On my way to work this morning, I don’t know why I was so amused by the routinely zombie-walk of people bolting into different directions at the tube station. I was an active member of this army on this Tuesday morning, well slept after arriving late last night from the airport, slightly jaded after my recent fun-filled and family focused trip to Budapest.
I’ve mentioned it in my last few posts about the flurry of visitors we were expecting over the December-January period. The last ones to arrive were Mrs FOMOist’s twin sister from Australia, who picked up Gee’s little 18yo cousin from Singapore. They arrived late on Thursday night and after having a day to nurse their jet-lag, were “forced” to visit their next holiday destination.
Budapest is an incredible city but might not be on everyone’s list when visiting Europe. The reason it was on mine is because of a lovely, proud Hungarian girl I work with. Over the months of working together, she had always insisted on adding Budapest to our list and she promised that she will join us on the trip.
We arrived in Budapest on a crisp Saturday afternoon, equipped with birthday party horns blaring on our exit. It was Briggie’s brother’s birthday on Thursday and she had planned to surprise him. The brother thought he was coming to pick up a bunch of her friends, but was ecstatic to see his little sister jump out from behind these lunatics singing him Happy Birthday.
Briggie’s family were just as hospitable and loving as she is. Once the hugs and kisses were exchanged, we got introduced to each other. At this point, I was introduced to Briggie’s sis-in-law Fanni. Now imagine this – Fanni meet Manmeet and Manmeet meet Fanni. I took it upon myself to explain to the sis-in-law, who didn’t speak much English, the reason for my amusement with vivid hand gestures. Once the extremely informative cultural exchange was over, it was time to exit the airport and start heading into the city, but first, some home brewed Palinka. After a quick Google search, Palinka is apparently Hungarian brandy. To me, it was a deliciously potent cousin of the smoothest tequila you have ever tasted, that keeps you enveloped in a warm furry blanket during the winter months. After a first couple of squigs of this 56% home-brewed Palinka, I was reassured that it was going to be a memorable trip.
Once we got to the apartment, we decided to finish the bottle of Palinka and head to the Christmas markets where we were greeted with another bottle, which was well received and swiftly consumed.
I had heard a lot about Budapest Christmas markets and they definitely lived up to the hype, without being overwhelmingly big. Thanks to the local we were in the company of, the highlights of the markets are as follows:
- The streets bathed in fairy lights were a sight to behold. After celebrating Christmas in summer, Christmas is winter is no short of magic with fairy lights trying to get their presence known lighting up the misty skies.
- I don’t know if it’s universal, but in Budapest they have a thing called – Shoebox charity. So the idea is that you pack anything and everything you want to donate in a shoebox and leave it near this Christmas tree for the less fortunate. I would be lying that I am overly charitable, but in my view it is such an endearing way of sharing the Christmas spirit.
- There was a hollow Christmas tree made out of logs that kids could walk into. It looked beautiful and since it was allowed, I had to walk in and join the fun but could have given it a miss.
- After having a few too many Palinka shots, we decided to line our stomach with the local dish called Töki Pompos. The closest thing to it will be a modern day pizza, but Töki Pompos is garlic flavoured sour cream topped with red onion, bacon and cheese, perched on a bed of fluffy bread base, baked in the wood fired oven till the cheese melts and embraces all the other ingredients to create a delicious snack.
- Then there is Kürtőskalács, also known as Chimney Cakes. Think of it like a doughnut, in a shape of a long hollow cylinder, cooked over open fire for the smoky flavour and then covered in sugar syrup and your choice of topping. I went for the traditional cinnamon topping, whereas the girls covered theirs in chocolate chips. They preferred theirs and I preferred mine, which meant more for me!
After circling around the St Stephen Basilica Christmas markets and filling ourselves up with local street food, it was time to go home to get some sleep so we could rejuvenate ourselves for a busy Sunday in Budapest.
On Sunday, we started off with a 3-hour alternative walking tour of Budapest, which avoided most of the main tourist attractions but focused on the incredible street art. It was at this tour that I learnt the difference between graffiti and street art. According to our guide, graffiti is usually politically fueled message, whereas the other is an artist’s attempt of using the street as their canvas. After the tour, Briggie and her family were kind enough to walk around with us, pointing out all the main tourist attractions. The Buda Castle was lit up in lights against the snow clouds, dominating one part of the city, whereas the Hungarian Parliament dominated the skyline across the river, joined by the gorgeous Chain Bridge. As I usually tend to leave most of the usual tourist information out, here is a brief account of the highlights:
- Briggie is a proud Hungarian and absolutely adores her city. So the question I had to ask was why she left. She told me that she decided to leave Budapest after her visit to London back in 2011. It wasn’t the skyscrapers or the money that kept her in London, it was something all Londoners complain about. She thought London was much happier than Budapest. Despite us thinking that London is a playground of grumpy, sleep deprived, hardworking robots, Briggie thought it was a city full of life and glee. Once she mentioned it, the subconscious sadness and the struggle of the common man in Budapest was hard to ignore.
- Since Briggie was coming with us, I didn’t bother looking anything up so I was completely at the mercy of my local tour guide. After ticking off the main attractions, we tucked into some more local grub which included – a few carafes of dry and semi-sweet wine, goulash, fisherman’s soup and of course the goose and red cabbage, which tasted a lot like chicken but with a lot more meat on the bones.
- Next few stops were a range of ruin bars and the one in particular that stood out (no surprises here) was Szimpla. Popular with tourists and locals alike, Szimpla is a multi-storey bar in an abandoned building, filled with art, craft and a lot of other random
shitartefacts. One important fact I learnt about Szimpla was that it is registered as an NGO and does not pay any tax! The justification was that it is a meeting place for people of all different backgrounds. How they got away with it, I don’t know but I am well impressed that they did.
Before I finish, I have to put down the following just so I can come back in a few years’ time and remember that the following happened at Szimpla:
- Mrs FOMOist got approached by an 18yo young man, who completely switched his attention to the twin once he found out Gee was married.
- Briggie got chatting to a supposedly “Italian” guy who told her (as nonchalantly as he could) that he was extremely blessed in the genitalia department and invited Briggie to cop a feel. To this, she turned around and reported the events to me, without walking away in disgust (she eventually did after politely declining the irresistible offer).
- Since I was the only guy with 4 beautiful ladies in toe, I attracted the attention of a group of very nice guys. One of them finally mustered up the courage and started dancing with me, before I had to give him a little shove so he didn’t get too close for comfort.