Funny thing happened. It’s my birthday today, and my husband and daughter decided to take me out for Christmas shopping Sunday on Vaci Street in downtown Budapest on the walking strip next to the Danube River. We figured we would buy a sandwich and eat on a park bench somewhere during the pandemic.
I love going down there, and even without the Christmas markets that are traditionally lining the streets and packed with tourists this time of year, the city still shines. It is all decorated in tinsel and lights along the paths and shops, Christmas displays trying to loyer in the few stragglers braving COVID-19 and taking to the streets to make their purchases. Perfect to get us shoppers into the cheerful mood of gift giving.
We parked near the Vietnam restaurant as we normally do and walked the 10 minutes into the downtown core. This gave us exercise after being stuck at home for the last few weeks. We got a good feel of the cold weather to come and the heartwarming festivities just around the corner. We bundled ourselves up in scarves and winter boots and started on our stroll. We did notice how dead the city was at 10:30am on a Sunday morning; it was unexpected just 10 days before Christmas.
Alfonz had to go to the toilet, so we popped into a coffee shop, but they informed us that the new regulations states; no bathrooms open to public. I asked them what are people going to do? Those of us who are coming in from nearby villages? They said the public toilets are open. But after searching and finding two, they were not! Both closed?! We were getting pretty upset by this point, Alfonz was ready to drive home when we saw two uniformed police officers and we approached them.
“Excuse us!” Alfonz started to ask if there were any toilets anywhere.
The officer got angry at him and said “Put on your mask immediately!” Alfonz said I am 2,5 meters away from you, but no problem. He was getting it out of his pocket.
Policeman said “For the last month the regulation states, you must wear a mask as soon as you leave your home in Pest!”
“I am sorry but we live outside of the city limits and the rules are different.” Alfonz put on his mask and kindly asked again, “Are there any toilets?”
He said rudely, and quite abruptly, “I don’t know! Try Starbucks” and turned to walk away.
“Yes we did try, and they said they can only serve coffee to go, and the toilets are closed to the public.” I stated, “because on the other side, over there (I pointed to next to the closed toilets across the street) people are going to the bathroom on the streets!”
The young cop then said, ‘Why didn’t you call the police?!’
I laughed, “you wanted me to shout to you from there!” I mean really calling the police on my phone in Hungary would be ridiculous. By the time I made the call itself they would be gone! Anyways those two men peeing in the bushes had no choice did they? Asking an office where we can find a toilet and they act as if they are far too busy to help. Makes me remember what I miss about home the most. Kindness, helpfulness, loving behaviour; do unto others… I tapped my shoes together, ‘there’s no place like home’ nuts it didn’t work, I am still stuck here!
Angelina and I continued. We went to our favourite store to buy our for Christmas gifts for each other, and Alfonz went on the hunt for an open toilet. It took him about 35 minutes to return after he finally found one in the indoor mall by Mouler on the other end of Vaci Street. Although the mall itself was closed, thankfully they kept the bathrooms open all the time.
As soon as we bought something for everyone in our immediate family for the holidays, we made our way home to Solymar as fast as we possibly could. I have no idea what the government is thinking, but closing the toilets of patrons will not stop the spread of COVID, but might actually stop the economy in the already deserted Pest shopping streets. Because if you can only shop close to home for Christmas, the whole downtown core will go bankrupt by February! There is already evidence that it is underway. Just look at how many shops have ‘for rent’ or ‘closing their doors forever’ signs pinned on them. The last time I saw Budapest in such a state of array like this was just after communism fell and in 1990 I came for a visit. Store fronts were boarded up, homeless on the streets, garbage piled up everywhere, and graffiti. It seems so sad all these entrepreneurs and small business owners going out of business. I guess we will all be working at Auchan soon enough.
I am not sure what the future holds for any of us during quarantine, but we must try to keep the economy going. It is going to be a very quiet Christmas this year.