There are certain places in the world I’ve visited and lost my heart to, even after a very short visit. Until recently the most instant city love affairs have been with Amsterdam, Stockholm and Barcelona, I’ve come away from these places saying I want to live there. After our first time in Barcelona JF and I seriously considered what we’d have to do to move there including learning Catalan. It didn’t happen, but that’s not to say it won’t…never say never. Now though I have a new place on the list: I’ve fallen head over heals in love with Budapest. After only 24 hours in this beautiful, vibrant city I know it has so much to give to me and I want to devour it!
But for now I’ve only got those 24 hours’ experience to go on so here’s a small introduction to why I fell in love. While on holiday in Vienna we decided to pop over to Budapest, because we could. Simple as that! I’ll never tire of visiting new places and hopefully I’m instilling this in my boys, who age 8 and 14 still happily sightsee with us. We were doing a houseswap in Vienna so accommodation was free and when I realised Budapest was only 3 hours’ drive away we decided to go for the weekend.
We booked an apartment in the heart of the city arriving at lunchtime. Living in the countryside as we do (and living with 3 boys who couldn’t give a damn about shopping) I was delighted to find our place was right next to a shopping centre. Ironically it was the boys who ended up benefitting from this as they got new shoes – much cheaper than in France – rather than me! But this isn’t about shopping in Budapest, it’s about walking and taking the metros and trams, and eating the cakes and drinking coffee, it’s about indulging in hearty meaty dishes washed down with enormous beers. It’s about getting lost in the side streets after exploring the more well-known sights and it’s most definitely about luxuriating in the fabulously ornate thermal baths that Budapest is so famous for.
Our first day was overcast with threatening rain but with so little time we knew we had to get out exploring straight away. First things first – metro tickets. We’d read that Budapest has the most extensive public transport system of any European city and being the country bumpkins that we are we love trying out new metros and tram systems. So we headed directly to the nearest metro station and negotiated the minefield that is communicating in Hungarian!
I don’t think I’ve been anywhere, or not in a very long time, perhaps the last time was Mongolia and Finland in 1994, where I didn’t have a single word of vocabulary. I speak a smattering (a really tiny smattering but some words nonetheless) of Russian, Czech and Bulgarian so even if I can’t understand much, when in Slavic countries I can pick out numbers, know how to say the basics like hello, thank you etc. Nearly everyone knows a couple of Arabic words, don’t they? Shukran and inshallah were 2 words I used and understood in Morocco and Tunisia in recent years…Living in Europe I just know some Italian, Spanish and Portugese words, even some Greek and Turkish. I learnt German at school and there are enough similar words in Dutch to understand a bit of that too. I can say a few words in Hindi, Mandarin, Bahasa, Thai and still remember a fair bit of Vietnamese…I can count and say “I love you” in Icelandic (who knows this might come in handy this summer when we go to Iceland!) and understand a wincy bit of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian…you get the picture, but Hungarian…? Not a word! Nothing, ничего, nada, nichts, rien! But I digress un peu so after a lot of miming, pointing and smiling we got 24 hour all-transport passes for around 3€ (if I remember well) and realised we needed to find out fast how to say thank you (as a bare minimum).
The Metro reminded me of the years I spent in Prague in the early 1980s, and so did other elements of Budapest, particularly the trams. I have such precious and unique memories from living behind the Iron Curtain as a Western teenager, that it was inevitable I’d fall for Budapest even before I’d really started. But it wasn’t just nostalgia that charmed me.
Budapest is a beautiful city with no less than 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, straddling the mighty Danube, with the ancient city of Buda on one side and the more recent Pest on the other. Physically you can’t help but love it though it was still so much more than nostalgia and architecture… In the short 24 hours we were there I fell under the spell of its cafés, restaurants, street food and its (almost) unique ruin bars. And as already mentioned we all completely adored the thermal baths. For my family our morning spent luxuriating in jacuzzis, saunas and whirlpools, hopping between icy waters and piping hot tubs, lounging in the soft spring sunshine in an outdoor pool naturally heated to 38°c was the icing on the cake.
So there you have it; some of the reasons I fell in love and I’ll continue with details of our Budapest sojourn in another post coming soon. Please be sure to check back here to read about what we saw and what we did, what we ate and where we bathed. Oh and by the way, we found out how to say “thank you” – köszönöm, obvious huh?
Have you been to Budapest? What were your impressions?