Beirut vs. Budapest


Like anyone who visits a city for the first time, I was automatically comparing all things to my home city of Beirut. I don’t know what it is about you Beirut but I see you no matter where I am. It’s a “wherever you go, there you are” sort of thing. You can travel thousands of miles but you’ll never really escape something that’s constantly in your heart.

Upon arrival, I received a guidebook that described Budapest as the “sandwich city” and not because of its huge array of sausages, deli cuts, and blood pudding. It’s called so because it is two strips of a city split by the Danube. Buda, the hilly residential half, and Pest (pronounced Pesht), the SoHo-like flat land. Buda overlooks Pest because of the contrast in elevation and they’re connected with 3 main híds, or bridges.

There are 23 wine areas in Hungary but the two that seem to have the best are the Eger and Szekszard regions. It’s good stuff – as in, you would drink the wine because it actually tastes good rather than just to feel a little lighter/giddy. Hungarians are very proud of their wine and it’s a big part of their nightlife; most of the streets in the downtown area are filled with wine bars. Most bottled water there is fizzy and, because of this, it’s easy to transform your glass of rosé into a spritzer on ice. Innio is one wine bar near Ersebet Tér that has a chill atmosphere and yummy cheeses. Their slogan is “innio, ennio, elnio” meaning “to drink, to eat, to live.” Goat cheese with paprika and a glass of Hungarian cuvée, yes please.

When addressing a Hungarian, you use their family name then first name. There are some mixed feelings when it comes to their neighbors, the Romanians, because of history and the claim of Transylvania. Due to the Turkish, Austrian, and Roman influences (and others), Budapest is filled with various classical European architectural styles. The newer buildings stand out immediately up against Gothic, Baroque, and Art Nouveau-inspired exteriors. The whole city is a mesh of old & new much like my beloved BEI. I particularly hate the Intercontinental Hotel’s disgraceful contribution to the Pesh side’s waterfront but that’s just me. In Hungary, identifying Hungarians as anything other than Hungarian is illegal. Some Hungarians fought to be registered as Jedis in the census just to make it a point. This is something we should adopt: we should be Lebanese and nothing else.

Hungarians Invented Everything
Hungarians invented the button, the Rubik’s cube, and the ballpoint pen. They also claim to have invented trousers. Hungarians’ official language was Latin until 1844…but Phoenicians invented the alphabet. This belief that your own nation is the center of the world may not be a Hungarian or Lebanese thing; when we were discussing this with a colleague from Geneva, he said “yeah, you guys probably got that from the Greeks.” Did I mention he’s Greek? It seems that all countries are ethnocentric to some extent.

All week long, the current government was pulling out all stops trying to impress the public including completing the newest Metro line. Although no one really uses that particular line and its practicality is questionable, residents thought it would never finish but it miraculously has. Why? Because parliamentary elections are this weekend. The Metro plus public markets, a club opening, and classical concerts in the park – they’re trying very hard to win the vote using anti-EU rhetoric even though 97% of their projects are EU funded. The leading governmental party is orange. It seems they use colors too. “Do people like them?” I inquire. “Depends who you ask.” Well there’s a diplomatic answer that sounds all too familiar.

Neighborhood Names
Budapest is split into 23 districts and some of these districts are broken down further into neighborhoods. It’s the same as our Hamra/Geitawi/Horsh Tabet/etc divisions. They have great respect for their history and their past. Small plaques on buildings commemorating someone have small wreaths hung below them. There is evidence that they cherish what came before them. Another lesson we could learn from the Hungarians.

Rom kocsma (Ruin Pubs)
This trend started in 2002 at Szimplar Kert, the oldest ruin pub in Pest. The concept was that pubs would open in temporarily abandoned inner city blocks. Once it got popular, more and more pubs opened up and people would bar-hop from one to the other shifting to quasi-snobbism. We visited the Gozsdu Aracade which used to be social housing during the Communist days. The recipe according to this site is: “search for an old building in downtown Pest, rent the cellar and the ground floor, do not renovate anything, invite some contemporary artists and designers, recreate the atmosphere of the 70’s, build a bar and serve some drinks, invite a band and be open until the morning comes.” And it’s no fun to live in the same area but partying is great. Sounds a lot like our Monot/Gemmayzeh/Mar Mikhael culture. By the way, our latest rom kocsma area is Badaro but that’s for another post.

One thought on “Beirut vs. Budapest

  1. Pingback: Bambi’s Soapbox: Top 5 of 2014 | Bambi's Soapbox

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