Best of Budapest

Two bloggers who love Budapest telling you why, with the support of Helpers, Hungary’s leading business and immigration services provider.

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From April 2015, English translations courtesy of:

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A great lunch where you would never expect it – Castro Bistro

2015.07.24. 12:31 | Gergő Helpers

Following up on our sightseeing in Madrid post, let’s get to a lunch in Budapest prepared by the chef who joined us in the Spanish capital with his wife as the winner of the Vodafone competition.

No, really!

During our trip, we learned that our traveling companion Jani is the chef at Castro Bistro, which I can’t say excited us all that much at first, since when we thought of Castro, what came to mind was a couple of laid back beers in the evening or a place to grab a coffee in the morning as you look onto Madách Square. We’d only consider ordering food here if we were really hungry or had no energy to walk elsewhere.

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But while we were in Madrid, Jani began telling us of the weekly menu, and Csaba and I were soon rethinking things. These are some of the things we heard:

  • Ginger sorrel with jalapeno-infused wheat dumpling
  • Venison stew with cranberries cooked with juniper and served with crispy potatoes and arugula
  • Turmeric green asparagus soufflé and spinach brown rice rolls with a warm pineapple white tea sauce
  • Chicken breast strips fried in cashew-pumpkin seed crumbs and served with a Greek peasant salad and new potato chips
  • Tuna fillet wrapped in sundried tomato and Balkan cheese and steamed in paprika skin, served with early summer mixed salad and pistachio basmati rice

 

These are the lunchtime menu mains, with a three-course meal costing 1,200 forints. The dishes come from peoples and regions all over the world, and are all described in such a way that you end up feeling like one of Pavlov's dogs. We were instantly hungry, which was something only a Madrid tapas bar could remedy.

I still had some reservations when I paid a visit to Castro unannounced and ordered the following:

  • Forest mushroom cappuccino with pumpkin seed
  • Chicken leg fillet with Turkish olives and red lentils, served with lovage cottage cheese dumplings and colored peppercorn Brie sauce
  • Strawberry crepes with mango sauce

This is what they brought out:

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Behind the fancy names we found familiar flavors. The cappuccino was the soup, the hasé we could have mistaken for a kifli, and the crepe wasn’t all that different from the Hungarian variety, which in all reality, doesn’t differ that much to begin with. But this was immensely superior to the ones they sold on the street in Montmartre for 2-3 euros each.

The soup was flawless. Jani knew exactly that the cream needed a little crunchy pumpkin seed, but he did not stop there, for he topped it with high quality pieces of pastry. Regarding the main, I was particularly happy that he went with the chicken leg, which has become quite overlooked lately and which was presented in an inspired way, while the dumpling and red lentils were an excellent side. The crepe was a worthy way to close the feast.

For me, Castro Bistro has become not just a small beacon with respect to its lunch menu, but a major lighthouse. I’m not saying Jani’s kitchen is better than all of the other restaurants in Budapest, just that for this price and in such nice surroundings, you won’t get a meal as good as this anywhere else.

Castro Bistro
Address: 1075 Budapest Madách Imre tér 3.
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu 11 am - midnight, Fri-Sat 11 am – 1 am

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.

Tags: gastro lunch lunch menu


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Csontváry: The Hungarian painter loved by Picasso

2015.07.22. 09:40 | Gergő Helpers

In recent decades, Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry has become a true national hero. After all, he has all the necessary attributes: he was only celebrated after his time, his canon of work is not only spectacular, but also unique, and his contemporaries in Hungarian society treated him as all future national heroes were: he was mocked and humiliated.

We need only mention Ignaz Semmelweis, the savior of mothers, right? A national hero, who died in a mental health institute following a beating from the guards.

Csontváry was ridiculed for decades, for being a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and for refusing to smoke, to which the Pesti Hírlap newspaper opined at the time “as spoiled people of culture, we can only smile”. At the time, abstinence was considered deviant behavior in Hungary. It’s quite clear that we’ve always been a few decades behind the main trends of healthy behavior, and this is something we continue to keep up. Csontváry summed up the situation at the time with the following observation, which is why he was an object of scorn during his lifetime: “cliques of varying sizes take up all the spaces and will not allow someone outside their circle to enter.”

The painter, after being derided for decades, ended up starving to death after the Soviet Republic took everything away from him.

Yes, he starved to death.

To give us an idea of how his life’s work was rated at the time, his heirs attempted to sell the paintings to delivery men as they were painted on high-quality canvas. Were it not for Gedeon Gerlóczy, who recognized Csontváry’s genius and bought them all up, there would be no paintings surviving to this day.

Today, a Csontváry is worth hundreds of millions of forints.

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Of course, this is a fairly typical story when it comes to painters, and you must keep in mind that the guy was becoming increasingly imbalanced in the head even as he became a better painter. During his lifetime, he openly declared that he was the greatest painter ever, and although this is a contest that makes little sense, his own unique style somewhere between realism, symbolism, expressionism and post-impressionism resulted in works that are truly amazing.

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And now, after 52 years, his works are finally being exhibited together in the Army High Command’s former building in the Castle District. We can take in his most important paintings, we can consider that Hungary had a painter with talent equal to Cézanne and Van Gogh, who we nonetheless still don’t know well enough ourselves, even though highly regarded painters have praised his works for some time now.

Csontváry’s works were exhibited in Paris in 1948. Picasso spent an hour outside the exhibition’s regular opening hours viewing them, and after emerging, declared “I did not realize there was another great painter in this century aside from myself.”

Csontváry probably would have taken issue with Picasso’s proclamation, arguing that he was a more significant painter even than Raphael.

Such is life.

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But to return to the exhibition: the location is fantastic, and they really couldn’t have found a better place to exhibit the paintings, which range in size from the palm of your hand to 30 square meters. The organization is flawless, and you can traverse the paintings and Csontváry’s life as you go from one work to the next. The descriptions are short and to the point, the lighting is perfect, and you never find yourself in a position where some corner of a painting is difficult to see. A special touch is an actor who portrays Csontváry on a screen, although in some places the audio isn’t the greatest and it’s difficult to follow. An additional bonus is the opportunity at the end to learn more about Csontváry’s life through computer screens, which use a Facebook-like interface in place of boring descriptions to inform the viewer about Csontváry’s life. It’s spot on.

And the paintings themselves: Csontváry is quite divisive, so you will either love him or hate him. Either way, the paintings are absolutely unique and brought as much to painting as the impressionists did. And if you are even slightly drawn to colors, it’s guaranteed that you’ll love the way the paintings sparkle with various shades and tints, but in a way that no one else has done before or since.

While viewing his work “At the Entrance of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem”, I recalled Lorenzo Monaco’s “Adoration of the Magi” panel from the 1370s, which is just as bright of a religious painting.

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Of course, my knowledge of art history is not so great that that would mean anything, but the point is that even after having visited the Uffizi, the Prado and the Louvre, Csontváry’s paintings still stand their ground. With his blend of styles, Csontváry was able to reinterpret landscape painting, which had become quite boring by that time, or with his dash of colors, he was able to breathe new life into worn historical events. Take, for example, Zrínyi’s Charge on the Cote d’Azure:


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The air shimmers above Dísz Square as the asphalt melts, the honor guard in front of the Sándor Palace is drenched in sweat. If it’s hot and you’re looking for something to do indoors where it’s cooler, I can’t think of a better exhibition to see this summer.

Csontváry’s Genius
Budapest, Dísz tér 17.
July 5 - December 31
Opening Hours:  Mon-Sat: 10 am – 6 pm
Ticket Prices: 1800-3200 forints

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.

 

Tags: art cult exhibition


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People stopped in front of the entrance and smiled – La Nube

2015.07.19. 10:02 | Gergő Helpers

 

We need more places like this. A lot of them.img_8967_1.JPG

La Nube’s entrance is simple and opens from a small side street off Bartók Béla Road. Beneath its name, they simply added in small letters: Café, Tapas. La Nube does not feature overthought minimalist design, it doesn’t contain trendy furniture, or the bare brick walls that seemingly have become a requirement in cafés, although we did find Thonet chairs painted in all the colors of the rainbow. And books and things to smell.

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You won’t find the pinnacle of culinary delights here either, the modest Spanish owner/chef brings the tapas from the kitchen himself. His wife works in the front and acts not only as the server but also looks after and chats with customers as if we were guests in her home.

Her name is Timi. One thing you’ll quickly notice about her is that the colors painted onto the Thonet chairs can also be found in her hair. And the positivity just radiates from her. Take a look at this, for example:

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Or this:

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The counter rests upon books and the back of the brand-new La Marzocco coffee machine that costs millions of forints is covered with drawings of flowers. A guitar sits in the corner and Timi points at it, encouraging me to pick it up and play.

So I do.

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Ivan enters from the kitchen, into whose hands I thrust the instrument. He begins strumming a Spanish melody, singing quietly, as behind my back Timi’s voice grows louder and fills the room. Their beautiful love song silences everyone as those walking by on the street stick their heads through the door to see where it is coming from. They smile, just as we do. And then it’s over, and what I’d like to do most is to give them a big hug, because it was wonderful, and it made all of us a little emotional.

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The tapas arrive one after the other. There’s no need to hurry while you eat, for two bites come out, then you can continue to chat, accompanied by music and drinks. This Mediterranean attitude of being laid back and easy-going makes its way from your plate into your mind and we also find ourselves relaxing and feeling good. It doesn’t take any longer to eat than in a restaurant, but it doesn’t feel that way. The portions are small so you don’t devour them. And they all taste great, for they were thoughtfully prepared, and it’s no problem at all that the scallops came from a can. That’s acceptable here. Beneath the tapas, you’ll find bread from Pékműhely Józsi, slightly toasted.

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This is what hospitality truly is. At least for me. A place where I can cut loose, where you can become friends with the owners in less than a minute, and where smiles are authentic and come from the heart. They only opened a few weeks ago, putting everything into this place upon returning from Shanghai after spending five years there with their children. You can still find them chatting to one another in Mandarin if you pay close attention.

A Hungarian girl and a Spanish boy speaking to one another in Mandarin in a tapas bar in Budapest, after they performed a love song for their guests. That’s so much more than all of the other new cookie-cutter cafés opening in the city. We need more lovable places like this.

And before I forget about the coffee, it’s really good. I tested it with my favorite, a cortado.

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La Nube
Address: 1114 Budapest, Bartók Béla út 41. (The entrance is on Ménesi Street around the corner)
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 8:00 am - 7:00 pm, Sat 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.


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Thank you, for treating me as a human being

2015.07.15. 15:02 | Gergő Helpers

One of the things from history class that not everyone fully grasped is that if you encounter a suffering person struggling with a problem, you can’t just kick them aside like a soccer ball in the hopes that someone else will take care of them. In part because it’s inhuman, as well as because that’s cowardice. The state of play is that a catastrophe has taken place somewhere, and the effects of this catastrophe touch everyone. The courageous step up to help calm the waves, instead of sending them on and perhaps even giving them an extra push.

I have some good news: Hungary has a lot of courageous people. Civil solidarity is growing in size and strength, which is helping to reinforce the strength of those courageous people who assist the refugees who have come to Hungary. _We_ are helping the refugees that have come to Hungary.

They organize on Facebook, around the Budapest and Szeged train stations, call doctors to the ill, provide others with sustenance and help them get on trains. To see what aid is needed, Migszol in Szeged and Migration Aid in Budapest list the items that can help: water, food (preferably meat-free, as many refugees do not eat pork for religious reasons and therefore do not ask for meat), clothes, and first-aid kits. “It’s very important to provide them with information in their own language,” states one of the informational documents authored by one of the groups assisting refugees. Many believe they can’t ask for shelter, do not understand their options, nor do they possess the contact information for the organizations that would assist them, which is why the Helsinki Committee’s booklets that are handed to refugees are printed in several languages. Children receive an illustrated, simpler version:

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For there are many children among the refugees. Toys and stuffed animals can make their days a little bit more pleasant.

One group is taken to some showers. Others change their clothes, because those they brought with them disappeared on the journey. Someone’s injured eye is treated; they were struck with a gun at the border. Those who need to transfer from one train station to another are given Budapest Public Transport tickets. And there are plenty of other examples we can read about in Judit Czvitkovits’ excellent article that reveals what one can expect to find if they go to the train stations to help out.

The “refugees” are not some amorphous mass and can’t really be described beyond the fact they are escaping war. Among them, you’ll find frightened children, who fearfully or bashfully accept help, who for months – or as this post shows, years – crossed border after border and slept in forests, because that was still preferable to having their throats slit at home. Some are talented individuals capable of grabbing a cab at the Kelenföld train station, spending a night in a hotel and then continuing to the West the following day, all with proper papers. But there are also those who sleep in parks and may even occasionally steal just to have some money. They are just as diverse a bunch as us Hungarians.

How much do 10,000 randomly selected Hungarians have in common? The same holds true for refugees.

This is how they start out:

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And many transfer here:

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We know that as well.

So the refugees cross the border, they are registered in Szeged, provided with papers, and sent to a refugee camp. After this, they disembark at one of the train stations in Budapest, with most traveling onward to Bicske, Vámosszabadi or Debrecen. They get on trains in Szeged, where they are shown the door, and they know they have to transfer somewhere. Most do not speak English, only their own languages, such as Arab, Persian or Urdu. Many don’t even know what the papers they’ve been given declare, or that Debrecen is the name of the city they are destined for. Those who’ve not been robbed during their journey still have some money with them or perhaps a gold necklace. What’s left is all that they have after leaving their homes. Many are absolutely vulnerable, cannot orient themselves, cannot ask for help, and are hungry and thirsty.

They are people, each and every one.

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Since no one has solved this problem yet, and there’s no one to accompany them throughout their journey, the locals had to organize themselves. And these groups are accomplishing things that are worthy of a huge amount of praise, for it seems that no matter the time of day, there is always someone out there through whom we can donate food or offer our assistance. Meetings are held to plan out on how to utilize the received funds and how to streamline communications between one another. Facebook pages are flooded with posts with offers of help, where personal stories are shared, highlighting occasions where people realized just how important it is to offer help. The organizers ask everyone not to fill the page with posts so they can limit the page to relevant and important information. But the flood of comments can’t be stopped, for the helpers are just as uncertain of their next step as the refugees are in their new countries.

“Thank you for treating me as a human being” an Afghan told one of my friends, after she provided the refugees departing the trains with water and information. Kriszti only burst into tears once she got home, once she could relax.

How can you express your gratitude for this? How do you get to the point where you feel it’s necessary to thank someone for this?

But there’s no time to be emotional, for these questions can be considered once we finish our jobs. The work requires more and more of the organizers, who must delegate tasks, find storage facilities and establish some sort of “offices”, establish responsibilities and lines of communication, and create their own website. They have to do it all themselves, for the organizers are people too.

Actually, I forgot to say that. I’ve said it about the refugees but not those who help them: they are people too.

They may become snappy or tired, and their posts on Facebook can be a bit harsh. They might get a bit annoyed if you take them something they have no use for – no one becomes a saint the moment they start helping others. They are still the same people they were before they began helping. But this common goal is not for everyone to become close buddies, but to help others. Those who go out to help don’t focus on each other, but on those getting off the trains.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.


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International Success Stories from Budapest: Nanushka

2015.07.13. 14:23 | Gergő Helpers

She might be young, but fashion designer Szandra Sándor has been making waves in the industry for the past ten years. By the time her name became widely known in Hungary, her designs were already popular in New York, Los Angeles and Madrid, and celebrities such as Charlize Theron, Selma Blair and Lucy Liu were wearing her clothing line: Nanushka.

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In other words, we couldn’t think of a better person with whom to launch our International Success Stories from Budapest series, taking into consideration that as opposed to the majority, she’s famous not only internationally, but in Hungary as well.

Where did your interest in fashion design come from? Did your family have a history in the clothing industry?

My mom designed and sold children’s clothes, so from a young age I was surrounded by clothes. But instead of taking over my mom’s shop, I studied design in college. I founded Nanushka immediately after I graduated.

But why fashion?

I really liked how it was a great way of expressing individuality. I consider self-expression to be an essential part of life, in part due to my personality and also because of the examples I grew up with at home. I loved the unending possibilities that design offers, how it allows me to express the continuity of change, since I need to create a new collection for each season. This change is something that is a part of our everyday lives.

And how did you launch your career? You wanted to become a fashion designer and went to a fashion design school?

Truth be told, I didn’t study here in Hungary, although you can also learn the necessary knowledge here. I studied fashion design at the London College of Fashion. But ever since I founded Nanushka, I would say most of my knowledge has come from hands-on, real-life experiences.

What were the steps you took to establish your brand?

For years, we operated as a family business as this was the only way we could grow - despite the fact we had an international presence from the get go. Things changed in 2012, when we received a large investment in our company from Portfolion (businessman and former Finance Minister Péter Oszkó’s foundation, which invested 1.6 million USD into Nanushka), for which we had a serious need: by that time the company had grown to the point that we couldn’t do it ourselves anymore and needed outside support to continue growing. Thanks to the investment, we’ve made great strides and also became braver.

And why would someone in Madrid buy something from the Nanushka line as opposed to one of the hundreds of other famous fashion designers?

Many have praised the thorough design of the clothes, the attention to detail, original ideas and the easy to match and wearable designs. The spirit of the design also counts. All of our collections have a backstory, with a fairytale or fable from which we can learn. I tend to borrow from these symbolic worlds while designing, in either a prosaic or lyrical form.

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Fair enough, but what does the consumer get from this? Why is an item of clothing based on a fable inherently worth more than one I take off the rack of any clothing store?

Our clothes are simply more personal. I no longer have the opportunity to hand sew the clothes myself anymore, but each article of clothing contains within it the same thoughtfulness, and our tight-knit team allows for each item to be meticulously designed and created from the original idea to the finished product.

What is the ratio of clothes that are custom-designed versus those made for the rack?

Everything is produced according to the orders we receive; that is what our agents send out worldwide as they’re the ones in contact with the customers. The order only stipulates the quantity of a particular design. We no longer do custom orders.

Where is the work performed, what’s the size of the team, and how much do you produce in a given year? What is the creative process?

The creative process begins with some research: I need to find the point of departure for my collection, after which I select the given season’s colors and materials to be used. After this, I begin drawing. Our studio and workshop are in one location, so as soon as I’ve passed the drawing on, we can make a model of it quite quickly, to see how it looks in reality. Prototypes are sewn in house while mass production is performed by various sewing shops. Our team is small, with approximately 20 people working on the upcoming collection.

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Are you available in many markets?

Internationally, our clothes are sold in 28 countries in 150 different stores. In Hungary, you can find us in our Budapest store at Deák Square.

Who are your biggest customers?

The Benelux region and the United States. The greatest form of recognition is when my clothes are sold in stores that also sell the designs of my favorite and highly esteemed fashion designers. It’s also a great feeling when the media turns their eyes toward us. One of our favorite appearances was in one of the 2014 issues of South Korean VOGUE, where Miranda Kerr wore Nanushka clothes in the feature story alongside other brands such as Balenciaga and Givenchy. That made me truly happy.

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What is the average cost of one of your items of clothes?

This varies, as a simple top will start at 16,000 forints, while a winter coat is typically above 100,000 forints.

 

Translation provided by Helpers Business and Immigration Services. Find us at www.helpers.hu

You may find the original article here.

Tags: cult city


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