7. The Zoo and Aunt Zsuzsa
This morning we decided to go to the zoo. It has interesting old buildings (how unusual!), info about threatened species, efforts to save diverted wetlands etc. We get off the Metro, check out the hot baths, which look great, and cross the road to the zoo. There inside are two elephants in an enclosure the size of a tennis court, swaying to and fro to get their exercise. We decide not to go to the zoo to support such cruelty and probably get really sad.
We cross over to Hosek Ter, Heroes Square (to cheer ourselves up?). Statues of monarchs from Szvent Istvan (Saint Stephen), the first king in about 976 AD, to the nineteenth century, and a monument representing the empty coffins of unknown heroes from the 1956 uprising. This means they were murdered. It was in this square that the first “riots” happened. That must have taken tremendous passion, but now everyone seems so phlegmatic.
We walk along past embassies, go down to the Metro, get off the Metro, walk along past embassies, and go down to the Metro. We get off at Octagon, take a tram and return to the apartment for an early lunch.
The apartment is our refuge, our menedekunk, our haven, kikotonk. Like all the others, it has five layers between inside and winter outside.

Thick masonrywalls, and two thick glass doors, one behind the other, two layers of windows which do open, wooden shutters which roll down the outside of all this, and two layers of floor to ceiling curtains inside. The heater pipes are heated by gas in the basement. It’s obvious this oven is also capable of getting very cold. If they called this place Fridge, fridzsider (fri-ji-der) this city would be called Budafridzsider. I’m glad they chose Budapest.
We leave in plenty of time to go and meet Zsuzsa, our adoptive aunt and friend of the family. For this we catch a cross town bus, which has to honk its way across town. Some of the double parking puts Rome to shame. I mean, don’t any of these people know that these narrow one way streets are a bus route? When every other car parked here has its front wheels on the footpath, and one young woman walks away from her car, which is parked sticking out in the way of the bus. She was so reluctant to go back and move it forward. After much tooting, she did. They don’t seem to care about anyone else. An old lady got on the bus. It took her about three minutes to get up the three steps, with a passenger holding her arm and helping her. Another man, sitting right there in the front seat, didn’t move. Didn’t even shift across to the empty seat next to him to enable her to sit. Didn’t stand. Then got off at the next stop, a couple of minutes away. I find myself hoping he was mentally challenged. So many just don’t give a stuff about other people.
I ‘m so glad Vilmos got out when he had the chance. This is Thursday night. I can’t wait for Monday so I can escape too! Four sleeps (depending on next door’s TV).

But ENOUGH, because we got to Zsuzsa’s place, and had a wonderful afternoon in her fourth floor apartment in the “Soho” area. We talked about all of our lives and those of our families, and drank and ate cake and played the piano and drank and ate, then went for a walk nearby to the markets.

In the café Soho area of Budapest we found her door buzzer, and she came down to let us in. Her apartment is exactly as I imagined an older Budapesti apartment to be; parquetry floors, high ceilings, huge thick double doors between rooms. Zsuzsa’s flat is on the fourth floor, accessed from a high internal courtyard – a bit much for poor Bruce. The building has five levels and was built in 1911 – really nice, but like all older buildings there are ongoing problems with maintenance and repairs. Nearly every older building in this city is filthy dirty from 100 years of grimy pollution, and shows signs of crumbling, whether from WW2 bombings or from 1956 mortar and gunfire. Really it’s quite amazing that it’s still standing. After WW2, whilst neighbouring Vienna was being re-built, restored and cleaned up, Soviet occupied Budapest was being ground into submission by the occupying forces. They must havebeen terrible times indeed. As we enjoyed numerous cakes in the parlour, Zsuzsa lamented about the corruption which pervades Hungarian politics. The lack of difference between the government and the opposition, and the Mafia’s control of things. For example, her daughter and a group of friends owned a restaurant which became very successful and ran for five years. The Mafia fire bombed it, killing one of the staff, so it closed down. Later a new owner with Mafia backing opened a new restaurant on the site.

Her daughter also owned a café in Pest, at which Zsuzsa played piano twice a week. It became very popular. People from Vienna often commented how unique it was. Zsuzsa loves playing piano, and has a distinct style, almost barrelhouse.


Her husband had died suddenly of cancer several years ago. He was 62 – “my age,” I reply. She laughs and says I only look thirty. Such a kind woman (or should that be a blind woman?).

After he died, she moved from her house out of town, and bought her apartment close to the Bohemian district of Pest, so she could spend all her free time going to the theatre or the opera or to a music concert (actually it’s not far from where Dad grew up). She loves it. She had a successful career as the manager of an international marketing firm, and traveled widely to China, Russia, the USA, Italy, Turkey, and all over Europe. She’s is retired now, and fluent in Hungarian, Russian, English and German.
And what an animated, kind and lovely old woman. She is a friend of Kati who owns our apartment. There is a group of them who have kept in touch since their High School years, and still get together at Kati’s country house on the Danube a couple of times a year.
I ask about who owns all the residences. She explains everyone in Hungary aspires to own their own apartment. They are like our strata titles. You pay so much per month for building maintenance, water and such. You can rent, but it is getting very expensive to do so. Sounds familiar. She has two daughters, and is not sure which is happier – the one with the family, or the one who runs a leather goods shop and also works as a film producer. “But she is single,” she decries.
Zsuzsa has antique German furniture, because she didn’t want any of the stuff from the home out of town when her husband left. She was too upset. A clean slate. Her married daughter lives there. The other “also owns a house”. There’d be interesting stories in that situation, I imagine.

After being totally overfed with retes (a Hungarian strudel), tortes, bad instant coffee, wine and other types of liqueur, we walked with Zsuzsa over to the biggest and most famous of the markets in Budapest. Housed in an incredible, huge art deco market hall, downstairs are all the “Zoldseg” and “Gyumoltsz” (Greengrocers and Fruiterers), Delicatessen goods, cakes, breads and so on. Upstairs there are wines, Hungarian crafts and food courts serving langos and lots of other hot food stuff. It was stunning, so we’re going to head back there tomorrow for another look, and to stock up on veggies.
I ate so much cake ( “go on, have some more” ) that when I went to bed six hours later I felt uncomfortable in the chest and got up, and after a while, threw up. That felt better. As my father said, “I know when I’ve had too much.”