We’ve been here in Budapest a couple of days and so far we’ve been delighted by things small and not small. The perfect spring weather helps.
Today, we started with hotel breakfast, where they did not manage to burn the bacon to my liking but it was still delicious. After that, we went for a walk in search of maybe a hat or sunglasses but found ourselves walking one of those streets that shows up in the guidebook as “where you should go shopping” but we would only describe it as “where you should never go under any circumstances unless maybe you wanted to make video footage of terrible restaurant barkers.” Bleh. Tourist traps! But then, we wandered over to the Central Market Hall where they sell, you know, like, real traditional Hungarian cured meats, and the spices, and wines, and all the fruits and the vegetables, like Budapest’s version of the Pike Place Market. It was gorgeous and full of Hungarians.
After that, we crossed one of the many scenic and lovely bridges over the Danube to the Buda side of the city, and on an impulse headed up the hill to the citadel. This park is full of crumbling steps and dilapidated railings and increasingly stunning views and an uneven path up to the fortress at the top and I would recommend the climb to anyone just coming to the city and seeking a way to see it all, because you get to see it from above. After that we walked down the other side to Bartók street and chose a random café for lunch and it was great and then, after admiringly watching those yellow streetcar/tram things going by we took one back over to the Pest side where our hotel was and could not figure out how to actually pay for the trip.
BARTÓK BÉLA ÚT
After that, we needed a rest but then after that we went and had high tea and then we got dressed because we had bought opera tickets.
It was the Janáček opera Jenůfa and if you don’t want spoilers about the plot of this opera skip the next paragraph.
If you don’t mind spoilers, I will start off by telling you that I always Google the plot of operas before I see them so I know what I’m getting myself into. I am a good audience member in that I laugh at the funny parts and cry at the sad parts and mostly I need to know in advance when I need to be prepared to be sad or happy or whatever. So let me just say (here come the spoilers) that this is an opera about a dead baby. And it did make me cry, twice, but briefly. I am also a bad audience member in that I get bored easily at the opera, and I’m not what I would consider an actually educated opera fan but I have gone to a bunch of them over the years and I usually enjoy them if they are not too long. I don’t mind extremely sad operas or even the ones where people take a long time dying on stage and singing their guts out at each other (looking at you Tristan and Isolde).
Anyway, the old opera house in Budapest is glorious and seems gently well-preserved in a not-kept-wrapped-in-plastic-to-preserve-the-freshness kind of way. It’s extravagantly gorgeous, with painted ceilings and a lot of marble and gold leaf, but not gargantuan like the Met in New York. And our tickets were the nicest seats in the house, in a little box on the dress circle, and were about $50 each, which doesn’t even buy cheap seats in New York.
Most of the guidebooks to Budapest will recommend seeing the opera house, because it is very beautiful and special, and, yes, it is those things, but it is also an opera house and you are supposed to see an opera there.
So if you go to Budapest, you should not go to the opera house and take a freaking guided tour. You should put on your dress or a tie or both and go to the freaking opera. The tickets will be much less than New York, the opera will be good, you can read the supertitles in English, the sparking wine at intermission will be more than adequate, and then, at the very end, when you are clapping and watching the many singers and principals and the orchestra and the conductor and all the many members of the audience sharing this experience, you can reflect, as I did, upon the many, many hours of musical education and practice that went into this one night happening. And you, like me, might be really grateful that there were people ready to teach all those musicians to sing and/or play, way back like 30-40 years ago.