Budapest, just like all the others – Paris, Lisbon, Prague, et al. – were lures to this fish ever since we moved to Berlin. Cities I’d constructed a nostalgic yearning for without having ever been in them, typically the by-product of sentimental re-reads of their heavily fictionalised, yet no less evocative, bygone eras. For Paris, The Sun Also Rises. For Lisbon, Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. Anything Kundera or Kafka for Prague. But Budapest? There was no literary catalyst for our magnetic attraction to the Hungarian capital. Yet the same feeling drew us in.
Postcards from Budapest
“I had drifted into a noctambulistic set and my stay in Budapest was punctuated by awakenings like this. Life seemed perfect: kind, uncensorious hosts; dashing, resplendent and beautiful new friends against the background of a captivating town; a stimulating new language, strong and startling drinks, food like a delicious bonfire and a prevailing atmosphere of sophistication and high spirits that it would have been impossible to resist even had I wanted.”
- Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water
Above: Szabadság híd, aka Liberty Bridge, the southernmost connector between Buda and Pest.
We wandered at length through town: across the Lion-adorned Széchenyi Bridge, up the snow-coated hills of the Buda Castle, around historic Uri Utca, gazing at length across to the gothic spires of the Hungarian Parliament Palace, the boats scuttling along the frosty Danube, imagining what the place must be like in the warmer months.
A stroll along the Danube to follow, past the restaurant boats and the uneven bluestone moorings, as the evening sky began to lift. Lingering cloud in washes of pink, a Neptunian glow over the imposing Buda Hill, fog shielding the city’s northern hills; glimpses of the city’s post-war cosmopolitanism, immersed in shades of hidden Ottoman histories.
Above: The stunning liberty bridge at night.
We delved into Szimpla’s ramshackle hall, an eruption of bric-a-brac and strip lighting, navigating our way through the dingy rabbit warren of variously themed rooms and drinking nooks.
Bellies full, souls and spirits spent, we fell asleep in the high thread count Egyptian sheets of our temporary palace, lulling ourselves in and out of Sunday dreamstate, intimating our magnetic return in good time.