In June 2017, my wife was invited to attend a conference in Budapest, Hungary. Since I had never visited the famed bohemian city known as the Little Paris of Middle Europe, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and tag along. In this post, I list three other favourite things I experienced in the city that are worth checking out.
As a bibliophile, I make it a point to visit at least one bookshop wherever I travel to even if I’m aware English-language books will probably be limited. Budapest has a strong reading culture and I spotted a surprising amount of big book stores along the high streets. After a bit of research, I decided to drop by the unimaginatively named but rather quaint Bestsellers, which is known to have a large stock of titles in English.
While there, I picked up three English translations of popular Hungarian novels; The Door by Magda Szabó, Santantango by László Krasznahorkai, and Embers by Sándor Márai.
So far, I have only read The Door, which is a compelling powerful tale of a writer who employs an elderly caretaker named Emerence to oversee the domestic chores in her Budapest home. The novel chronicles the fraught but deep relationship between the two women and uncovers Emerence’s grievous past, which references key moments in Hungary’s early 20th century history. It’s one of my favourite reads this year thus far. Couldn’t recommend highly enough. Strange to think I would never have picked it up if it wasn’t for my stay in Budapest.
Also, while in Bestsellers, I noticed they had a couple of Free Books boxes, which is something I had never come across before. It’s not a thing in Malta and I don’t ever recall seeing free books offers in any London bookstores when I lived there. The books they were giving away weren’t bargain bin rubbish either. I could have easily picked up 3 or 4 titles, including a few Penguin non-fiction orange spines, but since I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was and I was limited on luggage anyway, I settled on just one; an American novel I had been meaning to purchase since its 2016 re-release called The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage.
The evening before we arrived in Budapest, Davinia and I had just completed a foundation course in Beginners Japanese. When we stumbled upon Tokio whilst wandering around Budapest on our first night, we thought it’d be apt to celebrate the completion of the course with some Japanese food. And we’re glad we did. The food at Tokio was a real mouth-fireworks treat. We had a selection of sushi and seafood wok/noodles options, and ate every last morsel. And the desserts were so divine they could help you achieve nirvana. Given the quality of the food, the prices were also very reasonable. A three-course meal including cocktails cost us approx €70.
We loved Tokio so much, we ate there twice during our four-night stay.
KRAKEN’ TOWN STEAMPUNK SALOON
My one big Budapest regret is that we didn’t find time to visit one of the city’s idiosyncratic ruin pubs. Since we had been to Brody Studios, which has a similar re-purposed decaying urban building aesthetic, we were happy to sacrifice the ruin pubs in favour of a late evening riverboat excursion on the Danube.
I was however lucky to chance upon another unique watering hole: the Kraken’ Town Steampunk Saloon. The name sort of says it all. This is a British-style pub remixed in a steampunk kit that looks like it’s been ripped straight out of the mind of China Mieville. It has a great selection of artisan craft beers and twists on classic pub food, and is definitely worth stopping by. Just beware the creepy mechanical, telescoped-eyed squids looming outside on the walls. One craft beer too many and I swear you’ll start to think you’re in a Lovecraft nightmare.