As the plane touches down at Budapest airport, you have your first contact with the Hungarian culture and language: “We have just landed at Liszt Ference airport, where the local time is 10 am and the current temperature is 10 degrees. Üdvözöljük Budapesten (welcome to Budapest)!”.
As you get off the plane, you follow the signs at the airport to collect your luggage. At this point, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you realize something: the Hungarian language looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. You can’t make sense of one single word you see or hear around you.
You take a bus to the city center. The driver announces the journey will end at Deák Ference station, from where you can easily access all the touristic points in Budapest. You can’t wait to start exploring!
The trip has left you hungry. But one of the best things you can do in a foreign city is trying the local food. You take the tram to the Great Market Hall, Nagy Vásárcsarnok. As the tram approaches each stop, you hear the Hungarian language, as the driver announces: a következő megálló: Kalvin tér. You try to repeat it to yourself but you quickly give up, not before laughing at your silly pronounciation.
As you arrive at the Great Market Hall, a world of colors, smells and sounds invades your senses. On the ground floor, you see the stalls with local produce, but one specific thing catches your attention. What are those red peppers hanging in each and every stall? A sales lady approaches you. “Would you like to buy some paprika?”. Paprika… the soul of Hungarian culture. This nation can not cook one single dish without using the magical ingredient. You decide to try the paprika in a dish on the first floor of the market. The smell coming from there is irresistable…
There are way too many choices, but you go for the most typical of all, “ gulyásleves”, “goulash soup”. As you see the vivid red color of the dish, you remember the lady from the ground floor. Of course, the soup is full of paprika!
You leave the market and take a walk on Váci út., a pedestrian street full of tourists. At the end, you reach Saint Stephen’s “ Bazilika” and you are happy that you can finally understand a Hungarian word without using a dictionary! You go up and are blessed with the most spectacular view over the city, including the famous Danube river (or “ Duna” in Hungarian).
The sun starts to go down, so you get ready for one of the most exciting things Budapest has to offer: nightlife. You go to the Jewish District, where all the cool bars and clubs are. There are so many places that the hard part is to choose where you should start. You decide on the most famous of them all, Szimpla Kert. As you check the menu, your eyes land on a word you saw countless times while preparing your trip: “ pálinka”.
“Pálinka” is a fruit brandy with high alcoholic content but, more than that, it’s an important part of the Hungarian identity. It is said that some people in the countryside have it for breakfast. Maybe that is not the best option for a tourist, but a shot of “pálinka” in a Budapest bar is mandatory for everyone. As you swallow it, you can’t help but close your eyes to handle the burning sensation down your throat. But you can still hear a local standing next to you shouting the Hungarian word for “cheers”: “ egészségedre”!
Tired after your night in Europe’s party capital, you start the next day in a very relaxing way, at a thermal bath, or “ fürdő”. The most famous is “Széchenyi fürdő”, and that is where you head to. After you buy your “ jégy” (ticket), you gain access to a land of wellbeing, that mostly happens outdoors. As you enter the pool, the hot water, reaching as much as 40 degrees clesius, warms up your body, while the tip of your nose is freezing cold. The sensation is quite unique and, after a few hours all you want to do is to sleep, as you are incredibly relaxed. But there is no time to loose, you still have a lot to see in Budapest!
After a well spent morning in the thermal bath, you get out and explore the park around it, “ Városliget”, literally “city park”. You’re walking on the green grass when something touches your hand. You jump, but you quickly realize it is just a curious dog saying “ szia” (“hello”). “ Gyere ide!” (“come here!”), the owner shouts, while apologizing to you, “ bocsánat”.
You proceed with exploring the nature of this beautiful city, and get yourself to “Margit sziget”, or “Margaret Island”. As the tram driver announces the next stop, you wonder where you heard the word “ sziget” before… Ah, that’s right! There’s a festival with that name! It is located in another “sziget” on the Danube, just a couple of kilometers from where you are now. Unfortunately, it is now October, and the festival happens every year in August. You will have to make do with a visit to this island, the “Margit” one.
It is starting to get dark now. Daylight doesn’t last long in Budapest in winter time. From the island, you walk to the Buda side of the city and across the river stands the majestic Hungarian Parliament, or “ Országház”. The lights on the building start lightning up, one by one, until it is completely illuminated. That’s when you realize: this city is beautiful by day, but even more beautiful by night.
You head back to the accomodation and prepare for waking up early the next day, for your flight back. This time, you could only stay for a weekend, but Budapest carved a place in your heart. You feel the whole city shouting at you to come back soon: “ jöjjön vissza hamarosan!”.
The vocabulary list for this article is available here