Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Hungary 3: When Buda Met Pest

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the acclaimed vampire novel The Opposite of Life. Aptly, she's currently just a stone's throw from Transylvania...

Visiting Budapest? Yep. Taking a cruise down the wide, fast-flowing (though definitely not blue) Danube? You bet. A commentary echoing the elegance of the Blue Danube waltz? Not quite. Let me explain.

Boarding the Legenda cruise boat, my friend Celia and I settle in at the prow, don our headphones, select “English” on the chunky speaker box attached to the seats, and settle in for what we expect will be the customary droning commentary.

“On the left bank you can see the medieval church in which King So and So was crowned in 14-whatever, and on the right is the Town Hall, built in 18-blah-de-blah from a design by the famous local architect You’ve-Never-Heard-Of, yadda yadda yadda...” That sort of thing.

But Hungarian ferry cruises spurn such unimaginative fare. Instead, we are treated to a mini radio play, complete with eccentric phrasing, a dash of cheek, dashes of inappropriate content and just enough cheese to keep it flavoursome. And animated cities as our presenters.

Our audio hosts, you see, are Buda, the city’s hilly western half, played by a man who sounds disconcertingly like Simon’s Irish dad in the TV series Beautiful People; and Pest (pronounced pesht) on the east bank, voiced by a charming and vivacious English lady.

Buda and Pest banter in an affectionate way about their marriage and the bridges that were finally built to link the two sides of the great river. A little like Australia’s Albury-Wodonga, only with European class. They chaff each other like equals, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Benedick and Beatrice. She teases him about how all the girls love his castle; he tweaks her nose about her lavish cafes.

Some of the information is a little surprising. For example, Liberty Bridge is a popular suicide spot, according to Pest.

Buda also informs us that the sunbathing terrace at the art nouveau GellĂ©rt Baths has been refurbished, and once more people can watch the ladies in their swimsuits from the Citadella lookout far above. And that’s not the slightest bit creepy or inappropriate, is it?

Buda and Pest are full of mutual admiration. They comment on how they enjoy looking at each other across the Danube, though there is some squabbling over who should claim the upriver Margaret Island. The dispute is resolved by Pest firmly claiming the garden island for her own, on the basis that Buda has plenty of greenery already.

A jarring note is struck, however, whenever Pest names hotels on her side of the river. As hotel chains have inevitably changed over the years, her bold British tones are suddenly replaced by a heavily accented Hungarian voice for a word or two, somewhat shattering the illusion.

Overall, the commentary is reminiscent of the output of an enthusiastic community theatre group, with sometimes awkward and clunky dialogue offset by the home-made charm and enthusiasm of the ensemble.

And it’s actually a clever way to present entertaining information about the city’s history and architecture. For whenever Pest is speaking, we know to look east for sights like the extravagant riverside Parliament. When Buda speaks, we look toward his castle on the hills to the west. It’s a much more engaging device than the usual drone of information about buildings and dates.

In short, I find a little cheese with my ham quite delightful, while navigating the Danube. And I’m glad these two crazy Hungarian kids finally got together as the celebrity couple that is Budapest.

Narrelle M Harris stayed in Budapest courtesy of short stay apartment booking service europenethotels.com.
 

You can find details of Narrelle's vampire novel The Opposite of Life at her website, along with details of her other published work.