I ventured out last week. I saw people other than random shoppers replenishing their food supplies. I had real conversations with real people, and it felt strange. Read more
I saw a vapour trail in the sky last week. A rarity these days. The white streak across the blue sky reminded me of a series of paintings by Budapest-based Scottish artist Jim Urquhart. Minus the buildings of course. His paintings have buildings. I was perfecting what the Japanese call boketto – the art of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking. All I could see were trees. All I could hear were birds. All I wanted to do was be on that plane. Read more
With so much being written about COVID-19, there’s very little left to say. Yet writing about anything else seems inconceivable, as the virus consumes our thoughts, restricts our movements, and turns our worlds upside down. Read more
Get your green on
St Patrick’s Day 2020 falls on a Tuesday. In countries where it’s a national holiday, like Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, Tuesday parades will be in order. In Budapest, the parade and festival will take place on Sunday, 22nd March, but the day itself will be marked by the city’s Irish pubs (noted here in alphabetical order lest I be accused of favouritism).
What the Irish pubs are doing
Beckett’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, a beacon for Irish abroad since first opening its doors in 1994, is now six years in its new home on Liszt Ferenc Tér 11. Its namesake, Samuel Beckett, is probably best known for his contribution to the Theatre of the Absurd, Waiting for Godot. And I’m sure many have had Godot-like moments in this establishment. With a nod from the playwright himself who advised the world to ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order,’ Beckett’s has quite the line-up, with U2 tribute band INKA-H at 8pm on Friday the 13th; a Six Nations rugby feast on the 14th (Coronavirus permitting), and then Sunday, they’re offering a Hangover Sunday Bloody Mary Breakfast Special with live music that night by John Murphy. On Tuesday, the day itself, there’ll be an all-day party.
Davy Byrne’s Irish Pub is having its first St Patrick’s Day in Budapest. Those with a literary bent might remember James Joyce mentioning the Dublin Davy Byrne’s in both The Dubliners and Ulysses. For many years, the Duke Street pub attracted some of the greats of Irish writing – Brendan Behan, Patrick Cavanagh, Myles na gCopaleen. It was known to serve Michael Collins and host meetings of the outlawed Irish government back in the day. The Budapest Davy Byrne’s (Jókai u. 4) is on track to making its own history. It has live music Saturday night after the rugby and on Sunday, 15th March, there’s a comedy night headlined by Irish comedian Brian Gallagher supported by Joe Dowlin and James Rankin. Start time 7.15pm. On the day itself, there’s live music from 7pm. On the 18th, a St Patrick’s Day themed quiz night will challenge those with a still-functioning brain. Paddy McMullen will be back with more music on the 22nd after the parade.
Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant recently celebrated 10 years in the city where it has carved a niche for itself on the tourist trail with many tourists and pub alumni coming back year on year. The original Jack Doyle had quite the resumé. The Corkman was a boxer, a singer, an actor, a lover, and a drinker. He was a name amongst names. He came to blows with Clarke Gable over actress Carole Lombard and his ex-wife Movita Castaneda would go on to marry Marlon Brando. Noted for saying, ‘a generous man never went to hell’, Doyle would have found no shortage of people to listen to his stories in Jack Doyle’s Budapest. JD’s has a full calendar with live music from 22:30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and from 20:00 on Tuesday, the 17th. It, too, will be showing the Six Nations matches on the 14th, if they’re played. Located on the pedestrian street Pilvax köz 1-3, it’s best to use the street address of Varoshaz u. 10 if you’re in a taxi.
More to the day than drinking
If, over the week, you find yourself craving a full Irish breakfast but can’t face the thoughts of going anywhere near a pint, check out ÍRish Budapest on Kiss János altábornagy 54. This family-run café/restaurant caters for vegan, coeliac, and all other tastes. With Irish soda bread a firm fixture on the menu, this new venture has quickly gained a reputation for serving up the ould rashers and sausages with a side of Irish banter.
If you’re planning on making your own breakfast and but don’t want the hassle of baking yourself, get your Irish soda bread and scones from Áran Bakery on Wesselényi utca 23. They taste as if they’ve come from an Irish mammy’s kitchen. Tesco stocks Kerrygold butter and Lidl does an Irish country butter that passes muster, so you’ll be set.
The glam side of the festivities
With the day itself done and dusted, celebrations will continue on Saturday, 21st March, with the St Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner at the Marriott Hotel hosted by the Irish Hungarian Business Circle and sponsored by Pannonia Bio. This annual Black-Tie event is a fixture on the Budapest social calendar and a great excuse to get dolled up. An evening filled with fine food, live traditional music, entertainment, and dancing, this year it features the Tóth-Mayo Duo, Kearney’s Dogs, and DJ Woods. In aid of the IHBC Charitable Foundation, proceeds will support local communities in Budapest and all over Hungary. To reserve a ticket, email [email protected]
And the festival begins
Sunday, 22nd March, is the day many people are waiting for: the 10th annual St Patrick’s Day Parade. This year, the call to gather is for 13:00 at Erzsébet tér. The parade will depart at 15:00 headed by a band of pipers. With thousands expected to join the festivities, it’ll take about an hour to wend its way through the streets of Budapest. This is a free event for the whole family.
The Festival After-Party will take place at Akvárium Klub from 16:00 with all the ceol, damhsa, bia, deoch, agus craic you can manage. Yes, music, dancing, food, drink, and fun are the order of the day. Tickets are available now from the venue. 1800 HUF in advance or 2500 HUF on the day. The first 500 tickets get a free Guinness hat or t-shirt.
When the Normans invaded Ireland in 1066, they settled so well that they were described as Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin (more Irish than the Irish themselves). Over the last ten years, more and more Hungarians and people from all over the world have been joining the annual celebrations in Budapest. This year is set see a record turnout, so get your green on and be Irish for the day…or the week.
Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh. Happy St Patrick’s Day.
First published in the Budapest Times 12 March 2020
And after we went to press, I heard that The Celtic Barber will be dyeing hair and beards green and will be serving their patrons Jameson and Guinness. Lads, there’s no better day to get a haircut or a beard trim.
And since then the Gala Dinner and the Parade and the After-Party have been cancelled 🙁 and best to check with the pubs before heading out on the day – so much can happen between now and then
I’m having flashbacks to 1994 and the birth of the term ‘metrosexual’. The portmanteau of metropolitan and heterosexual describes a man who has discovered moisturiser and manicures. The marketing world had suddenly woken up to the fact that men had money and liked to spend that money on looking good. Real men were now looking after their skin, their nails, and their hair.
Fast forward a couple of decades and add social media to the mix. Men today compete with women when it comes to posing for selfies, checking hair and profiles. And with beards very much in fashion, barbershops are trending.
In 2018, 813 barbershops opened in the UK, up on 624 in 2017, pretty much the same time as they took off in Budapest. Ireland had reached its barbershop peak in 2016. Note: A barber is not the same as a men’s hairdresser. Both cut hair but your barber will give you a shave, shape your beard, and trim your moustache, too. Men are preening for the pampering.
Curious to see what the madness was about, I ventured up Kiraly utca to No. 90, home of The Celtic Barber in search of the Irish connection.
During Tom Hyziak’s 15-year hiatus in Dublin, he popped over to Budapest for a Formula 1 weekend and then ventured down to Siófok for a few days R&R. That same week in 2014, Mezőkövesd-born Eliza Baranyi was home on holiday from Paris. The two met in a bar and liked the look of each other. In a matter of months Eliza had left the snootiness of the French capital for the more laid-back vibe Dublin had to offer. There, this Polish man and Hungarian woman set up home. Tom was working as a quality controller while building up his online business selling racing-car parts and Eliza needed something to keep her busy.
She’d worked beach bars and restaurants for five years in the Caribbean Islands and then spent seven more working as a personal stylist in Paris. She wanted something different. A friend of hers had started barbering and drafted Tom’s head for practice. Eliza went along to see and figured why not. She did a course, then practised a little at a Romanian’s barbershop in Dublin before going to work for The Grafton Barber. The family-owned company first hung up its pole in 1961 and is now the largest chain in both Ireland and the UK. Eliza learned from the best. Her colleague, a Ukrainian named Dimitry, shared with her his passion for beards. I suspect she’d already mastered the banter, but her time in Ireland honed her skills even further.
‘I can jump on anyone’s mood’, she told me. ‘I can find something to talk about with just about everyone.’
In October 2018, the pair were ready to move on. Eliza wanted her summers back. Tom wanted to be nearer his native Wrocław. They headed for Budapest with the notion of opening their own barbershop. The Celtic Barber was born.
I’d passed at least five other places advertising haircuts and such for men on my walk from the Körút and wondered at the level of competition in the city. Tom quickly pointed out that there are barbers and there are barbers.
‘Many of them have no idea of the history behind the barber pole,’ he said.
Count me with them, I thought to myself, but I know better now.
Up until Pope Alexander III stopped the practice in the 1100s, monks and priests were the go-to people if you wanted some bloodletting done. Back in the day, bloodletting was seen as a cure for everything from epilepsy to the plague. Imagine having a vein cut open so that the bad blood causing whatever ailed you could escape. Some monks and priests used leeches rather than lancets – equally vile. Anyway, when the job was going abegging, barbers stepped up and became known as barber-surgeons. They’d give their patients a pole to clench to encourage the blood to flow faster, hence the pole; the red-and-white stripes came from the bloody bandages. All rather gruesome. Today’s iconic barber poles show that there’s a real barber in residence, someone who’s skilled with a razor, has mastered the skinfade, and knows their way around a beard. Cue Eliza.
Walking into their shop on Kiraly utca is like stepping into a little corner of Ireland. There’s beer in the fridge, whiskey in the press, and coffee on the table. The walls are full of Irish memorabilia. Sure anyone could do that, you might say. And yes, you can have kits of Irishness shipped anywhere in the world. But what’s harder to transport is the craic, the banter, the easy-going commentary that suggests we’ve been friends for years.
They’ve poured their hearts into the place and it shows. Between them, they speak Hungarian, English, French, and Polish. Over half of their clients are foreigners, a nod to the changing face of the capital. Many are Irish students, perhaps upping their game for the Budapest scene.
Eliza’s professionalism and her streak of perfectionism mean that they don’t need to advertise – their clients do it for them. That they’ve gone from zero clients to a client base that keeps Eliza and their other barber, Ben, busy for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week says it all. Walk-ins are welcome but to avoid disappointment, make an appointment. They’re so busy that they’ve work for three full-time barbers but with so many other shops in Budapest, the pickings are thin. And they need someone who knows their trade and can speak English, too.
Both of them speak with a certain wistfulness about Ireland and their lives there. They think of it as a second home. Indian author Anita Desai reckons that ‘wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow’ and Tom and Eliza are living proof that this is true.
I never thought I’d regret being a woman and not having a beard. I made an appointment for himself instead.
First published in the Budapest Times 14 February 2020
I have a peculiarly impulsive sense of smell that has led me to stopping random people and commenting on the scent they’re wearing. Women usually smile, take the compliment in their stride, and volunteer the name of their perfume. Men, once they get over my brazenness, seem inordinately chuffed that someone even noticed. Read more
Christmas came early for many people in Budapest this year with the election of the beautifully named Gergely Szilveszter Karácsony as mayor of the city in October. New Year in Hungary is known as Szilveszter and Christmas translates as Karácsony. And yes, I checked. He was a June baby. Read more
I have a weakness. I have several weaknesses in fact, but more than any of the others, this one I find impossible to resist. You can keep your wine. You can have your chocolate. You can save your flowers. What gets me every time is bread. Fresh bread. With a wad of Irish butter. There is nothing tastier. It works. Every. Single. Time. And it’s not just an Irish thing, it’s a Hungarian thing, too. Well, maybe not the butter. Read more
It does my heart good to hear non-Hungarians talking in terms of giving back to the country that has become their adopted home. I’m a firm believer in social responsibility and the importance of doing what you can to bridge the divide between Magyarok and külföldiek. I’m all for the cross-cultural pollination of ideas, perspectives, and customs.
For many, though, living in an expat bubble is common enough. And while some support charitable causes and others volunteer with local charities, few attempt to start something that will live beyond them when they leave.
I had a coffee recently with Australian-born Robyn Flemming. We met in person several years ago when her nomadic life brought her to Budapest, and we’ve been aware of each other virtually since then.
Amongst her many passions, which include photography, travel, running, and writing, Flemming is a Dog Lover. Those capitals are deliberate. Currently dogless, she’s embarking on a new venture in Budapest that will give lots of dogs the chance to meet other dogs and lots of dogless dog lovers the chance to meet them, too. It’s her way of giving back. ‘I’m incredibly grateful to Budapest for opening its arms to me.’
Years ago, in Australia, Flemming had a dog-loving friend visit on holiday from Canada. To entertain her visitor, she invited all her dog-owning friends to bring their dogs to a breakfast. They met at a local dog-friendly café and had a blast. The Dogs’ Breakfast Group was born. ‘Naming something is very powerful. It gives it energy,’ she said.
Robyn Flemming isn’t a woman who does things by halves. She’d contacted local businesses to sponsor doggie bags for the dogs involved and generated enough buzz to get the attention of the local press. They made the papers. At that first Dogs’ Breakfast, 13 dogs showed up with their owners in tow. After a few months of regular meetups, the numbers grew. The group moved to a leash-free park with BBQ facilities. Everyone brought sausages to cook for the dogs. The clue is in the name – the dogs’ breakfast – it’s all about the dogs. Like humans, dogs make friends. And like children, it’s important for puppies to learn to socialise with other dogs, too.
The concept took off. Flemming put together a regular newsletter, The Border Tail. It featured dog biographies written by owners in their dog’s voice. There were profiles of local veterinarians. Devo the Wonderdog had a movie review column, and the Style Hound gave fashion tips in a column called ‘Fur, Fangs and Fashion’.
Flemming organised an art exhibition called The Dog Show and asked local artists to contribute dog-themed pieces. It caught local, state, and national attention with coverage from press, radio, and television. Riding the Calendar Girls phenomenon, she initiated a photoshoot of some of the group members (including the city mayor) with their dogs. The photo, entitled The Hunting Lodge (The Dogs Breakfast Group) shot by Jules Boag, was shortlisted for the Australian National Photographic Portrait Prize in 2007. The group had reach.
When the local council wanted to turn part of the off-leash park where the group met each month into a children’s playground, they were consulted – the Dogs’ Breakfast Group had become a stakeholder in the local community.
Flemming left Australia in 2010 to travel the world. When she first visited Budapest in 2013, she fell in love with the city, its people, and its dogs. ‘Budapest has grabbed me by the ankles and won’t let go’, she said.
Dogless in Budapest, Flemming is missing canine company. So, she’s decided to start a Dogs’ Breakfast Group here, too. When we spoke, she was planning the first one for the last Sunday in September. The plan was to meet at Hősök Tere by the statue at 9:45 a.m. for a walk starting at 10. I don’t doubt for a minute that she got a crowd and that it will continue. As she says herself: ‘If you put enough energy behind something, it can’t not go somewhere and generally, if it’s well-intentioned, it goes somewhere good.’
I’m dogless by choice. When I was still wearing knee-socks, we had a dog, a Corgi called Rinty. He was run over by a car on my granny’s farm. Then we got another dog, a Jack Russell called Monty. He ate poison that had been laid for stray dogs preying on a neighbouring farmer’s sheep. After that, I was dogged out. My relationship with dogs since has been very superficial. Those I’m around a lot grow on me, though – some more than others. Truth be told, they fascinate me. We recently stayed in a house with six dogs, including two Dane Mastiffs. The smallest of the six, a Dachshund, was the Lead Dog. No one had told her she was tiny. No mental limitations there.
I can see a Budapest Dogs’ Breakfast Group gathering momentum. The dog owners I know in the city are a breed apart. They recognise in each other that same unbridled love for their canine friends. Through their dogs, they strike up instant friendships that pay little heed to skin colour, religion, or political persuasion. It’s all about their dogs. In truth, they’re an example to everyone. If we all made life about something/someone other than ourselves, how much better the world would be.
Next meeting of the Dogs’ Breakfast Group is on Sunday, 27th October meeting at 9:45 am at the statue in Heroes Square to start walking at 10 am.
First published in the Budapest Times, October 2019
I’m writing this from Balaton. Not the Balaton. But the one and only Balaton in the United States of America, a small town in southwest Minnesota. I’m not quite sure how I found the place, but once I discovered it existed, I couldn’t not go visit. The additional 640 km (400 miles) it would add to my trip were of little consequence. Curiosity had gotten the better of me. Read more