A few months ago I was in the company of a native German speaker, when he expressed the view that German was considered one of the most romantic, if not the most romantic, sounding language in Europe. No one in the assembled company said a word – probably because we were all stunned, but I now think I know where he got the notion; he was comparing it to Hungarian.
Do you remember when we used to have tape players, and sometimes the tape would get caught or play at the wrong speed?- well, Hungarian sounds like that.
Bearing no relation to any other European language – apart from possibly Finnish – it is impenetrable to a non speaker, have a look at this sign… you will have seen this before, but what does it mean?
Yes, it’s one of those ”if you don”t want your towels changed” signs – see what I mean; impenetrable…
Budapest was all laid out as part of a plan – organised and in blocks like Paris, as opposed to straggly like London – and there are some impressive old buildings with a good range of Art Deco too. Some areas of town look a little neglected but there is considerable building work going on and most of this seems to be restorative rather than new build – at least to the frontages.
As the city is laid out in blocks; what look like simple frontages often conceal huge complexes going back several hundreds of meters, with multiple internal courtyards – all residential. This is high density living, but well managed and laid out. You don”t need to stray far from the main streets however to see a decline in standards of living; collapsing, communist era, tower block horrors and people not quite so well off – although I noted that no matter how hard it was to get by there was always enough cash to buy vats of red hair dye- which is very popular – and I do mean RED.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars scattered around from trendy wine bar types to greasy spoons – all offer excellent value. The main zone for the more fashionable bars is Liszt Terrace to the east of the town centre – there must be 15 – 20 bars/ restaurants here, all with outside terracing and in warmer months this area must be even more popular as the whole area is traffic free. Cafe Karma was my favourite.
Food is broad European, with a dash of Hungarian thrown in – usually this means heavy – stodgy food is well liked…
Shopping is pretty much the same as you get anywhere, in the pedestrianised down town (Vaci Utra) all the major chains are present; M&S, Zara, etc and the usual tourist tat. Further out (Terez Korut) has a more local range and some places where you can pick up ”irregular” Levis for about £25 a pair.
There are some eclectic shops in this area as well; including the Police Shop, which sells police ids, riot shields and pepper spray – just in case you feel the need…
Older shops flourish and maintain their 1960”s provincial window dressing rules; ”if we sell it, it”s in the window” – all of it – even if it is street lights or some weird grommet, these places won”t be able to survive the commercial onslaught as rents surely must go up.
There are loads of bookshops all over town – hundreds, and most of the stock is in Hungarian – so you can forget shopping in them – but the commitment to books is impressive.
The Spa Baths
Being lucky with the weather; I opted for the Szechenyi and it was fantastic. The main outdoor pool is 38 deg, which is hot bath temperature and the mineral content makes it easy to float.
Being quite a large complex it has a sea side atmosphere, with people bringing along picnics and making a day of it. There are saunas, cold plunges, various different pools inside and out (some with water of rather uninviting colours) and massage rooms available as well. Entrance is about Â£6 and a 15 minute massage about the same.
All of this has to be negotiated from the Hungarian signs!
You will need to take your own towel to some of the baths, and some also want long hair capped in certain pools – but not all… I have no idea why.
Fashion in the pools is late 60′s, some women maintained full make up and jewelery coupled with huge sunglasses – think Jackie O.
All considered; Budapest offers great value for money, plenty of things to do and easy access. The value will probably get less as more visitors arrive – so go now…
I stayed at the Domina Inn Fiesta, Budapest, Kiraly u. 20. Good location and pleasant staff – checkout the Accommodation link under Travel Resources for booking agents.
More accommodation recommendations
‘What’s On’ magazine about Budapest called Budapest Funzine – it”s in English and you can pick up copies when you are there…
Lake Balaton information