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Into the unknown on wings of imagination

You would think that after seven years in a sometimes volatile but never boring relationship, I would have glimpsed, even if not fully understood, most facets of Budapest life. Seven years is long enough to get to know a city, its museums, its theatres, its bars and restaurants, its cafés, its libraries. Of course, some of the latter three often change their names and offers; that’s to be expected. But when it comes to the more established establishments, even if I’ve not set foot in every one of them, their names should register if mentioned.

I thought I was particularly up to date on my markets, having been to all I’d heard of at least once, if not repeatedly. So it was with some surprise that I learned of one I had missed: Bakancsos Utcai piac in the XVIIth district.

I have been to Örs vezér tere, the terminus of the No. 2 metro line, on numerous occasions. I’ve been mildly curious about the buses that leave from there, too, but I’ve never had reason to get on one. Any place past Örs vezér was a mystery, a part of the city that I’d never seen. Last weekend though, I ventured forth. The instructions were clear: Örs Vezér térről 67-es busz Szürkebegy utcai megálló (uszoda utáni 2. megálló) – get the 67 bus and get off two stops after the swimming pool.

The 25-minute trip threw up some wonderful place names that both simplified and confused. Uszoda (swimming pool) said it all, but what of 513 utca? What’s that about? What’s so significant about the number 513? I checked on Google maps and see there is a large square area in the XVIIth where all the streets are numbered in the 500s (from 500 to 545) and at its centre sits 525 tér. There’s a near-perfect symmetry in the layout of the streets which suggests that it’s a planned neighbourhood and if viewed from the air, I imagine it would look quite impressive. I now want to go see for myself.

The market itself is set in what for all the world looks like a piece of wasteland in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. We didn’t have to worry about finding our way: it seemed like everyone on the bus was heading in the same direction. Inside a walled area, hundreds of vendors had laid blankets on the ground or set up tables and were selling their wares.

Clothes, shoes, china, cutlery, books, records, photographs, pictures, vases, statues, lightbulbs – anything and everything you might ever want or need was there for the finding. And, unlike the city-centre markets such as Petőfi Csarnok or the better known suburban market Esceri piac, both of which are common tourist haunts, the prices in Bakancsos were reasonable. Very reasonable.

Flea markets like this are wonderful places to take a trip into a parallel universe. I lost some time looking at framed portraits, so engaged was I in imagining the lives of those in the pictures. Leafing through autograph books I was struck again by the stories that lay behind each and every item on sale. If only they could talk. It’s a mecca for anyone with an imagination. The old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is so true. People were buying the most unlikely things: why would you buy a wedding photo of total strangers? Trying to figure out why others had bought what they had was nearly as much fun as sifting through the remnants of bygone eras in search of something I didn’t know that I couldn’t live without myself. Open Friday to Sunday 6am-1pm, it’s a grand way to pass a Saturday morning.

First published in the Budapest Times 10 October 2014

Why I love living in Budapest No. 6

IMG_3769There’s shopping. And then there’s shopping. And then there’s Ecseri and Petőfi and Keleti and the other flea markets in Budapest, each one better than the next. Like people, each market has its mood and like people, each market has its good days and its bad days. Sometimes you’re both in sync and spending a couple of hours wandering the stalls is like being with someone whose company you really enjoy. Other days, you may as well be at each other’s throats! There are too many people, everyone’s in a  bad mood, there’s nothing remotely interesting to see (no, that’s not true… there is always something interesting, it’s just a matter of having the patience to look for it).

My favourite is Ecseri. It’s a hike… about 30 mins from the flat via metro 3 to Ecseri ut and then bus 84E or 195E to the market.  I’ve only recently discovered the fleamarket bit (like a carboot sale at home). People load up their cars and vans and trucks and then park them just beside the actual market. The only trouble is that you need to be there early as by 9am they’ve all pretty  much sold out and gone back home. There are temporary stalls at the back and then the more solid ones in the middle which now have a roof so that you can wander out of the rain. You can buy everything from old-fashioned porn to gramaphones, from walking sticks to suites of furniture. It’s a great place to bring a camera for unlike many of the markets in BP, you can actually take photos without risking life and limb. PM got a classic of three violins next to a heap of vintage porn mags! Talk about crosscultural! And the food!!! There’s something magical about a coffee in the market in winter – huddling against the rain or cold trying to get some feeling back into your fingers – while around you, people go about their business, buying, selling, making the world go around!

IMG_3764I lucked out on Saturday and found a wonderful antique tablecloth for my art deco table. Unfortunately, I went to buy chairs and lights… but no joy. Ah well, there’s always next week! My favourite furniture shop there has now opened a shop in town and has gone upmarket! And lovely lads that they are, they’re on the lookout for some chairs for me. It becomes quite the challenge, shopping for stuff. You spread the word and then soon, everyone is on the lookout for what you want – like a community spend! The thrill is in finding exactly what someone wants. I’ve sent texts and had texts about something somewhere that would suit someplace… I’ve just seen X and it would be just perfect for Y…. love it!

For a Sunday morning stroll though, a little more central, is the great Petőfi Csarnok up in City Park. It’s smaller and hasn’t much in the line of furniture but you can still find textiles, statues, lamps, pictures, and washing powder! It sells all sorts! And the journey in itself is worth it. Metro 1 to  Szechenyi (M1 is the oldest metro in continental Europe and still has the leather straps to hold on to!) and then a short walk through the park, past the palaces, and stopping to touch the statue of Anonymous for luck! In winter, you can help yourself to a glass of hot wine;  in summer, a fruit lemonade. My favourite there is a man in his eighties who is selling off his own pen and ink etchings. For a song! I have two of his nudes on my bedroom wall and a monk librarian in my hallway. He’s a dote.

IMG_3768If you’re feeling particularly brave and ready to take on the world, then Keleti market (M2 or the No. 7 bus)  is the place for you. The aisles are narrow and the crowd is large and everyone seems to have a little bit of an attitude going on. I have it on good authority that it has its good days…and I’ve not yet written it off. Mind you, the morning I was there it didn’t do anything to warm the cockles of my weary heart. But never say never. We all have our bad days, and it’s worth trying again. Likewise with the Four Tigers Chinese market. Not one to visit if you’re in any way claustrophic. It’s a maze of stalls, all selling the same tat. But the food… that’s supposed to be out of this world, if you can find it! I know people who go there for lunch! I’ve been there a couple of times and have to fess up to panicking slightly. Too much for me. I have visions of disappearing into the hold and not surfacing for months.

Nope, I think I’ll start setting the alarm a little earlier on Saturday mornings and heading to Ecseri… that’s where the action is!