Budapest

Author: angiem, 12 03rd, 2008

Ever since I have read Prague, a novel by Arthur Phillips, I have wanted to visit Budapest.  Prague is the story of five American expats who settle in post communist Budapest in the early 1990’s for business and romantic opportunities.  Most of their time is spent entertaining obscure suspicions that their fellow expats in Prague are faring much better than they are.  The novel is thin on plot (I like a story with a beginning, middle, and end), and thick on character development (which has its own time and place), yet it offers some breathtaking descriptions of sights around the baroque, hillier Buda, where the National Palace is located, and Pest, the downtown, which abounds in grand 19th century architecture.

I can’t say I enjoyed the characters as much as I enjoyed reading about the city they were in.  Or, I should say, as much as I dreamed about visiting the city of Budapest.  My mom had visited while a newlywed and she told me all about the restaurants and the museums and the palatial residences on leaf-shaded streets.  Family and friends filled in with descriptions of the famous, mosaic tiled public baths, the Buda Castle, Andrassy Avenue, and the numerous antique stores and clothing boutiques.  I love castles, architecture, antiques, history.  And I love to eat good food.  It wasn’t a question of whether or not to go, it was merely a question of when.

So, two years ago, armed with diapers and enough formula to feed my five month old for 30 days, we set off.  Our goal was to see as much as we could of eastern and central europe as our 6 year old and 5 month old would allow.  Surprisingly  (although we were rushed and needed to take into account nap times and snack times and all the etc. pertaining to kids), we were able to accomplish a lot and both of them were little angels… most of the time.

We left Budapest as our last city to explore.  We had flown in to Budapest and we were to fly out of it to come back home.  What we forgot to take into consideration those last few days (and we should have been experts at it by then), was to look at a calendar.  Traveling with two kids, it’s best to avoid visiting a city in the middle of a festival or a national holiday.  And that’s exactly what we did.

We were stuck in traffic for hours.  Our car overheated and began to steam and there we were in the middle of the city with no place to pull over, but the grassy park divider.  We didn’t speak but a smattering of unrecognizable Hungarian, and based on the people we had met thus far on our cross country trip, hardly anyone spoke English.  Someone kind enough jumped out of their car and handed us a big bottle of water.  We popped the hood and waited.  We gathered it was some kind of celebration.  It was stifling, people were loud, through open car windows techno music was blaring; in a bus that passed us by, two teens were fighting, and no one wanted to have anything to do with it, even when they pushed each other violently. Gradually it got dark and the fireworks started.  Or what we assumed were fireworks.  As it was we couldn’t see much, too many tall buildings in the way.  Then, with the car sufficiently cooled (we hoped), we pulled back into the traffic, and not a minute too soon, as a strong gust of wind, deafening thunder, and forceful rain came pouring down.  A huge branch snapped off a tree, and the street was rapidly flooding.  Never in my life have I experienced or thought possible anything like that.  The clouds burst like a water ballon.  The windshield wipers barely kept up.  Somehow we made a u-turn and climbed on to higher ground.  The streets below us were flooded, plastic bags and tree branches were floating on the river that had previously been a street.

The next morning we left.  We had heard that some boats had capsized on the Danube, where thousands had been out celebrating and watching the Independence Day fireworks.  People had died.  It was scary and sad and unpredictable.  It made me think of how one moment you’re full of life, pulsating with it, and then in a flash it’s gone, almost as it never was.  But, I’m getting too morbid here.

The romance of Budapest is still awaiting me.  Next time I’m going it will be early in the fall; I’ll have checked the calendar beforehand.

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One Response to “Budapest”

  1. ella herman Says:

    LOL! Maybe next time you should also leave the kids at home. That way, if you’re stuck in traffic, you can ditch the car and go on foot.

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