Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Lighting the Way

lights on Andrássy ut looking towards Heroes' Square, Budapest

We wish all of you, wherever you may be, a joyous and peaceful Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. We shall much look forward to being with you in January, but in the meantime thank you for the friendship, kindness and generosity which you have shown to us throughout 2011.

'És monda néki az angyal: Ne félj Mária, mert kegyelmet találtál az Istennél. És ímé fogansz a te méhedben, és szúlsz fiat, és nevezed az ó nevét Jézusnak'

'And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus'

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fare Trade

Shopping habits change. Once upon a time there were proper shops: grocers, greengrocers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers.  Even a dairy where each week the milk bill, for those delivered pints, would be paid. And on at least one weekday there would be the excitement of the outside or covered market piled high with fruit and vegetables, fresh free range eggs, home cured hams, honey, cakes and jams, all brought into the town from the surrounding countryside. Now, sadly, with the growth of the out of town superstore and, most recently, on line shopping, so much of this has disappeared.

the exterior of the market house in Hunyadi tér, Budapest [click to enlarge]

Here in Budapest old customs do, indeed, die hard, if they die at all. For since the close of the nineteenth century, when five large markets were opened, all coincidentally on the same day, very little has changed. Today they operate much as they have for the past hundred years, spilling over now, as then, into and onto the surrounding streets and pavements and catering for a population which continues to shop daily.

view of the interior, recently refurbished, of the Hunyadi tér market

Our local market, one of the original five, is in Hunyadi tér. Unrestored outside, it is a cavern of a place, icy in winter and overwhelmingly hot in summer, but hugely popular, and busy, at all times. In addition to several greengrocers, and like everyone we have our favourite, there is a bread stall, a fish counter, complete with murky watered fish tanks, crowded and heaving, a kind of marine Death Row, as well as two or more butchers.

the stall from which our meat is bought with, as always, a queue

For meat we favour a particular stall, manned by one Gyula and his merry men. The quality is excellent, and others think so too, for it is seldom possible to get away without queuing for at least twenty minutes, considerably longer at weekends. For fruit and vegetables we turn to Blondy where the stall holder, a Manchester United supporter, is endlessly cheerful and never without his somewhat cheeky grin.

the cheeky grin of the stall holder glimpsed over the fruit and vegetables 

Tucked away in a rather dark corner is the cabbage woman, essential if you are to make, which most Hungarians do much of the time, stuffed cabbage. With an outsize smile, she will serve you with near translucent leaves torn from a giant pickled cabbage. To this must be added the shredded strips, also pickled and sold separately by weight, which are cooked alongside the cabbage-wrapped meat and rice balls together with a generously sized piece of smoked ham. Apart from a few jars of pickled red cabbage, and the odd egg lurking in liquid, she has little in the way of other stock. Amazingly she appears to make a living.

the cabbage stall showing the shredded cabbage to the extreme right

North of Nyugati pályaudvar, the western railway terminus, is the most modern of all the markets, Lehel. In atmosphere it is very different from its older counterparts, slicker, more streamlined. But in essence it remains the same. Country people, with garden produce, man their stalls here as elsewhere, the honey man comes regularly, fish swim a little more freely, bread is baked and Brussels, with all its European Union regulations, is a long way off.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In the See and by the Sea

the spire of Chichester Cathedral dating from 1075 [click to enlarge all images]

If Salisbury Cathedral is famed, as indeed it is, for having the tallest spire of any English Cathedral, then the spire of Chichester holds the distinction of being the only one visible from the sea. But that is not all which sets Chichester apart. For in these present, enlightened times Chichester remains one of only two dioceses not in favour of, and to have voted against, the ordination of women bishops and, furthermore, whose bishop, The Right Reverend John W. Hind, BA DD, is vehemently opposed to, or so it is reported, the ordination of women generally as members of the clergy. A sad state of affairs, but more of that anon.

the Nave of Chichester Cathedral 

But with what joy on the First Sunday in Advent to be collected by friends Nigel and Peter, Peter a Canon within the diocese of Chichester, and whisked off in 'Miss Pearl', their pearlescent motor car, to attend not only Choral Evensong in the Cathedral but also the Rededication of the Shrine of St. Richard.

title page of the order of service 
the prayer of St. Richard

And what a splendid occasion. Sung Evensong, so quintessentially English, a procession of Bishop, Dean and Chapter, Canons and Clergy in full regalia, a triumph of organ music, incense, bells, and the vox humana rising up within those ancient walls. Perfectly placed in the front row of the Nave, we could not but wonder as The Reverend Alice Kemp, ordained daughter of the previous Bishop of Chichester, Bishop Eric Kemp, read from the Old Testament what thoughts might be coursing through the mind of Bishop John Hind. One of life's rich little ironies.

the cloisters of Chichester Cathedral on the evening of 27th. November 2011

Damp from a liberal sprinkling of holy water, on both Shrine and ourselves, we jointly decided against the ensuing 'bun fight' taking place in a side aisle and chose instead to accompany Peter on a tour of cloisters and precinct, scenes reminiscent of Trollope's 'Barchester Chronicles'.

Marrocco's Italian restaurant at Hove on the night of 27th. November 2011

Later, with the November night darkening the sea to an inky blackness, we found ourselves on the Hove seafront in Marrocco's Italian restaurant where, in the splendour of original 1960s décor and furnishings, we enjoyed the most wonderful Burrata mozzarella and the freshest and best sea bass ever tasted, and talked the night away.

P.S. We are so very appreciative of the concern and good wishes of so many of you during our recent, somewhat prolonged absence from, and neglect of, the Blogosphere whilst we wrestled with hospital appointments, doctors and consultants. Thank you so much.

Monday, 14 November 2011

In Black and White

Call us outspoken if you will. Many do. We should rather think of ourselves as incisive, clear thinking, focussed even. Still, one thing is for certain, if an opinion is required on any subject, any subject at all, then we are the people most likely to give it.

a still from 'My Fair Lady' with Audrey Hepburn [click to enlarge images] 

We cannot recall wearing pink or blue but suspect that this must have happened once upon a time. Nowadays, however, as we gaze into the black hole that is our wardrobe, brilliant white shirts and blouses are the only light sources shining out from a sea of inky black suits, skirts and trousers.

Our tights, socks and scarves add a flash of coloured fireworks otherwise we present a monochromatic sight when dressed for any occasion - a pair of photographic negatives reminiscent of the days of silent films or, more recently, Cecil Beaton's masterpiece, 'My Fair Lady'.

In our gardening days paths had to be straight, designs formal, planting schemes restrained [never was orange permitted as part of our palette] and a spade was, well, a spade. In our teaching years discipline was strict, Shakespeare unabridged, algebra revered for its elegant simplicity, failure was not an option and excellence was the goal.

'even our pets [Cat shown here] witnessed a shift in the colour spectrum'

And now, as we come to think of it, even our pets have witnessed a shift in the colour spectrum. An elegant ginger tom and a regal Cavalier King Charles Spaniel giving way in recent years to black and white felines, imaginatively named 'Cat' and 'Pussy', from the Cat Protection League.

All of this brings us to the decoration of our small apartment in Budapest which is let for holidays.

a selection of our design drawings for gardens of Hungarian clients 

A flight of pen and ink scale drawings of some of our designs for Hungarian gardens line the staircase wall, snowy white bed linen, sooty-black lamp bases, and chalky floorboards accessorise the sleeping gallery. A jet black bookcase, illuminated only by a rainbow of paperback spines, stands sentinel in the sitting room adorned with nothing other than a few framed photographs, black and white, of course, and a sign, 'Garden Open Today', from former Herefordshire days.

But should this all prove a little too sombre for our holiday visitors, then the introduction of a little colour in the form of a pair of 'cocktail' chairs in scarlet and the complete works of Shakespeare on board add, what we hope, is a touch of glamour.

a pair of red covered 'cocktail' chairs in our Budapest holiday apartment

the complete works of Shakespeare [oil on board] by John Hensher

Now, who dares call us dull?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Thick as Thieves

We never seriously considered a life of crime. By 'crime' we are not, of course, referring to anything akin to Jack the Ripper nor, indeed, to the Great Train Robbery of 1963, nor to any of the spectacular heists which have become legends in their own right and are documented in the annals of world history. Such things are unacceptable and would, in any event, be quite outside of our league.

No, much more, had we decided on this as an appropriate way of earning a living, it would have been a little petty pilfering here and there, the odd spot of light burglary, fencing fakes, printing banknotes or, to use what we understand to be the correct terminology of the trade, dealing in 'knock offs'.  We do not have what it takes to be a latter day Bonnie and Clyde.

the site of  the Great Train Robbery from a Royal Mail train in 1963

As it is, a strong sense of morality, stemming most likely from strict upbringings where the importance of distinguishing right from wrong was instilled at an early age, and a failure on the part of our schools' careers' guidance teachers to offer it as a possible alternative to university, coupled with the fact that neither set of godparents headed up the local Mafia, meant that such an occupation was never, so to speak, on the cards.

And so, apart from the occasional fine for speeding - subconscious practice for being in the getaway car? - and a parking ticket here or there we have, to date, escaped the clutches of the law and anything approaching a criminal record.

the nearest we have come to any serious offence, and then not three at a time 

But not so in our dreams. Or, more accurately, in waking moments when sleep evades or the tedious bus or train journey stretches ahead, moments when time appears to stand still. Then we play the game of robbing our friends' houses. It is quite simple. Enter, in imagination, the house of any friend or acquaintance, and the rules permit the stealing of one, possibly two, objects taken from furniture, paintings, porcelain or anything desirable which happens to come to mind.

At times to choose becomes almost impossible as in the case of a London drawing room known to us intimately and where nothing, short of the paint on the walls, is newer than the finest, and earliest, eighteenth century. Rich pickings indeed! Or again, a modest country cottage whose walls carry the most desirable of works by Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland. In another instance we quarrel over an entire library of modern fiction. Can we purloin it all?

one of our all time favourite writers, Molly Keane

But, be assured, unlike the slightly mad, misdirected May Swift to be found on the pages of Molly Keane's splendid novel 'Time After Time', who pockets a paperweight, among other objets trouvés, your silver is quite safe with us. When may we visit?

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Road to Ruin

Not surprisingly restoration projects in Hungary, as elsewhere, come with a price tag. That conditions should be attached to the purchase and renovation of a 'listed' property is not altogether unexpected. But that a hapless purchaser should find him or herself agreeing to the construction of a ring road, or the supply of gas to an entire village, or the rebuilding of a community centre, not to mention the provision of a new school, hospital or children's playground, then it will be understood that such news might, just possibly, bring about a sharp intake of breath.

a possible condition attached to the purchase of an historic building

Our architect has reported. The condition of our kastély is known. We are in possession of the facts.

Now, do not think for one moment that we are ones to shy away from the building of highways, from negotiating gas pipelines with Mr. Putin, from setting up a bingo hall or providing teachers with chalk, nurses with temperature charts or sand for sandpits.

Fear not that we should be daunted by the drip, drip, drip of water from a rusty pipe, the fall of plaster from pediment or portal, the broken casement, the sagging ceiling, the damaged cornice, the peeling paintwork or, if truth is to be told, the night time perambulations of the Death Watch Beetle.

detail of Front Hall, Budapest apartment, before restoration

the Front Hall of Budapest apartment after restoration

Let it never be said that our progress should in any way be impeded by the stiffness of a lock, the creaking of a door, a blocked chimney or two, a missing floorboard here, a barred entry there.

the Budapest apartment, Main Hall, in original condition

the Budapest apartment, Main Hall, as above, after restoration 

the Budapest apartment, Main Hall, looking towards the drawing room

Nor should it be imagined that failed deliveries, drunk workmen, substitute items, strikes, rules, regulations, sleight of hand and misrepresentation have ever, other than momentarily, deflected us from the task in hand. Indeed, we see the renovation and restoration of our Budapest apartment as testament to that.

But, where asbestos is concerned, then however reluctantly, a line must be drawn.

the Kastély showing the roof, dating from the 1970s, of asbestos tiles

The Kastély is, to a large part, made up of asbestos. This banned substance covers the entire roof and roof space and has done since the 1970s when, for whatever reason, the original tiles were removed. The cost of removal, disposal and replacement with an appropriate alternative is, we are advised, prohibitive. Add to this the purchase price and the estimates for complete restoration, and such conditions as may be imposed for enhancing the local amenities and environment, and, somewhat astonishingly, we find that it all comes to rather more than is to be found in our piggy bank.

Caveat emptor!!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fools Rush In.......

press to enter [click to enlarge this and all images]

At the start, the hall door would not open. We waited, not impatiently, for the day was warm, the morning sun causing the leaves on the stucco to glow a burnished red whilst,  from afar, a church clock chimed the appointed hour. Before us the grass, long since having encroached on to the carriage drive, had been newly cut, the mowing machine standing idle since our arrival. And then we were in.

the south front with the carriage drive grass covered and the hall door open

The Kastély, which we should better describe as Kúria [manor house], is much earlier than previously thought. Here is an early eighteenth century yeoman's house which, some hundred years later, had been remodelled  in the fashion of the period to produce a neo-classical facade and to provide an importance most fitting for a lord of the manor.

the principal entrance with a view into the reception hall

the reception hall looking towards the back hall

A broad sunlit entrance hall, running from front to back, affords access to the ground floor rooms. Those at the front, a Morning Room, Dining Room, and Study have a somewhat ecclesiastical air, no doubt suggested by the arched window recesses and vaulted ceilings. To the rear a series of what in estate agents' parlance may be euphemistically described as the "usual offices" could, with heightened imagination, become kitchen, scullery, pantry, game larder, laundry room, even servants' hall, should they ever be to hand. 

the windows of a possible Morning Room showing the arched ceiling

a pantry, laundry room or even a potential game larder

An unusual spiral staircase, closeted behind Normanesque pillars, gives rise to the first floor and the spacious, south facing 'piano nobile' or drawing room whose three rounded windows afford not only views of the grounds below but also of the distant countryside beyond.

the staircase looking down from the first floor landing

the south facing 'piano nobile' as seen from one of the principal bedrooms

From this room open the principal bedrooms, one with a trace of an elaborately painted ceiling, dressing rooms, and future bathrooms(?), whilst beyond is a dismal rabbit warren of who knows what which could so easily, here with a vague wave of the agent's hand, convert to the most charming of guest accommodation.

the main landing as seen from the entrance to the 'piano nobile'

a bathroom from the days of multiple occupancy

Once more outside we stroll the policies: a neglected orchard here, there a dense shrubbery, beyond the suggestion of a one time kitchen garden. Moles, their tunnels radiating in all directions, play havoc with the lawns of old, rabbits graze undisturbed. Time stands still.

the north wall as viewed from the west corner of the house

And should it be that we ignore the damp, the dry rot, the possible subsidence, the leaking gutters, the blocked down pipes, the toppling chimneys, the glassless windows, the ill fitting doors, the falling stucco, the crumbling plaster, and the ghosts of those long laid to rest? We do so at our peril.

heights of previous occupants recorded on a door frame

Today we seek a surveyor!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Who Will Save Me?

the mansion house at Tura, Hungary [click to enlarge this and all images]

Tura, with its turrets, towers and trap-doors is seductive. And we have long wished to be seduced by this Loire Renaissance fantasy of 1883, the work of Ybl Miklós, architect of the most splendid Budapest Opera House, which stands, battered and scarred, abandoned some ten years since by the occupying Soviet troops.

the Palm House at Tura seen on the extreme right of the main building

Just days ago, standing in the erstwhile Palm House through which shafts of October sun penetrated the broken casements, we reflected on the fate of this, and other, endangered Hungarian mansions. Here, at Tura, the signs of serious neglect are all too apparent. Plaster and stucco crumble, cold damp seeps through roofs and walls, iron corrodes, glass shatters.

the principal staircase within the entrance hall at Tura

Climbing the principal staircase, relatively undamaged, the first floor presents a sad picture: a bedroom corridor echoing to our footfall; pit props in support of a collapsing ceiling; a bird nesting atop the pediment of a door; a balustrade threatening to fall.

a bedroom corridor at Tura

a window swings idly in an upstairs room at Tura

Later on, now in the village of Aszód, we merrily trespass into the Baroque splendour of the palace there where institutional use has paid a heavy price. As at Tura, change and decay, but here we take flight in the face of a threatening caretaker with, we are convinced, his rabid dog in tow straining on a seemingly fragile leash.

a corner of the Baroque palace at Aszód in Hungary

Homeward, but not before we have tried, and failed, to gain entry into the Sleeping Beauty of a castle at Acsa where bell towers silently call across the wooded valley.

How romantic it all is. And we, who pride ourselves on being level headed, have fallen in love. In love with the prettiest little manor house in the far west of the country.

could this become the Hattatt Kastély............?

Affordable, just! Requiring complete renovation, a certainty! On Saturday we have an order to view. How exciting is that?!!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Disruption to Service

Terminal 1 of Budapest Airport recently renamed Liszt Ferenc from Ferihegy

Because of unforeseen circumstances we shall, regrettably, be unable to post, comment or respond to comments and emails in the immediate future.

We very much hope to return around the middle of the month when normal service will be resumed.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Nightingale Sang

There was to be no dinner on the second or subsequent nights. This fact was unknown to us on the Sunday evening, the day of our arrival, when we entered the dining room as the clock from the nearby church struck eight. Just as the Signora Bertolini had promised rooms with a view, so the Hotel Blaha Lujza had enticed us with half board.

Hotel Blaha Lujza, Balatonfured [click to enlarge this and all images]

But it was not to be. The information being given out, somewhat ingenuously we thought, as the soup plates were cleared and the fish placed before us. However, breakfast would, we were assured, as though not to be denied a prize altogether, be served each day at the advertised times.

the hospital glimpsed through the trees across the square at Balatonfured

The Hotel Blaha Lujza, originally home to the eponymous nineteenth century singer, fondly referred to as the Nation's Nightingale, stands close to the shores of Lake Balaton at the heart of the picturesque Balatonfured. Once reserved for the Party faithful, and elite, this lakeside resort has, in recent years, transformed itself into the most fashionable and delightful of watering places.

swans cluster at the water's edge alongside the tree shaded promenade

A broad promenade, shaded by plane trees, their peeling bark revealing deep pools of clotted cream, runs alongside the languid water where sailing craft slip silently among  the gliding swans. Across the lake the sun glints on the Abbey of Tihany from where, in earlier times, as an Empire collapsed, the last King of Hungary sought refuge and then stole away from crown and country.

the Abbey of Tihany set high on the hill and seen through a sea of masts

Across from the main square lies the hospital. Each morning, we observe a motley selection of patients, slipper clad, dressing gowns dangerously slipping, tired nakedness exposed, others in assorted day wear, gravel crunching underfoot, all shuffling towards the central fountain where the healing waters, properties unknown, continuously gush their energising goodness. Some, greedy for more, fill plastic bottles. Liquid hope.

the front facade of the hospital, facing the square, in Balatonfured

from this central spring restorative waters may be taken

And it is there that we spot our companions from the breakfast table. They too are guests at the Blaha Lujza, but we suspect occupy a ground floor room for age and infirmity surely prevent access to the upper floors. A mother and daughter. Two flightless birds. Both are of an age but the daughter, clothed in rookish black, maintains a gaunt, determined presence. Unsmiling, her glance conveys a dislike of foreigners. Beside her, the sparrow must be fed. Although the day is already hot, fans whir overhead, the mother draws comfort from cardigan and shawl. A woollen skirt sweeps the floor, hiding for the moment tightly buttoned black boots. Later they will progress, at mourners' pace, towards the square.

on warm, sunny mornings breakfast may be taken before the hotel portico

But for now breakfast is, as promised, served. We watch, intrigued, as morsels of bread [how else to describe?] are slowly transferred from plate, to finger, to mouth. Each successful bite is rewarded as the daughter, half rising from her seat, leans across the table and pecks her mother on the cheek. The process is repeated. The silence is maintained.

So, just as swallows take flight, the last days of summer fragment into memory and autumn mists creep with stealth along the now deserted shore. Above the town the Budapest train approaches Platform V.

our compartment on the train bound for Budapest at summer's end