This weekend I've been to Hungary, which honestly isn't somewhere I'd ever imagined myself going, but life takes you unusual places every so often, if you let it.
I'm friends with amazing comedian/musician Reggie Watts, and he invited me to come join him in Budapest where he was playing a couple of shows as part of a festival. Well, why not. It had been six years since I last got on a plane, not through fear, simply through lack of time/reason/opportunity.
I won't lie though, when the plane took off I was still filled with childlike amazement and slight fear to be actually FLYING through the air in a big metal box with a whole bunch of other people. Oddly enough, most of the other passengers seemed fairly unperturbed by it all.
But yes, I got there, met up with Reggie, and was immediately whisked off to an underground theatre venue called Trafo, to see the amazing Temporary Distortion theatre company.
I won't lie, I have little experience of experimental, contemporary theatre, but this really impressed me, a dark combination of film, installation art, acting and incredible lighting. We stayed behind afterwards to listen to a Q&A session with the creative directors, which was fascinating. Reggie actually knew one of the guys behind it (Because as I'm fairly rapidly establishing, he knows everyone.) and had met a few of the others before (as they're all from New York), so we went out for food with them afterwards...
We took the Underground Metro train, which pleased me immensely, as I'm a massive public transport nerd, and the Hungarian Metro system is apparently one of the oldest underground railways in mainland Europe. We were taken to a dark and delightful bar/restaurant by the Hungarian organizers of the festival, where I had some epic bread based delights, and shared some Goulash. Super tasty late night fun.
The next day Reggie was doing some kind of intriguing workshop, but insisted I go and explore the city for a bit, as I was only there for one full day. Well, I wasn't going to argue, and set off to wander the streets with only a vague route in mind. When I visit new places my favourite thing is to just walk as far as my little legs will carry me, and see whatever I see en route. Jumping from tourist attraction to tourist attraction rarely gives a real sense of a place I find, just the same polished vision which you see on postcards.
I set off north from the hotel, heading first via the museum of contemporary applied arts. In all honesty, the building itself was much more of a draw than the collections contained within, which, considering the name of the museum, were for the most part quite un-contemporary.
But as I say, the building was incredible, and while I was walking around a choir were practicing in the central atrium, and the beautiful minor key Hungarian choral singing echoed round the building while I explored... it was quite beautiful.
After this I headed further North, eventually reaching the Danube River, which I sat near to eat an unusual convenience store picnic. It's fascinating but not a little scary being somewhere where you don't understand the language, and the currency is inflated beyond recognition. Spending 2000 of anything on lunch feels incredibly extravagant, but actually was fairly restrained, in Forints.
I walked along a slightly more touristy street after this, where I bought some postcards and looked inside a beautifully elaborate Roman Catholic church. I walked back along the river then, and crossed over Szabadsag bridge, which was beautiful. The Danube is very wide, and felt especially so as I stood in the middle of the bridge looking into it while the trams shook the ground under my feet.
I vaguely meandered back to the hotel after this, before heading to meet Reggie at the workshop. It was being held at a Roma Gypsy community centre, which I think was quite unusual, as the gypsy community seems quite segregated from the Hungarian community in general. I felt quite privileged to have seen such a place, I don't think many outsiders would get to visit.
The centre itself actually had a delightfully warm atmosphere, and the walls were filled with incredible paintings of the Roma community, 'outsider art', I suppose, and after the workshop was over I was able to walk around and have a good look at them.
The young people (mainly guys, 16-19ish) who attended the workshop were incredibly talented, it just made me wish I had some kind of vague musical ability too!
After this we went out again, with the guys and girls from Temporary Distortion and the Hungarian festival organisers, a group of about 20 of us. We went on a tram! This was exciting for me, as I've never been on a tram before. It's basically an awesome cross between a bus and a train, and I think Brighton definitely needs to get some. Here is my happy 'I'm on a tram' face.
We went to another delightful bar/restaurant, and I wish it hadn't been quite so dark as there were some incredible Hungarian film/music posters on the walls which I would have loved to better photograph. I had further goulash and listened to lots of stimulating conversation about the creative arts, both in Hungary, the US, and further afield. The performing arts may not be my area of specialty, but I'm so glad to be part of the creative community in general... this trip has just further served to remind me how important it is to keep motivated and stay creative... who knows where it might take me.
I flew back the next day, which went fairly smoothly... I'm glad I wasn't staying on another day, as it seems Gatwick has now descended into chaos. Lucky escape there I suspect! It did snow a little while I was in Budapest... enough to be beautiful and fill me with winter joy, but not enough to actually disrupt anything. Perfect :)