I love the long summer twilight in Budapest, where al fresco dining is popular and dinners turn into parties. John Fusco, our show creator, invited some of us to his favorite Italian restaurant Da Mario for dinner. Many years ago, John was taking his then 13-year-old son on a horseback journey through the steppes of Mongolia when the vision of Marco Polo was born to him.
As we enjoyed our mouthwatering food, John told us about how he had discovered Marco Polo’s original testimony in the vault of the ancient San Lorenzo Church where he was buried. In the testimony, there was a list of objects — including the golden tablet from Kublai Khan — that Marco Polo had bequeathed to his daughters. Where are those valuable artifacts now? John’s next project will be to find out their whereabouts. I envision him to be the next Indiana Jones — only better because John is a badass martial artist.
I ordered grilled vegetables for starter and seafood soup as the main course. The soup was perfectly flavored with a variety of the freshest fish, shellfish and calamari. It was large enough for two people to share, but of course I devoured it all by myself. I also sampled pasta and pizza from my friends’ plates. If you want excellent Italian food in Budapest, this is where you will find it.
Toward the end of our dinner, I suddenly noticed thousands of magically glowing birds flying in the night sky circling atop the magnificent Gothic structure of the Parliament. Many in our party also turned to gawk at this incredible sight, and a lively discussion ensued:
“They are bats.”
“But bats don’t glide like this. They must be birds.”
“Most birds are not nocturnal, what are they doing this time of the night?”
“They want to show us how beautiful they are.”
“But what is the biological advantage in that?”
“They are feeding on the insects in the sky.”
“No! It’s a mating ritual! A lot of sex is going on up there right now!”
“This is not the mating season.”
Mystified, we asked the waitress who was completely unimpressed by this phenomena, but she couldn’t give us a definitive answer. She went inside to ask a colleague and came out to tell us that they were quails who lived in the nearby lake.
“Quails? Quails are like smaller chickens. They can’t fly like this.”
“They must be fairies, or angels.”
I sipped a little limoncello and felt satisfied with that answer. I don’t usually drink alcohol and the few sips made me lightheaded as if I was floating. I didn’t really need an answer. The question of who those mysterious creatures of the night were will linger in my mind like a memorial for this gorgeous evening.
John, his wife Richela and I decided to walk back after dinner. It was after eleven and I asked if we would get mugged by bad people. Without batting an eyelash, John said, “I’ll kill them.”
If you want to find out more about John and his Marco Polo stories, please check out his blog.