Paris Of Eastern Europe: Budapest
If you have fomo (fear of missing out) it may be justified if you haven’t been to Budapest. It’s not as well-known as London, Paris or New York but it’s not for nothing that it’s known as the Paris of Eastern Europe. It deserves the title as one of the best of the lesser-known. My wife and I found out most agreeably that Indians are well-liked here and people have a good impression. This was reflected in our people to people interactions all over. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in all foreign countries.
Budapest has the beautiful Danube running through it, with all its evocations of the Blue Danube and gallant ramrod men waltzing ladies off their feet. This was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Danube does flow all the way to Austria and beyond. One side of the river lays Buda, with Pest on the other side. On the riverfront, there are four hotels with a view of the parliament and other stately buildings amongst which the two recommended hotels would be, The Intercontinental and Marriott, right next to each other on the Pest side and with not much to choose between them.
Strolling down the street we saw that the best scenic views are on the Buda side. Many of the monuments, especially the majestic Parliament are on the hills of Buda. Therefore the views from Pest are the best. The parliament looks grand from the outside, and even more so at night when it is all lit up. This has to be arranged and a passport is necessary as an ID proof. But despite the procedures, the visit was totally worth it.
Buda Castle, the Chain Bridge all lit up at night add up to the unique charm of the city. A concert in ancient St. Stephens Basilica with its high dome is made perfect with its acoustics and atmosphere. Pest, predominantly a residential area of the bourgeois, is encompassed with excellent bars, cafes and restaurants. Another attractive feature is the great shopping complexes behind Riverfront Hotels. We also came across Hungarian folk dances in a theatre on this side of town; they are not the usual tourist trap that the name might imply. On both sides, there are famous cafes and after a visit, it becomes clear why they are appreciated. The tram and metro system is cheap and efficient.
Café Gerbaud has its own chocolate which is also for sale. Along with gourmet coffee, there are attractive looking strawberry and pista pastries with ice cream. Another not to be missed café is Alexandra, inside a book shop, with its apricot brandy and coffee. New York Café, the other side of the city, always has long lines. The first time we went, we saw the long queues and ran away. We didn’t want to wait for hours and gave up the idea. But we returned another time through an entrance from inside the hotel and managed to get in without an unconscionably long wait. Trust us, Indians always find a way out! The coffee and snacks are not that special here but it’s for the elegant atmosphere that everybody queues up, with its pillars, balconies and scents of a bygone Hapsburg era; it is for this reason that it got the title of the best café in the world.
Hungarian food can be hot – almost as hot as Indian food and red Paprika is ubiquitous. And for someone who enjoys sausages, there are few better places. Hungarian goulash is another delicacy that is unique and delicious. Budapest, off the beaten track for Indians, is attracting more of them as they are venturing outside English speaking countries. Coming back from a performance one late evening my wife and I saw a group of people standing on the pavements just outside a major hotel. There were barricades and some tough-looking security personnel. “Some American VIP,” I said knowledgeably to my wife. It turned out to be our very own Bollywood star, Shah Rukh Khan, shooting for a film in Budapest!