Fog nearly stops play as roughly half the flights leaving Bristol airport are either grounded or diverted. Get increasingly fidgety as the time approaches, but eventually we’re in the air and Blighty fades away below me. Arriving late at night gives me the chance to marvel at Budapest by night. It’s a beautiful sight, the chain bridge and the Parliament artfully lit. My nerves turn to excitement, at least a little.
A brief twinge as the driver seems neither to know where we’re going nor to speak English. Somehow we come to an agreement and I find myself outside my new home. It’s beautiful – all bare wood Parisian floors and high ceilings. I skip around taking pictures and email them off with glee, before making myself go to bed.
Woken early the next morning by grumbling stomach – nothing edible in sight. Head for the West End, a big gleaming altar of capitalism spotted late the night before. Wander around for some time managing to miss the vast food court, alighting on a Kaiser’s Szupermarket just in time to not pass out.
The next challenge is to buy a travel pass, which is made easier by the fact that the person behind the right glass window, when I finally find it, speaks English. Which is a relief, after being shouted at in Hungarian by three different people behind three different wrong windows.
Have wheels so travel. Head to the castle district to marvel at the views across the Danube, the imposing Royal Palace, and the ancient streets leading up to it. And the cold. It’s around -10, and even two fleeces, hat scarf coat can’t disguise that I’m not put together right for these colder climes. Still, it gives me an excuse to pop into anywhere that has heating.
The next day, I waste half the morning trying to figure out my washing machine, which is in German. Having established, thanks to the benevolent mother internet, that what I want is a Pflegeleicht mit Vorwasche, I’m out the door for a stroll down Andrássy út, a neo-Renaissance grand boulevard leading to Városliget, the City Park. It’s beautiful, grand yet rough around the edges, the houses proud but world-weary.
It’s also, by sheer happy ahem coincidence, home to the Lukács cafe, a sumptuous turn-of-the-century coffee-house and patisserie. Minus-god-knows-what outside, I need marching food, so buy a coffee and a slice of divine chocolate cake for slightly less than the UK national debt. Fed and caffeined, I wander down to the City Park, where I find that the ducks have cannily exploited Budapest’s thermal waters to keep toasty. Envious, I head home for a nice long soak of my own.
From here on February 22nd 2009.