Why I liked Budapest
October 16/17/18/19, 2006: Budapest
Budapestians: Tough faces, denim on denim, purposeful strides, and hands stuffed deep in pockets. Lean, expressionless women wearing tight jeans & lots of eyeliner. Men who looked like they’ve been leaning into the wind for too long. Some quality people watching opportunities.
Two cities: Budapest is two cities, Buda and Pest, sliced in two by the Danube River. This is one of those things that’s kept strangely quiet until you visit, so it gives you a little ‘insiders’ thrill. Buda and Pest are very different but both locate some of their finest features riverside. Meaning, no matter which side of the river you’re on, the view is mighty fine!
The accent: Hungarians – in fact, most Eastern Europeans – speak English with a (dare I say, cute?) robotic accent. It’s hard to explain – go there and hear for yourself.
The ‘yellow line’: Budapest’s M1 metro line – the yellow line – is continental Europe’s oldest underground, constructed in the 1800s. It’s clearly made for 1800s shorties – it’s tiny and blocky and incredibly cute. But the real reason it’s cool is because of the noises. First, there’s a male voice saying something (I couldn’t translate) in a sinister deadpan monotone as we chug away from each stop. Then, from the ancient speakers at the end of the carriage comes an organ trill, old and echoey, like it’s from a gramophone. The sound evokes images of antiquated merry-go-rounds, or traveling carnivals. It’s possibly the most pleasing sound I have ever heard. It’s truncated by a long, loud and overly-obnoxious buzz. Then the little yellow line stops, starts, and it all happens all over again. I grin like an idiot the whole time.
Goulash: When in Hungary …. etc. I only found one goulash but it was great. Every confined space in Hungary had the distinct smell of paprika and, to a lesser degree, garlic. It wasn’t altogether pleasant, but it wasn’t bad either. Except for in confined spaces when suffering a hangover.
Thermal baths: There’s two famous thermal baths in Budapest, but I chose the Szechenyi Furdo (baths) in the northern corner of City Park. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived and suffered some awkward moments before I emerged from my change room in my swimming costume. Would everyone be topless (Euro beach style) or wearing Hungarian-style burkhas, I wondered? Either way, would I have to scuttle back, ashamed? Luckily for me, a truly ghastly deformity would be the only way to stand out. Old, young, fat, thin, hideous and beautiful soaked together. The inside featured big baths of different temps under soaring, vaulted roofs. Passages meandered off every which way to more indoor baths and saunas. Outside was a vast thermal bath the turquoise colour of a swimming pool with the gorgeous yellow buildings protecting it from the park’s prying eyes. The pool was trimmed with shallow waters, so people could recline half-in / half-out, play chess suspended on boards, smoke, or sip on Sorozo pivo (beer). Everyone was in a damn fine mood. Understandably.
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