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July 5, 2012 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Our interactive film on Detroit needs your help – Kickstarter campaign

This is it, folks. We launched a Kickstarter campaign.

As you might have noticed I haven’t been very active on this blog in the past few months! I was mostly blogging with my colleague Nora Mandray on in parallel to writing and shooting our documentary project. The overwhelming response we’ve gotten from all of you beloved readers has carried us through a full year in Detroit. When we see our posts read and shared, when we read your comments, when we dialogue via emails with you… we know why we’re doing what we’re doing.

More than anything, sharing ideas with you all has allowed us to shape our interactive documentary in a very unique fashion.

Today we’ve crafted a story that will not only inspire you: it will empower you. Our project tells the story of three Detroiters, whose DIY spirit lead their city forward. Yet it’s not only a film. It’s also a tool for change. For the first time ever, a documentary will feature guidelines and tools for you to take action. Watch our pitch to see what we mean.

In Spring 2011, we were able to finance the development stage of our project thanks to a grant from the French Film Institute. We spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours developing the story. Then, because documentary fundraising is a long process of patience, and that we felt an emergency around telling our story, we decided to dig in our own shallow pockets in order to keep filming.

Over the coming months, there are some hard costs we just can’t cover without your support. Today production is halfway complete but we need $25,000 to get us to the finish line. This is why we’re asking for your support through Kickstarter, a well-trusted crowdfunding platform.

Our dream of bringing DETROIT JE T’AIME, the film, to everyone in the world via the Internet, requires funding to hire a talented team of web developers, flash designers and sound mixers, as well as to cover the ongoing costs of web hosting and internet bandwidth, continued production travel, and festival submissions.

Our Kickstarter campaign ends on July 30th. Until then, every little bit helps. Watch our pitch and please contribute, by pledging a reward and by spreading the word among friends. Merci!

September 29, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Move to Detroit / Détroit, j’y suis, j’y reste (ou presque) !

My last post announced it, I’m now in Detroit, Michigan (USA). I moved there two months ago to work on a transmedia documentary project about “The D”, better known as Motor City. If everything goes well, I’m going to be here for a year altogether – in and out. I will take a short break from planeteregards as I started to write on, the blog of 2 French filmmakers in and on the D. You’re all welcome to have a look and participate!

“Détroit”, a former French city founded 310 years ago by Cadillac is highly emblematic of the American industrial revolution. It is the birthplace of the automobile manufacturing. But its heyday are way behind. The D now belongs to the “shrinking metropolis” category. The city is going through a breathtaking decline since the 1970s (Detroit had 1,8 million inhabitants in 1950 and counts about 720,000 dwellers today), with people moving out everyday.

From the outside, Detroit bears all the symptoms of a city in deep crisis: high unemployment (with an real estimated rate of 1 person out of 2 being actually jobless), abandoned houses by the thousands, ramping crime, residual segregation (Detroit inner city population is African American up to 85% whereas the suburbs are predominantly white)… But Detroit is not what you think. It’s not just the city of Robocop, Eminem (and Madonna- a suburbanite), the craddle of Motown, the White Stripes, Techno music… it’s much more than that. So much more…

Detroit productive recyling on 4th street community garden

It’s hard to make one’s mind about Detroit (and do we have to?) not living there. The image conveyed of Detroit are either overwhelmingly positive (“young Brooklyn artists are moving in, Detroit is so sexy!”) or blatantly negative (“with all those ruins, crackhouses and disappearing industries, this city has no future”!). It took me weeks to have a clearer view of what the city stands for, I now feel I can sanely talk about it.

I had the chance to live, work, pass by different places in the world and believe me, I’ve never seen such a place as Detroit. People here are highly committed to make things happen, to transform the place they live in (by choice or forcefully). Challenges are huge, they really are. But the energy is there. Detroit is reinventing itself in front of our very own eyes…

Entrepreneurial Detroit is blooming, important companies such as Compuware, Quicken Loans or Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan repatriated their employees downtown after years of headquarters in the nearby suburbs. A significant move. But the 8 Mile boundary is still standing. It has eased up but to some extent only. Detroit stigmas are anchored deep in the mind of those who left the city after the 1967 riots (or rebellion depending on whom you talk to…) – to join the comfort of the reassuring middle-class suburbs.

Mark Covington decided to become an urban farmer, after getting laid off 3 years ago. He has changed the face of Georgia street with his community garden

Beyond that, in Detroit, there is a clear awareness that the current world economic system is leading to failure, that the global recession can only be countered with local resources. Detroiters don’t believe in miracles anymore. Deceived by after-effects of mono-industry, they believe in micro-projects. They know how to speak up for their rights and get things done. In Motor city, there is a need to treat the problems at their deepest roots. Food and community-empowerment are the pillars of this new Detroit I see everyday. The D is going back to the land. Motor city gave birth to urban farmers. Again, this is certainly not a cure-all, growing food within the city limit has however changed Detroit for good, no doubt about it.

A trend that is more than a mere coincidence to the prevalent Detroit “Do it Yourself” culture (DIY). This city has been left aside for decades now by both public services and businesses. Most supermarkets and retail and grocery stores shut their doors close long ago. Detroit knows the answer: strength lies within ourselves. In the D, you can learn how to build your own means of transportation (such as a bike), recycle every single item you have home, buy second (rather third!) hand, compost and grow your own food… All that is done collectively, with the help of housemates, neighbors, family, local organisations. These things aren’t just cool attractions for hipsters, it’s simply the only choice left. Community leaders and “good-doers” are doing their best to reach out to those who are in need. There’s still a long way to go. But the fight for food, social and environmental justice has clearly started. And it’s great to feel part of it.

August 4, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Obor market, Bucharest / Le marché d’Obor, le ventre de Bucarest !

Eh non, je ne suis pas à Bucarest en ce moment, j’y étais en octobre 2009, de retour d’une virée transylvaine. J’y retournerais avec plaisir, bientôt, sans doute… En attendant voici un cliché pris sur le vif au marché d’Obor, un des plus grands marchés de la ville, sans doute un des plus vastes qu’il m’ait été donné de voir jusque là.  Quelques tranches de couleur, histoire d’introduire ma prochaine destination : les fermes urbaines de Détroit (Etats-Unis)… // EN //

This picture was taken in October 2009, back from a Transylvanian trip, at Obor market in Bucharest, probably one of the biggest market places I’ve got to see in my life so far. Sharing it here for the sake of colourfulness and as an introduction to my next field trip: Detroit (MI) urban farms. More about that soon!

July 8, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Dubrovnik, la perle de la Croatie, Le Petit Futé magazine été 2011 / Dubrovnik, the pearl of Croatia, Petit Futé magazine summer 2011

Chose promise, chose due, voici un article de mon cru (6 pages avec photos mais ce ne sont pas les miennes) sur Dubrovnik, publié dans le Petit Futé magazine de juin-juillet-août 2011. Le voici disponible en format PDF, en un clic sur : Dubrovnik Petit Futé magazine HBienvenu 060711 et également dans vos kiosques jusque fin août. Un investissement de 3 € 90 qui pourrait s’avérer rentable puisqu’il permet de s’évader loin, très loin, jusque Macao même (Jérome, si tu nous lis…). Le magazine se veut explicatif, à la portée de tous, axé bons plans (que voir, que faire, comment), le ton est informatif et plutôt enjoué, comprendre : je n’ai pas réinventé la poudre mais j’y ai mis du mien tout de même et distillé quelques (très) bonnes adresses. Au final la lecture ne devrait pas être trop désagréable, enfin je l’espère. Dernière nouveauté  (et erratum à signaler dans mon article ragusain) : Croatia Airlines offre désormais de voler directement de Paris à Dubrovnik en toute saison. Voilà, c’est dit. C’est surtout l’occasion de voir la ville le jour de la fête de son saint patron, Saint Blaise (3 février) – pour ceux qui aiment les processions ! Enfin en ce qui me concerne, je viserais plutôt un road trip balkanique continental avec Dubrovnik à l’arrivée, un 3 février, histoire de !

Bon été / hiver / saison des pluies à tous !

// EN // A Dubrovnik article of mine has just been published in Le Petit Futé magazine available in France right now and in PDF here (in French) : Dubrovnik Petit Futé magazine HBienvenu 060711.

May 14, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Guide Petit Futé Dubrovnik 2011-2012 / My Dubrovnik guidebook is now available!

Ceux qui suivent mes (mes)aventures sur ce blog sauront qu’un certain guide sur Dubrovnik était dans les cartons depuis quelques mois (cf. articles y référant). Le voici désormais déballé, disponible en librairie (en France, en Belgique, au Luxembourg…) et même sur google books (contenu intégral non téléchargeable). Bien sûr, ce n’est pas pour écouler ma camelote – je ne suis pas rémunérée à l’exemplaire – mais je me suis dit qu’un article spécial bons plans dubrovnikois, à suivre dans un prochain billet, ne ferait de mal à personne. Qui sait, à force d’en parler, j’ai peut-être suscité des vocations adriatiques… J’ose secrètement espérer ne pas avoir tâté au billard ragusain (celui où l’on vous opère) pour rien ! Je ne vais pas vous dire que mon guide est nécessairement meilleur que les autres. On n’est pas à la cour de récré ! Le Petit Futé vient se rajouter à une offre assez conséquente de guides francophones petit format plus que satisfaisants. Pour autant, le résultat final dont je suis l’auteur est loin de me déplaire. Un certain nombre de travers propres au Petit Futé ont été évités : les cartes présentées dans le guide sont utiles et bien faites, les photos sont plutôt correctes et les adresses ont été testées par mes soins (sauf pour la Bosnie-Herzégovine et le Monténégro). C’est que j’y ai passé du temps à Raguse. J’ai même épluché l’ensemble des guides de la concurrence en français et en anglais (car il ne faut pas croire, c’est ainsi que l’on travaille dans le milieu : en regardant ce que font les autres pour mieux créer sa propre “matière”). J’ai séjourné plus d’un mois sur place en août puis en octobre 2010, en quête des meilleurs endroits dans la région. J’ai rencontré des gens incroyables qui ont accepté de me dévoiler où se cachaient leurs terrasses fétiches, leurs restaurants de quartier, leurs troquets préférés. J’ai testé des dizaines de “konoba” (taverne-restaurant), visité autant (en réalité bien plus) d’hôtels et de chambres d’hôtes, bu des litres de cafés, de rakia et de dingać, pris quelques coups de soleil, goûté aux fameuses soirées de l’hôtel Belvedere… bref, je n’ai pas chômé de 9h à 4h du matin.

Pour être très franche : Dubrovnik vaut le coup d’œil, absolument mais certainement pas en août, ni en juillet, lorsque la ville est envahie par des dizaines de milliers de touristes issus de tous les horizons (dont un nombre ahurissant de Français) que l’on retrouve à arpenter le Stradun en short… Avril – mai, septembre, voire début octobre sont à privilégier (le reste de l’année, Dubrovnik est notoirement assoupi, il est de surcroit difficile de s’y rendre depuis l’étranger). Le séjour en sera d’autant moins cher : Raguse n’est pas donnée ! Il faut au moins compter 15 € par repas et par personne au restaurant, 4 € pour une pizza ou un sandwich pour les plus fauchés. Pour une chambre double en saison, compter 80 € chez l’habitant – à réserver bien à l’avance (deux moins minimum) – 15 € minimum pour une nuit en auberge de jeunesse (elles se font rares). Un prochain article suivra sur mes bons plans à Dubrovnik, distillés à titre personnel. D’ici là je vous livre ci-dessous l’édito de mon opus ragusain qui couvre un vaste territoire et inclut une partie “escapades au Monténégro et en Bosnie-Herzégovine”.

(Re) découvert par les Français et par Easyjet, qui assure un vol direct en été au départ d’Orly, Dubrovnik s’est hissé depuis peu en tête du hit-parade des destinations estivales à la mode. Située à l’extrême sud de la Dalmatie, avec le Monténégro et la Bosnie-Herzégovine pour voisins, cette cité slave aux accents méditerranéens n’a jamais cessé de crier son amour de la liberté, mis en péril lors du conflit yougoslave du début des années 1990. Et, pourtant, du haut des remparts de la vieille ville, l’histoire de cette splendide cité médiévale, classée patrimoine mondial de l’humanité, semble s’être arrêtée au XVIe siècle, à l’époque où la république de Raguse rayonnait sur l’ensemble de la Méditerranée. Loin de n’être qu’une ville d’art et histoire, Dubrovnik et sa région laissent chacun profiter comme il l’entend d’un soleil généreux et d’une eau profondément bleue. Plongée, planche à voile, kayak, bateau, baignade, randonnée, farniente : la liste se décline à l’infini, d’île en îlot, de crique en riviera, de ruelle en tour fortifiée. Lokrum, Šipan, Lopud, Koločep, Mljet, Korčula… sont autant de synonymes insulaires du mot paradis. La côte, où s’étendent vignobles et oliviers à perte de vue, réserve quelques belles plages et d’agréables surprises gastronomiques. Dingać et Plavać – vins corsés aux subtils arômes –, la presqu’île de Pelješac, le Konavle et l’intérieur des terres de l’île de Korčula raviront plus d’un gourmet. Enfin, Mostar la ravissante bosnienne ou les majesteuses bouches de Kotor monténégrines seront l’occasion d’escapades inoubliables. C’est ce savoureux mélange, au fort goût de revenez-y, que vous livre le Petit Futé dans ce tout nouveau guide.

April 25, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

‘Budapest, adopted capital’ published in VIA Swiss railway magazine / “Budapest, capitale d’adoption”, publié dans VIA, magazine des trains suisses

Certains d’entre vous ont été surpris en feuilletant le numéro de février 2011 du magazine des trains suisses, VIA. Dans ce mensuel rédigé en allemand (et intégralement traduit en français), les lecteurs-voyageurs ont pu se délecter d’un article illustré sur Budapest, où je figurais (le choix du verbe se justifie non pas parce qu’on y voit ma bouille, of course not, mais parce que l’article livre d’excellents plans sur la ville !). Pour une fois, ce n’est pas moi qui en était l’auteur mais l’interviewée. Simon, le rédacteur en chef du magazine, m’avait contactée via Spotted by Locals Budapest et je m’étais alors proposée de l’aiguiller dans son épopée hongroise et de lui suggérer quelques endroits et personnages à rencontrer pour son reportage. Le résultat “Budapest, capitale d’adoption” est disponible en PDF sur ce blog (cliquer sur les liens), en français et en allemand (VO). Pour la petite histoire, on n’aperçoit guère mes cernes sur la photo mais je revenais tout juste de la gare de Keleti, en provenance du festival d’Emir Kusturica à Mokra Gora (Serbie), virée tout à fait improbable et dont je n’étais pas sûre de revenir dans les temps !

Vous aurez ainsi tout le loisir de saliver à la lecture des recommandations de Dan Nolan, journaliste britannique collaborant notamment avec The Budapest Times, de Carolyn Banfalvi, journaliste américaine, spécialiste ès gastronomie hongroise et de moi-même. Bien que l’article ait été écrit en hiver, les endroits recommandés sont valables en toute saison ! Ah, et pour information, depuis la Suisse il existe un train de nuit direct Zürich – Budapest.

// EN. Some of you were surprised to find I was featured in the February 2011 issue of VIA, Swiss railway magazine (published in German and French). I helped Simon, who found me via Spotted by Locals Budapest, with some insight tips and people to interview in Budapest. I spent a full day with him sharing my favorites spots in town. So did Dan Nolan, British journalist working (among others) for The Budapest Times and Carolyn Banfalvi, American journalist, specialised in Hungarian food and gastronomy.

The result, Budapest, adopted capital is available here in PDF in French and German. The article was released this winter but the tips given are must-try in all seasons! And for you to know, from Switzerland, there is a direct train from Zürich to Budapest.

April 22, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Some like it raw! Warszawska Praga / Praga, district of Warsaw / Le Praga varsovien

Getting ready for the night on Listopada 11 ulica, 22.

Praga, located on the right bank of the Vistula used to have a very bad reputation, being one of the poorest districts of Warsaw. Indeed, five years ago, Warsaw people (from the left bank) would have warned you not to go ‘otherwise you’d have got stabbed’. I was there myself, and for some strange reason I remember kids throwing stones at me! Wild East we love you!  Praga was also the place to go to find all sorts of second-hand and counterfeit items. For that, one would have headed off ‘na stadion’. The old creepy stadium is now gone forever (and it’s forbidden to trade the same kind of goods), it has been replaced by a brand new stadium in view of Euro 2012 football cup.

A telling detail on how the discourse on Praga – and its face altogether, has changed more than a bit in the past few years. Though gentrification hasn’t made a clear breakthrough, (Stara) Praga really became some sort of trendy place as about a dozen clubs and theatres came to settle in the district (mostly on 11 Listopada ulica and Ząbkowska). Left-aside buildings are now heavily and artistically tagged. Old factories (but only two of them) are reborn into clubs.

Praga, Warsaw right bank

One of the best Warsaw concert-place, Fabryka trzciny, is to be found there, a little bit further to the North, in an old factory premises, on Otwocka ulica.

I just wonder to what extent it has become a must-do on the clubbers’ list among those who don’t live in Praga. When I strolled along recently in April 2011, the bunch of alternative/bohemian bars on Listopada 11 were closed, as they usually are during the day. Seems a bit strange as the same kind of places in Budapest are also open for lunch/afternoon coffee… Hard to say how it really looks at night. More soon I hope, I spotted some cool hang-outs to be explored next time I’m there.

In a word, Praga is the sort of district you easily fall in love with. Well, if your taste is somehow similar to mine! If you like it raw! The right bank of the Wistula has been preserved from most of World-Word-two destructions, something totally unseen anywhere else in the Polish capital, almost entirely reduced to nothing in 1945. But Praga actually covers a huge territory and is divided in various districts (Saska Kepa…). I’m mostly referring to Praga Polnoc and Stara Praga in this post.

Orthodox church in Praga, Warsaw

If I had to move back to Warsaw I would probably chose to live there…

For those who’d like to read more about Warsaw and Praga, check this excellent Café Babel 2010 ‘on the ground report’. For good tips about where to go in Praga have a look at Spotted by locals Warsaw.

April 10, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Quimby, Dunaújváros live

It came as a surprise but I finally attended a Quimby concert in the band hometown, Dunaújváros. Three members of the most successful ‘rock’-band in Hungary are indeed from the former Hungarian ‘Stalingrad’. Dunaújváros is an industrial town built in the 50’s almost out of the blue by the communist authorities as part of the post-world-war-two industrialization efforts (and cold-war context). I will tell you more about the Socialist realist capital of Hungary (a very interesting place) soon as I’m writing a paper about it. In the meantime, enjoy Quimby, (another) over talented Hungarian band! And just for the anecdote, earlier that day I met Kálmán, Tibi’s (singer and guitarist in the band) father, who’s a poet and Hungarian teacher and who supervised the local poetry day celebrations at the Contemporary art institute. And needless to say the concert was great, full of private Dunaújváros jokes and little sketches. Will hopefully interview the guys soon! Stay tuned here on my blog!

UPDATE: I interviewed Liviusz Varga from Quimby in May 2011, will publish the interview soon in Hungarian and in English.

April 4, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Opening soon in Budapest (1/3): CET / Ouverture prochaine à Budapest (1/3) : CET.

Budapest is not called the ‘pearl of the Danube’ for nothing! Usually I hate those stupid ‘marketing’ catchy set phrases – maybe because I have to use them in my writings?- however this one is quite true! The former warehouses next to the central market, in the 9th district (Ferencváros), will soon be turned into a new cultural institution: CET (the Whale). It’s not exactly clear (at least to me) what will be the functions of this audacious building mixing the old and the new architecturally wise. As it seems, it’s going to be some kind of up-market shopping mall with Hungarian delicacies shops, designer stores, an organic market and all sorts of (new) Hungarian cuisine restaurants. Said like that, it’s a bit disappointing. When I heard about CET last year, I was told it would be a real cultural venue but it seems that the planned ‘concert’ hall will only be used for private events… Anyway, something will be made of this place, which is a positive fact. And the priceless advantage of CET is that it has direct access to the Danube, there will also be a bike-lane and a nice pedestrian path following the river.

CET can also been seen as the missing link between the cultural district located a bit further (MUPA – National theatre) and the famous market-hall. It’s clearly part of the revitalization of the 9th district, a vast and ‘formerly’ (disputable, as in some parts it is still the case) poor district, once home to Attila József, one of the most famous Hungarian poets.  It’s one of Budapest least explored and most interesting space, I will hopefully have some time to write more about that soon. CET is supposed to be inaugurated by September 2011 (they hadn’t started to build the shops inside at the end of March 2011). Right now it’s heavily guarded, they won’t let you in unless, you’re – like me – on a press-tour.

March 30, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Eric Truffaz, la tompette magique / Eric Truffaz’s magic trumpet

A 38 a eu la bonne idée d’inviter sur scène, en cette fin de mars 2011, un musicien absolument bluffant : Eric Truffaz, trompettiste surdoué, en tournée en ce moment en Europe centrale et bientôt de retour en France pour de nouveaux concerts. This guy (and his band) really blows your mind up, so check them out if you have the chance to!

March 15, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Tüntetés a szabadsajtóért / Because freedom of speech is priceless / Parce que la liberté d’expression n’a pas de prix.

Budapest, March 15th 2011, Ferenciek tere / Szabad sajtó ut.

March 14, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

A vörös Csepel / Csepel the red / Csepel la rouge

March 14, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Budapest spring: the great (industrial) bike outdoors / Printemps budapestois : petit tour des friches industrielles à vélo.

The sun has been shining beautifully the past few days in Budapest, what’s more, one of my brothers (I have a few of them!) came from Paris to visit me. It was high time to plan some bike trips. Don’t expect here a description step by step of  the nicest bike trips the Hungarian capital can possibly offer. I might do that someday but it’s not the purpose of this post! You know that I have a crush on industrial wasteland, don’t you? Although my first idea – going to Szentendre from Budapest – was not a very industrial-oriented decision, we passed a few ‘ipari terület’ as the bike lane follows former industrial zones.

Vissza kell menni, nincs kijárat!’ ‘there is no exit from here, you have to go back!’ said an old lady from Soroksári út area living by the train tracks.

The V 6 European bike lane that Hungary and Budapest partly host (a decent road stretching from Nantes in France till Constanţa – in Romania, from the Atlantic ocean to by the Blake Sea) looked very promising. However the lane is not exactly perfect – sometimes it’s hardly even suitable for biking and the signs might suddenly disappear to reappear a few kilometers later if you’re lucky!

But before starting to detail the trip to Szentendre, let me give you some practical advice about biking in Budapest and its surroundings: first and foremost, you can rent a bike very easily in Budapest (click on the link to see where) and it’s a pretty good idea to do so. Don’t be deceived by Budapest not very biker-friendly’s look. True, Budapest is not Amsterdam and drivers go crazy in their own little vehicle but there are some bike lanes in the city and when you can’t find one, it is all right to ride on the pavement (Budapest pavements are generally very large -I’m not refering to the Inner + Jewish district small sidewalks- so you can actually bike on them not just slalom between strollers and pedestrians! of course officially it’s not really allowed but…). Additionally, it’s also not so freaky to bike on the road inside the city centre – on the week-ends or on the ‘Busz – bus’ lanes – probably not allowed but… Just mind the tram tracks: be careful when you cross over them as your bike wheel might be stuck in it. What else? If you want to leave your bike, make sure you attach it very carefully with a strong locker – bike robbery is sadly an everyday reality. You can’t just attach it inside your building even if you have to dial a code to enter: simply take your bike up to your floor and attach it there on the ramp (if you live in a traditional courtyard building). That’s the unpleasant part of Budapest biking: you HAVE to bring your bike up, forcing the lift or carrying the bike up the stairs. Another warning: it’s compulsory to use lighting when it’s dark (policemen can fine you if you don’t) and it’s forbidden to drive a bike if you’re drunk (and the police can check you up – they sometimes do and fine bikers – now you know!).

Last but not least: you can take the HEV (Budapest suburban train) with you bike, you just have to pay an additionally ticket for the bike. Perfect for the way back!

Ok, so let’s bike to Szentendre! First, if you’re in Pest, you have to cross to Buda. There is a bike lane which spreads on the Buda side, from the foot of Lagymányosi hid till the border of Budapest with Bekasmegyer – Budakalasz, it’s the one which goes to Szentendre (30 km away). However the road doesn’t always borders the Danube – which is a shame especially in the vicinity of Arpád hid – where you have to bike on seemingly parking lots of ‘panel’ (communist massive block of flats). Don’t go – as we did on Hajógyári-Obudai island: you will be stuck there between rusty storage places and daytime asleep nouveau riche clubs and won’t be allowed to cross back to Buda with the pedestrian bridge – let’s call it the ‘Sziget festival bridge’. Hajógyári sziget was named after the dominant local industry: shipyards, launched by István Szechenyi (and totally gone by now). Actually the whole Danube bank of Óbuda (meaning Old Buda, which was already inhabited by the Romains) is quite industrial. Nowadays Obuda island – its southern part at least- is dedicated to the nightlife and is famous for hosting the Sziget festival each year since 1993 (at that time it was a small student festival). Other than this nice little escapade (!), when biking to Szentendre from Budapest, you’ll pass some remnants of industrial activities, a couple  ofbuildings look quite stunning a would be great venues for some rave parties… Others are more modern and still going. On the way to Szentendre, don’t forget to stop for a heck from April to October on Romai part, by the Danube! The rest of the bike lane borders the Danube but towards Budakalasz you’ll have to strangely cross a forest (unless we got lost?) and the lane turns into a muddy-mountain-bikes-only path! Nevertheless biking is very pleasant and Szentendre is worth it. The funny thing is that the HEV was not operating all the way to Szentendre, we had thought we’d go back that way to Budapest… We could have biked but it was dark already, I had no light on my bike – going through the forest in the total darkness and missing to fall into the Danube was not very appealing- and we were in a rush not to miss a play at Trafó. I had to beg the driver of the ‘replacement bus’ to take our two bikes onboard which he did (nice of him really!), though the ticket inspectors were totally against it (the bus was almost empty, no comment…).

Another possibility for industrial wasteland spotters lies in the southern surroundings of Budapest, namely Budapest 9th (Ferencvaros), 20th (Pesterzsébet), 23rd districts and Csepel (21th discrict) as well as Budaharaszti. We went there as we wanted to reach the lovely Rackeve (45 km away from Budapest). Csepel is sometimes called ‘the red’ as it was there -on this gigantic island- that once beat the heart of the industrial Budapest, at high level during communism. Biking along Budapest 20th, 23rd districts and Budaharaszti is all but especially exciting, to be honest. I mean you see nothing except some houses that still bear the name of Karl Marx street (Marx Karoly utca), car show-rooms and car-repair workshops and so on and so forth. Add to that the smell of burnt tyre and you get it all!

February 6, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Csángo bal – Allô Papa Csángo Charlie !

The first time I heard about the Csángos I was traveling in Székelyföld (= land of the Szeklers, in Transylvania, current Romania), l was at that time hosted by “Hungarian-Romanians” who gave me a copy of a Csángo CD. I was surprised how reminiscent the Csángo traditional tunes were of the Hungarian folk. It’s no wonder why the Szeklers feel close to their “old” relatives, lost in the Romanian province of Moldova. The Csángos are a bunch of people who live mostly in the Romanian province of Bacău and whose ethnic and linguistic origins are linked to those of the Hungarians. The current Csángo population doesn’t go beyond the threshold of the thousands. They speak Csángo (what a surprise!) which is a funny Hungarian dialect (the Hungarians usually say they speak such an archaic language that they can’t manage to understand, however from the few words I exchange with an old Csángo gentleman, it didn’t seem to be ununderstandable, but yes maybe he was doing special efforts so that I could understand him…), of course they also speak Romanian. The loss of the Csángos’ and their funny traditional music has been deeply on my mind ever since. Thus, I couldn’t miss the Csángo bal organized on February 5th 2011 in Budapest at the Petőfi csarnok. The first thought I had at the sight of the advertisements on Budapest streets for this Csángo bal was: “it’s funny how a minority forgotten by everyone in Europe (except by those who might have heard of them in Romania, or among the Hungarians scattered here and there) can attract such a big Budapest crowd”. The Petőfi csarnok is a vast concert hall in the City park which is usually used for world-famous bands. But if one takes a closer look at the program, one will see the whole event (lasting for 12hours non-stop, from 4.30 pm till 5am the next day!) is under the patronage of the Hungarian president of the Republic (Pál Schmitt). That tells you something about how the Hungarians feel concerned by anything that might be related to them and their ancestors’ wanderings in the Carpathian basin – which they call home (and it’s by no means a politicized statement I’m making here, it is simply true for a lot of Hungarians nowadays, I’m not talking about Hungarians before 1989 – before the fall of the “Regime”, the Hungarian minorities outside Hungary were totally and intentially forgotten about). So I decided to go with a couple of expat friends fond of Táncház (literally “house of danse”: workshops and places where you are taught and can practice folk dance in Hungary) and zsiros kényer (traditional Hungarian delight: a slice of white bread with fat, paprika and red onion of it!). Believe me the place was absolutely crowded! We got there at 9pm and there was still some bands from Csángoland playing the flute and the gardon (traditional instruments), as well as dancers in Csángo dresses on stage. However the fun really started when the concert hall became an enormous Csángo dancefloor! People started to grab each other hand and follow the devilish Csángo (and Hungarian folk) rhythms, me among them…

January 10, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Küstendorf (Mokra Gora, Western Serbia) – Emir Kusturica’s wonderland? – Le village utopique d’Emir Kusturica ?

L’article en Français suit // EN

I just got back from Küstendorf (also called Drvengrad, ‘the wooden village’), in the mountainous region of Mokra Gora (260 km away from Belgrade and 10 km from the Bosnian border, about 1 000 m high) which has been Emir Kusturica‘s village since 2005. Yes, it is. The colorful alterglobalist Serbian – Bosnian, world-famous filmmaker – and last but not least, controversial figure of the Balkans, has reintroduced, owns and runs this couple of traditional wooden houses on top of a hill, that he has used for the shooting of his film ‘Life is a miracle’ (released in 2004). Emir is the self-proclaimed mayor of Küstendorf (fair enough? Well, in fact he’s the only one to live there with his family and a couple of friends…), he’s also the head of Šargan-Mokra Gora natural park, just by the Bosnian border (and that seems to raise more issues…). However, Kusturica is quite liked by the village-dwellers around (Mećavnik being a real village), who think he’s achieved a lot building Küstendorf and extending the touristic facilities in the region (which now counts several hotels, restaurants, bars, a swimming pool, tennis courts and even a ski slopes 8 km away). Intrigued by the whole story of this utopian place (a subject I’m making research on, for my own documentary film) I went there for the annual Küstendorf film (and music) festival, taking place in this funny – authentic and fake at the same time – village. Which is indeed a heaven for young film-makers who can freely exchange (and or/dance and drink!) with more experienced directors and producers such as Abbas Kiarostami, special guest of the festival this year or Erik Poppe’s producer. Homemade Rakia (by the liter…), gipsy trumpets, Tanzanian peace and love, Polish young directors’ mafia and good Balkan vibes, could be the main mottos of the new edition of this festival set in the middle of nowhere. There’s (again!) a lot to tell about this place. I shall post soon 2 articles that I will be published on Café Babel.

Drinking ‘mulled rakia’ with Kusturica’s engineer, talking about everything and nothing in my ‘self-proclaimed’ fluent Serbian (!), by -8 Celsius degrees.

FR // Voici en français un extrait de l’article que j’ai écrit pour café Babel, magazine européen en ligne. Disponible intégralement ici.

A Küstendorf, Kusturica fait son cinéma

Passer une semaine sur une colline perdue de Serbie occidentale, à visionner film sur film et à se déhancher jusqu’au petit matin sur les tubes (et les tables) du No smoking orchestra en compagnie de grands et jeunes réalisateurs, c’est possible une fois par an, en janvier, à Küstendorf dans le village du célèbre réalisateur Emir Kusturica.

Perché en haut d’une colline surplombant la localité de Mećavnik (massif de Mokra Gora), ce hameau bien particulier n’est qu’à dix kilomètres de la frontière bosnienne. Belgrade est en revanche à 4 heures de route (260 km) et ceux qui n’ont pas la chance de se faire véhiculer en hélicoptère (!), ni en autocar pourront compter sur les rares bus directs depuis la capitale… Ou sur leur bon vieux pouce ! Un jeu qui en vaut la chandelle, surtout si l’on débute dans le milieu du cinéma…

Là-haut, sur la montagne, y’avait un beau chalet

Entre mars 2002 et avril 2003, Emir Kusturica, cinéaste de renommée mondiale, détenteur de deux palmes d’or cannoises pour Papa est en voyage d’affaire en 1985 et Underground en 1995 – tourne son nouvel opus La vie est un miracle à Mokra Gora. Une histoire d’amour sur fond de guerre bosno-yougoslave qui a pour cadre la pittoresque voie de chemin de fer « Šarga Osmica », remise en service il y a quelques années. Pour Kusturica, c’est le coup de foudre géographique : le cinéaste décide de recréer un village traditionnel en haut d’un modeste piton inhabité. Il rénove une cinquantaine de maisons en pin qu’il transporte jusqu’ici. Küstendorf – nom à consonance allemande choisi à dessein par Kusturica – devient le hameau de cocagne du réalisateur, qui l’ouvre au tourisme. Drvengrad (« la ville en bois ») compte ainsi un hôtel, une piscine–spa, des jeux pour enfants, plusieurs restaurants-bars, une bibliothèque, une église orthodoxe et bien évidemment, une salle de cinéma.

Philanthropie, mé(ga)lomanie, altermondialisme ?

En se promenant dans les allées de Küstendorf, une évidence s’impose : Emir Kusturica signe là une cité utopique à son image. Les traditions locales y sont accommodées à la sauce altermondialiste : un mélange qui prend plutôt bien. Les rues de ce mini-skansen font écho aux passions de son démiurge : le cinéma – rue Fellini – le football – Maradona – la culture serbe et yougoslave – place Ivo Andrić, prix Nobel de littérature 1961 – et bien sûr Che Guevara. Exit le Coca-cola (…).  Pour la suite et la fin cliquez ici.

November 14, 2010 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

The Gundecha brothers at Trafó / Les frères Gundecha à Trafó (Budapest)

I really like Trafó, another alternative cultural centre – concert hall not to be missed in town (Budapest, Hungary).

The stage is quite small so you feel close to the artists. And there is in the air some community feeling: you don’t happen to come to Trafó by chance. It’s the perfect place for sufi and spiritual/religious chants such as the ones of the Gundecha Brothers, who sing Dhrupad, classical Indian music. Here’s a picture to enjoy the state of trance they manage to create on stage.

Read more about Trafó on my Spotted By locals article.

November 10, 2010 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Baja, sunshine and Sugovica city / Baja, fille du soleil et de la Sugovica

It’s been a really good surprise to discover Baja this Summer as I was updating a Hungary guidebook for a French publisher.

It’s a very pleasant and green city, with 2 rivers flowing into town (actually, it’s the Danube which separates in two parts), with an island (Petőfi Sziget) in the middle. The main square and the streets leading to it displays a rich baroque heritage and reflects the cultural diversity of a city which – as the rest of Hungary – had to be resettled by Hungarians and migrants from various part of the Habsburg Empire after the Turks left (end of 17th-beg. of 18th century).

Baja, kids playing by the Sugovica during Baja fish soup festival (Southern Hungary, 2010).

Enfants jouant le long de la Sugovica à Baja, le jour du festival de la soupe de poisson (Sud de la Hongrie, 2010).

November 8, 2010 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Back from Dubrovnik again…

Main Onofrio fountain on Dubrovnik Stradun

I went back to Dubrovnik two weeks ago to gather some more information for my Dubrovnik guidebook (to be published in April 2011) – as I mentioned in a previous post, I was operated at Dubrovnik hospital at the end of August for appendicitis, which was fun (seriously! I lied down for a few days on a hospital bed with by my sides two old Dubrovnik ladies, I got to learn a couple of new words in Croatian;) From our air-conditioned room I could hear the grasshoppers and just imagine the sea a few hundred meters away! I also managed to joke with the surgeon on the operation table saying I would positively review the hospital in my book – in what was a mix of Croatian and Polish, better say some croatianized Polish. And let me tell you that Dubrovnik public hospital is really a good one (at least for what I had). The doctors are nice and handsome and they all speak perfect English. Some nurses were extra nice and caring as well, ok not all of them… but anyway, on the whole it was a positive experience (and what wouldn’t I do for my dear readers?). So, you got it, I didn’t manage to do everything I had planned to do for my guidebook during my first stay in Dubrovnik. I needed to come back! Which I did for one week at the end of october. A short stay but long enough to get drenched from head to foot! Yes, it can also rain over there and when it starts you actually don’t see the end of it. It’s not the Atlantic, it’s the Adriatic! Damned! However, Dubrovnik was still lovely (yes, I admit it is), and the Stradun (main street in the old town) was almost mine. Tourists were all gone – or sort of, what a bless! Ragusa at its best! I really regret I couldn’t party on Sipan at Julio’s bar – seems a cool place that no other guidebook knows about;)- nevertheless I got a good insights of the Elaphiti islands, and of Peljesac, I mean of its wines. I wine-tasted for a few hours in bigger and smaller wineries. Nice dingac and plavac… Well, but now the hardest is left for me to do: finish the book within 2 weeks having classes to attend almost everyday from 8.30 am to 6pm and quite a few presentations to prepare as well as exams to think about. All that in Hungarian. Dreadful. I’d rather study Drzic right now than Balassi’s wonderful metrics – to which I understand quite nothing as I my literature vocabulary is still too limited in Magyar… Enough  complaints for today (did I say that the way back from Dubrovnik to Budapest took me 18 hours? By bus and train trough Zagreb ;), ok I stop there)! Initially I just wanted to share a new picture to forget about Autumn and to avoid winter depression! So here you go…

October 9, 2010 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

A 38, Budapest music boat / A 38, le bateau ivre de Budapest

And here is another Spotted by locals article I recently wrote about A 38, a milestone of Budapest busy nightlife, illustrated with an end-of-September 2010 concert by DAUU, a great Belgian experimental violin band. A Lajko Felix’s concert, a violin improvisation genius, followed suit.

Here you go with the article:

Yes, Budapest has a floating concert hall. A 38 belongs to those kind of places whose current use totally drifted from their initial one!

The ship which is now a restaurant – café – concert venue, was used during the Soviet times to ship bricks from Ukraine to Hungary. Its original name, Artemoszk 38, got shortened to A 38 but if you listen to Budapest people you’re more likely to hear them saying ‘let’s meet on the boat’ (hajo).

A 38 was renovated and re-launched in 2003 to become one of Budapest busiest nightspot. It hosts very different kinds of concerts (one everyday or almost, usually not on Sundays-Mondays). Click here to get the full article
// FR //

Et voici la traduction d’un article récemment rédigé pour l’excellent blog Spotted by locals (en anglais) pour le compte duquel je rédige régulièrement des courts articles sur les meilleurs endroits de Budapest. Dans cet article, il est question de A 38, salle de concert budapestoise atypique, joyau nocturne de la capitale. Le tout est illustré sur ce blog par une photo du groupe belge DAUU, jouant la carte du violon expérimental. Leur prestation a été suivie par celle de Lajko Felix violoniste prodige originaire de Subotica (issu de la minorité hongroise de Serbie), dont les airs souvent improvisés frôlent la transe. Avec Félix, qui a lui même l’air dans une autre monde sur scène, le public embarque pour des délires musicaux quasi psychédéliques… Car A 38 est bel et bien un bateau ivre. Cette ancienne péniche qui transportait des briques entre l’Ukraine et la Hongrie du temps des républiques populaires dans la région, a été reconvertie en 2003 pour devenir un des foyers de radiation de la musique live sous toutes ses formes. C’est que le Bateau (tel que l’appellent les Hongrois) joue les stakhanovistes : sa cale (pleine à craquer en permanence) héberge concert sur concert. Le tout se double d’un restaurant à l’étage et de deux bars – trois si l’on compte le bar VIP caché derrière la scène…

Cliquez ici pour avoir accès à l’article au grand complet.

September 26, 2010 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Mumus, a bright bar / Mumus, un bar éclairé

UPDATE! MUMUS WAS my favorite bar. It just closed two weeks ago… Another victim of the neighbour war in Budapest? Well not exactly but it’s still a sad news. In memoriam of what was Budapest bohemia’s headquarters.

Mumus is one of my favorite bar in Budapest. It belongs to the ‘romkocsma category’, namely the ‘ruin pub’ such as Szimpla and all the likes. I wrote an article about it for Spotted By locals website. It looks like that:

What I like about Mumus, a ‘ruin-pub’ located in an almost collapsing building of Pest former Jewish district, is the light that comes out of the place. Whether you’re seating in the gravel yard outside on a summer night enjoying the luminous barrel-table scenery (did we say ‘ruin pub’?;), or in the inside bar room on your left when you arrive (in the winter only), it’s all very bright to me!

So go there in the evening to enjoy the light – during the day it’s actually nothing special… -, and don’t miss the crowded – tiny little dance floor upstairs – one of my favorite in the city (I do like their DJ and the good vibe up there!).

The whole article is no longer available on Spotted by locals, as the place disappeared.