無月

After ten years of repeating that Budapest had potential I arrived in town for a solo night – my first – to discover that, yes, the old gal has done it. Realising it, I mean. And ain’t that a surprise.

My hotel is also a restaurant, or maybe is a restaurant that sprouted a hotel as an afterthought. Who knows. I sit bewildered in a vast hall that is oozing démodé charm. Creaking wooden floors, un-matching chairs and tables, a couple of very well used cupboards. Nude lightbulbs with orange filaments dangle from the ceiling. Whiteboards scribbled in Hungarian enunciate the dishes of the day. A menu arrives and is typed on yellowish paper with a proper typing machine. Memories flood back about my mother’s red Olivetti and its vinyl case.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Recollections of Erzsébetváros aren’t so remote but feel ancient nonetheless. I pound the streets of the VII, once my favourite district, and struggle to recognise it at all. A mere seven years ago, to travel to Budapest was to hop on the TARDIS back to the 1990s. Not anymore.
Gone are the nude brick façades that opened with muted stupor on gravel squares where a tenement has given way, seemingly overnight, to an illegal parking lot. The lots are still there, though less and less, but those unsightly palisades of old bricks covered in strata of soot are gone, painted over by bright murals. Ernő Rubik’s cube. That time when Hungary did 6 goals to England. A map of Budapest. A cubist portrait of a moustached fella that looked an awful lot like Kafka.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
French and Russian and Spanish are the languages that echo the most in the grid of streets where, once, you’d mostly bump into sleazy, unctuous Italian sex tourists. Speaking of my compadres, they too have changed. There’s a group of six men in the restaurant, extremely well dressed and indulging in a coffee at the end of a hearty meal. The discussion is lively and centred on how to merge the Italian equivalents for hen night and stag do, for both husbands-to-be are taking part to this weekend’s celebrations.
The Hungarians, too, have changed. Gone are the woolly sweaters, the leather jackets, the Farrah Fawcett-style perms for lassies and mullets for men. Gone, too, are the Opel Mantas, the Merc 190s and the boxy Suzukis. Today’s Magyars have borrowed the Moncler puffer jackets from the Italians (a crime for which, sooner or later, we’ll have to answer) and inch forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the wheel of Volvo hatchbacks or Nissan Qashqais.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
What remains, then, of the Budapest I’ve grown to know in a handful of visits some 10 years ago? The trams remain the same, though even those are getting shinier and shinier. The attitude of most waiters, ticket sellers, queue-minders and bartenders is as refreshingly dour as it ever was. Think of an off-duty secret police interrogator who has just realised that you’ve run over his pet hamster.
Light fades and I receive the rather unwelcome news that my old favourite restaurant has priced me out. The phalanx of black Mercedes G 63 AMGs, all Russian-plated, parked outside is enough of a giveaway. Uncertain on what to do I head towards Nyugati and, from there, on Margit híd. Both banks glisten in the glow of dozens of sodium lights. I look on at the monuments – Parliament, Buda’s castle, the Citadella – as they gleam like Tolkenian treasures in the night.

Suddenly I find myself thinking at those first visits, at that flight when, barely in the air and already homesick, for home is where your heart is, the clouds parted to reveal exactly this view; how envious I felt at those who were down there, at those unknown people who could commute home on tram 6 rather than having to catch a plane!
The Budapest I remember has gone, changed beyond recognition by money and progress and investment and those Lime electric scooters, may Zeus incinerate the sod who invented them. But it doesn’t matter.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
In for a penny in for a pound, I thought. If I really wanted to walk down memory lane, to reminisce about the Budapest of Bacsó Béla utca, the one where trams still stopped at Moszkva tér, the city I was so eager to go to and so reluctant to leave, I might as well do it properly and have some music. I fished out my phone and found 無月, that trip-hop masterpiece that is DJ Krush’s Mu Getsu, a song that I’d been listening to so much back then. I walked on, aiming generally towards my hotel, head bobbing along with the drum’s tempo and Toshinori Kondo’s hypnotic trumpet. In that moment of silence halfway down the song I heard a tram passing by.

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31 Responses to 無月

  1. Ah, the way progress changes a place! I’m not always sure I like that, yet I do understand that it is good for the people who have to make a living there. Hopefully, at least. I think what I lament the most about the changes progress bring, is that places start to lose those quirks that made them unique in the first place.

    Like

  2. Jeff Bell says:

    Change happens all around us but when it is in our own neighborhood or city, it is gradual. When you revisit a place after 10 years, the change is jarring. I’ve reached an age where I’m starting to return to places I first visited 10 or so years ago and I’m sometimes saddened by what I see, sometimes hopeful. I’m glad to know that the waiters still provide bad service. This makes me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahh, no link to the song? But never mind. Such marvellous and well-presented photography, and your trademark heartfelt account. It’s been a long while since I was there as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. richandalice says:

    Some first-rate street photography in this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice collection of images of Budapest. We visited a few years ago and fell in love with the city. It is well worth spending a few days to explore this very interesting city. (Suzanne)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. We will add it to our bucket list! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lexklein says:

    I’m picturing Julie nodding her head at this! So was it 10 years ago that you were looking at that apartment on a circle that I photographed and put on my blog? That was such a strange coincidence! And I get what you mean about a second visit many years later. Because I’m a repeater (and getting older – aarrgghh), I often experience this, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes it’s just different.

    Liked by 2 people

    • awtytravels says:

      Yes, I remember that apartment!! And I echo your sentiments about changes, Lexi. I, too, wonder what Julie would make of BP today. Perhaps she’ll come round to have her views known!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Back in my airline days, when e-tickets were just being launched, I had a bunch of tickets in paper-form to all sorts of destinations I wanted to visit. Budapest was one of them. I never had the time to use it though – always been thinking ”one day”… lovely photos of real life moments! Much preferrable to sightseeing shots 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  9. J.D. Riso says:

    You made my heart ache with this one, Fabrizio. 10 years ago, I was living in Budapest, on Ferenciek Ter, in a few months, we would move to Rakoczi utca just across from Kazinczy and the gritty 7th district that I loved so much. I’d walk those gloomy streets and say to myself: so much potential. Then I watched the 7th district and my beloved ruin pubs become gentrified and trendy. Heartbreak. I moved away in 2013 and haven’t been back since.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A trip back in time, and into the present for me. I’ve never been to Budapest. Your photos especially entice me – not because it’s beautiful, though I can see it has its moments, but because you’ve caught the realness.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Hook says:

    Thank you so much for being my window to the world, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dave Ply says:

    A wistful visit back. At least you got some nice pictures out of the deal. And somehow you managed to discover that hard-boiled secret police interrogators have pet hamsters…

    Like

  13. Ray says:

    I’ll be visiting Budapest for the first time in June for the Euro 2020 tournament. Never really thought Budapest changed all that much through the years based on what I have seen or heard online or on travel documentaries. But this post has made me think a lot about what Budapest must have been like even a decade ago. Either way, I’m really stoked about exploring Hungary in a few months!

    Liked by 1 person

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