European Capital Hop: Budapest

The Hungarian Parliament Building behind the silhouette of Rákóczi Ferenc lovasszobra, a national hero who led the uprising against the Hapsburgs of the Holy Roman Empire.

Over the next three weeks we’ll be European capital-hopping, where we have a few days in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague before ending up in Linz, Austria for the 2017 Ars Electronica Festival.  Like Riga, we have little time to get to know each city, but hopefully it’s enough to get a feel for what makes it unique.

First up: Budapest, capital of Hungary and the fusion of two prior towns – Buda, and Pest. Stretched across the Danube, the city is a mix of beautiful architecture, verdant parks, and busy car-filled roads. The most beautiful time for photography is dusk, when the city lights up its most iconic buildings.

The Hungarian Parliament Building, as viewed from utilitsa Alkotmany.
The moon rises over the southern wing of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
Visitors pause to read signage at the the impromptu protest memorial in front of the German Occupation Memorial. The protest memorial accuses the government of rewriting history to make Hungary seem like victims rather than supporters of the Nazis.
Memorabilia laid out at the protest monument, which argues that many Hungarians participated willingly in the murder of Jews, Roma, and homosexuals during World War II.
St. Steven’s Basilica at night.
Moonrise over Buda, on the other side of the Danube.
The stairwell leading up to our hostel.
Graffiti drawn on the side of an ornate building.
A sad robot.
Possibly some kind of revenge.
A team  of students participates in a scavenger hunt across the city.
Protesters occupy the edge of Varosliget, where the city has proposed to remove green space and replace it with a museum.
A stuffed animal watches over a donations box for the protestors.


A man pedals a Ferrari boat around the pond in Varosliget.
A typical day at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Varosliget Park. They were nowhere near as warm or relaxing as a Japanese onsen.
Men play cards on a patio at Szechenyi Baths.
A tour group wanders by a bronze statue in downtown Pest.
Lunch – lemonade, chicken with spaetzle, and strawberry soup.
The bank of the Danube.
A plant grows from a discarded bucket, washed ashore from the Danube.
Budapest Central Market Hall.

Jogja and the Angklung

A man performs on an angklung on Maliboro Street in Yogyakarta.

Ever heard of an angklung?

Me neither. It’s an Indonesian musical instrument, composed of hollow bamboo tubes cut and shaped to resonate at specific tones. By hitting or shaking them back and forth, a musician can perform a simple song and with many in tandem, a group of musicians can weave rich melodies. The angklung’s sound is decidedly tropical; it’s reminiscent of reminiscent of a marimba or xylophone, with a hint of wooden pipes. As an invention of Indonesia, the angklung is now classified by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

A standalone angklung.

But here in Yogyakarta, the angklung and its players are under threat. The city’s government has recently banned angklung performances from the streets and at traffic intersections, where people previously busked for a living. The government asserts that this measure is needed to clean up the streets and remove ‘vagrants’. But the angklung players aren’t fading away peacefully. They’re organizing protests and arguing they’ve got a right to a living, and by banning their performances the government of Yogyakarta is violating their human rights. We’ve seen one protest that’s shut down Jl. Maliboro (a main street of Jogja) entirely, with angklung players proudly waving signs saying “We’re artists, not vagrants!”

Performers shut down Maliboro Street as they protest the ban on streetside angklung performances.
Street performance: protesters loaded a whole band into the back of a truck to play as they march down Maliboro.

And then there are the groups choosing to ignore the ban entirely, hosting huge anglkung orchestras on Maliboro’s sidewalk once night falls. The band below was out in force nearly every night we were in Jogja, playing for huge crowds as men danced to the music.

Men dance to angklung music on Maliboro.
A streetside angklung band, with percussion and a bamboo xylophone accompaniment.

I get that Jogja wants to clean up its streets and make itself look more modern, and that a huge number of angklung players clogging the sidewalks and traffic intersections would be a pain. But the angklung players are trying to make a living and they’re a great-sounding and a unique part of Indoensia’s heritage. Having buskers out in the open means that heritage reaches more people, some of which couldn’t afford the cost of an orchestral ticket, some of which might never hear an angklung otherwise. Stoytcho and I would definitely have never heard or heard of an angklung if these guys hadn’t been playing them on the streets. So isn’t there some kind of peaceful compromise wherein both the city and angklung buskers would be happy?

The angklung performance attracts both locals and foreigners alike. Isn’t there a way to strike balance between allowing too many people to busk on angklungs an outright ban on their street performances?

Now that you’ve heard about it, hear what an angklung sounds like! Here’s some video of the guys above:

Travel in the time of Trump: Auckland

A flyer in Auckland’s downtown for a protest against Trump’s inauguration.

Even from afar, the image of the new U.S. president was unmistakable. We encountered the above flyer while walking around Auckland’s downtown, and when we walked across the street to read it we found it was for a protest of Trump’s inauguration. For those of you unsure of what “Aotearoa” is, it’s the widely-accepted Maori name for New Zealand’s North Island.

Though sparse on the details of their discontents on the flyer, the Aotearoa Against Trump group had plastered these flyers along the streets for nearly a mile. On some, people had scribbled a Hitler-like moustache onto Trump’s face. Others had profanity scribbled onto them. And yet others were partly ripped down, either by those angry by Trump’s election or angry at the protesters.

Trump is an unarguably a polarizing figure in the Americas, but his appearance as a protest target here in New Zealand illustrates how global that polarization is.  Some people in Auckland took the time to design this flyer, print it out, and put it up all over Auckland’s downtown. People also (ostensibly) showed up for this protest against Trump. Others vented their distaste through profanity or portraying him as Hitler. I wonder if there was also a counter-protest.

An intact poster next to a torn-down poster for the protest. These were two of about twenty posters we saw in our walk around one corner of the downtown area.

You could argue that the opinion of Auckland’s residents on the U.S. President doesn’t really matter. They’re not U.S. citizens and they don’t live in the U.S. It’s none of their business. But Auckland is the capital city of a country that the U.S. will have to work with, as an ally and a trading partner. The dislike of him here is a reminder that harsh rhetoric wins few friends and has ramifications outside of the election, influencing how other countries view the United States, and us as U.S. citizens. And while Trump and his allies may want to “put America first”, anything the U.S. does will have global ramifications and everyone outside the U.S knows it. Our country might find ourselves with fewer allies in the next four years.