In Budapest

The best stories I have from Budapest have no photos, and the best photos have no stories.

There are some intermediates. The 'ruin bars' are easily the best way of going out that's ever been thought of. It's like going to a house party, but one where you can actually hear yourself think, and move without having to quietly shove drunk people out of your way. You can probably tell that I am Not Cool - but ruin bars are. Trust me.



And if you don't trust me, trust this sign.


Budapest is a really terrible place to be a vegetarian, but otherwise it's heaven. One of my ongoing personal struggles is to avoid becoming a social-media-food person, partly because I find it pretty insufferable but mostly because I couldn't stand the mockery. It's a real battle though. Sitting in my store of photos are hundreds and hundreds of pictures of food which have never been seen by anyone. Anyway, at the risk of opening the floodgates, here are some pictures of delicious things we ate at the really excellent Hungarikum Bistro.




Better move on before I show too many signs of weakness.

We had more than 36 hours in Budapest, but we decided that the New York Times' "36 Hours in Budapest" might be a good place to start. That was very much not the case. The NYT guide is an extraordinary recipe for spending a huge amount of money in very little time. In my memory of it they crammed about eight meals and four drinking sessions into the time, interspersed with trips to buy designer shoes and handbags. (Looking again suggests this is not completely accurate, but close enough.)

Dropped in there, though, is the suggestion to visit the 'Hospital in the Rock', in which you're not allowed to take photos. It is, more or less, what it says on the tin: a sprawling former hospital buried in the hill under Buda Castle, which saw a lot of action during WW2 and the Hungarian Revolution, and subsequently became a secret nuclear bunker. It's a fascinating story, which they've chosen to spice up by filling the hallways and wards with plastic figures of soldiers and doctors, in various states of chaos and grave injury. It's about as tacky as it sounds. And yet - great. Whether or not this was the intention, you get a much better idea of the cramped and claustrophic nature of the place when it's filled with person-sized things, even when the 'things' are absurd, semi-grotesque dolls.

The other photoless story from Budapest is one you've been reading about for a year and a half. We left the city on a train a day before Keleti Station was closed to international travel, to try to stop the flow of refugees. The station was basically surrounded by migrants trying to put together temporary places to live for themselves. For reasons that should be obvious - though which I managed to string out to four pages in an exam a couple of months later - we didn't take any photos of these people. Here's one of the station, where you can see a little bit of the desperation and squalor the refugees were living in.


It's not very easy to describe the atmosphere around Keleti. This was still one of Budapest's major stations. Huge numbers of people were going past, to their jobs or universities, on their usual commute. One of the things that most viscerally disturbs me about normal, urban life in the West is the treatment of homeless people and beggars - how frequently people don't make eye contact, look sternly ahead and walk a bit faster and refuse to acknowledge. The migrants at Keleti weren't begging - they weren't asking for anything from passers-by. They were just waiting. But still people did their best not to engage, to pretend none of this was happening, to not even give a moment's glance, let alone a smile. There's something chilling about it. It's hard to know what to say.

On the other hand, about these photos not much needs to be said.




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