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Emigrée from GR

The Rough Guide to Budapest 4 (Rough Guide Travel Guides)

The Rough Guide to Budapest - Charles Hebbert, Dan Richardson This review is dedicated to Bird Brian, who prompted me to write a review of a Travel Guide Book.Travel Guidebooks form a funny family. They can be nice catalogues of dreams, or useless and cumbersome dead-weights. They could even save your life, or at least some of your time which is, after all, a fragment of your life. But most usually they are money savers as they offer a cheap medium for extending the value of your otherwise expensive holidays. They can also be a bit embarrassing. Are they witnesses of a well-travelled mind, or a clue to one’s ignorance of the world? Or just simply another proof that our fast-pace lives need an also fast remedy? Can we pack into the one week the experiences that one should gain after an extended period of time?I have to admit that I love guidebooks, for whichever of the reasons above. I certainly like to be in different places. I have had and enjoyed several opportunities to change my life abruptly. By transferring myself to a new setting, I felt I was graphing my life in a new Geo. And there is something addictive in feeling bewildered for a new self-assurance eventually emerges from the initial stages of disconcert. Displacement as a path to self-discovery. But when pulling up my roots and moving elsewhere is not possible, the second best will be to slice out of my daily routine a packaged touristic experience. And for these the guide book for the short trip is for me a must.There are many kinds of guidebooks, though. Some are savoury feasts for the eyes and the imagination as they kindle your appetite for adventure. To this family belong the DK series, for example. Then others are excellent to help you move around and help you in negotiating the nitty-gritty of incomprehensible surroundings and inscrutable encryptions. The series In a Shoestring are very good in this category. My preferred guidebooks, however, are those that mix these two ambits, and these are the Rough Guide (RG) series. They also have an attractive price. Guide books also have their own life time. They live in the before, in the while, and in the after. The RGs fare excellently in the three phases. Their introductory section contains a list of things not to miss, and this helps in the planning stage. Then, while one is on the go, they fit well in a handbag or medium sized pocket thanks to their size and format. But it is for this middle and most important stage of their lives, that the RGs provide their best trait: eir very well structured text. And this strong point is what makes them also excellent for their afterlife; as mementos they easily narrate memories back to life. I have recently used three RG dedicated to European cities: Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. They all share a common structure. But I will select some highlights from the Budapest volume for this review.Of course there is an Introduction with the Basics (The Getting There; When to Go; Festivals etc), and a section with Listings (Restaurants, Hotels etc.), as most Guide books have. Under Listings, the RG for Budapest has a very good section on the city’s Baths and Cafes. The latter are easy to pick, but Baths are a bit trickier to select. There are hygiene concerns, reputation, and a complex timetable. One also needs advice on its practices, what to take, how long to spend there etc… The RG was very good in this and our two visits to two very different Baths, the Géllert and the Széchenyi, are both memorable.But it is the way the book is organized in sections that parallel the areas of the City, with good maps heading each section,and with their listings clearly indicated, that I like most about these guidebooks. In Budapest the Belváros, Lipotváros, Terézvarós, Erzsebetváros, Josefváros, Varhegy and Central Buda are the core of the city and of the book. And this guide accompanies you in succession through these “Városes” with a wonderful text. Because when one is walking around, what I welcome is a good manual that will help me in finding the right streets--such as the Vátci utca--, and which will draw the significance of some of the buildings whether they be religious or cultural temples, --such as the Saint-Stevens Basilica and the story behind Hungary’s first King, or the Budapest opera where Gustav Mahler had a difficult time for the couple of years he was its Director. I will also welcome, when admiring the beautiful Art Nouveau Gresham Palace, the significance that Sir Thomas Gresham had in the History of Finance. And interspersed with this cultural thread, I value indications of where can I stop to rest and have a revitalizing hot coffee (or chocolate!) with delicious Buktas or sweet rolls, such as in the elegant Gerbeaud Café, or if on the Buda side of the river, at the very enchanting Ruszwurm patisserie where one can not just delight one’s palate with their lemon tart, but also sniff its Medieval ancestor, the gingerbread shop of yesteryear. And for those who may seek to taste less glamour as well, the RG will invite to go for a stroll along the galleries of the Great Market Hall and find the rich Lángos with cream and cheese. I will never forget these.The text that guides us through the Városes often link in regularly with the History and Cultural sections in the latter part of the volume. When explaining that the Terézváros was designed after the Parisian boulevards from Haussmanss’ time, the guide not only locates where the old Night-Club Arizona was, but also points at the film Miss Arizona directed by Pal Sándor and with Marcello Mastroiani and Hannah Schygulla in the cast. I had to get and watch this DVD. All thanks to this RG guidebook.With so much new information to absorb, one may need at times a bit more of clarification on some names or incidents. The narrative includes additional “text boxes" on some selected topics that will explain with greater attention, for example, what kind of literary banner the poet Sándor Petöfi became for the very literate Hungarian society, or the significance of the Lajos Kossuth statue planted in front of the building that became the architectural heir of his Nationalistic politics, --a Parliament whose late nineteenth century beauty masks that this was the site where a great part of the controversies that led to WWI were staged. Or what the AVO was when one visits the horrific House of Terror; or the heroic role that King Stephen plays in the Hungarian conscience. And for all this, one needs text. For me a series of beautiful glossy pictures would just not illustrate sufficiently, particularly because once one is in the place, pictures of what one has in front of one’s eyes do not add much. The RGs are also very good introductions to the general milieu of any given city. I am always seeking to know the backdrop of any given circumstance, because contextualizing is a step in understanding. I find that its chapters on the History, Arts, Music, etc…and other “Contexts” enrich and deepen my otherwise touristic approach. And last but not least for the GR community, this guide includes an extensive Bibliography with sections on History and Politics, on Biography and Travel Writing, and on Literature – whether fiction or poetry. I extracted nine interesting books out of their list so far.And it is one of these books from this Bibliography that became for me also the main star of this Rough Guide to Budapest.In the Lipotváros section there was a brief mention of the Glass House, which was a modernist building for the functioning of a Glass factory but which became a refugee camp for the Jews from 1944 until the end of the War. Its location is away from the Jewish area in Erseztváros. Something about the way the guidebook talked about this glass building made me drag my friend to a nondescript street, away from the tourist trodden paths, until we found this somewhat disappointing building which looked abandoned and which could not be visited. I nonetheless photographed it as well as a plaque I saw engraved with names of people unknown to me, with the idea of eventually googling them. The rest of the story can be found in the review I wrote of [b:Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War|10374888|Castles Burning A Child's Life in War|Magda Denes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328089418s/10374888.jpg|502902], one of the novels included in the Bibliography of this guidebook.So, yes, this little book sharpened my senses and attention before and during the time I was in Budapest. And now, together with my own photos it forms part of accumulated memories. It is the book’s text that will offer me a path to retrace part of what I have learnt during my stay in that beautiful city.

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