My theory is that travelling is a bit like dating. You build an expectation of a place based on what you have read and heard. This is a bit like a city’s online dating profile. Instead of a ‘good sense of humour and an interest in photography’ you have ‘roman architecture and a vibrant night life’. But the profiles never really portray the reality – that is found the moment you arrive for your first date. Usually it begins in an airport or a train station or a harbour -you start to make your way into a conversation with that city and find out what really makes it tick.
Sometimes the connection is immediate, sometimes it takes longer, on other occasions it’s more of a ‘yeah nah’. But the chemistry or lack of chemistry I’ve felt for cities and places is definitely there. And, like the men I’ve fallen for, what creates that connection is often difficult to pin down.
London was nice but a bit boring and didn’t hold my interest for long – we’re better as mates.
Paris was the boy who was lovely to look at but too aloof and self-occupied for a relationship. He did, however, dress extremely well.
Berlin and I started off badly at first but by the end I had a major crush. Berlin was less classically good looking but had me because he was provocative, confident and sexy.
Prague was pretty but suffered from mood swings and came with a lot of baggage and issues – a definate ‘no’.
With Budapest it was love at first sight.
I’ve tried to identify why. Could it have been as superficial as the great weather? The amazing place I stayed and my fantastic host, Hawaii, who made me feel immediately at home? Or was it because it felt similar to Australia with it cafe culture, laid back attitude and ruin bar courtyards which reminded me of beer gardens in pubs in Adelaide in summer?
I’m still not sure. What I do know is that:
Budapest is incredibly good looking. Prettier than Prague with some roughness around the edges – just the way I like it. The view of Buda across the Danube, even though in flood, is stunning. In contrast, the decaying buildings on the Pest side: the bars, the cafes, the apartment blocks have an amazing aesthetic of their own. The place oozes hipster cool without any of the pretension.
Budapest is fun to hang out with. On my first night I went to an open mic night in a cellar with other backpackers and listened to gorgeous acoustic renditions of my favourite music by an Irish guy and his girlfriend. We danced, we drank, we got home at 4 am.
On night two I went to Szimpla Kert with two Australian girls I met – we danced and drank some more. As one of the original ruin bars it has an amazing atmosphere and so many things to look at – kind of like being in a living sculpture or art installation.
I visited other ruin bars on my last night with my hostel crew. The spaces were intricately designed, mixing history and art and politics into social spaces to create an experience not just another night out.
Budapest tastes great. I wandered the city streets eating Camembert and caramelised fig icecream from Fragola (the best I’ve ever had). I ate paprika and duck and langos from Kiado Kocsma and the best garlic soup from Menza. The beer was even better.
Budapest is hot. The sun shone every day. The bars heaved in thick summer night air. On my last day I walked up Androssy and spent the afternoon in the Szechenyi Baths sitting in the 38 degree thermal spa mending the aches of the past 3 weeks on the road.