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Vignettes from Budapest

Budapest, Hungary. 

It’s becoming somewhat of a joke among my friends that I always tag along on other people’s family vacations. A few Christmases ago I joined my cousin Mariana to visit her Aussie dad on Kangaroo Island. In January I sailed to Cuba with my friend Marina and her dad. Now for the second consecutive year I’ve crashed my friend Fireball’s mother-daughter reunion.

Fireball’s mom has one of those enviable passports with every shape and color stamped in it and extra pages routinely sewn in. As an award-winning art director and production designer in the film industry, she has scouted and worked pretty much everywhere – most recently on the majestic Kazakh steppe and the mosquito-riddled coasts of Malaysia (she prefers the steppe). This year her work brought her to Budapest for the second season of the Netflix-original series “Marco Polo”. So when Fireball’s med school spring break popped up on the calendar, off we went.

Normally when Fireball and I travel together, disaster ensues. In Brussels we overslept and missed our train to Paris, resulting in a costly slap on the wrist from the ticket agent. In Barcelona we got mugged and Fireball’s finger got smashed (four years on, it’s still noticeably chunkier than its neighbors). Last year in Bukit Indah, Malaysia, we nearly suffocated from what we thought was a fire, but was really just a poisonous mosquito bomb.

Budapest was a whole new beast, the furry, naughty sort of beast, like a satyr who lures you in for a cocktail and a friendly screw. We soaked our livers in pálinka, sweet sweet pálinka, in flavors like pear and poppyseed. We soaked our bodies in thermal baths surrounded by sumptuous, butter-colored architecture while old men scooted their pawns and rooks across swim-up chess tables. We cooed over sweet little porcelain critters in the hallowed halls of Herend. From our apartment window we spied on the kitchen at the Astoria hotel and laughed when a chef dipped his finger into the soup. At a café-cum-florist, a cappuccino arrived with a pretty pansy blossom on the coffee spoon. At night we fell headlong down the rabbit hole of the city’s “ruin pubs” – bars that that have popped up in abandoned mansions like psychedelic mushrooms. We were two little Alices and Budapest was our big beautiful Wonderland. After a week I flew back to America exhausted and coughing with the first tickle of bronchitis, and yet somehow dissatisfied. I was still hungry for more Hungary.

Practical Information:

Széchenyi Thermal Bath – Gorgeous Neo-baroque bath house with myriad options for soaking, sweating, swimming, and swilling pálinka.

Café Kör – Whopping portions of Hungarian soul food, like foie gras and toast served with blueberry jam, and schnitzels the size of doormats

Boutiq’ Bar  High class cocktails served in a sexy, velvety venue reminiscent of Paris’ Experimental Cocktail Club

Szimpla Kert  The grand dame of ruin pubs, a choose-your-own-adventure of chilled-out sitting rooms and frenetic dance floors

Centrál Kávéház – Elegant coffee house and restaurant in the Viennese style, with high-ceilings and picture-perfect desserts

Ruben Étterem – Neighborhood favorite dishing up high-brow cuisine at low-brow prices, like heaping plates of crispy roasted duck with juniper berry braised cabbage for just $8 USD a pop


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