Best of 2017 Budapest

The third year  must surely signal a tradition, so here are some new additions to the ever growing list of particularly nice Budapest things. (For the previous editions see here: Best of 2015 and Best of 2016.)

-I am prone to moaning that it never snows in the city, although in all honesty I dislike both snow and cold, they make me even grumpier and more miserable than average, and my fingers get frozen. Nevertheless, even such a horrible creature can appreciate the fact that when in the centre of town all is slush and suffering, Normafa is bedecked in resplendent, frozen splendour.  White cold is somehow consolingly lifeless, it’s mute and unmoving and thus feels oddly endless and eternal in a way summer never does, because even if it’s the triumph of life, it’s also the inherence of its waning. Winter does not make promises, it just basks in its own frigid present.

-let me immediately contradict myself then by talking about winter in motion, namely that very special kind of motion cities with rivers get: ice floes majestically floating downstream at the season’s peak. Only distant hums and cracks at night, slight shadows in the morning light then catching the rays of the sun, reflecting them almost blindingly. Winter sun is strong but fickle, it makes your eyes hurt but hardly ever warms you. In the evening they collect the last dying flickers, red, crimson and peach, like embers of a sleeping fire.

-this was also the year when, after the arduous ascents of Kis-Sváb-hegy and Mátyás-hegy, we finished summitting all of Budapest’ hills. Well, yes, it’s not as grand as saying I’ve finished with the Swiss Alps, next it’s the Andes and then I’ll feel ready for the Nanga Parbat, but it’s an accomplishment nevertheless. And then of course you feel kind of empty and clueless, thinking what’s next and secretly hoping the city elders will see fit to add another bit to the metropolis, one that contains another hill or two, just to make life more interesting.


-running out of hills also means basking in the unsexiness of the city, or more correctly, the seeming unsexiness of it, such as a small forested area at the edge of Pestszentlőrinc, with nature just waking up for spring, that period of tantalizing expectancy before anything starts to properly bloom, but there are small green buds, saplings getting ready to burst at the first properly warm rays of sunlight. Or the forgotten isle of Népsziget, nestled across the river from Római part, still in the now hot summer sun, almost abandoned bar for goat farms, the partially used remnants of socialist children’s camps and a bar that should be open, but isn’t.

-speaking of Római- this might have been its last summer in the present form, or probably any sort of form at all, if the plan to build the dam is successful. I always feel that destroying parts of a city which belong to its soul are a very special form of urban vandalism, criminal interventions against places which make the city recognizably itself. Sure, there is progress, and change, but grabbing some fish in one of the many kiosks, bars, restaurants on Római, just idling away on sandy banks which are as close to a natural beach as Budapest will ever have is part of the fabric of the city’s summers and should be preserved for as long as possible. The happiness of many is however obviously less lucrative than the profit of few.

-now that we’ve mentioned change, I always take it personally when restaurants I love are refurbished. I essentially feel like the proverbial Hungarian calf in front of the new gate: what is this, why is this here, what kind of sorcery has been executed, and when are they taking it back. But because this post is about the nice things, this is a belated note of remembrance to Castro Bistro in its shabby state extending from my arrival to the city all the way to AD 2017. Your creaking chairs and tables, partially stained tablecloth and questionable art shall never be forgotten. (The new iteration is fine too, and I’ll grow used to it, but let me bask in the shock just a little bit more.)


-when it comes to restaurants we also tend to go to the same ones every time, the ones closest to us (oh the joys of living in the city centre), so it’s a special kind of thrill to go somewhere else for a change, such as that time we ended up in the Hemingway by the Bottomless Lake and discovered Sir Patrick Stewart had been there too.

-this was also a year of improvement in terms of Cultural Undertakings. With the Fine Arts museum closed (one of my now lost pleasures was to walk in and check the El Grecos, under the stern and somewhat condemning eyes of the lady in charge of the room), we ventured onto pastures new and visited the Kiscelli and Aquincum museums, and dropped in to the Műcsarnok occasionally.

-I always dreamed about dashing into sleepy courtyards to take pictures of fancy staircases, and this year I could do it in a legitimate setting- takes away from the thrill a little, but ensures the pictures are not blurry and you do not get chased by a super with a broomstick. Besides the fabulous Budapest 100 event, we also went on tours organized by the Contemporary Architecture Centre and the Miénk a Ház team and plan to go on even more in the year to come. Before some idiot decides to destroy random nice buildings to build a shopping mall because there aren’t enough of them, or a stadium, because the stellar performances of Hungarian teams in European competitions need to be encouraged. Oh, there aren’t any Hungarian teams in European competitions, so sad.

-to end on an elevated note, let’s spare a gentle thought for the couple who went out to Margaret Island early on an autumn morning, dressed nicely and holding hands, with several bags of treats for the squirrels. The man remarked that he only buys the more special, and thus more expensive nuts, because they squirrels are so much happier when they get those, and thus it’s all worth it.



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