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Especially for today but also for the everyday. Not just for Hungary but for everywhere.

“No questions of national identity in the present can ever avoid encountering the painful secrets of the past.  In this sense, as long as these questions are alive…there can be no forgetting.”

(Michael Ignatieff)

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This is what Budapest was like.

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I know the whole world is talking about the weather going crazy, and Ithaca has conditioned me to shrug when all four seasons chase each other through one day, but it really sucks when you pack for spring and then get rained, snowed, and hailed on all the way across Central Europe.

On the plus side, I found that the Ludwig Museum remains wonderful. Pay a visit! Their current exhibitions, found here, feature naked men and universal subsistence allocation.

Budapest is still one of the loveliest cities in the world. And I’m still incredibly nostalgic. Two good answers for all professors and classmates who have questioned my sanity in booking a trip to Budapest two weeks before my senior thesis (fully written, bound, footnoted, and anguished-over) is due. Should I mention that I’ll be making this excursion in the middle of a trek from Stuttgart to Oldenburg and Hamburg?

This time last year, I was trying not to think about leaving Hungary. Classes at CEU were winding down, friends were visiting, demonstrations were blocking Andrassy, and large amounts of turo pastries were being consumed. The usual. If I remember correctly, it was also almost time for the Spring Festival, which means that there’s no better time for a return.

You Budapesters, if there is anything interesting happening in late March, please send me a message to let me know! Likewise if anything new and interesting has opened and can compete with Szimpla and Instant in my heart. And if any of you have an appetite for mulled wine and Pozsonyi kifli, you know where I’ll be.

Post-March 15 is sure to be an interesting time to be in Hungary. Checking the news, I keep seeing reports of the country “stepping away” from democracy. Nuh uh! You don’t say!

So many views, so many encouraging messages, and I still haven’t concluded the tales of Budapestivity. Through these posts, I’ve made new friends and entertained a good number of my old ones too. (Kat, Lila, Owen, you faithful readers!) I’ve kept a record of what turned out to be three incredible, memorable months. And the stats! They attest that I’ve been helpful. People from more than sixty countries have found their way to this blog. My ramblings have helped them get a vicarious taste of barack pálinka, explore Hungarian architectural history, learn how to balance ducks on top of their heads, find the proper names for Hungarian deliciosities (“cottage cheese balls rolled in toasted crumbs,” yum!), locate peanut butter and vacuum cleaners in Budapest, join debates in postcommunist transitology, plan day trips, and traverse a few dozen other fancies.

Many many things that started in Hungary followed me out of Ferihegy, through a trek across continental Europe, all the way home to California, and back across the ocean to Yerevan. They’re still solidifying themselves as living staples — new prospects, new friendships, and an incredible relationship. A three month jump into the present, and I’m working on the biggest project of my life through a fellowship that I slaved for from the CEU Library and planning for post-graduate work that I discovered while idling away in Terézváros. Going to Budapest was my way of taking to the ship, driving off the spleen, and fending off all drizzly Novembers. A prescription for Ithaca and an unbelievably good antidote.

Because I ran out of time in April, here are a few more bits of advice for globetrotters new to this corner of the world.

1. Drop every travel book that warns you against the unsmiling/guarded/whathaveyou nature of Hungarians. It doesn’t take much normative thought to see that these descriptions are misinformed delusions for every nation. I won’t negate myself by shifting the generalization to another pole, but almost everyone I met was lovely, friendly, and hospitable. Don’t count the smiles you see on the street, but don’t hold back from interacting either. Brownie points are abundant if you use any Hungarian words, which too are not as tough as guide books claim.

2. Some of the friendliest people in the city work at Gelarto Rosa in St. Stephen’s Square, and they serve the best ice-cream you will ever taste in the cutest flower shape you will ever see. Go there, make friends with them, and try a scoop of the lemon basil.

3. Visit Heroes’ Square, Statue Park, City Park, the old Jewish District, the Ludwig Museum, Castle Hill, and the House of Terror. When in the last one, keep a sharp eye out. And try to explore the districts outside of the city center if you can. Budapest has quite a few faces to show.

4. Take the free tour of the Opera House.

5. Go to Instant, then to Szimpla.

6. If you have time, take a few day trips. Szentendre, Visegrad, Gyor, and Eger are all worth the bumpy train rides.

7. Try everything made with túró. Túró Rudi, túrógombóc, túró torta. Everything.

8. Listen to Béla Bartók.

9. Visit the baths!

10. Go to Margaret Island early in the morning.

11. Observe the uncanny politics. The Contrarian Hungarian helps.

12. Hike in the Buda Hills. Fresh air, good exercise, and the best views of the city.

13. Catch an hour of Fungarian.

14. Stroll through the Gozsdu Courtyard.

15. Ride Tram No. 2 to get oriented with the city center.

16. Ride Metro Line 1, the second-oldest in Europe, hailing from 1896.

17. 1896, coincidentally, is what you should guess if someone asks you what year a public building was built in. You’ll be right most of the time.

And, most importantly — nyugi, nyugi! Still my favorite word.

Next week, I’m passing through Budapest en route to Germany and plan on checking off as many of these as possible in twelve hours. Seeing those wonderful new friends is first on the list, the magical ice-cream a close second. Hopefully, this will be the first, if the shortest, of many returns.

The fist poem, “Budapest.” Enjoyed in a green sweater.

Let Scrooge Read!

Nirmit Shah sent across this unassuming video the other day, about Billy Collins (two-term U.S. Poet Laureate as he reminds us) reciting five of his poems set to animation.

The video really caught my attention at poem four (The Country) about a small white mouse and a matchstick – its completely unexpected twist in the plot had me glued to the poem, with twinkling eyes and an affectionate smile.

Billy also recites a poem at the end of the talk, addressed to a 17-year old teenager. This poem has no animation – but it doesn’t need it. Not in slightest. Listen on, as faces of all your siblings/ neighbourhood kids / school juniors burst hilariously into your head.

PS – Watch the video in HD. The animations and stage look crystal clear, and you can count every wrinkle on poor Billy’s face.

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I think Budapest is the most pleasant–or pleasing–city I’ve ever visited. Nothing irritates (yet). Even in the grey winter, it’s a light and airy space. Not formidable, not overbearing. Easy to adjust to.

Classes at CEU started yesterday, but no questions about even glancing at my growing pile of readings. The city is too distracting and the year too young. I’ve spent the past few days exploring my little corner of Pest between the Danube and the Oktogon. Lots of shops, bars, coffeehouses, and inexplicable spaces that have VERY ENTHUSIASTIC! signs but are never open. The closer the river, the more beautiful the city–the view of Buda from the eastern bank especially. In Ithaca, I would skip class to moodily sit at Stella’s and catch up on work. Here, I want to skip class to climb bastions and bask in thermal baths.