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Before the madding crowd

One of the drawbacks to living in a city as beautiful as Budapest is that everyone wants to visit. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no objection to people visiting me. I love showing them around. And if they come a second or even a third, fourth or fifth time, I’m happy to house them, feed them, give them keys and a map, and send them on their way as there are only so many times I can do the sights.

It’s not visitors I object to, it’s tourists. Visitors visit people. Tourists visit the city. And of course, individual tourists are fine. They’re welcome, even. It’s the collective thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, who come each year, the tourist body, per se, that’s what gets me.

Sunday morning dawned bright and early. It was a lovely, clear, balmy October day made for blue skies and sunshine. The heat of the summer had abated and the cold of the winter had yet to set in. It was a lovely time for visiting the city and yet the streets were empty.

We were on our way to mass at Szent Rókus kápolna (St Roch chapel) on Gyulai Pál utca, over near Uránia. From what I gather (but I’m open to correction here, as always) it was built around 1711 and had a hermitage and a workhouse built beside it. Perhaps the old workhouse is the present-day hospital?  No matter. The place has history.

It’s a small chapel, a lovely change from the bigger churches in the city. It’s quite personal and very much a community. There were only about 20 of us there for mass (the first of four said every Sunday) and it didn’t feel at all empty.

Afterwards, we headed over to District VII for breakfast, via Kazinczy utca and passing by Szimpla Kert, one of the city’s oldest and best-established ruin pubs. By night it’s a teeming mass of people of all ages and ethnicities. On a Sunday morning it’s home to a farmers market.

IMG_2368 (800x600)And the earlier you get there, the better. I was after two things: sprouts from the Sprout Man and tepertő (goose crackling) from anyone who had it. Purchases made, we enjoyed a quick espresso before following our appetites to Cirkusz Café, Dob utca 25.

egsIts USP is that it roasts its own coffee and does what has to be the best Eggs Benedict I’ve had in years. (Its Eggs Florentine was beaten into second place this summer by a café in Oxford.)  Seats are generously spaced with tables seating fours and sixes, so if there are just two of you, you don’t feel on top of anyone.

Service is friendly and unobtrusive and the food is excellent. It’s a hidden gem in a line of other hostelries on one of the city’s busiest tourist streets. Thankfully tourists don’t get up that early on a Sunday morning so the place was quiet yet busy enough to be lively.

A walk back to the metro at Déak tér took us through Gozsdu udvar and the Sunday morning bazaar where, had we been in the market, we could have bought anything from a WWII gas mask to the latest in handmade jewelry and leather bags. But the place was beginning to fill up. The tourists were awake and ready to take over the city. We’d caught the last of the quiet time by around 11.30am.

It was lovely wandering the city’s streets without having to dodge the selfie-stick holders. The quiet lent an aura of wonder to it all. We had time and space to look up as well as look around. While tourists are a necessary (and always welcome) part of life in Hungary, I’m glad they sleep late on a Sunday.

First publised in the Budapest Times 9 October 2015