Monthly Archives: April 2016

Take Photos of What You Love

From time to time I get reflective and think about what real motivates me to get out of my [oh so comfortable] bed, and while I’ve pursued many hobbies over my life, the one consistent one has been photography. I got my first camera in first grade, and have been happily snapping since.

My ‘day’ job doesn’t allow for much creativity, my written notes aren’t meant to be creative. In fact brevity and details are praised much more than creativity and embellishments.  This blog [and its predecessors] was started as nothing more than a creative outlet.  I like being a writer and photographer; I also like saving lives. My ‘day’ job requires me to talk to people all day long, and for a natural introvert, that’s hard. Writing and photography are more solitary pursuits and combined with hiking, these are the passions that have stuck with me throughout my life.

I love storytelling, and I love being creative. I thrive on taking risks, stepping into the unknown and exploring new places, and if I end up inspiring others to do the same, well that’s just the icing on the cake. I would never call myself an ‘artist’, but in some way I think all photographers are artists to some degree.  I may not be able to draw a straight line with a ruler, but perhaps I can see things in a different way, and that may inspire someone in some way.

I do almost no post-processing.  I used to use Flickr a bit, but they had some issues last year, and I do love the new flickr. However, I have nearly 4000 photos on the site so I still visit it from time to time. I’ve never used Lightroom or Photoshop but I’d like to learn . This is what I’ve learned in 30+ years of snapping photos

  1. Animals are where it’s at

I don’t like taking pictures of people.  Maybe it’s because I live alone.  My entire family could fit inside a thimble.  I don’t want to take photos of strangers, and I don’t want to be one of those self-obsessed selfie taking insta-grammers either.  So yeah–people aren’t my favorite subject.  But animals. How many  people say that they do not like animals?  Almost no one. And those people who say they don’t like animals, well I probably wouldn’t like them either.

Glance at almost any travelers’ bucket list and you’ll see animals predominantly featured. Maybe not explicitly, but ask anyone who has listed African Safari on the list what part of the African Safari they’d  like to see, and most will respond ‘Lions’ or ‘Elephants’.  My point being, the animals are the draw.  Same with visiting the Arctic.  The main draws for the frozen tundra are northern/southern lights and polar bears, grizzlies bears, penguins and puffins. I mean even I’d brave the cold for a chance to see that.

I think seeing wild animals is a great appeal to travel. And for me it certainly makes a good story. How can you begin to compare seeing a lion sleeping in a zoo with tracking a pride of wild lions on safari in Africa? Or seeing lemurs on fake tree branches versus seeing them in the wild of Madagascar.  And most of the time, animals carry on about their business paying you no attention so you can shoot to your heart’s content.  And after about 100 shots, you may just get ‘the one.’

2. Have the right equipment

Despite what people say, there is no “right” camera. The best camera is the one you have with you. Growing up, I would have sold my soul for a Nikon D90,  but I never got one.  Instead, I once I had enough money, I went to the local pawn shop and bought two Pentax camera  bodies and 3 lenses. I learned a lot using those cameras, and some of that knowledge sticks with me today. I’ll shoot with whatever is in front of me. I used to be staunchly anti- camera phones, but have been in situations where that was  the only camera I had available.  I’ve used all sorts of different cameras and lenses over the years when shooting wildlife and I have only one piece of advice – get a good zoom.

 

Using a telephoto lens, I’m talking more than 100mm or its equivalent, is something I feel strongly about; I’ve seen too much bad behavior concerning wildlife and personal space. For example, National  Parks have signs all over the place telling you what distance to keep between you and animals, but do people listen? Nope. They do not.  And then they wonder why the bear takes a swipe at them.

I currently use an Olympus Mirrorless 4/3 camera set-up, and one of my favorite lenses for animals in the 150-300mm.  I can safely keep my distance, yet get up close and personal.

3.  The right time, right place, and lost of patience is key.  On that note,  be proactive and eager.

You can’t force wildlife photography – that means being in the right place at the right time. Whether you  plan your trip around a specific event or make sure your schedule is  flexible enough to accommodate spending extra time here ort her, it’s up to you. Also make sure you’re prepared with all the equipment you might need including enough memory cards and batteries. You can never have too many batteries.

Giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

Always take more photos than you mean too. Always. When you are out in the elements looking at the tiny screen on the back of your camera, it is really hard to tell what’s in focus, what isn’t, and if you have it composed how you want to, and if it’s properly exposed if you are in a harsh environment or if the animals are on the move.

Even when I want to stop, I fire off a few more clicks of my camera. Sometimes I even go back another day if possible. Everything is changing, and wildlife photography is so unpredictable so it’s important to keep trying because even when you think you nailed the shot, you might not have or there’s an even better shot just around the corner.

If you are really passionate about wildlife, then it’s easy.

4. Practice and focus

If I know that I am going to be snapping animal photos, I like to use my portrait lens. It’s a Olympus 25mm [50mm DSLR equivalent] and I wish it was the first lens I ever used. It’s perfect to learn on. Because you can drop the aperture down to 1.4 (which is really big) and you can get the most beautiful portraits with stunning depth of field. This means that the face is really sharp and focused and the background is blurry.

In fact, if you are shooting at f/1.4 it’s so sharp that you have to focus on the eyes because the nose will blur a bit and vice versa. Learning to shoot focusing on the eyes is hard, especially with animals and takes practice – the details are always in the eyes. In fact, shooting wildlife in general takes practice because you have no control over their behavior and you have to be fast and prepared for anything.

So if you have any pets, practice taking their photos. I’ve spent hours practicing with my new lens on my  cat. Anad not just my cat either. I take pictures of friends’ cats and neighbor’s cats too.  I want to get as much practice as possible photographing animals that aren’t familiar with me so that when I encounter animals in their natural environment. For me, the hardest thing is getting the focus right so I practice as much as possible whenever I can.

To me, wildlife photography is essentially the same as portrait photography, except animals don’t listen  and might eat you given half the chance. Kind of like photographing children, I guess.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Wild animals are in fact wild animals.  They deserve our respect and when we are in their territories, we should play by their rules.  We live in a world where people are obsessed with the perfect selfie or snapping the most amazing photo ever–consequences be damned. But if an animal bites you or scratches you, then you are at fault and  have no one else to blame when you end up in the hospital for months receiving IV antibiotics. Be patient, give them space, and let the animals come to you.  Unless it’s a bear. Or a lion.

 

6. Keep learning, be open

Just when I think I’ve mastered the art of taking photos, someone shows me something I never seen or even thought about before. So much of what I have learned has come from talking to other photographers, asking questions, trial and error, and watching video tutorials online. Even now I still download courses and am always Googling photography tips trying to get better.

A castle, a conspiracy, and a love story

Here’s the thing about Tuscany: it’s so freaking beautiful and historic. And tasty. Wine, bread, olives, olive oil. I’m sure it’s beautiful… especially in spring/summer/fall. Winter is pretty awesome too.

After spending some time taking in some winter sports with the best athletes on the planet and searching for my soul against the tiny coastal villages nestled against the Mediterranean, it was time to get down of discovering what Italy is known for:  good food, good wine, and good art.

A Castle

But first a side trip to back in time.  Enter Trebbio Castle, built in 1184!  1184.  That was the dark ages for crying out loud.  Anyway back to the story…

trebbio 1

The castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi Family, [Italian language lesson=‘pazzi’ means crazy]. In fact, the family was pretty crazy to even attempt such a thing, but these were different times.  Ever hear of the Medicis–you know the family that rules these parts back then? The Pazzis and Medicis were rivals.  Somewhere deep in the castle [IDK if this part is true, but it sounds good] Francesco and Salviati Pazzi, with the help of Pope Sixtus IV and his newphew Girolamo Riario concocted an plan against the Medicis. The Pope was upset that the Medici’s were attempting to thwart his Papal power over the North-central Romagna region. And if you’re wondering whether it was successful or not, just check to see whose balls are all over Florence… a little hint, they’re not the Pazzis.

trebbio 2

Here’s the thing about a time before photography or the internet.  You can use your imagination to picture how things happened.  It was April 26, 1478.  Easter morning.  The most sacred of sacred mornings.  It was beautiful–spring in full bloom–warm even.   All the Florentines were in the Duomo for High Mass.  The Pazzis snuck in to the Duomo and managed to get a seat near the Medicis.  Catholics being catholics the homily was probably eerily similar to Easter homilies today.  I like to think it happened right as the priest was offering communion to the Medicis. The Pazzis managed to fatally stab one of the Medici brothers, Giuliano, but Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ managed to escape. The Florentines side with the Medicis and killed the present Pazzis on the spot.  And all sins were immediately forgiven…

You might be wondering what happened to the castle after the demise of the Pazzis; it fell to disrepair. A caretaker lived there for 15 years [contractually], but as soon as he was able, he skedaddled off with a young missy in tow.

The love story

Fast forward 500 years or so…A young Austrian girl come to Italy to learn Italian.  Whilst on the train, she meets the the man who would become her husband.  They married and settled in Milan.  Never-mind the 40 year age difference [I’m all about the older men, but I don’t think I could do 40 years older].  She was 19; he was 59.  Six years of marriage = 5 children.

One day he came to her and said “A few years ago, I was a lonely man, so to thank you for all that you have given me, I bought you castle in Tuscany with over 800 acres.’  [Sidenote:  If ever a man wanted to buy me a castle in Tuscany, I’d let him].  I’m sure he didn’t quite expect the turn of events that set the castle’s restoration in motion.  You see, there’s no heat in that castle; I’m sure he expected that the Missus would only want to live in the castle in the summer, but oh no–give a girl a castle, she’ll want to live there for life.
SONY DSC

And so they did.  Restorations began in 1968. They started the wine and olive oil production. The castle is now in the hands of their daughter, Anna Baj Macario, who took over the estate with her husband Stefano Casadei, who is the winemaker. They live full time in the castle, which still doesn’t have heating, and is really quite cold, especially in February.

It takes over 100,000 euros a year to maintain this place so in addition to making wine and olive oil, they give tours, offer cooking classes, have apartments for rent and host events like weddings at the castle.

The moral of this story:  Life can start at any age usually when you least expect it. [Or how it applies to me; don’t give up on life just yet].

And a bonus:  A recipe for homemade pasta

Ingredients: EGGS ( 1 egg per person), FLOUR (*100 grams per person), EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (1 teaspoon), SALT

trebbio 5

On a wooden board, put the flour in the shape of a volcano, and the eggs in the middle. Add the extra virgin olive oil and some salt. With a fork, start mixing the eggs, taking the flour from the side, little by little or it will result lumpy.

Then, start mixing the dough with the hands. Don’t work it too much, because the pasta must result porous, in order to better absorb the sauce.

Then, when the dough is homogeneous, leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Then, roll out the dough: firstly by hand, after with the rolling pin. Put a handful of flour on the dough in order to roll it out better, or it will stick to your hand/to the rolling pin. Turn the dough once in a while in order to give it a round and not oval shape. When the dough is very flat (*1-2 mm), leave it again to rest half an hour.

Then, fold the dough. Now you can cut the dough to prepare the shape of the pasta that you prefer: tagliatelle are wide stripes, tagliolini are narrow stripes.

Open the stripes, and let them dry.

Handmade Tagliatelle with “Sausage” Sauce:

Put some onion, celery, thyme, and rosemary in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then add fresh sausage: when the meat gets a nice brown color, add peeled tomatoes. Let it boil for about 1 hour and 30 min.

Handmade Tagliolini with Vegetarian Sauce:

Put some shallot (kind of onion) and celery in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add grated carrots and zucchini, some thyme and some fresh basil. Add some fresh cream, and chili (if you’d like).

*Metric measurement  because, you know, Italy ain’t America.

2770 and still going strong

Unpacking is never ending. I was recently going through some of my boxes, and found photos and other mementos of my trip to Rome [and Italy] over 10! years ago. Time flies when you’re busy traveling the world, writing a blog, going to graduate school,working an actual real job, and doing all the other things that occupy life.

Anyway… I came across a little statue I had bought of Romulus and Remus… which got me thinking [it’s always the smallest details…] when EXACTLY was Rome founded. And so I did a little sleuthing and discovered a bit about Rome’s discovery. [Because, yes I am #ahistorynred]

The stories

romulus and remus
Romulus and Remus… more than 2770 years ago

I remember snapping this photo at one of the [many] museums I visited in Rome. I remember the guide telling us the story of Romulus and Remus. I remember the cold, the rain outside, and it didn’t matter how long the tour lasted I was there until it quit raining. Yes, I had an umbrella and raincoat, but it was COLD and I don’t like the cold. So museum-ing I went.

According to one story, the founder was a Trojan hero, while another tells of 2 brothers fighting it out for the prize. Whatever the truth, Rome celebrates its birthday – known as Il Natale di Roma, the Birth of Roma – on 21st of April, and has done so for 2770 years.

Story #1

Our Trojan hero, Aeneas, achieved fame fighting the Greeks in the Trojan Wars. He was son of the goddess Venus and a mortal father. He escaped Troy before the death of Laocoon and the destruction of the city in 1220 BC. And according to Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas then went on a bit of a wander before finally landing in Italy. Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid, [which I have never even attempted to read] written between 29 and 19 BC, stretches over 12 books and 9896 [wow, count them!] lines of dactylic hexameter rhyme.

The first six books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy.  The second six books describe his victory in battle in Latium. The victorious Aeneas set up home in Latium and married the daughter of a local ruler, King Latinus. How and when Aeneas set up Rome is a bit vague, but Virgil and the Ancient Romans saw him as their ancestor, founder and, most importantly, a link back to the legends of Troy and ultimately, therefore, the gods. And historians of the day recorded that Aeneas named his new city “Rhome”, meaning strength. But sadly for Virgil and Aeneas, however, there is a more popular founding tale that has taken over; the story of the she-wolf and the twin brothers.

While Virgil’s story certainly is plausible, I prefer the other story.

Story #2

Before we can get to the boys, though, we need to backtrack a bit.  Their story starts with King Numitor of Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium. Numitor, son of King Procas was a descendant of our old friend Aeneas. On his father’s death, Numitor inherited the throne.  Unfortunately for him, his brother Amulius coveted the position. In 794 BC, he overthrew the new king, and murdered his sons in order seize power for himself.

Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, was forced to become a Vestal Virgin. The pagan god Mars, however, had other ideas as he had fallen in love with the new priestess and decided to sneak into her temple to sleep with her. Rhea bore him beautiful twin boys and named them Romulus and Remus and so the story begins. Still with me?

Amulius was furious, as any evil uncle would be, and promptly threw Rhea into the River Tiber [sarcasm font: because it’s ALWAYS the woman’s fault]. Fortunately the river’s waves caught her, she married the river god who saved her.

The twins were similarly thrown to the river’s mercy. Set adrift in a reed basket, the babes floated gently downstream until finally being caught in branches of a fig tree at the bottom of a hill named Palatine in honor of Pale, goddess of shepherds.

And this is where the story gets a bit unusual.  According to legend, the she-wolf, an animal held sacred to Mars, found the twins, fed them until a shepherd arrived and took them home to his wife. Over the years, the twins grew up knowing their story. In 753 BC, at 18, they decided to start a new city near to the site of the fig tree that had caught them. Sadly, they couldn’t agree on which of 7 hills in the area that they should build. Romulus favored the Palatine hill whilst Remus preferred the Aventine. Kids!

romulus bas relief

So to settle the argument the twins turned to religion. They read signs from the gods to resolve the fight. The boys took the presence of birds on the hills as an indication of favor and so Palatine won.  Romulus saw 12 birds on his hill whilst Remus only saw six on his.

You’d think that after all the family conflict down through the years the boys would have learned how to play nicely.  Sadly, they did not. Remus teased his brother by repeatedly jumping over the low settlement boundary. And whether in jest or jealousy, his actions represented a bad omen for the new city suggesting that the city’s defenses could be easily overcome.

Romulus took the jeering badly.  The joke finally turned sour when Remus was murdered either by his own brother or one of his followers on 21 April 753 BC, 2770 years ago!

temple of rome
Temple of Rome…not Temple of Reme

The victorious Romulus named his new settlement – Rome – after himself. He oversaw the growth of his new city, and captured Sabine to help populate his dream. There’s no record of when or how Romulus died. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Romulus may have vanished in a violent storm in 717 BC at 53. The Romans clearly still venerated Romulus though, and declared him a deity after his death.

roman forum

So Happy 2770 th birthday, Roma. You don’t look at day over 2000.

Cats, Hemingway, and Key West

I have a confession to make that will put me squarely in the literary hall of shame–I have never, not even once, read a book by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried…I just find them incredibly boring, but to have been Hemingway, to have lived a carefree life of travel, whisky, women [ok, not interested in that part],  and writing, that part is appealing to me. And a giant house full of cats.  The only thing that keeps me from adopting all the strays in the hood is the fact that I do like to pack my bags and head out for a bit.  I can find kitty-sitters for  Lucy and Christopher; if I had 10 or so, it might be a bit more difficult.  Anyway, I digress…

Key West is well known for it’s unique and historic houses, but I’d wager the Hemingway House is the most popular if for no other reason than its former [and current] occupant[s].

hemingway house

The Hemingway House

The house was originally owned by Asa Tift, a marine architect and captain, who built the house in 1851. The estate didn’t become Hemingway’s home until 1931. He purchased the property, which by then had been boarded up and abandoned, for $8,000 in back taxes owed to the city.

Hemingway, his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons lived together in the house until 1940, when Hemingway left for Cuba. In 1951, Pauline (now his ex-wife) died leaving the house vacant, apart from the caretaker that lived on the property.

For the next ten years, Hemingway used the house as a place to stay during his trips between Cuba and his home in Ketchum, Idaho. When Hemingway died in 1961, his sons agreed to sell the estate.

During his years in Key West, Hemingway completed about 70% of his works including A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. [of which, I’ve read none…hangs head in shame]

heminway study
I *might* could get some writing done in an office such as this.

After his death, the house sold at a silent auction for $80,000. A local business owner, Bernice Dixon purchased the house. She lived in the main home until 1964, when she moved into the guest house and turned Hemingway’s home into a museum. After Bernice’s death in the late 1980’s, the estate was passed onto her family who have kept the property open to visitors wanting to learn about the life of Ernest Hemingway.

My interest in visiting the Hemingway house was not because I’m a Hemingway fan , but because I love old architecture. I especially have a thing for buildings with wrap around porches and wooden shutters.

heminway house porch

Hemingway’s Cats

And the cats.  Oh yes, I knew all about the cats ahead of time. Any place that has cats roaming around is my kind of place. Each cat [and there are more than 40 fabulous felines roaming the house and grounds] has six toes or at least the genetic trait to pass on to future ancestors of Hemingway’s favorite pets. These polydactyl cats live all over the grounds. They were all born here and are completely used to camera wielding tourists. They can sleep through any shutter speeds, but occasionally want to be pet or scratched behind the ear.

During my walkabout the house, a cat pranced into the bedroom and clawed at the carpet [just like Lucy does]. She was permitted to do so [unlike Lucy]. She then plopped down at the feet a group of tourists … quite certain that no one would step on her [Much like Christopher. Cats really are the same no matter where you go]. Another cat was asleep on the master bed.

Hemingway cat 4

Legend goes that Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. Rumour has it six toed cats are good luck…kinda like cute little four leaf clovers. The gift-kitten was from a litter of the captain’s cat Snowball, who also had six toes.

Hemingway’s boys named their new kitten Snow White and as Hemingway once wrote, “one cat just leads to another”. Even today, some of the cats that live at Hemingway Home are descendants of the original Snow White.

hemingway-cat 3

Argghhhhh….I can’t even stand the cuteness of this guy.

There are so many cats at Hemingway’s house that the museum has its own veterinarian to care for them. How cool is that job. A Cat only veterinarian. Sign me up! Cats, unfortunately, do not live forever. However, there is Cat Cemetery behind the house where one can pay respects.

Hemingway House, cat 5
This guy looks just like my sweet Kaos.

Running around Charleston

I am many things, but one thing I am not is a runner.  Despite my many years of playing sports, running was always my least favorite activity. So how I let myself be talked into running a 10K as my very first (and most likely my last) is beyond me. In a flash of what I can only describe as temporary insanity, I signed up for the 10K.  The thinking was that if I knew I was going to run a race, I’d train for it. Ummmm… not so much.  I don’t enjoy running, and I enjoy cold weather less so October-ish was the last time I did any real training.

My goal is always the same– to not finish last.

Cooper River Bridge Run –        10K  RUNNER          26285
MICHELLE PRYCE         TRAVELERS REST, SC        Female / 35
Date Event Race Name City/State Age Bib Place Cat. Place Pace Time
2015 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K Michelle Pryce Travelers Rest/SC 35 26285 12536 810 10:53/mi 1:07:52

I wore trail running shoes instead of actual running shoes and warm up pants instead of shorts. To say I didn’t dress the part is an understatement, but no matter– I finished 12536th place… decidedly not last in a field of near 40,000 other runners.  My friend DJ finished a lot higher up than I did.


Part of my issue with running is that I get distracted by the scenery… and this is why I make a much better traveler than runner.

We were up much earlier than the sun to catch the shuttle boat from Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

night bridge
the bridge in the frosty moonlight…it was right around freezing when we headed over to the starting line

shem creek
we got to see the sun rise over Shem Creek before the race started


The American flag was parachuted in. It was super-cool to watch

At about 8:30 or so, I was off. The winner had already finished by the time I started. Since the main draw of the race in running over the Cooper River bridge, the bridge is the focal point.

bridge

it is a beautiful and architecturally interesting bridge.

Charleston and I have a long, complicated history. Charleston is where I fell in love with travel. I vividly remember an elementary school field trip to visit Ft Sumter, Drayton Hall, and the historic battery. It’s a short boat ride out to the fort, but my imagination stirred–what if we keep going? Where will we end up? What was daily life life in the 1700’s? 1800’s? 1900’s? As a self-professed history nerd, Charleston has everything. Pre-Revolutionary history all the way to today.

Charleston is also where I fucked-up the best relationship I’ve ever been in.  So now my relationship status with the city can only be described as “it’s complicated.”

Old cemeteries rock my world and Charleston is full of them.

Cannons still guard the entry [by water] to downtown

for shoppers, the city market is awesome… going strong 200 years +

my favourite meal ever–Shrimp and grits, and if you don’t care for that, there are plenty of other awesome places to eat and foods to try.

 

The story of Szimpla Kert

Budapest is an odd little city, and part of what makes it odd also makes it cool. Budapest is home to ruin bars, and a visit to the capital of Hungary isn’t complete without a drink (or two) at one of these bars which are unique to the city and unlike nearly anything else I’ve ever seen [and for the non-drinkers among us, most of these places have offerings such as  fresh lemonade,coffee, or devine hot chocolate].  I visited my first ruin bar during my first visit to the city in January 2013. Back then, I did Budapest’s version of a ‘pub tour’ and got to visit quite a few of these establishments. My favourite by far is Szimpla Kert, a garden/pub/cafe/souvenir shop/farmer’s market/local hangout/shisha bar.  Whatever you can think of, it’s happening here.

 Budapest Ruin Pubs

Known by locals as ‘romkocsma’ (ruin pub in Hungarian), these pubs have been a part of the drinking culture for over a dozen years. Every one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colours and unique ambience you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest. And it all seems to have started in the city’s 7th district.

The neighbourhood was largely damaged and neglected after World War II and it’s said that ruin pubs are what changed the district’s future for the better. Where many saw abandoned factories and deteriorating apartment complexes, the people behind Szimpla saw potential. Over the years, the transformation of these buildings (and now others across the city) led to an entirely new concept in Budapest that is pretty darn cool.


The Story of Szimpla Kert

Szimpla originally opened in 2002 as an indoor cafe in a location a few blocks away from its current location, but the ruin pub trend didn’t actually begin until 2004 when they relocated to their current address at 14 Kazinczy Street.  Before Szimpla moved in, the area was a relatively quiet spot in the VII District or Jewish Quarter, and the future ‘pub’ was a dilapidated building was a former stove factory. Through the magic of vision, it was transformed into one of the coolest, most eclectic bars I have ever seen.

It was first opened as Szimpla Kertmozi [kertmozi means garden cinema in Hungarian] and their large courtyard was the place to hangout and watch underground/indie films. While they’re still known to play the occasional outdoor movie, Szimpla Kert has come a long way in the last 13+ years.

Szimpla Kert

One of the criticisms of Szimpla Kert is that approximately 80% of the guests are non-Hungarian.  In fact, while the menu and signs were in Hungarian, the languages I heard most often were English [Australian version], German, and maybe Czech [I’m a little fuzzy on that one]. Nonetheless the place represents the rebirth of Budapest.  It represents entrepreneurship and making use of the architectural opportunities of the city – even if that means the city’s ruins. Szimpla Kert changed Budapest’s international image and unintentionally created the “ruin pub” genre, for which Budapest is now famous around the world.

It’s hard to put the atmosphere into words but I’ll try… Narrow hallways and spiral staircases take you through the indoor/outdoor are where you’ll encounter dozens of rooms varying in size and usually with their own theme. When it comes to the decor,  anything goes; don’t be surprised to see a bicycle hanging from the ceiling, a clawfoot tub being used as a loveseat, a robot dancing in a phone booth or a Trabant car smack in the middle of the garden. You’ll find graffiti, funky art and pretty much everything that doesn’t ‘belong’ in a pub. And yet, it all makes perfect sense. Everything fits. Even the row of seats taken straight out of a theatre. And the neon kangaroo that was probably once part of an amusement park.

Countless other ruin pubs have followed in the footsteps of Szimpla. So much so that there are now even specifically designed venues aiming to be romkocsma-esque. The idea of converting buildings that lay in ruin into lively venues seems so simple in its resourcefulness that the idea has taken off in other cities in Europe too.

The Sunday Farmer’s Market

I’m a sucker for a good market and the city of Budapest has many. But most are closed on Sunday and only one is inside a ruin pub. Each Sunday, from 9am till 2pm, Szimpla Kert transforms into a garden of charming farmers’ market stands. There are several local vendors selling everything from fresh bread to veggies, organic spreads and even truffles. There’s also a new all-you-can-eat brunch Sunday morning in their salon upstairs with local ingredients served buffet-style.

Szimpla farmers’ market breakfast meat spread

 

Szimpla for Coffee

They have great coffee. They have free wifi. Need I say more? Most wouldn’t think to take an afternoon coffee break at a ruin pub but I actually think Szimpla is a really great place to visit during the day. You get a chance to see how bizarre some of the decor is and you’ll be sure to discover a corner or an entire room you might have missed while visiting at night. You can even bring your pet in with you (except during the farmer’s market). Another reason Szimpla Kert is great for that coffee date is it’s nice and quiet. Because silence is something you can bet you won’t find here on a Friday night. Or any night actually…

I hope by now you’ve come to realize that Szimpla Kert is more than just a bar. It’s an iconic place in Budapest with an obvious presence in the community and you can be sure if I ever find myself in Budapest again, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what cool and amazing things they have added there.

Szimpla Kert is cash only and for more information, opening hours and all current events, you can visit their website.