When Derek and I planned to leave Alberta and then Canada for two years in Budapest, it seems like a great distance for quite some time. We’d be far from familiar faces and family feasts.
However, in this modern age of globalization and …Facebook, for good or for bad, our communities are now more distant-but-connected than ever before. This weekend reminded me of how small the world can be, as I met up with three friends from three different times in my life, here in my new city of Budapest. The meet-ups centered on local food and drink, of course, which took me on a tour of some enjoyable spots in the city.
Coming from Cape Breton via London, a family friend was in the city filming two episodes of a fantastic CBC series. The television show is set in World War II Paris, and I’ve been told that Budapest plays that role particularly well. I don’t think I’ve seen him in well over five years so on Thursday, it was a treat to catch up. To add to the experience, we caught up over delicious food at a Hungarian restaurant Pozsonyi Kisvendéglő in the XIII district. This was my first experience with the gigantic portions of Hungarian plates. My friend ordered bone marrow, after a previously delectable experience at this restaurant. I had pike with parley potatoes. In Canada, this meal would have been the equivalent of 2-3 servings. And man, it was tasty – the fish, even deep fried, was flaky and fresh. Over beer, house wine and Palinka, we caught up on Canada, the UK, our siblings, our careers and European lives so far.
I love plaques. I always stop or make slight detours to read the interesting tidbits of information about the place through which I’m walking. I’ve always done it and though I don’t know where this habit started, it’s one I highly recommend. Reading a plaque is a simple way to better understand a place. The community has deemed this person or moment or location important enough to record in bronze.
However, I have had some complaints about the meandering and sometimes time-consuming process required to read these plaques. I offer a rationale for Always Reading the Plaque. To support the relaxed and informative walk, I give to you my three arguments:
I love to travel and I have made visiting new communities, cities and countries a priority for my paycheck. I’m lucky to have been able to travel across Canada, parts of Europe and now live in Budapest. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned a few things along the way. I love experiencing a new landscape, culture and language. There’s nothing better than getting a taste of a new town. Literally. Culinary tourism may now be an overused term, but it’s the way to my heart.
My most standard menu is to indulge my over-active sweet tooth. However, I also have a romanticized version of cafe-culture and a daily caffeine addiction that must be fed. So, by blog recommendation or foot traffic testament, I like to try out coffee shops. I’m no connoisseur and I’m not hip enough for most barista bars, but I have found one way to simplify and enjoyably explore Budapest cafes:
One Drink at a Time
In a world with almost unlimited choices, it can be overwhelming to compare and contrast your experiences. It can be a struggle to navigate foreign language menus. It can be intimidating to keep up with new city’s pace or protocol.
As always, my advice is to keep it simple. Don’t try to taste every caffeinated variation a city has to offer. And give up trying to order the drink that will make the local hipster barista’s scowl mellow momentarily. Pick One Drink that a) you enjoy and b) is probably found in most cafes.
The first day in Budapest has been quite a whirlwind. No matter how you mentally prepare, it’s your senses in the city that bring you to realize you’ve arrived. It’s the smell of rain on this concrete (on granite, or limestone). It’s how the milk tastes the same, but different. It’s the kink in your neck from looking up, looking back, looking around constantly to catch the new architecture and the new bustle. It’s the sound of a very old language new to your ears.
Then there’s the further physical reactions. Trading Eastern North American for Central European timezones makes for some inconvenient urges to nap. And the lay of the land requires new orientation. It takes getting lost to really learn addresses and direction. (I may have intended on another coffee shop but landed at this one – no disappointment here.)
I’ve been in Hungary for just over 24 hours and I am starting to fall for it already. What you’ve heard is true. It seems every building is a work of art. Every corner has a restro or shop you’d like to pop in. All I want to do is walk and eat. Here’s hoping these two activities will balance themselves out.