Arriving in Budapest is a no nonsense experience. The Customs folk are a stoic lot. It seems that they are just a little sick and tired of British 20 somethings posing as Love Island wannabe’s. Their fake tan, skinny jeans, puffy bomber jackets with fur lined hoods and masterfully groomed eyebrows. Sadly I describe just the male of the species. The females take it to the next level with everything I mentioned above but on steroids. If Prague is for stag and hen parties, Budapest is for Instagram Influencer hopefuls that believe simply in keeping their bedazzled fashion runners as white as the driven snow.
We made it through passport control and out to baggage claim. Bags in hand and just outside the door we found the FO’ TAXI stand where we got our taxi chit and waited for number 1627. In mere seconds 1627 arrived & the driver was a quiet man with the look of someone who endured the Russian occupation and hasn’t been too outwardly happy ever since. We put our bags in the trunk and we were away.
Not since we took our lives in our hands on the airport bus in Rome 4 years ago have I felt the same sense of terror. Our not so smiley driver was somewhat of a formula one fan. He drove his bright yellow Ford Mondeo at least 3 times the speed limit and weaved in and out of slower traffic with the ease of Nico Rossberg and the calculated calm of a Hungarian executioner. I must admit I felt a tad uneasy. I like to drive fast. I like to weave through traffic. I just don’t grip the steering wheel so hard that I leave marks in it while grinding my teeth.
It was at the 10 minute mark of the journey that I thought we were not going to live long enough to walk the banks of the Danube. And then it happened. It was a liberating moment for both us and the driver. The radio volume bumped up a notch or two and at just that moment the golden tones of Boy George took to the air waves to change all our moods with Culture Club’s smash hit Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon.
They say music calms the savage beast, well George calmed our driver. A cheeky smile and a new attitude. Just 5 minutes later we arrived in the Astoria area of Budapest. It’s a Hotel heavy neighbourhood with an uncanny number of Lebanese Shawarma restaurants. I came for the Goulash but all we could find as we wandered the streets was meat roasting on a vertical spit. Meat being lovingly shaved to the plate below by olive skinned men who prefer to call all their customers “Boss”.
So a few local beers accompanied by some gyro and felafel and that fuelled a healthy after dinner stroll through some of old Budapest. It’s a strong sturdy town with a mix of French, Spanish and Soviet architecture. Not a ton of people on the street at this time. We attribute this quiet to the bars being full of manicured eyebrows. A bit of a life saver really.
We took the opportunity to end the night with Hungarian Apple schnapps and that worked very well as a “natural” sleep aid.
This morning we headed to store our luggage and then did the most out of character thing we have ever done. We bought two passes for the Hop on Hop off bus with the river cruise add on. It was really what the doctor ordered. We saw it all. Both by land and by sea. Now I know that this flies in the face of my get away from the tourist hordes mantra, but today it was worth taking the chance.
Now we leave Budapest well travelled but without trying any goulash. We came, we saw, and Culture Club raised all our spirits. Thank you George! Always loved the Hat!
Viszontlatasra and catch you in Athens tomorrow.
Images taken with Leica Q-P
p.s. Just kidding, of course I found the goulash!