As a student, there’s a shortlist of desirable (and affordable) European cities to visit. Budapest is probably somewhere at the top, amongst Prague, Amsterdam and Magaluf. Jennie and I paid an almost unbelievable £150 each, which covered our flights and our accommodation for five nights. Hungary’s capital is divided into two districts, Buda and Pest, by the Danube river which flows through the middle of the city.
We travelled early on a Sunday, everything went surprisingly smooth. We reached our hotel and were really pleased. The building was modest, but the room was clean and had everything we needed. The most important factor, and almost the singular reason we chose it was because it was so close to just about everything.
With our minds filled with curiosity, and our stomachs filled with, well, nothing, we ventured into the city to find some food. We had read about The Great Market Hall, a building filled with market stalls selling lots of warm, tasty and reasonable supper. After walking there and finding it to be shut on a Sunday (bloody typical), we settled for an unassuming Italian restaurant.
We’d been told prior to our trip that wine and beer was very reasonable. Jennie was given a glass of Rosé that can only accurately be described as a reservoir. My lager was good, all european lager is, and more importantly it was about £2 for the round.
We waited a long, long, long time for some underwhelming food. In the meantime, we befriended an old couple from Chicago, who had ordered the same thing at the same time. English-speaking people in a non-English-speaking country will cling to one another and partake in some small-talk that makes them feel comfortable. After some satisfying albeit redundant chat, we ate and paid.
As we discovered throughout the week, Budapest is a great city with an incredibly sad history. Trying to discover as much about the place as we could, we read an online “do’s and don’t’s list” for the city. One of the more serious don’t’s was to avoid the custom of clinking beer glasses to say cheers. In 1848, Austria defeated the Hungarian revolution, and before executing the leaders they celebrated by toasting a cheers with their beer glasses. The people of Hungary vowed not to clink beer glasses for 150 years. And yes, although it has been 150 years since then, it is still incredibly offensive to do so. Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that our closest American friends had just done that very action. We expected some small bloke called Ferenc to come flying out of the cellar and shout unspeakable Hungarian profanities at them. But nobody blinked an eye, and we were confused and truthfully a little disappointed.
After our meal, as an apology for our long wait the Manager offered us each a “palette cleanser”. A shot each of this, which I would fairly compare to a mix of vodka and tequila, combined with the gallons of bargain wine she had already consumed, Jennie left the establishment absolutely fucking smashed.
As we left the place, I was surprised to find she had become relatively fluent in Hungarian. I soon realised this wasn’t the case and that she was actually pleading for help in a dialect that could only be understood by alcoholics and winos.
“Charlie, I can’t actually walk”
“Well I’m not carrying you back to the hotel we’ve only been here an hour – we haven’t seen anything.”
As we walked down to Elizabeth Bridge and crossed over the Danube river, Jennie, rather unbelievably, waved at around 50 pedestrians, in their cars and on the street. We spontaneously decided to climb some stairs to the Citadella – something we had decided not to do the week before. We were glad we changed our mind though, because as we eventually arrived at the summit, we saw our first view of the whole city. The river, the bridges, the castle, parliament, and it was breathtaking. I’m not sure if Jennie, in her state, appreciated the view quite as much as I did. But still it was nice to have someone to share the view with, and eventually I lightened up and laughed at her.
We stepped down from the Citadella and walked down the river, much like a dog, the fresh air was good for Jennie. We crossed the iconic (unbeknown to us at the time though) Chain Bridge and entered a scene of complete tranquility. There was something so inviting about being in an unfamiliar and beautiful city. The sun lowered itself behind the castle. A couple of guys strummed their guitars. The surrounding scene looked as if it had just dropped out of an indie film, one that definitely includes Michael Cera and that one Hall & Oates song.
We returned to our hotel, showered and dressed for the evening. It had been a long day, and we had an even longer week ahead of us. So we reluctantly decided to eat at a restaurant over the road from the hotel and have an early night. The restaurant was upmarket, the walls decorated with antiques, the waiters dressed in suits, and the chairs filled with chatty customers.
We were given a menu, stylised as a newspaper (a journo’s dream). I found it very cool, Jennie didn’t share my opinion. We ordered more (impressive) beer and wine, and some seafood pasta. It was delicious and the seafood was never ending.
The manager spoke to us frequently, he seemed polite to the point where it made us feel uncomfortable. Do you know what I mean? Does that make any sense? He looked like a mix of an Italian plumber and the Monopoly guy. Every five minutes he would come over.
“How is everything?”
We gave the same response every British person has ever given to that question, ever.
“Are you sure?”
“Not even one problem?”
“Not one thing you’d change?”
“Fuck off Mario before I stick this fork up your nose.”
Okay maybe I exaggerate a little but that’s what it felt like. It had been a mixed day, we had experienced a poor food experience at lunch, a good one at dinner, and poor service (and behaviour) from the locals at both. It’s difficult when you look forward to a trip for so long that it can’t possibly meet the expectation that you’ve set for yourself. I want to preface this by saying, it eventually exceeds it massively. But going to sleep on the first night, I think we were a little deflated. It had been a long day, we were just excited to really explore the next day.