Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome to Budapest

The company that has employed me for this three-week writing job does a lot of business in Budapest, Hungary these days. And yesterday the company owner, who had business in the city through today, decided I should accompany him on an overnight trip. So off I went for my fourth country in a week. We got back to Bratislava earlier this evening (local time).

I mentioned in passing the fourth-country-in-a-week thing and got a knowing laugh; of course it's common for Europeans to country hop. My guide said on a busy day he will have breakfast in Budapest, lunch in Bratislava and dinner in Vienna, Austria, before heading back home. All three cities are relatively close together. Of course, it's the American who has never gone anywhere.

Driving into Budapest, it immediately becomes apparent we have left a city of 430,000 and entered one with a population of some 3,200,000. First sign: traffic jams. But it is remarkably beautiful and a rather enchanting mix of styles. Somehow it all works.

It felt a bit like a mix of San Francisco and New York (minus the skyscrapers) in how the streets were laid out, and with its bustling crowds, but also reminded me very much of Prague in its blending of modern and classical. I felt immediately comfortable. I thought I could make my way around fairly easily if left to my own devices. It was a busy city, but not a chaotic one.

The company offices were located near one end of a long pedestrian promenade where vehicles are forbidden. Either side is lined with 4-story buildings housing offices and apartments with enormous, old trees in the middle. On the bottom floor of every building, a restaurant. Must have been eight or ten on each side. Last night, almost every one was filled to bursting.

That's another thing: there is a thriving, bustling cafe culture here that is just not present in Los Angeles. Perhaps you see it in New York City, but it's not the same. People here will sit, eat, drink, smoke and talk, argue, laugh or sing (or all of it) for hours, all evening long.

Another neat bit: My bed and breakfast appeared rundown and crumbling from the outside, but very old, as if it was run by Dracula's slacker kid brother. But inside it was clean, well-lit, modern. My guide told me lots of buildings in Budapest bear this effect: Centuries old on the outside, modern inside.

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1 comment:

Tim said...

"The American never goes anywhere" because he lives in a country that is roughly 3,000 miles wide and 2,000 miles north to south (not counting a trip to Alaska).

It is only 200 miles from Bratislava to Prague. That distance gets me less than 40 percent of the way across Montana. It gets from from Los Angeles to about Los Banos...only two-thirds of the way to San Francisco. Bratislava to Vienna? 39 miles. That barely gets me from Alexandria, Virginia, to Baltimore, Maryland. Bratislava to Budapest is just 124 miles. For you, that's like driving from LA to San Diego.

Europeans forget how huge the United States is, and what sort of impact that has on our country, our culture, our politics, our need for unifying institutions, norms, media.

All of Europe is 3.9 million square miles of area.

The U.S. has 9.8 million square miles of area. Even if we delete monstrous Alaska and miniscule Hawaii, the U.S. still has 9.2 million square miles of area.

Facts matter.