Thursday we walked to Margit Island in the middle of the Danube. Margit Island was full of churches, monasteries and nunneries from the 12th century until the Ottomans came in and destroyed it all in the 16th century. Today, the island is a peaceful recreational park with lots of trees and running paths. There's a hotel with a spa at the Northern end, a swimming pool and a theatre. It reminded me a bit of Golden Gate Park in places, except for the yellow and oranges of fall leaves.
We took the bridge on the Northern end, and wound up in the middle of massive Soviet-style apartment blocks— quite the contrast from what we had seen the rest of the week. The buildings were enormous, grey and rectangular, with no sense of individualism whatsoever. A few apartments had painted their balcony walls a bright red or orange, but most of what we saw was bleak and monotonous. It was quite fascinating, I wonder what living in a space like that feels like.
All that walking around in the cold air was making me hungry, and it seemed as though the area we had wandered into had nothing edible anywhere. Suddenly out of nowhere, a giant, ugly steel and glass structure popped out between the Soviet-style buildings. It was either a market or a bizarre spaceship from the early 80s. Excited, I dragged Mirco across the street, convinced there was food inside the ugliness. We were amazed by the amount of pickles and produce, meats and clothing made in China. It was awesome— and we started to search for a cheap solution to our hunger. We soon found on the upper floor, a red fast-food stall that offered plenty of csibe, which I had learnt meant chicken. Chicken sandwiches seemed ok, and the backlit pictures on the menu didn't offer any clues as to what the difference between the sandwiches was. I settled on the Süper Csibe Szendvics— because, well, it was super with an umlaut.
We paid, and got a red plastic tray with very plain looking breaded chicken sandwiches in paper sleeves, and a paper plate of fries. I spied a couple of tomatoes and a mushroom in mine, and figured they were what made a Csibe Szendvics süper, since Mirco got a regular szendvics and was without produce. At first bite, I ran into some pickles that added to the süperness, and discovered there was no sauce of any kind at all— which was odd to me— I had expected a mustard of some sort at least. It was alright, and I was hungry, so I ate it happily until Mirco discovered something odd on the receipt.
The women behind the counter decided to charge us for an extra sandwich— a problem we pretty much ran into everywhere we ate. I had read that this sort of thing is a common occurrence in Budapest affecting tourists, but figured it was an exaggeration. Sadly, if you are a tourist, you absolutely must check every receipt and bill you get before you pay. Mirco bravely went back to the counter, where the woman was beginning to look nervous. I sat back and took another bite of chicken and suddenly, my mouth was filled with a horrific taste. At first, I didn't know what had happened— it was dreadful! I dissected what was left of the sandwich to discover that what I had believed was a mushroom, was no mushroom. I began to recognise the wretched flavour— it was liver. The süper in a Süper Csibe Szendvics is a big ole hunk of beef liver! I began to look around at the other customers— livers were poking out between buns everywhere! Apparently I was the only one disturbed by this.
Mirco strode back in victory, and I had missed the entire exchange between the brawny lady and my friend, thanks to the liver surprise. It was good of her to give the money back, she knew she was doing something wrong, the guilt was all over her face. I think in most places, you'd never see that money again. I'll be happy to never see this sandwich again.
Later that evening we met some fun new hostel guests, Molly and Nancy from Washington— Nancy is in the midst of taking her daughter Molly on a tour of Europe. They had been through England, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Spain, and were passing through Hungary on their way to the Czech Republic. Nancy was determined to find a delicious local restaurant for dinner, and asked us along. Desperate to wipe away the memory of that liver nightmare, I happily joined them in finding Café Csiga, an artsy café with hearty divine dishes. We got a little lost, and I'm still not sure how we found it, especially since the café had no sign, but before we knew it, we were seated in a smoky, sultry space bursting with conversation and music. This is the kind of place where you imagine everyone is a writer or painter, and they've come for beer, cigarettes, and words like "existentialism."
I tried to get a picture of my delicious beef in black beer, but it was so dark and my little camera just can't handle low light situations. It was a fantastic liverless meal, accompanied by a lovely Hungarian red. We stayed on into the night for beer and conversation, enjoying the ambiance.