One of the great things about one’s children growing up is that they no longer have to be taken to school every day or to a play day or a bloody sleep-over. It also means that if I’m away working in some distant land then my wife can come and join me and even bring the little darlings with her, although best not make a habit of the latter, that can get a little expensive.
Last year I was in Budapest for eight months on a long TV project that was fun and interesting but eight months is a very long time to be away from home, so to break it up my wife came out for a few weeks and we had a splendid time.
I was staying at The Boscolo which is very nice and in my favourite part of the city. It’s a fairly high end hotel but it also has a ‘residence’ for long stays, basically small apartments with a kitchen. I was working 12 hour days so the dearly beloved was on her own until I’d get home at night, but that didn’t seem to bother her as Budapest is a beautiful city and is pretty easy to get around, whether you use the buses, trams and excellent underground train system, or just grab a street map at the hotel desk and start walking. And there’s lots of shops.
There are all the usual generic chain stores just like everywhere else, but there are also a lot of really interesting little independent shops selling everything from stationary to home distilleries, stills, so you can make your own Palinka, a kind of Hungarian moonshine that doubles as industrial paint stripper. To be fair it must be said that although very strong, some of it is quite delicious, It seems like everyone else’s Grandma makes the best Palinka, the locals drink the stuff all the time, and fair play to them.
If you need some dental work and a new suit, you’re in luck. There must be more dentists per capita in Budapest than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and they’re very good. There’s a lot of competition so they have to be good and reasonably priced. People come from all over the world for a nice vacation and a quick root canal. Many of the dental offices will organise your flights, hotel, itinerary and fix that smile, all for less that you’d pay for a filling in Los Angeles, or London for that matter.
For the suit, just step out of the Boscolo and walk cross the main street and you’re in the old Jewish Quarter, once the largest Jewish Ghetto in Europe, it’s a fascinating place, full of some really good restaurants, bars, dentists and of course, tailors. Some of the old tailor shops look like they haven’t changed since they opened, beautiful old storefronts with some incredible examples of the tailor’s skill in the window. From what I hear they are very reasonable too.
We went out to eat almost every night and had some fantastic meals, usually within walking distance. There’s a bunch of restaurant reviews here.
Budapest is bisected by the River Danube, Buda on one side and Pest on the other. The Danube is the second largest river in Europe that starts in Germany and winds through 9 countries before pouring into the Black Sea. I’d been in Budapest for several days before I realized why I was getting confused with my usually quite good sense of direction, at this point on its journey the river runs North/South as opposed to East/West like most rivers. It’s not unheard of but it is quite unusual for a river, in Europe anyway, to flow in this direction and I knew from 3rd year geography that the Danube flows East to the Black Sea. It’s just that where Budapest lies, the river winds around and turns South to Serbia, where it turns East again towards Belgrade. So whenever I thought I was facing north I was actually facing west, most puzzling at the time I don’t mind telling you.