My last post told the story of our motorcycle trip with Csaba but doesn’t describe the second part of that long, adventurous day.
We had serendipitously happened upon Budapest for a holiday week: St. Stephen’s Day or essentially, Independence Day. This holiday is celebrated with an enormous fireworks display over the Danube in Budapest. Knowing all too well the grandeur of this event, yet knowing it the way a local knows its own familiar treasures, Csaba wanted us to get back in time for the show but had no plans to go himself. At the restaurant where he treated us to stew after our bike ride, he chatted in Hungarian with his friend, the owner of the establishment. After a few minutes of conversation he turned to us and explained that his friend would be making the hour or so drive to Budapest in forty-five minutes, and had space in his car if we wanted to catch a ride with him.
Csaba’s friend didn’t know English we carried on conversation with one another while our driver and his sons conversed amongst themselves. At one point our driver made a cell phone call, then handed the phone to Drew. It took just a second to realize what was happening. Csaba was on the phone, serving as translator. “Would you like to be dropped off before the bridge or after the bridge? Before the bridge might be easier for you as your driver is going to a dock down the river.” Drew said that this was fine and handed the phone back to our driver so Csaba could translate our response.
We were dropped off at a bus stop far further from town than we thought. Something had gotten lost in translation, but that is just part of life abroad. As are buses. There is always a bus. We hopped on the next bus that arrived, assuming it would take us at least into town and sure enough it took us right to the Castle District on the Buda side of the river where festivities were already beginning.
We spent the next two hours just walking along the side of the river, watching a street that had been transformed into a fair with people bending over big copper pots of stew or filling paper bags with brightly colored fruit and date desserts appearing more like whimsical plastic toys than edible treats. There were people everywhere, lining up along the river to secure a spot for the approaching fireworks show. We were headed to the Buda hill that rises above the city in a mass of rock and tree.
The rock at the base of the hill fascinated me as it bared the scars of old towers- that outline of organized patterns of stone where buildings once protruded. There were big doors in the base of the hill’s rock in an old style whose age I couldn’t guess, but favored the assumption of centuries-old origin. Where the doors led I could only wonder.
The hike to the top was steep, but the view was incredible. We found a spot to sit on a steep bank and watched shards of light crackle over a miniature scene of Budapest and the River Danube. The parliament building flickered in hues of orange like a face by the fire. The fireworks show went on more than twenty minutes and I found my mind drifting and losing awareness of the grand display right before my eyes. I had to remind myself to take note of the fits of glitter in the sky. While the city celebrated in safety below, the sky was alight with fire and smoke.
We arrived in Hamburg midday yesterday. We carpooled to town from Berlin with a local Hamburg man who gave us a little tour of town before dropping us off at our hotel. The Alster lakeside was littered with tents of food venders and a big stage was being set up for a DJ. Karsten explained that there was some kind of Alster Lake Festival going on all around the lakeside.
Around 10 pm last night we heard the dull boom of fireworks muffled by our sealed windows. We perched on the window sill and watched the fire works stretch above the buildings out our window.
I remember telling Drew when we were in Thailand that, in Asia, fireworks must be as common as Hallmark cards. Having a birthday? Let’s have some fireworks! Having a going away party? Let’s have some fireworks!
Perhaps we just have a strange subconscious attraction to towns about to put on fireworks shows.