Monday, September 14, 2009

Living Like (Eastern European) Princesses

Eastern European princesses (like us) arrive at the Budapest airport an hour after leaving Zurich. The airport is clean and efficient, and in a matter of minutes, they have their bags, are through customs and have round-trip shuttle van tickets into the city. They arrive at the 5-star hotel they've booked online. The lobby is arched ceilings and marble and chandeliers and porters dressed in crisp suits, all for $100 a night, booked online. They go to their room. The bathroon is filled with marble, brightly polished, and there are white robes hanging on the door, which can be used for the spa later or to go down for a dip in the Roman-style pool. Wait, what's that smell, it smells sort of like stinky man smell, and it pervades the curtains, the carpet, the beds and the chairs. Eastern European princesses open the windows and go out for a walk. They stroll through the city in their finest capri pants and American sandals (why does everyone in Europe stare at my sandals?). They stroll through narrow streets painted with graffiti and riddled with bullet holes. There are shop windows with goods, but the most prominent signs are for Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, all of which seem to be doing a good business. Eastern European princesses sneer and return to the room for room service. The smell still lingers, but when the food arrives, they forget about everything except the feast before them. They've ordered tall, cold beers, an avocado appetizer, a risotto dish and crème brûlée, all of which are excellent. Their bellies full, Eastern European princesses put extra blankets on top of their sagging beds and fall asleep. In the morning they buy subway tickets and journey down into the metro stations with lovely names like "Vörösmarty tér ," which bely the trash blowing around in the streets above them. The princesses travel toward the river, buy hats and a nice vegetable crepe in a small cafe where the waiter chides them for drinking small beers and smiles as he delivers a check "for the lovely ladies." Eastern European princesses visit the marzipan museum and stand next to a life-sized marzipan model of Queen Elizabeth. Then they travel back to their 5-star hotel, where one of the princesses enjoys a swim in the pool. On their final day in the city, Eastern European princesses go to a restaurant advertised to serve traditional Hungarian food, vegetarian dishes, and fine Hungarian wines. They arrive at 6:00 and the waiters and owner are smoking outside. They gaze at the princesses, who ask if they are too early for dinner. The waiters and owner shrug in unison, and the owner guides them down into the empty restaurant. " a very special place," states the waiter, a middle-aged man, dressed impeccably, with neatly trimmed hair and spectacles. The owner passes by and sneers at the princesses. Can he possibly know that they are wearing clothes that they have worn for two days, bought at H&M for $10? (Or is it my shoes? Why does everyone hate my shoes???) Despite the sneers, it is indeed a special place. The princesses are served an appetizer of various types of pickles and fresh bread. They are given a glass of Hungarian white and red wines, which are indeed quite fine. The main dish of aubergine is nicely done with a light cream sauce. The gypsy musicians arrive at 7:00 and begin to play for their special audience. The younger gypsy pulls sweet and heart-rending notes from his violin, while the elder musician plays an open piano by banging directly on the strings with hammers. The Eastern European princesses swoon a little, their eyes tearing up a bit, climb the stairs out of the cellar, into the night air, and walk back to their still-stinky room.