“Apart from the markets you would barely remember that it was Christmas in Budapest, it felt like just another winter’s day in the capital city.”
Berlin to Budapest
It was a cold day in Berlin when we arrived at the multi-layered Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station, climbing down its deep depths to look for the cross continent trains. After a patient wait for our home for the night to arrive, we clambered aboard a train destined for Budapest. It was not an unpleasant ride (once you have travelled 3rd class on Indian sleepers anything is a luxury in contrast), and with it approaching late evening we eagerly dropped the three tiered suspended beds. An acrobatic shimmy up top left me laying wondering about the number of characters that had also lay down on this make-shift bed, whilst starring up at the ceiling mere centimetres away.
The train began its long journey, with night time stop offs to the cities of Dresden, Prague, and Bratislava; places I had wished to see but were hidden from me by the canopy of darkness. As the sun began to rise we crossed the Hungarian border, with most of the passengers lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the tracks. It was a bright morning, a grateful retrieval from the stark flat grey and cold wind in Berlin.
Apart from the markets you would barely remember that it was Christmas in Budapest, it felt like just another winter’s day in the capital city. Budapest is a city that tells stories of history like rings in a tree trunk; architecture evident of the medieval and baroque ages, the Austrian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian reign, as well as the decades of communist rule. The streets also show the hard times of the recent recession, which feel especially quiet considering the time of year. The only places that are truly thriving within the city this time of year are the markets.
You could walk into a Budapest market with your eyes closed and still absorb well over half the sensory landscape painted by the smells and sounds of its bustling atmosphere. Here it is about the food and drink. The aromas would steam up from the brewing mulled wines and ciders, roasted meats, pickled vegetables; not to mention the intermittent waft of that pungent sickly savoury smell identifiable with Eastern European cuisine. The rich colours of traditional Hungarian food served up by the street vendors were almost hypnotic, especially in contrast to the grey surroundings of this once communist state. The dishes on offer were the winter warmers of peasant folk. The market projected a collision of sounds: bells caught in the wind; brass instruments from the buskers; clangs from food being prepared and served; both the traditional as well as the more familiar festive tunes sung in an unfamiliar language; and the sounds of constant chattering from the visitors.
There were also many stalls housed in rows of wooden huts that offered an array of local traditional Hungarian craft goods. These market stalls were clustered amongst the city’s squares and open spaces, with pop up ice rinks and bars, with grand Christmas trees (though sparsely dressed) standing tall amongst the temporary wooden villages. Unlike the German markets, these markets did not seem to be geared up for the foreign tourist market, but seemed to flourish with Hungarians. In a quick glance around, in fact, it appeared that the tourists were fast and few between (despite Hungary being on many lists as a top tourist destination), making the experience that bit more special.
Words and Photography by Rachel Maria Taylor: www.rachelmariataylor.co.uk (@illustratorRach)