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From the top of the hill, I look out over the city of Budapest. Around me, I’m fortified by Buda Castle with its medieval and Baroque architecture and design. It feels safe and solid. Elevated like this, I imagine reaching out my arms and pulling the city into an embrace. It’s the kind of place I don’t think would resist – it would come to me and nestle against my chest. But it would keep an eye open, looking around, because it’s not content to settle.
The plains of Pest radiate out from where I’m looking. Budapest is actually a confluence of two cities – Buda (where I’m standing at the castle) and Pest (the flat lands that are home to most of the urban sprawl). The two are separated by the mighty Danube River and connected by regular and ornate bridges. It’s in the streets of Pest that I find myself wandering and exploring for most of the days I am here.
It’s summer and life in Budapest spills out into the streets from the grand Art Nouveau buildings which seem to house most residents in the inner parts of the city. Street restaurants and bars cover the footpaths with their tables and the crowds arrive early and leave late. There’s a levity to the mood in the city – young couples sit in the park until well after dark, families stroll the avenues with ice creams, and friends lose hours sitting in cafes with a pack of cigarettes and a regular supply of coffee or beer.
The buildings themselves in Budapest seem to reflect the mood of casual sophistication. They neither try too hard nor fail to impress. From the stunning House of Parliament, to the State Opera House, to Heroes Square and to the facades along the central Andrassy Avenue, there is plenty to see and be caught up in.
But it’s the cool new pubs which have popped up in the ruins of old buildings, or the dance parties in the classical baths, or the art installations in the parks, which capture my imagination. There’s a mix of young and old that seems so natural and organic that you hardly even notice where the line between the two has blurred. Budapest is often dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ and you can almost see the comparison, except the Hungarian capital has none of the pretension of its French counterpart.
Let me leave you now with a few more photos from my time in Budapest – a city I tried to embrace and felt briefly loved by. We didn’t part acrimoniously, though, and I feel we’ll be in each other’s arms again one day.