Everybody had told me that Budapest is beautiful. It really is. I visited the Hungarian capital in 2013, a stopover during a road trip from Krakow to Turin with stops in Hungary, Slovenia and Trieste, an itinerary along some key places of the Habsburg Empire. Again, just like when I had visited Vienna, one of my main interests in this trip had been a cake. It’s always cake that drives me to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire! But let me start from the beginning…
See the yellow tram in the bottom left corner? It runs along the Danube on the Buda side providing its passengers with an excellent view of the city from along the riverside. The river Danube is glorious. It splits the city into its two entities, its two souls. Buda and Pest are well connected by a number of bridges that stretch across the river, the Chain Bridge and the Liberty Bridge being my absolute favourites. I developed a thing for bridges a few years ago and I was dying to photograph these two.
When we arrived the Hungarian capital met us with a gloomy rainy weather, definitely not what I had been hoping for. Actually, I never hope for bad weather, because it makes walking around with a camera a lot more complicated. Moreover, to me it is quite hard to appreciate a new place in poor lighting conditions because I end up stressing over all the colours I’m missing out in that light. And it is a lot more challenging to take pictures in the rain, managing to effectively capture some beauty and not just monotone grey cityscapes.
Rainy days are meant for indoor activities, and in fact that’s what we did. (Here comes the cake.) One such activity was sitting at a café enjoying a really good espresso and a slice of Dobos torte, two exquisitely Austro-Hungarian treats. Dobos torte is known for being Empress Sissi’s favourite and is a divine multi-layered chocolate buttercream and sponge cake beauty which incidentally is also a national symbol of Hungary. And the coffee, well, I like coffee in all its forms but I can be picky when it comes to espresso, always looking for places that can make it as good as in Italy. One thing is for sure: in such places as Vienna or Budapest I can’t go wrong, these people know how to brew good espresso! Another activity that proved totally enjoyable regardless of the weather was riding the world’s second oldest subway.
Aside from Dobos torte and coffee another Hungarian speciality is wine, and me and my parents are huge wine lovers. I had thought about taking them on a wine tasting tour somewhere in the centre, but the idea had come too late and all the tours seemed to be already fully booked. On second thought I don’t regret not going on one. I’m sure that being served samples of wine in exciting settings like old cellars would have definitely been a great experience, but these tours are quite tourist-oriented and I am not too confident about the actual quality of the wine served there. I grew up in Italy, I’m picky about espresso and wine, yes. So I took my parents grocery shopping instead, sure that some acceptable quality wine could be easily found in a supermarket. I have a thing about supermarkets which I can’t fully explain, but I just love going grocery shopping when I’m abroad. Although I shamefully like tourist shops with all the neatly packaged objects, I’m always a little distrustful when it comes to food souvenirs. I’d rather head to a supermarket and get my food where the locals buy it, too. So this choice was made for wine in Budapest, and I will never forget the four of us merrily walking out of the supermarket with three bottles of wine each, and the grin on my father’s face because we had just got the stuff that real Hungarians drink in their homes – and for a reasonable price!
On the second day we woke up to sunny weather. There wasn’t much time left because we were supposed to hit the road and get to the Slovenian-Italian border by evening, and I also wanted to stop by the Balaton lake on the way (a decision I would later regret, because the lake proved below my expectations, but we used the stopover to have lunch and at least we filled our stomachs with some Goulash before crossing the border with Slovenia), so the time to go snap some photos of Budapest in the sun was really limited. I got out of bed quite early and headed straight to the Fisherman’s Bastion.
The Bastion is a lovely viewpoint over the city that gives the viewer one of the best perspectives, in my opinion, to photograph the Parliament Building that lies on the other side of the Danube. Moreover, pictures of the white turrets against the blue sky were just what I wanted to take home from my visit in Budapest, along with the bottles of wine.
Budapest is beautiful, indeed. All those who had told me so were right. What charmed me the most was its elegance and grace, two features that can well characterize this capital city and its long history. I left with one regret: not having had the time to visit the thermal baths the city is so famous for. If I ever have the chance to return to Budapest, this is the first thing I’ll do. I’m considering going back with the sole purpose of seeing only the thermal baths and enjoy the most from that very experience. And maybe I’ll go back to that supermarket, too, because you know, that Tokaji was a real deal!