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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Archive for the ‘Traveling’

Is the New York Cafe in Budapest the most beautiful cafe in the world?

May 08, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, Places, Traveling 6 Comments →

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While wandering around the city, we heard that the New York Cafe in Budapest is the most beautiful cafe in the world. We don’t know who gives out these titles, but after hearing it many times we were intrigued enough to go. It’s one of the stops on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour we took (Most efficient option for people with no sense of direction who would otherwise waste hours looking for their destination, or end up taking taxis).

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More beautiful than Caffe Florian in Venice? we thought. What nerve. (Just because our name was invented for The Merchant of Venice, we think we’re linked to Venice haha.)

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Then we shut up because holy crap, this is what greeted us.

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It’s two centuries younger than Florian, but it’s vast, light and airy and holy crap, those walls and ceilings. Built in the 1900s, it was recently renovated. At one point it was the world’s most beautiful warehouse.

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In the early 20th C its regulars included the writers Gyula Krudy and Deszo Kosztolanyi (Thank you, NYRB Classics, or we would never have read them), and the filmmakers Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz (Casablanca).

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For our very late lunch we had a latte macchiato and a spaghetti with a very rich beef sauce that made dinner redundant. We like Hungarian home cooking. How you feel about it depends on how you like goulash (like a soupy mechado) and paprika, and we love the stuff. It’s so filling, you have to walk across Budapest to digest it.

So you dine under a fresco, and the cost of spaghetti and coffee: 6,370 Hungarian forints, or PHP977, which is cheap for that splendor.

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Outside, bustling streets. The lamps are held up by devils.

Sleeping cat in Venetian store window

May 08, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Language, Places, Traveling No Comments →

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This is one of exactly two cats we’ve seen on the whole trip. One was inside a carrier at the Market Hall in Budapest. This one was in a store window in Venice, around Castello. The sleeping cat looks like Saffy. (Saffy: That was me. I bilocated.)

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Next to the cat, a sign telling people not to tap the glass. Some linguistic confusion here. “E io mi irrito!!!!”— The cat gets irritated by the tapping, the storekeeper gets irritated, or is the cat in the window because she annoyed the storekeeper?

You and I remember Budapest very differently.

May 03, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →

Glum Sunday. You know all that eyeball-rolling stuff about “may puso” and “pusong Pinoy”? It’s true in Manny Pacquiao’s case. He really went after his opponent and tried to make it a fight (at least according to commentators. I woke up at 7am here and it was over). His opponent stood there calculating his profits, and occasionally throwing a punch when his calculations showed it would produce returns. Not for nothing is it “The Money Team”.

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Budapest Keleti station

Glummer Saturday: My laptop, a 5-year-old Mac Air whose replacement is already on the way, was stolen on the train from Vienna to Budapest. I was in a mostly empty first class carriage, suitcase in front of me, backpack beside me, then I looked away for a second and pffft. Found it between the 1st class and dining cars, everything still in it including Guga the stuffed toy leopard (in which case it would be a kidnapping), ATM cards and earrings. The thief took my Mac and my emergency cash stash, which I don’t really need because I haven’t splurged or anything. (Just that morning I’d decided to put my travel documents, money, camera in my shoulder bag.)

So I summoned the train conductor and since we had no common language he thought I was looking for the electrical outlet. Fortunately I have travel insurance so I texted my old travel agent who sold it to me, who replied, “Report it to their hotline, thanks and God bless.” That’s helpful–you’re fired. Then I texted my new travel agent at Asia Intl, who’d stepped in when the old one couldn’t manage my train bookings. She told me what to do, beginning with filing a police report.

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There is a lounge for first class train passengers, with coffee and food. Unlike airline travel, on trains the difference between first and second class is not so huge. You get more comfortable seats, a nicer carriage, cleaner WC, and lounges. On Austrian trains the waiter greets you with a block of Ritter chocolate.

On the bright side, I’ve actually set foot in a Hungarian police station, which is kind of thrilling. Interrogations have happened there. The officer looked like a skinny Simon Pegg. After the obligatory charades, he made me fill out a report.

It occurred to me that yesterday was almost the exact 10th anniversary of the time my empty wallet was stolen in Barcelona. Me and big cities beginning with B: Beware. I think of these losses as protection money to the universe to ensure that nothing worse happens. Still, my old Mac deserved better than to be stolen and resold by criminals (who did not steal the adaptor, idiots). It provided me with a living for 5 years. All the data is backed up, so enjoy the thousands of cat pictures and know that the Curse of the Mighty Goddess Bast has already befallen you.

I’m typing this in the hotel lobby computer. Will post whenever I can, but no photos till I get home this weekend.

P.S. I hated Barcelona, but I love Budapest. I could live here.

What we think about when we look at conceptual art

May 01, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Places, Traveling No Comments →

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A bunch of boxes by Robert Rauschenberg at MUMOK, the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna.

Everybody recite Art Criticism by Noel Orosa with us:

Kaya ko rin yan
Ba’t di mo ginawa?
Kaya ko rin yan
Ba’t di mo ginawa?

I can do that, too
Then why didn’t you?
I can do that, too
Then why didn’t you?

We courted Stendhal Syndrome and survived! Today we went to the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Art History, the Sigmund Freud Museum, the Albertina, Museumquartier, MUMOK, and ended the day at a concert in Schonbrunn Palace (the Mozart half, we’re not into Strauss—the waltz guy, not the 2001 theme guy), and not only did we stay conscious despite culture overload, we didn’t get lost once.

Pictures later. Venice is gorgeous, Prague is gorgeous, and Paris, but Vienna is the mother lode. At one point it owned all of the above.

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Kunsthistorisches Museum

Before sunrise but after midnight

April 29, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Places, Traveling No Comments →

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We want to be a writer-in-residence on a train line, writing stories on the railway. We could live on Snowpiercer. The way climate change is proceeding, we probably will live on Snowpiercer.

hedgehog

The train to Vienna was an hour late; a long delay at one station added 1 hour of tedium (fidgeting, looking at watch) to our pleasant 6-hour trip (reading, writing, taking naps). We emerged into a cold, deserted station and followed the signs to the taxi rank. Someone was yelling “Hey! Hey!” on the street. Ordinarily, hearing shouting at 1230am in a strange city would be scary, but we’d just endured an hour of boredom and could not be messed with. Then a gray animal the size of a terrier ran down the stairs into the station. Something out of the Brothers Grimm—a hedgehog? A dog fleeing its costume-obsessed humans?

There were no taxis on the empty street and we were about to call a taxi company (Globe, for Chrissakes stop sending us daily data roaming offers, we’re not interested! We told you specifically: Text roaming only, no data roaming. You had better not be billing us for data roaming or there will be tears and blood–yours) when a taxi appeared. Inside the radio was playing “Weather With You” by Crowded House, which told us we’d be fine, not that it ever occurred to us that we would not be fine. The driver took a wrong turn to the hotel and had to go round the block so he stopped the meter. Nice.

Trieste, I loved you but you’re bringing me down.

April 28, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling 2 Comments →

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Took a break from watching movies and drinking excellent Friuli wines and hopped the train to Trieste. Trains make me happy. I start replaying The Lady Vanishes in my head (“Zere is no Eenglish lady”).

An hour later my day trip is off to a bad start. When I first came to Trieste a decade ago the train station seemed grand. Now it’s not, but maybe it’s the bitterness of age. Made the mistake of going to the station WC. Generally, bad idea to go to the WC in any train station.

Went across the street to a cafe to use their facilities, bought a cappucino (It was 9am) and sat outside. The area around a train station is not the place you want to hang out in, in Trieste or elsewhere. It looks like the place to disappear into after you’ve accidentally killed someone. A guy who looked like DJ Qualls with consumption sat at the next table and started smoking out the last of his lungs. I asked the waitress to point me to Piazza Dell’Unita by the sea.

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It’s a five minute walk, but I ended up asking two more random pedestrians because I have no sense of direction.

The last time I was here it took me an hour to stop feeling that if I stepped off the curb I would vanish forever. That part in Catcher in the Rye really does happen.

I’d planned to join the James Joyce walking tour—he lived here and operated a cinema—but there was none scheduled for the day. The tourism office has audioguides for rent, but when I asked a woman in Italian for directions she said, “No parlo inglese” and turned away. What is the world coming to when the French are friendlier than the Italians? Later I went into a shoe store to buy socks and the old lady with a hairsprayed helmet cried “No! No!” and just about shooed me away. Jeez, lady, watch your blood pressure, I know your economy sucks but don’t take it out on the tourists. Tourists with money, hah, the euro is down to 46 pesos.

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At the tourism office the very nice lady said the audioguide cost 5 euro till 6pm and for the life of me I could not locate my wallet. Does that happen to you? I had to take out every item in the backpack before I found it in the first place I looked. (Was it the backpack that triggered hostility? But it’s quite small and I wanted my hands free to take photos.)

Then when I started the audio tour not only was the audioguide cumbersome and the narrator too chatty, but the route was totally counter to my usual wandering. 250 pesos wasted.

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I had a light lunch at the beautiful old Caffe Degli Specchi where James Joyce and Italo Svevo used to hang out (since their respective museums were closed). Cafes are always conducive to writing. Who am I kidding, if you really want to write, you could do it on a moving bus.

For years I’ve wanted a copy of Claudio Magris’s Microcosmos in English. Yes I could order it online, but I thought I’d get it from the source. Stupid romantic notion. If Triestine bookstores don’t have English translations of Magris, Svevo, their most famous writers, who would?

I would, actually. I have more Svevo in English than any bookstore I visited. Ubik, a well-stocked bookstore at the Palazzo Tergesteo had Magris, Svevo, Saba in Italian, German, French but not English. The clerk, noting my bitter disappointment, dug up a profusely illustrated book containing one poem by Umberto Saba rendered in 20 languages.

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At another bookstore they had more Magris and Svevo in the original. “No,” said the manager, who was too busy arguing politics with an old man to attend to the moron who knew only English.

My mood in Trieste was appropriate triste, and for cinematic punctuation it started pissing rain. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit Trieste again, it feels like we’ve broken up.

P.S. I’ve been in Italy 5 1/2 days and have not seen a single cat. However I notice the distinctive smell of cat pee in parks, which tells me they are lurking there.