How would you impress a man used to the endless vistas of Texas and, er, Virginia, if he were to show up in Hungary in desperate need of a drive? A loopy French executive hatchback on greater Budapest’s best driving road may not be the worst place to start.
My first and so far only visit to Texas occured in the hot, hot summer of 1998 aboard an air-conditioned-to-Antarctica Greyhound bus, that gem of low-cost American travel, $59 from DC to Dallas, at the tender but curious age of 17, armed with some t-shirts, and a family size bag of cheese-flavored popcorn for an edible pillow. Strange days were spent in Texas; some featured wading ankle-deep in dead crickets, some eating the best fried chicken in the known universe, some watching the balletic rocket jumps of the world’s best Quake players, then, 14 years later, Matt Hardigree came to Budapest and we went for a drive.
As Jalopnik’s recently semi-retired European correspondent, I’d love to take credit for supplying Matt with the most weirdly European car currently on the market but said credit must go to our very own prolific commenter MoRphine-2, driver of an MR2 and procurer of French weirdness, who got us a Citroën DS5, a space lounge with concave taillights and jet fighter instruments dreaming of a Renault Avantime.
By the time we plopped ourselves into its dark interior, Matt had already been in Hungary for five days, being fed curious burritos, exposed to endless editorial meetings and introduced to Hungarian car geeks, without leaving downtown, so an escape north- then westward was in order. The route out of town led across the dramatic pylons of northern Budapest’s Stephen Colbert Bridge, which is actually called Jon Stewart Bridge but don’t tell anyone.
You may be wondering what a DS5 is, mainly because you’ll never see it on American roads, so a brief explanation: it’s a medium-sized French car with a diesel engine up front which drives the front wheels, an electric engine in the rear which drives either the rear or all wheels, and 15 separate panes (I counted) of glass encircling the passenger cockpit. Or shall I call it the cock-lounge? It’s a good enough and, more importantly, French enough car that incoming French president François Hollande used one for his inauguration parade last May. Not only that, he used a convertible. Ooh la what-were-you-thinking la. No word on whether or not he rocked out with his coq out on his way to the Élysée Palace.
After a bit of workday afternoon stop-and-go traffic, we reached the twists and turns and decreasing radius downhill right-handers of the magical four miles of tarmac which connect the Budapest suburb of Csobánka with the Budapest suburb of Pilisvörösvár, both in the Pilis, a dreamy volcanic hillscape which kooky Hungarian spiritualists think is the center of the universe. It’s certainly a pulchritudinous place and the road is the same road which served as the backdrop to my depressive 2010 essay on supercars and the Apollo program. Matt took the wheel of the DS5 in Csobánka and hit the tarmac with Texan fervor. Ladies and gentlemen, he’s a pretty good driver, and I say this used to my Alain-Prost-in-couture-disguise wife Natalie driving the hell out of her rev-happy little Fiat on this very road.
Stomachs slingshot to all four corners of Hungary and France, MoRphine-2, Matt and I motored on to Solymár, home of Zazzi, the best pastry shop in Hungary, run by ladies who found retiree life too dumb, fled to France, became French pastry chefs, then came back and showed the ignorant masses the magic of using seven different kinds of real butter and endless types of fresh fruit. Bonus points: using an actual paint gun to deliver the final touch to their avant-garde take on brownies, a decadent play on the various textures achievable with chocolate, an example of which was consumed by Matt with a volley of oh-yeah’s. They also make macarons, some of which I photographed a couple of years ago, mainly because they complement the paintjob of the Porsche 917/20 Pink Pig, a scale model of which I’m a proud owner of. They also taste like seventh heaven. Zazzi’s macarons, not the toy Pink Pig.
Your Mr. Hardigree is back in the U. S. of A. now. I hope you’ll judge I took good care of him. MoRphine-2, too. Allez les bleus!
Photos, taken between 1998 and 2012, by Peter Orosz.