Budapest: Opulence, Flags and Pinball
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In Guangzhou, a city of several million people I barely heard a police or ambulance siren. Two days in Budapest finds me near deafened by them.
The city’s Chinese restaurants are fantastic and their proprietors are somewhat surprised when I greet them with a ‘Ni Hao.’ By contrast to Warsaw, Budapest’s Chinese diaspora outnumbers the Vietnamese while this is reversed in the Polish capital. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty…
Is Budapest opulent? Yes, at least from the ground up, note the grand station of Keleti, the public baths at Gellert and Szechenyi, the New York cafe at the equally wealth dripping Boscolo Hotel and do I need to point out its Parliament building, simply stunning during day or night.
Is Budapest dirty? Yes. Especially so in its subterranean stations where those run down by defeat; personal and societal huddle together in an effort to stave off the combined depths of the chill night air coupled with regular despair. Pavements meanwhile are decorated in a daily dose of trickling yellow courtesy of the city’s canine inhabitants.
Is Budapest romantic? Yes, like Warsaw almost pornographic – a quick tram trip or visit to the baths on a Friday night will soon present you with visions of lovers near copulating. *Save a little by bathing at the aptly named Rudas baths on weekdays (all the baths charge more at weekends). If you’re using the pool there, you will need a swimming cap (and possibly a condom – just kidding).
On a more subtle note you can spot the girl tourists posing or dreaming on castle hill. Further still, if you love a nocturnal stroll by the light of the bridges or seeing the trams slide past then you should feel right at home in Budapest, just watch out for the cyclists!
THE FUTURE AND THE PAST
Is Budapest nostalgic? Yes, right beneath the surface of Andrassy Ut lies metro line 1, a narrow gauge line with authentic stations of an otherwise bygone era. In most cities this would be a museum exhibit but in Budapest it is still part of everyday life! Unlike most European capitals the city has no travel card (as yet) so all stations on all lines have no ticket barriers and are hence manned by actual people.
I’m never sure whether I need to show my ticket or not, it seems some do and some don’t. Consider visiting the airport’s Aeropark (weblink only in Hungarian) which features many planes showcasing the history of its fallen flag carrier MALEV. Aside the Aeropark, the airport also has an Observation Deck – access inside the terminal (nominal fee to enter).
Is Budapest futurist? To a certain degree yes, moving from the Metro‘s 1970s world of primary coloured plastic chairs and dishevelled stations to the bare concrete modernity of the green line is a compelling juxtaposition. Likewise the Corvin Plaza is one of Budapest’s most pleasant malls, a greenhouse for shopperholics.
FLAGS AND PINBALL
Is Budapest quirky? Yes, it’s that too, aside the standard ‘national museums’ and galleries there is a 737 simulator, a Pinball Museum (cue Elton and The Who) more or less a de facto arcade showcasing all sorts of oddities including Pac-Man, Shrek and machines based on bands (KISS, GUNS N’ROSES) as well as film (STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES).
In 1995 the world’s only flag museum was founded and though great suffers from geographic blinkers; apparently Scotland and Northern Cyprus are independent nations while Wales is considered a province! And I don’t have to tell you what I thought of that.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Is Budapest liveable? Well yes though it can appear inexpensive, I wouldn’t quite pitch it in the cheap as chips league. Your hard earned cash can soon be frittered away on posh poached eggs at London Coffee Society or fancy creations at the Hummus Bar on the premise that it won’t break the bank but the costs can easily spiral out of control, so keep an eye on the tab. *some eateries may keep your change as a tip!
Premier Kultcafe (cafe that doubles as an art house cinema), more egg dishes with bread – sometimes a few slices of stale white, sometimes a few cuts of fresh baguette so hit or miss on that (hot food stops being served around 16:00, just sandwiches or subs after that).
Perhaps try one of the many Gyros or Chinese eateries. The West End shopping mall also has a food court but caution advised; you can expect little more than the bland for your money and under no circumstance try the food court Carbonara, head upstairs to Vapiano instead – slightly more expensive but cooked before you and I dare say a world away in terms of taste.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…
Sister Europe – Icehouse
Deep Down and Dirty – Stereo MCs
New Life – Depeche Mode
Dreaming – OMD
Fleeting Smile – Roger Eno
Flags – The Innocence Mission