In the castle district, the “var”, beer festivals pop up intermittently throughout the summer in the palace courtyard. Pay an entry fee, make a deposit on a castle themed beer mug, and taste from a selection of over priced beers. Even with the mark up, most visitors deem the festival a bargain. Everyone leaves happy – the well compensated beer vendors and the tourists who don’t mind spending a few extra dollars to drink their beer in a Hapsburg palace courtyard.
We drank our beer up in the Budapest var last summer. Our commemorative beer mugs are waiting patiently in our kitchen cupboard. I imagine few people bother to queue in order to reclaim their deposit. We didn’t.
Last weekend, we visited a beer festival with Hungarian friends. A cluster of brightly colored beer tents lined the Danube wedged between the river and the technical university of Budapest. This district lies a few steps south of the edges of the tourist zone. Here we found free entrance, plastic cups, and cheap beer. While tourists roam nearby, they stay just out of reach from this less beaten path.
We drank beer in the palace courtyard last summer. This summer, with retirement looming, we are entering the “buck a beer” phase of life.
Pat conversed with a man selling beer from his pale blue, restored Volkswagen van. He proudly boasted that Hungary was now entering the “beer revolution”. “The Czechs and Slovaks have a head start. But Hungary is getting serious about its beer now!” Last year, we talked to a man in Bratislava who proclaimed, “The Germans have their beer festivals. But here in Bratislava we are celebrating a beer revolution!”
I consider this progress. Not long ago, revolutions were serious ventures involving far graver consequences than beer bragging rights. Regional disputes are becoming no more than a fermentation based joust.
Friday, Pat toured American friends through the small Danube Bend village of Vac. Our favorite river facing restaurant was closed to host a private event, so they elected to lunch on langos in a tiny corner stall on the periphery of the village market. Here, wizzened babushka clad women sell their home grown produce from a line of matching green stalls. A fried slab of dough drenched in sour cream and grated cheese with a cold beer ran about two dollars. The animated conversations of the locals cost nothing.
People outside the cities generally like to talk to Americans. Any connotation of an “ugly American tourist” doesn’t exist in rural Hungary. At the langos stand, English and Hungarian were served up with neither team understanding a word from their opponents. Some of my best memories involve these disjointed conversations offered freely with a smile. It’s hard to be angry when eating cheese slathered, fried bread.
Langos for lunch wasn’t planned. Our life seldom is. The best days almost always involve a Plan B (or C, or D). Pat and our friends stayed in Vac longer than they anticipated and returned with stories and photos of a great day.
Tourist Hungary is a Habsburg treasure. Everyone should drink an overpriced beer in a Maria Theresa haunted courtyard.
Our buck a beer life mixes equal parts serendipity, dumb luck and blind faith. Cover it with sour cream and cheese and almost every bite tastes delicious.
Make it happen:
In coffee shops around town, look for the Funzine free magazine. This has a list of festivals for any given month. Consider those festivals outside the core of the city (not in Vorosmarty square, the Castle (Var) or City Park.
Vac is a lovely day trip and one of the lesser known Danube Bend towns. Click here for more information on taking the train to Vac for the day.
Categories: Insiders Budapest