Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Road Babe Dispatch From Budapest

When I went to Budapest between two other trips, I had only a weekend to taste the Paris of the East. My hotel room was on the Pest side of the Danube River, a niche in a fortified building that was a cockroach-riddled and pock-marked veteran of the 1956 revolution. Outside my window, clotheslines hung over city traffic and construction. I had to get my priorities in order. How would I see so much in so little time? I cursed myself for buying the plane ticket to Athens. I was already smitten with Hungary.

First things first: I had to eat. Okay, so I'm biased in this regard. I'll always choose eating and drinking regional fare as my number one priority, unless I'm in England. (Sorry UK!) It's a great way to chat with local people and get a taste of local flavor. I found an underground spot where steamy aromas filled the cheap, dimly-lit eatery. Ate till I nearly exploded.

Budapest leaves nothing to want in the food department. I enjoyed a slew of delicious treats from almond-sprinkled trout with green beans to Goulash to thyme-roasted chicken with goat cheese mashed potatoes. There is a fabulous array of beer as well. It's the birthplace of the Vienna lager. Delicious pilsners and double bocks abound.
Next I went to City Park, where a wine and beer festival was taking place. For a minimal fee, I sipped indigenous libations and met lots of interesting folks. Walking paths were lined with booths run by locals as well as traveling nomads selling hand-made crafts to a live drum beat. Seemed I'd lucked out, but a German glass-blower informed me the park is hopping nearly every weekend with some festivity.

Around the corner stood a massive gate (modeled on a castle in Transylvania), which guards the statue of Bela's chronicler: Hungary's first historian. Touching the quill in his hand means you'll be recorded in future annals of history. That's right: I touched it. In addition to more sculpture, there was a live Hungarian quartet playing the fastest violin ever.

Architecture and art are two of Budapest's many gems. I hit Heroes Square to look at the enormous statues honoring the founding fathers of the seven tribes of Hungary. Nearby, the Museum of Fine Art contains an immense collection of over 100,000 international pieces. The building itself is a masterpiece. I was also struck by the immense quantity of gold used for the construction of Saint Stephen's Basilica and wondered whether many suffered to build and fund it.

Later, I strolled along the Danube. Both sides of the river are beautiful: Pest with its urban flatness and Bud with its hills. On the Pest side, I encountered an androgynous bronze creature named “the little princess” and developed a strange affinity for it.

Crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge with lions guarding both sides took me to Old Buda. An anecdote about the bridge is that the sculptor forgot to put tongues on his lions. They do have tongues, in fact, but these can only be seen from above. Legend says the sculptor threw himself into the Danube in shame. I climbed up on the railing of this massive bridge, and I'm here to tell you the fall wouldn't be pretty. On the Buda side, the famous caves and rock-carved baths at the base of Gellért Hill were well-worth the visit.

Finally, I hunted for bohemian street-art in the alleys of downtown Pest, where artists dabble in everything from portraits to spray paint. I struck up interesting conversation and got a sense of the context from which these people came. My Budapest trip was fast, but I felt satisfied enough … to start planning a longer visit.

Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.


  1. Thanks for the tour! Budapest is one of the places definitely on my to visit list when I go to Europe.

  2. Brilliant article, rich both in history and your own discoveries. You have a unique style of telling a story, which is as beautiful as it is witty. Thank you for sharing Mittie!

  3. Thank you gentlemen. William, you will enjoy it as much as I did (just make your trip longer than mine was!) And Ian, thanks for the lovely support. I will certainly go back.