I started this blog back in January 2010, when, arriving in a frozen, grey city I struggled to make some sense of the world I found myself in. I thought the blog would be a good way to capture my first impressions of Budapest, to keep in touch with friends and family and to fill the lonely hours in my garret before I found any sort of social life. And so it proved.
But as time went by the unfamiliar became familiar, the incomprehensible obvious and the challenges routine. Then Helen arrived, followed by Open University courses and suddenly I had little time to write and the creativity of mystery faded away. From time to time new things happened and I managed to put some words together, but the output has been slow and difficult for a long time, and only the challenge of the bike ride from Sheffield to Budapest has led to any content in many months. I take my kalap off to people who can keep a blog going month after month, year after year.
But the blog has brought rewards. In its early months it led Marta, a Hungarian émigré in Sheffield, to contact me, asking for advice about returning to Hungary. I offered what opinions I had, and in due course she returned to Budapest and we became good friends. We would meet regularly in Budapest and chat, and Helen and I enjoyed her hospitality at Lake Balaton many times. Another time I had a call from the BBC, who asked me if I was interested in doing a piece on living in Budapest for “From our own correspondent”. My five minutes of international fame.
So as Budapest recedes behind me along a wet and snowy autobahn what am I bringing with me?
Memories of friends made, fun enjoyed with them and the spark of small encounters. I was lucky to have some good colleagues in my office, with whom I shared many laughs and beery conversations, Friday evenings at the Pozsonyi Sorozo, dancing and downing Jagermeisters as the sun rose over an open air bar somewhere in the city. Anna, who gave me my standard “harom millimetre” haircut once a month for three years, and with whom I measured my slowly developing competence in Hungarian. Daily encounters with unknown Hungarians, whom I at first found cool and unfriendly, but whom in recent times I found to be friendly and cheerful if I was the same. Perhaps at first my nervousness was obvious and made them behave likewise; after a few years everything seemed like home, I had a smattering of Hungarian and the mutual wariness disappeared.
The beautiful city, its Art Nouveau treasures stretching along the Danube as it curves between Buda and Pest. I particularly appreciated its honesty in growing old, the buildings in varying states of repair, the occasional signs of damage from the war and the 1956 revolution. This beauty came home to me when I visited Vienna, with its all-too-perfect structures and frontages giving it a cold, do not touch feel: Budapest, on the other hand, says come and play with me, enjoy me.
The Danube. I always lived close to the river, cycled along its banks to work and in the final year lived in an apartment overlooking it, from where I could watch its level rising and falling, the pleasure boats weaving in and out as they showed tourists the riverfront buildings, the barges carrying their wares up to Germany and Austria or down to the Black Sea. And in my last months I felt a special affinity with the Danube after cycling many hundreds of miles down the river from Kelheim in Gemany. The river and the light it reflects gives the city a special character: I would sometimes rise early and take photographs of the morning sun casting a red glow over Buda and the reflections it cast in the still waters. By night the light shining off the river turned the illuminated bridges and buildings into a Disney-like fantasy land.
But now new adventures beckon. At the moment I don’t know what they will be, but I know that from time to time I shall think back to Budapest, its people, its buildings, its river, and smile fondly.
Bryan, the Budapest Blogger blogs his last, 19th December, 2012