I think it was our second night in Budapest where we wandered over to Liszt Ferenc tér in the center for a meal. By and large, there are restaurants just about everywhere in Budapest. It just happened that when we headed out with some friends, we really couldn’t find anywhere to eat in our vicinity. After a bit of walking, this tree-lined square came in to view. It seemed that our prayers had been answered with one restaurant after another to choose from.
Once walking around though, it quickly became apparent that this was the Budapest version of Belden Place wherein it is just an endless line of restaurants that all have outdoor seating, similar menus, and similar prices. We walked through all of this for a bit with various hosts shoving menus at us, again just like Belden Place. It got to be more than a bit discouraging and it seems that the two Belden Place owners based most of their ideas on hospitality on annoying places like this, only to have the nerve to claim that it’s “European”. I’ve had hangovers that were more European than this.
We really should have gone. There was only one restaurant that looked promising, but it had this damned reservation system and it was impossible to even wait for a table. We were getting tired though and committed the “Italian sin” which is that we sat down to eat at an Italian restaurant in Europe that wasn’t in Italy. This should never be done and again, we really should have gone.
The meal was so-so. The prices were high. The service was horrible as the girl waiting on us was an idiot with an attitude. The tips were forcibly included. I have no doubt that the situation would have been the same at any other restaurant as out of the 20 or so restaurants that are here, only one makes it in to any guidebook.
Then there is the scene. It is very much a crowd of people out for a night and wanting to be as hot as they can be. All the guys look like thugs. All the girls look like hookers. I’m not really sure if these are Hungarians or not, but all of them were unappealing. Then, in the middle of this, an old man walks along wearing a worn suit, his body skinny and crooked with age, as he tries to sell roses to all these fancy people who just ignore him. From table to table he bounced like some dog begging for table scraps.
Let me just state that it is so incredibly wrong for children or the elderly to be begging. I’m not saying that they don’t have a right to do it. I’m saying that if a society has pushed them in to this, then there is something wrong with that society and there was very much something wrong with this microcosm of a society out for a night on Liszt Ferenc tér. Of course the irony is that all these glamorous people out spending all their money will inevitably end up like this fellow someday.
Anyways, #1 Fan and I felt pretty rotten with this whole scene. We are not fancy people and this square was an ill place. I bought one of the roses this old man was selling. I paid him the equivalent 4€ because I didn’t have anything smaller. He tried to explain how he was selling them, but he only spoke Hungarian and German and me, well… neither of those. Of course, all of the fancy people were watching me do this transaction, apparently stunned that someone would give a damn about someone, because that’s just not done.
Yes, in the end I did overpay for a rose that really wasn’t that good, but I would much rather blow my money buying a rose from him than being forced to pay a 12% tip to the restaurant we ate at with crappy service and so-so food. Admittedly, I did wonder if maybe this was a scam by this guy, but later the next day, I saw him coming out of a Metro station, wearing the same wrinkled suit, dragging his aging body up the stairs with a small bag of cheap groceries. My guess is that he’s on his own and just squeaking by until his days are over. Or maybe he’s scamming everyone, but I prefer to not think that. I would rather think ill of the dining crowd.
So, to sum up, Liszt Ferenc tér: bad. Watching an old man begging to sell roses to glitterati: even worse. Blogging about how horrid this square is and telling everyone who reads this to avoid it at all costs: priceless.