Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dating Budapest

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
Sometimes you don't click on the first date. When that happens there is usually not a second date. After my first full day in Budapest I felt ready to give up and move on to a smaller city. I felt lonely and lost. I had been targeted by scam artists. And to compound my unhappiness, yesterday morning I realized that I had shampooed with conditioner, which is the sort of thing that happens when you go shopping for supplies in a country where you don't speak the language. But I kept telling myself that I must not have given the city a fair chance. Everyone talks glowingly about Budapest, so what's wrong with me?

I have found the magic. Last night I stopped by a cool movie-themed bar full of hipster, artist types, and so finally I enjoyed a couple half liters of Budapest beer. The women con artists I wrote about are still working their poison in the shopping district (two different pairs tried ensnaring me as I walked through last night; or maybe I am just irresistible to female duos in that particular part of town), but get just a few blocks away from that tourist trap and you find the awesome Budapest your friends told you about, the one you read about in the travel section of the New York Times, the one Lonely Planet claimed was, "More cosmopolitan than Prague, more romantic than Warsaw and more beautiful than both."

To literally top it off, the city is being blanketed with beautiful snow. The flakes fall outside the window of Caffe Break Kft., a cozy wi-fi enabled joint with 1960s newspaper pages pasted on its walls. A CD of acoustic versions of current pop hits plays in the background.

I sometimes gaze at a city's celebrated architecture and say, "So what?" It's the people that make a place great, not the pretty bridges. A small town like Timisoara, Romania may not be gorgeous, but it is very friendly; a more glamorous city can be beautiful but emotionally cold. Where would you rather be?

But now I see the appeal of a gorgeous city. As I gazed at the Parliament building from halfway across the Chain Bridge today I felt as if I were walking past an earth-sized version of a Whistler landscape. A beautiful city inspires you. It puts an extra spring in your step as you explore it. This translates to a more positive frame of mind. Soon you're ready to write a novel, or at least tidy up a freelance article and scribble a travel blog entry.

Three dates with a person in order to decide whether you are compatible with that individual is probably two too many, but on my third full day in Budapest I feel like the city and I are finally clicking. I even found shampoo.

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