The snowfall was patchy and half-hearted, like a 50-year-old woman’s attempt at giving up her 40-a-day habit. It came down in a flurry for a few minutes as I weaved my way through the dense crowds of this night-time Budapest Christmas market. I was thankful; I mean, what Christmas Market is complete without a dusting of snow? No authentic one, that’s for sure.
Nestled in my warm coat, I shuffled to the front of a stall selling hot drinks. I couldn’t decide between the cherry punch, mulled wine, and hot strawberry wine, but in the end I went arbitrarily for the latter, so arbitrarily that it was decided after a quick game of Eeny Meeny Miny Moe.
“What are you doing?” asked the flush-cheeked stocky Hungarian man occupying the stall.
“Um, nothing, sorry. Can I have this one?” I said, pointing to the steaming pot labelled “strawberry wine” in English. He ladled out a small cup and I handed over 600 Forints. The wine was hot and sweet, perfect for cold winter’s nights. What it wasn’t perfect for, given it was in an open-topped styrofoam cup, was pushing through crowds. I cradled it to me and navigated to the live music tent, cursing everyone trying to weave their way through the crowds in the opposite direction to me and making me spill a few drops of hot wine over my hand.
I made my way to a tent where a small crowd watched as four young musicians were performing some traditional Hungarian folk music, two on guitar, one on keyboard, one on cello, one on accordion, and one on drums/other instruments. For those with a rudimentary grasp of numbers, you’ll have worked out that one person played more than one instrument. They were a multi-talented bunch. I stood on a raised platform, sipping my wine, listening to a type of music I’d never heard before.
When I’d had enough (and folk music of all kinds grates eventually), I left the market and headed towards the river. I passed a few big-name department stores and some tourist shops selling – at overpriced amounts, of course – fridge magnets and playing cards with images of the city on the back all photographed on an overcast day by a photographer evidently reading out of Landscapes 101 as he took the photo.
At the river there were several photographers staring up at the Royal Palace and Buda Castle on the hill on the opposite bank. With their tripods all set up in specific places searching for the perfect photo, they looked like early 20th-century painters wielding easels and paint pallets. With no tripod, I ramped up my ISO and did my best, leaning against whatever I could and resting my camera on the flattest walls I could find, like the poor sap I was. [If anyone’s totally addicted to buying Christmas gifts and has run out of friends, family, colleagues, pets, and neighbours whose names you’re only 70% sure of, feel free to send me a tripod — I don’t mind if it’s a few days late.]
By day, Budapest was equally as stunning, if not more so.
Before I left, I’d heard Budapest was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. No, actually, I’d heard it said Budapest was the most beautiful. And it was. You should go.
For anyone looking for more funny travel stories, check out www.travelhumour.com. Why am I telling you? Because I told them I would. And if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I always keep my promises. If there are two things you should know about me, you should know that I always keep my promises and that I love rice pudding.