My first memory of Budapest is walking along the Danube, bleary eyed and delirious after an early morning flight. Ambling along the river, I slowed my usual fast pace to marvel at beautiful bridges, grand buildings perched on hills, and picturesque yellow trams speeding along the riverfront. This initial moment remains etched clearly in my mind, but the entirety of my stay in the city is a blur of sunshine and humid nights, baths and bars, old-world charm and stunning architecture.
To me, Budapest is a city of beauty and history, of unexpected surprises and a strong feeling of familiarity. My ancestry is rooted here; my grandparents were originally from Hungary, and the sights, sounds, and smells of the city overwhelmed me with nostalgia.
Nowhere did I feel a stronger sense of sentimentality than at the Central Market Hall. Embroidered tapestries prompted memories of my grandmas kitchen and the countless hours we spent together making nokedli from scratch. Scents of spicy paprika and fried cabbage transported me to holiday dinners, crowded around a table filled with káposztás tészta, paprikás krumpli, kolbász and lecsó. The cadence of the Hungarian language seemed vaguely discernible, even with my basic understanding of only a few words.
My trip to Budapest was characterized by contrasts. I feasted on Hungarian dishes, some completely new and others I’d tasted dozens of times. I explored the lively, cosmopolitan restaurants and pubs along Gozsdu passage, and visited strikingly beautiful 13th century churches. I danced the night away at world-famous ruin bars and sipped craft ale from trendy beer gardens. I soaked in intimate Turkish-style baths with locals, and brushed shoulders with hundreds of tourists at the popular Széchenyi Baths.
It wasn’t the nostalgia and familiarity, the unique ruin bars, or the grandiose baths that warmed me to Budapest; it was the simplest of moments that made me fall in love with the city. People watching in Erzsébet Square; strolling along Andrássy Avenue, photographing the beautiful Neo-Renaissance style facades; marvelling at the intricacies and elegance of the Parliament building illuminated at night.
Fleeting and insignificant as they may have been, it was in these moments I realized I had fallen for Budapest.
Have you been to Budapest? What cities have you fallen for?