The city was a fast mover

Article published on Feb. 23, 2009
Article published on Feb. 23, 2009
After my distinctly shakey start, there was a steady courtship between myself and the city. This moved quickly, and I would honestly say that I fell in love with Budapest on my first Friday here. After chatting with new friends – from many countries, including Hungary – on my new balcony (which I’m sure wasn’t built to hold so many), we headed out into the night.
We walked along the Danube, taking in the illuminated parliament building, the many bridges, and the warm, buzzing air. I felt alive, and I knew that the city was playing a big part in this.

I’ve been here for 18 months now, and it has been a fascinating, life changing journey. I’ve recently completed one of those Facebook „25 facts” surveys, and one of mine was that „If someone had told me 2 years ago that I’d be where I am today, I would never have believed them.” This is completely true. I love the sea. I love communicating with people. I previously spent as little time in city centres as was possible. I wanted to live in Australia. I currently live in a completely landlocked country, I still can’t strike up particularly varied Hungarian conversation whilst paying for my shopping, I live just off Andrássy út (the longest street in the city), and I’m nowhere near the country I always thought I would be. I suppose if someone were to ask me how all of this happened, my only real answer could be „life”. Just like on my first day here, plans change.

Budapest is, for me, a city that never fails to fascinate. I still in no way „get” it, and I’m by no means an expert on all it has to offer. I’m still struggling with the language, and yes, this definitely sometimes gets me down. It’s a city, however, that if you have the means (and very often even – or sometimes especially - if you don’t), you have no excuse for ever being bored. I truly believe that it would be impossible for me not to find something that I would enjoy or be interested in every day, and I delight in discovering the seemingly never-ending range of these offerings. I love the architecture, the music, the nightlife, the countryside, the hospitality I have experienced, the fact that in the summer I can cycle to a lake and swim (illegally), or go strawberry picking. I love that I can sit outside at midnight and be warm for over half of the year, or have a party in one of the city’s most beautiful thermal spas until 4am every month throughout winter. I love watching theatre in Hungarian, even though I can’t always understand it, and I wish I could sit for hours with some of the city’s elderly and understand all the fascinating stories they surely have to tell about their lives here. I love the music I’ve been introduced to. I love the festivals in summer, and the hot wine in winter. I’ve discovered a love for cabbage, and I'm humbled by the pride with which people discuss traditions: food, music, customs and dance.

I was recently asked, „If Budapest were a woman, what would she be like?”. In response to this, my initial thoughts were literary. For anyone who’s read it, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus has a character named Fevvers. She’s majestically beautiful, but not physically perfect. She’s wise yet full of youthful energy. She’s magical. With her, things are not always what they seem. She’s exciting. If Budapest were a woman, she would be strong. She doesn’t make everything comfortable all of the time, or offer everything easily and with open arms. She has hidden depths, which I don’t believe can be reached in a few days, even years (I know they’re definitely still being revealed to me). But these depths don’t always need to be reached to enjoy her and all that she has to offer.

I don’t claim to know all there is to know about the place – so this will be far from a definitive guide. What I do hope to offer, however, is a series of accounts, reflections, recommendations and advice based upon my daily encounters with the city and the surrounding country, as a 25 year old English female. I know that there are always things that can annoy, upset or enrage people here – where in the world aren’t there? And to give a completely positive account would be essentially innaccurate. The same would be true if I were living in Australia. However, I firmly believe that the nature of a city or country and its people can’t always be broadly generalised. In terms of both praise and criticism.

So, during the coming months I’ll be posting reflections, reports, interviews and photographs, in the hope of conveying the Budapest that I see, and am still discovering. I am happy to respond to queries or requests for advice, and hope to help those of you who live here and those of you who are planning a visit, enjoy this special city.

In closing, to return to my first day here, it remains for me a symbol of the reliability of first impressions – or lack thereof. Tibor and I became firm friends, and many tears were shed upon my moving out (by us both). Of course, during my stay we fell out over the noise from a party (a rite of passage here, I think), and were reconciled over a peace offering of wine from his friend’s vineyard. He became a huge part of my time here, bringing homemade pálinka round at 10 am on a Saturday morning (even when he knew I was on antibiotics), and surprising me with new mats for my bathroom and the like. I miss him. I bought new bed sheets from Ikea, though. I also discovered exactly what Critical Mass was, and spent my 25th birthday wholeheartedly participating. I pass the supermarket I bought my frozen paella from on that Saturday afternoon whenever I choose Margit Híd as my route across the river. It makes me smile every time. I haven’t bought one since.

I’m very happy here, and it will be my pleasure to share that with you.