On the Banks of Danube : Budapest
I have a confession to make. I cannot do a selfie. But I have this secret desire to get a professional photo shoot done in Black and White wearing a period costume in a historic backdrop.
I think I have found my location. Budapest. I was pretty excited as this was my first European destination outside UK. We had no intentions to visit it soon but we tagged along with Dev and Preeti to bring in the new year.
As our taxi from the airport drove from the outskirts to the city centre of Pest, we could see shabby looking flat style housing complexes indicating that we were indeed in Eastern Europe.
Look at that! All of us exclaimed looking at a grand building with a Green-Yellow mosaic roof-top. The colours stood out so well amidst the blackened, old buildings in the city. As we said good bye to our friendly taxi driver to alight at our hotel round the corner, all of us gasped at the building which stood next to it.
With the windows broken, it reminded me of the old bombed Passport office building in Mumbai. Was the hotel alright? Oh! Yes it was! It had retained its old world interiors and was bit too warm for Londoners.
We speedily got ready to explore the city and feed ourselves to Hungarian cuisine. Preeti moaned that she couldn’t take the old world buildings anymore. They were simply everywhere. The streets were sparsely populated and perhaps the cold grey winter sky did not make it better. It seemed as if time had stopped. The Russian signs were evident.
Making ourselves comfortable in a colourfully lit café, we battled the large portions of a Hungarian meal. It was a bit dis appointing ! Hubby gave us all a ‘I told you so look’. He did not bother to try the Goulash soup for the rest of the trip.
Meanwhile, something had caught our eye. Preeti and I rushed in to the Souvenir shops on the street.
We simply could not resist the intricately embroidered designs in Blue and red on textiles with Hungarian symbols – ‘paprika’ and flowers. Oh! They so reminded me of India. After checking out the prices, we thought that the lovely tablecloths were not for us….. 45,000 forint/£80 (someday). But I do admire the artistically inclined Hungarians. Wooden handicrafts, chessboards, ceramics and what not.
We were not very tired despite of our journey in the early morning and wanted to absorb Budapest. It was early evening and as the lights faded we were enthralled by the beauty of lights on the River Danube.
Gulping down some mulled wine, we sat cold on the mini river cruise. Many a bridges including the Iconic Chain bridge links the two old cities of Buda and Pest. Perched on the hills of Buda, the historical and cultural house Castle district stood magnificently looking over the river. Further ahead stood the abandoned Citadel. Further ahead, the neo-gothic Parliament lies on the Pest side.
Despite being almost frozen, I could not take my eyes off the beautifully illuminated City Centre on the sides of the river. I fell in love with the city.
The next morning, we had a cheap breakfast at a bakery next to our hotel and decided to explore the Buda side on foot. Buda Pest has a fabulous public transport. It has in fact one of the world’s oldest underground system and some tube lines still seem from that era!!
By this time, the City had grown on us and we had suddenly started liking it. In fact, Adi started making plans to relocating to Budapest, never mind the Hungarian cuisine! I guess it is just matter of time that you start understanding a place or a person and you eventually fall in love.
We walked across the famous Chain bridge and up towards the Gellert hill. I haven’t seen a major city with Hills in its city centre which provide breath taking views of the surrounding area.
In the Castle district there are three churches, six museums, and a host of interesting buildings, streets and squares. The pretty mosaic roof top seems to be the very feature of many Hungarian buildings. The neo gothic Matthias Church, on the Castle hill had it as well.
The former Royal Palace is one of the symbols of Hungary – and has been the scene of battles and wars ever since the 13th century. We also managed to have a glimpse of the Change of Guards at the Palace quite similar to London but their Uniforms did seem so Soviet style. Jokes about the helplessness of the guards flocked by tourists cracked us up.
30th December 2013 night was number one of our Agenda. Grand hot water Bath houses is a feature of Budapest due to its Roman as well as Turkish rulers. Many even play a game of chess while relaxing in the baths of the city. Chess was not our mind. Thanks to Dev, the Széchenyi Midnight Bath party was certainly on high radar.
And what a party it was!! It’s a must do if you are under 30. I bet you are about to google it now.The next day, we woke up rather late to find out that the yummy croissants at the bakery/cafe were over. The Mc donalds and Burger Kings have invaded Hungary however you don’t see a Starbucks or Coasta on every street. They seem to still have the laid back Independent café culture which appeals to me.
Well for us, it was another day and yet another touristy quest.
The Andrassy ut/street leading to the Heroes Square is an iconic boulevard in Budapest. This road tells you why Budapest is known as the Paris of the East, lined with posh shops, theatres and restaurants although the cars on the roads still gave it a by gone era feel. (Cant help it, I love posh cars)
The almost symmetrical buildings of Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Art lie on either style of the Heroes Square. One can also spot the Vajdahunyard castle from this distance. The fairy tale style castle besides the lake in the city park has a confluence of architectural designs. This could perhaps be a perfect picnic spot in summer. The castle is the home of several festivals, concerts and the exhibitions of the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.
From here, we decided to have a closer look at the Parliament building and do some pet-pooja at Govinda’s , a vegetarian restaurant chain run by ISKON. Disheartened at the fact that both were shut, we feasted on some yummilious Italian cuisine to end the old year.
As we retired for a quick nap, Adi’s phone rang to announce the news of arrival of Kushal, Adi’s dear friend from India. There are no official fireworks in the city, we informed. We are headed to this square for a street party celebration for the new year’s eve, see you there. How will you find us? I will call you from someone’s mobile, he assured.
Dressing up for the new year’s party was out of question or rather how many layers was the question.The revelry had already started in this square, fireworks, music and the German Christmas market was yet open. We grabbed our drinks and got a spot on the table and mingled with random strangers.
Funny hats, coloured wigs, funky shades, deafening horns. The party spirit was crazy, the firecrackers were bursting anywhere and everywhere….a bit dangerous even by Indian standards. Nibbling, the sweet german bread, we waited for Kushal’s call. No sign of him yet.
As the clock struck 12’, we uncorked the cheap bubbly and cried out , ‘’Happy New Year’’.
Amidst the celebratory hugs, I asked Adi, ‘’ What was the best part of 2013?’’
‘’ 14th February 2013’’, he whispered.
2014, Bring it on.(We returned to London the next day rather on 2nd January 2014 due to a delayed flight. Couldn’t see the Central Market Hall as it was shut. What happened after on 1st January 2014? We did meet Kushal. The rest is well….. What happens in Budapest, stays in Budapest)
12 January 2014