On A Tale of Two Cities / A Party at the End of the World

Budapest is two cities, three really, in a literal sense. The city we know today grew up from Buda and Obuda on the west bank of the Danube, and Pest on the east. It is said that once upon a time the river divided not just two settlements, but two civilisations. The Roman Empire extended to the west bank of the river and on the other side the Barbarians reigned. With grand buildings being more prominent on the Buda side alongside some Romanesque architecture, it is sometimes still said that this difference persists in comparison to the merchant base of Pest.

The Pest side is certainly less grand than Buda, despite the presence of the impressive gothic Parliament building on the Danube bank, which is perhaps the finest building in the city. A lot of this side however consists of once pleasant medium rise blocks that are now black with grime, or with paint flaking off. The lack of upkeep in this aspect produces the feeling that the place is run down. But it also produces a sense of ‘character’ a sense that this place is not a stuffy, rigid area, but a playground free for all, some kind of bohemian dreamland. It is this latter aspect that comes to the fore with all of the ‘ruin’ bars. There is an astounding amount of bars and street food vendors, and yet there are ever more customers. The supply appears to be high, the demand yet higher. Places such as Szimpla Kert and Fogas are warrens amongst the ruins, full of bars illuminated by colourful lights, reflections bouncing between beer and faces, while the paint hangs off the outer walls all around. It’s like a party at the end of the world. Amongst it all are voices, many voices, British voices. Budapest is full of Brits. It is one of the cities, alongside Prague that seems to attract the most youthful and good-time hunting Brits, largely due to the cheap prices. Others come too, from further afield, but in these bars Hungarian is a minority language.

The ruin bars always seem to be busy, every night in Budapest is a party, it doesn’t let up. The only way to avoid it is to tear yourself away. I visited some of the bars around this area of course, but not before I had enjoyed some peace in a bar of the Ritz-Carlton. Sat at the counter I got to know the staff and enjoyed a few cocktails on my first day. I went back the second day and was warmly welcomed back as I was seen approaching; “Charlie!” Once sat at the bar, the waitress came in and again with warmth said to the barman who was facing the other way “it’s Charlie!” I don’t often get such a kind reception. It is certainly a good way to keep customers too.

The heat was oppressive, as it has been on most of the trip. I have carried around a light perma-tan, as well as factor 50 sun-cream from country to country but I still managed to make it up to Buda Castle for the view across to the Parliament and Chain Bridge, up to the Citadel for views of both sides of the city and the river, and to wander around the streets and explore this vibrant city. It is a fun city, above all, which as I have previously written is important. I don’t think it’s as pretty as some articles will make out, although it has its charm. Once a co-capital of Austria-Hungary, appearance wise it is less grand than Vienna, the other co-capital, but it is still a place that should be seen, should be experienced.

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