BUDAPEST: AN ALTERNATIVE WEEKEND
Alternative, alive, passionate and peaceful at the same time. Budapest is a modern capital that moves to the beat of the music throughout the year on the waters of the Danube, Duna in Hungarian. One discovers it through curiosity, love of art or just to spend a weekend together with a friend, as in my case. The important thing is to discover it. Even for a short time.
IMPRESSIONS: BETWEEN WATER AND FIRE
Alternative, alive, passionate and peaceful at the same time. Budapest is a modern capital that moves to the beat of the music throughout the year on the waters of the Danube, Duna in Hungarian. One discovers it through curiosity, love of art or just to spend a weekend together with a friend, as in my case. The important thing is to discover it. Even for a short time. I do not think it is important how long you stay somewhere, but how you live while you are there and I love to live intensely. Two days and two friends rushing to visit Buda and Pest, water and fire. Two souls in one city since 1111 A.D. We start with the second part of the city – Pest: irreverent, chaotic, modern and festive. The first impression of Pest was a bit traumatic and as they say it is the first impression that counts! Walking through the city along Kossuth Lajos, to get close to Vaci utca, this area of the city shows powerfully it’s strongest and tragic side. Homeless people and their shabby beds littered under decaying porches, real open rubbish tips and abandoned park games that left a bitter taste in my mouth. This discomfort continues up to Vörösmarty tér, Andrássy and all the roads leading off it to the regal Heroes Square. It’s too bad that the season I which I visited gave little (the skating rink was closed while lawns and plants were not yet green), but the elegance and the peace of this place still managed to touch me. Moral? You have to have patience and wait for the night. The evening opens the curtains of the effervescent nightlife that will not leave you disappointed. The streets are lit, the bars and restaurants are full and it is all a convulsive whizz of people, taxis, noise, glasses saluting and in the background the music played in bars, which is the soundtrack.
At Buda one can enjoy the sunset from the highest point of the city, the Citadel. Maybe on a nice sunny day, take the funicular (the Sikló), immortalizing the view from the Cathedral of St. Matthias or you could rest after an exhausting day at one of its historic spas (Rudas and Gellért are considered the best) Crossing over the historic Chain Bridge to Pest and here we find: the interior of the Baroque Basilica of St. Stephen, the regal streets like those of Andrássy reminiscent of the elegant Champs Elysée, the Vároksliget Park and the building that houses the Agriculture Museum, the most characteristic restaurants, shopping area and the Parliament. I conclude with an excerpt from a work by one of the most acclaimed Hungarian poets of the last century, Attila József. Written right at the foot of his statue which can be found next to the Parliament, where he admires his Danube he says the following words: “Mintha szivemből folyt volna tova, zavaros, Bölcs és nagy volt Duna.” Translated into English would sound something like this: “As if my own heart had opened its gate:
The Danube was turbulent, wise and great.”
MEETINGS: “ALTERNATIVE” IN THE CITY
At midnight we sat in one of the most animated and alternative bars in the city: the Szimpla Kert http://www.szimpla.hu/en. An institution! Not just a bar, but an endless maze of bars where one can find the most absurd objects collected together and rambling between equally absurd premises that intersect on several floors. Unkempt appearance, spiral staircases, crowds who flock in search of a drink with friends, a sort of open-air cinema (a disguised smoking area) and many colored lights here and there. This is the Szimpla. I do not know if you get the idea. Intoxicated by music, colors and people, Veronica and I quietly sip our cocktails in a quieter area in the complex as until we accidentally spill half a glass on ourselves. In no time at all a couple of Italians, with a lot of tissues, had approached us. The two boys, one from Puglia, the other from Calabria have been living in La Spezia for a few years and embody the idea of southern Italian men, gentleman and full of life. We chat a bit about ‘our country and what does not work there’ (sadly a conversation that could last forever). It is the second time I have been here. I’m in love with Budapest and this bar which is by now a must for these two boys. Who knows if I one day I will return again, but what is certain is that is if I do I will not miss a night out in this absurd and confusing place for all the world! Good evening guys and goodnight Budapest!
FOOD: UNPRONOUNCEABLE BUT UNBEATABLE SWEETS
Increasingly popular among young people, brunch has now taken the place of the Sunday lunch and is a must, especially if you choose the right place to eat it. Do not forget, however, that often, being offered in buffet is a great way to savor the taste of many different dishes. Besides, who said that in Hungary you only eat goulash? The Four Seasons Hotel http://www.fourseasons.com/budapest/ housed within the beautiful, Art Nouveau Gresham Palace positioned just opposite the famous Chain Bridge, is the most suitable place to come and enjoy this meal. Impeccable service (the maitre also spoke Italian), beautiful views of the castle on its hill, and an extremely wide choice of both salty and sweet food ranging from excellent hot dishes such as crepes with ricotta and spinach and a roast beef that melted in the mouth in a sweet dizziness. The real highlight for me? Always the sweets, especially when they are as rich as in Hungary. Do not ask me ever to say this name but the Eszterházy, a typical dessert of local tradition is placed directly at the top of my list even when compared with such delicacies such as sweet strudel with hot cream in the presence of Monte Bianco. The ingredients? Almonds, rum, milk chocolate mixed together in an unmatchable combination. In any restaurant or café in the city you can order this delight, otherwise, on the street, let yourself be tempted by the so-called “Manicotti di Bohemia”, which many vendors churn out in a hot and rich sauce (my favorite is sugar and cinnamon). A curiosity? Here breakfast and also at lunch begin with bubbles! Do not be surprised if often you are offered a sparkling wine or champagne to accompany the first meal of the day. As they say: Who starts well …
GUIDE: HOTEL AND TRASPORT
It is often said that a nice hotel on a trip does not make a difference, but obviously my advice is always that it is better to take a comfortable place in a suitable location. If the hotel meets both requirements we can say that half of the work is done. I chose the Hotel Nemzeti http://www.mgallery.com/it/hotel-1686-hotel-nemzeti-budapest-mgallery-collection/index.shtml Part of Accor’s MGallery Collection. Elegant and well designed it is located right next to the square of Blaha Lujza tér, 20 meters from the metro and a short walk from Andrássy and Váci. The real strength of the hotel however is its spa, the class of the building that once housed the Hungarian elite (the hotel was opened in 1896, but has been renovated several times) they also serve a great breakfast with a wide selection of international dishes both sweet and savory, that to me that is all that’s needed to start the day off properly. For traveling around I recommend: giostratevi. Budapest on foot, in combination with public transport, including an efficient underground network (there are four lines that serve the city). But if you’re impatient and don’t like crowded places or the underground system and you love comfort, consider that here taxis are well priced. Finally, watch out for pedestrian crossings! It seems incredible, but the stripes are apparently a valuable asset as they are rare and poorly distributed. In short, be careful when you cross the road!
IN THE SUITCASE: A BATHING COSTUME FOR THE SPA
It wouldn’t be Budapest without it’s spas, therefore set aside at least a couple of hours to visit one and swim in the aquatic dimension of the city, that of Buda, home to some of the best city spas. If you haven’t brought a bathing costume do not be discouraged. In Váci Street, the most commercial shopping zone until Vörösmarty tér you will find everything you need. While if you are a bit more picky remember that Andrássy Avenue, declared nothing less than a World Heritage Site by UNESCO you will find the luxury boutiques. Here also you will also find Il Bacio di Stile http://www.ilbaciodistile.com, a mall albeit with the reduced size of a boutique, which sells big designer names, many of them Italian and it has a great coffee bar as well. And you’ll discover that even the Hungarians go crazy for Italian style! Finally, how to pay for your purchases. If you want to change your Euros to have a few Hungarian forint in your pocket, pay attention to the exchange rate applied. Often it will be really inconvenient and is much more preferable to pay directly with your credit card.
BOOKS AND FILM: ON THE WATERS OF THE DANUBE
This time I also have a good book to recommend ” Danube ” by Claudio Magris, written in 1986. The same recommendation is also made by Lonely Planet in it’s ” Travelling by armchair” a book which makes one feel you are travelling aboard it Danube. Not only Budapest then, but this river journeys between four capitals and ten countries for nearly 3000 km, from its source in Germany to its immense mouth between Romania and Ukraine. An immense river, full of history that takes place as you move away from its beginning without almost finding the end and that has inspired many writers and poets throughout time.