistro Cochon (Wienerschnitzel with fries at 5 euro), Cafe Vian, Spiler Gastropub (burgers), Thyme Kitchen & Delicatesse (Spanish tapas).

Gozsdu Udvar, approached from Kiraly Street
Gozsdu Udvar, approached from Kiraly Street

Múvesz Káveház – a Viennese-style, turn-of-the-century cafè on Andrassy Avenue, across from the Opera. Decent cakes, hot chocolate and coffee, outdoor seating.

Spinoza Káveház – interesting coffee shop-cum-restaurant located in the building where the famous Jewish/Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (a personal favorite) lived for a while, on Dob Street right as you exit the Gozsdu Udvar complex. It holds a pretty high rating both on Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, but I found the food prices slightly above average and not completely justified, as my meal (traditional beef goulash with homemade spaetzli) was decent but nothing to write home about. The decor is laid-back and unassuming, though, the food options many and varied, and the service very polite.

Spinoza Kavehaz
Spinoza Kavehaz

Kiosk Bar & Restaurant – I didn’t try the food here but only sat down for a drink (very nice cocktails!) and the view of Erzsebet Bridge and the Buda Hills from Marcius 15 Square (5th district) as night fell. The outdoor patio is a delight in nice weather, but the interior looked very interesting as well, industrial-style but somehow cavernous.

View of Erzsebet Bridge from Kiosk
View of Erzsebet Bridge from Kiosk

And this concludes my gastronomical, if limited, tour of Budapest. Two quintessential Budapestian experiences (at least in my book) remain missing from my “portfolio:” visiting their famous baths, and the Great Market Hall (Nagycsarnok) with a view to eat langos. Which gives me all the more reason to return.

The photos in this post, unless otherwise stated, are mine. If you’d like to use them, please refer back to this site.

Budapest: Architecture of the Jewish District

Dohany Street Synagogue

Dohany Street Synagogue

The Great Synagogue on Dohany Street, in Budapest’s 7th district, is the largest one in Europe, and the second largest in the world, and it somehow survived WW2 intact. Maybe due to the fact that Hungary wasn’t a priority to the Nazis, and they sort of left it for last, swooping in only in 1944, when all they could be bothered with was deporting as many Jews as possible to the death camps, and taking down synagogues was so 1938.

Dohany Street synagogue
The Great Synagogue complex, seen from Wesselenyi Street
Martyrs' cemetery within the compound
Martyrs’ cemetery within the Great Synagogue

By that same logic, most of the buildings in the old Jewish quarter remained standing, thus giving today’s curious-minded, Jewish-cultural-history-obsessed traveller (me) the chance to stand in the middle of the sidewalk and gape.

Odd-one-out. Building on the corner of Dob and Rumbach-Sebastyen Streets
Odd-one-out. Building on the corner of Dob and Rumbach-Sebastyen Streets

I can’t explain this fascination I have with Jewish architecture and the imprint it left on cities all over Central Europe, including my home town of Zagreb. I love the attention to detail, the use of ornamentation on buildings, the high ceilings in echoey rooms. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my childhood, of visiting relatives and friends who lived in apartments formerly inhabited by Jews, and my parents pointing out to me those distinctive architectural features. I knew those apartments, shops and buildings had been taken away from their rightful owners, and I felt the injustice. I also felt like we were trespassing, a curious sensation in a 7 or 8-year-old.

Interesting details on a building at the corner of Klauzal Square
Interesting details on a building at the corner of Klauzal Square

The  Great Synagogue on Dohany Street is not the only one left in Budapest. In the space of a few square kilometres, there are two more, forming the so-called “Synagogue Triangle.” (I haven’t heard reports of any vehicles or people gone missing, though.) The one on Rumbach Street is literally round the corner from the Dohany one, and it’s called “little.”

The 'Little' Synagogue
The ‘Little’ Synagogue

The Orthodox Synagogue, also the last one to be built in between the two wars, is only a little way further, on Kazinczy Street, and it differs from the other two in that it was done in an Art Noveau style.

Too big for my iphone camera.
Orthodox Synagogue, too big for my iphone camera

The heart of the historic Jewish quarter, however, is located a little bit further away from the Triangle, on and around Klauzal Ter, a beautiful leafy square surrounded by kosher (and non-) shops, restaurants and a closed market. The buildings around the square somehow seem better preserved than in most other parts of the district, lending it a more stately air.

Klauzal Ter, from the southern end
Klauzal Ter, from the southern end
Klauzal Ter
Klauzal Ter
Closed market on Klauzal Ter
Entrance to the closed market on Klauzal Ter

Unlike so many other places in the world that remain stamped with their tragic history, the Jewish quarter in Budapest didn’t strike me as sad and forlorn, despite its mostly dilapidated external aspect. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are ongoing projects for its gentrification (plus the Jewish community seems to have managed to re-establish a pretty strong presence), and its laid-back vibe attracts a young, hip, artistic crowd who don’t seem intent on dwelling on the tragic aspects of its history but are rather looking towards the future.

I spent many a Saturday wondering around the 7th district, and since I was based in it, it was the neighborhood I got to know the best in Budapest. That said, I still haven’t explored every nook and cranny in it, and I haven’t tried all of the restaurants and bars that came highly recommended. The ones I did try, though, were fantastic. (More on that in my next post.) What I can say with certainty is that it’s an excellent base from which to explore Budapest, well connected to the rest of the city by public transport, and bursting with cultural as well as entertainment options. And for the more nerdy types, it also offers a wonderful glimpse into a small but important fragment of this city’s past.

All the pictures in this post are mine. If you would like to use any of them, please make a reference to this site.