Our flight was delayed. It’s winter, so this is hardly a surprise. But given that we are Americans, we’re simply excited that a flight (direct, no less) will take us just over 2 hours to Budapest. The novelty will likely never wear off (at least before we return to the USA).
We arrive at 12:45 am. The taxi drives us into the city, the mixture of darkness, the road flanked by low-lying industrial buildings, and the smell of sweet tobacco makes me feel I’m in the Midwest, not central Europe. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that I am in Hungary, a country I never anticipated visiting so soon. We choose it because it was near Vienna, where we would meet my family on Christmas day. It is novel, and unexpected, therefore fascinating. Christmas music from mid century Americana plays over the radio, it is strange indeed.
In the morning we wake to snow, a stark, cold blankets the city, lending itself well to scarves and black &white photography, matching the mood the city exudes. After breakfast, we find our way to the Christmas market on its last day of operation. Stalls sell knicknacks and mulled wine. We stand outside around a wooden barrel, sipping hot wine and cider, while we share sausage and potatoes, the hearty nature of which matches the acidity of the grainy mustard added to everything. The day is spent wandering the abandoned city streets as locals head home for Christmas eve celebrations. We refueled with hot cinnamon doused chimney cake as we made the trek to the top of the Royal palace overlooking the city, across the famed Chain bridge. The chill was heavy, the path slick and devoid of other tourists, but never the less, the place was ours. At the top, against the aging limestone facade the city sat silent, shrouded in fog. Beautiful, desolate, foreboding. Though I imagine the city to be far more colorful and lively in the summer, it was perfect in its current state, matching my vision of winter in central Europe, romantic in its own right. Christmas Eve finished with a six course meal in the Hotel’s restaurant. Though Hungary is a major tourist destination, attracting something near 10 million visitors a year, it was never the less surprising to hear familiar American (from New York) accents at the table next to us.
It was a very, brief visit, hardly doing the city any justice, but it was a lovely glimpse. We fully plan on returning in the future, ideally in the spring or summer to see what else this city has to offer. Christmas morning brought us three hours north, to Vienna.