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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…