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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Artful Traveler: Budapest's Spectacular Summer

The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti once remarked, "If you come from Paris to Budapest you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest you think you are in Paris."

While that may have been true a few generations ago, Budapest today is a major destination for savvy  travelers.

We haven't visited in some time. We are itching to return after reading a dispatch in The Economist on the grand Hungarian capital's summer arts and festival scene.

"This central European nation’s dazzling cultural and musical heritage is now enjoying a renaissance," gushed A.L.B. in The Economist.

The Danube divides the two halves of Budapest, gloriously illuminated at night
While the Budapest Spring Festival just ended in March – a show starring John Malkovich and based on the autobiography of Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer, apparently was one of the highlights – April brings both the Titanic International Film Festival, a mammoth celebration of Hungarian cinema,  and Budapest 100, paying homage to the city's arresting architecture with tours of  the city's historic buildings and lesser known treasures.

Many other festivals and cultural events abound throughout the Summer.

"Evita" at the Budapest Summer Festival in 2009
From June 8 to September 8 the Budapest Summer Festival offers scores of open-air concerts, dramas, operas, and musicals on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. This year there's a musical based on Count of Monte Cristo, Moliere's The Misanthrope in Hungarian, and Puccini's Turandot, presumably not in a Magyar translation.

On June 23 the city's varied fine arts, history, science, and specialty museums remain open until 2:30am for the popular annual Night of the Museums. One ticket affords admission to all of them, as well as free transit on the municipal bus system until 5:00am, with special bus routes between collections to speed you safely on your nocturnal itinerary.

And then there's Sziget, one of the largest indie and alternative music festivals anywhere. Some 400,000 high-spirited spectators are expected this year between August 6-13.

With seven venues, including a pop-rock mainstage, a Europe stage, World Music stage, a Rock and Metal stage, and a party arena, there will be something for nearly everyone.

Enthusiastic fans at the Sziget Festival
On the program are international stars, such as the Chemical Brothers, Judas Priest, Kaiser Chiefs, Good Charlotte, and The Gotan Project plus less well known acts with intriguing names like Manic Street Preachers, Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, La Shica, Goran Bregovic Wedding And Funeral Band, and The Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77.

And those are just the ones we can pronounce. Coachella is bound to be pretty tame by comparison.

Certain to prove less intense is the Festival of Folk Arts, taking place from August 18-21. The event brings the finest Hungarian craftsmen and their work to Buda Castle from across the country. A variety of different folk crafts ranging from woodcarving to egg painting will be on display, and visitors can partake in many of the activities, as well as enjoy live folk music and dance performances.

When you've had your fill of music, drama, arts and egg painting, Budapest's summer food festivals are just the ticket.

Budapest's famous Széchenyi Bath. Not too shabby!
Restore yourself at the Foie Gras Festival (May 18-20), Budai Gourmet (June 7-20), Czech Beer Festival (June 6-12), or the Palinka Festival (May 10-13). Palinka is a type of potent Hungarian brandy. Three hundred different varieties will be offered, assuring both a good time and a splitting headache the next morning.

That's when you should take the day off and head to one of the numerous spas and thermal baths for which Budapest is famous.

Two of the most famous are the spa at the Hotel Gellért and Széchenyi Thermal Bath, a sprawling Baroque complex built in 1913. This palatial bath "includes a whirling corridor, underwater effervescence production, neck shower, water beam back massage installed in the sitting banks and many other services," according to budapest.com.

The translation may be a bit shaky, but you get the idea.

After a heady week or two of concerts, plays, brandy, quaint crafts, and raucous partying at Sziget, what could be a better way to bring your Hungarian idyll to a satisfying close?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
What's Going On In Paris And London

If you think you are a savvy traveler, then you'll want to always know what's going on in Paris and London.

Here are two web resources we rely on to keep au courant:

There's so much to do in Paris, one of the great destinations for art, food, strolling, and... shopping! That is why we frequently check Chic Shopping Paris for the latest boutique openings and sales. Lots of terrific shopping tips, too.

We also are dutiful readers of the weekly arts and culture e-mail published by London's Telegraph. In it you'll find useful, up-to-the-minute information about theatre, art exhibits, music and more. Sign up for the paper's Arts Agenda here.