One of Europe's lesser sung cities, the Hungarian capital Budapest is full of food. And quiet, old-fashioned charm
The sun glows a feisty pink as it sets over the Danube. The bridges that connect the hilly Buda to the flat Pest start twinkling with evening lights and darkness sets in around a pewter moon. A man soulfully plays the violin nearby, as I sit atop a hill admiring the beauty of Budapest, one of Europe’s unsung capital cities.
One of the best things about exploring this city by foot is that it is as much about eating at indecent intervals as it is about meeting another culture. Starting the sunny day with a fresh-baked, warm cinnamon doughnut ‘horn’ brought from a push cart, we begin walking towards St. Stephen’s Basilica, which interestingly rises to exactly the same height as the Hungarian Parliament building, signifying equality of matters spiritual and material. A stroll away is the lush city park Varosliget,where I get myself a delicious mint and basil ice-cream. Perching on a wooden ledge, we dangle our legs over the lake overlooking a castle, feeling too lazy to go in.
We head towards the Food Market Hall for lunch and grab a Langos — you can’t really go wrong with fried bread slathered with sour cream and cheese accompanied by a long list of toppings that would outdo most pizzas. We decide that the best way to digest this is to make the rather long walk to Europe’s largest synagogue. A beautiful red building replete with geometric patterns, its neighbourhood hosts, I must add, many cafes specialising in hummus.
The town of Eger, a two-hour train journey from Budapest, is quaint, with cobblestone pavements and open piazzas with serenading musicians. Its abandoned minaret gives you a sweeping view of the town — an assorted palette of capsicum red flowers, coffee brown roofs and canary yellow churches.
A short walk from Eger is the famous Valley of Beautiful Women. My friend imagined it would have a bevy of doe-eyed beauties feeding grapes to thirsty travellers, but a local pointed out that it actually contained musty cellars where you could taste the local Hungarian red wine appropriately called Bull’s Blood. As we walked towards the valley, the clouds began to darken, accompanied by thunder began and streaks of lightning that lit up the valley like the furious fingers of a pianist playing a crescendo. I watched transfixed, knowing this was the picture of Eger I would take back.
Among the things the Turks left behind are the hot public baths. It's a perfect place to watch the Hungarians go about their life. Some are queuing with prescriptions to soak in the mineral baths, some are gossiping, some playing chess, and some even working with a pen tucked behind the ear. There isn’t anything tub-like about the baths. One of the most famous ones, the Szechenyi, is built like a series of huge, sprawling outdoor swimming pools and bubbles at a gloriously warm temperature. It is perfect for floating under a nippy evening sky, surrounded by happy cherubs spouting water. I would have never left the haven of warm water were it not for the flight I had to take back home.