When you get around a bit, not quite like a rash or some contagious tick, there’s plenty of things you can have. I’ve had fun, I’ve had a bit too much sometimes. I’ve had glorious country vistas and boundless open plains. I’ve had a beer or two, but no kangaroos. And with all that I’ve had plenty of chances to get out and change my view.
Missing: Zest for life
So anyway, the problem is ol’ Jack is a bit of a grumpy-arse, so the thing I seem to have more than most other things is ENOUGH. Great time, no reason to complain, I’ve had enough. Plenty of booze in a raging top spot – the time’s soon up and I’ve had enough.
Weather’s great but the place is full of people and you guessed it, had enough.
So it was another one of Those Days, y’know too much piazza and best macchiato on the planet, sparkling summer with bounteous sunshine and the place was all empty because more people than you’d reckon possible had squeezed onto a bus/plane/train and holiday’d themselves somewhere else. And there’s grumpy-bum Jack mumbling and reaching for a timetable cos he’d that thing again.
Probably just a reaction to tomatoes or something, but when it’s all broke you gotta fix it, so I slunk down to the airport and partenze’d myself a solution.
I found Hungary lurking off down by Serbia and Croatia, spreading its little bit of happiness around with language that had more in common with Finnish (fourteen declinations anyone?) than any of its neighbouring-country cousins. Thought a few days down in Budapest could be just the thing – bit of time by the water, plenty of old buildings to get around and a bit of nightlife too.
If it was quiet in Italy cos everybody had taken off for Estria or the Adriatic Coast, then it was lovely and quiet over at Budapest. I rocked into the country in the finest style, my airline could have been called Brown Vinyl Airlines – the seats were so old they still had ash-trays on them, and all that was missing was the tacky wallpaper for that genuine back-to-the-future retro feel.
With a minimum of fuss I slipped the twenty minutes into town for less than two euros and found myself a little spot to kick m’boots off on the south side of the river – in Pest (that’s Pesht if y’wanna say it right and avoid offence). About 230 or so of the local Forint is about a euro, so like in Japan with a pocket full of thousands of yen, you’re feeling rich straight away, and for once it does go a little further.
Budapest’s got charm
Morning quietly came and it’s not hard to believe you’re in the middle of a grand old city. All those little touches, like slow worn stone steps (the shiny kind, not the sandstone variety), door-frames smoothed by hands over years longer than your average fast-living western Europe house and a feeling like you’ve stepped back somewhere but without that naff folky feel that makes it like a museum. There’s still plenty going on, just a range of gears and styles to choose from.
Following some advice I headed ‘downtown’, and you don’t have to feel lonely to get down there, that’s for sure. After negotiating my way round the sandstone grace that is the Parliament building – although the hard as a rock and ever-vigilant guards that watched passers-by correctly pass by missed the stealthy cat the snuck across the forecourt behind him. And not so far from all this stone work and gallantry of empire is an area screaming relax, repair, rest! but in a new style even my desert eyes weren’t fully ready for.
Short on a comparison, I could say Amsterdam with sophistication, Paris with space, Berlin with quality – the driving might be random but the solid food and stuff for sale wasn’t. I even managed to pick myself up one of those black collared shirts that gets you into the nice places rather than just to keep the sun off.
How about an island in the middle of a city? Maybe two? The Danube / Donau / Rhine River cuts the city in two — well back in the day it was two cities, but to keep things simple they shunted the names together in the same way you deal with a hard day.
They they built a bridge and got over it. So – island: the main event right in the middle, well if you fancy a bit of space and aren’t ready to city yourself up so soon already, it’s island number one – Margit sziget (or Margaret Island if you do prefer, although that English imperialist style probably won’t get you too far round here).
Slip on over the Margit bridge roughly in the middle of town, or even the Ã?rpád bridge, and you’ll find yourself in a Hyde Park-sized wonderland, only bigger and betterer. Strewth, you’d be hard pressed to see the city in some spots and if you fancy you can even ride one of those ridiculous four-wheeled bicycles or get some Hungarian cuisine into you (look out for the slow-down factor from the heavy food in the Summer months).
Never Mind the bollocks, here’s Budapest
A little further up river is HajÃ³gyári sziget which is also home to the mother of all city summer rock festivals, the Sziget Festival which had I just managed to miss with its beyond the grave line-up including Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden and even the Goran Bregovic Wedding and Funeral Band (the guy behind the stomping music for Emir Kostarica’s “Black Cat White Cat”).
If it’s an overview of the grand sprawling city you want, why not grab a bike or just a powerful set of legs and get yourself up to the Citadella? A little deranged in my thinking I fancied a moment out before flying out and needed to burn off the sausage sanger (sandwich) I sank for breakfast and decided the hill on the north side was the way to go. Half an hour into the ride up I still weren’t there, and a kind-hearted English-speaking fella volunteered the info that it was only 300 kilometres to the top. I nearly wiped my brow in desperation rather than for perspiration and then the kilo- just dropped to metres. Although I’d given myself only 30 minutes to get back to my bags and the station it was a sight and a half – like some ancient sandstone line-drawing, the Budapest on both sides of the river sauntered and sallied away from my sight while the stoic hilltop sculptures stood solidly above me. A bloody good way to know where you are, especially when you’re out of the flatlands and into the golden light like that that falls in Hungary.
Once again I’ve cut a long story short – y’know the usual stuff – like there’s famed clubs to be seen in Pest where the all night party is longer and better than a python, or so I read in the InFlight mag on Brown Vinyl Airlines, or I could spread you a little more news on how gracefully the solid stone architecture in Buda completely did it for me, ‘specially after the oldest thing i’d seen built before was the dunny out the back of Johnno’s that was left standing for a hundred years mainly ‘cos it was so scary that no one would go in there for more than half that long.
But this place, Budapest, she’s far from scary, it’s like a litte oasis of charm which is not as far away as you’d think – more like a hop, skip and a jump – and maybe it’s what you skip that makes it just the place.