Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas and New Year in Budapest

I often have to visit Budapest. Here is my favourite time of year.

I looked out of the window on an early morning in December; it could have been July. The sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. The apartment was warm and cosy and after a refreshing shower and dressing in my winter clothes, stepped outside without coat, gloves or scarf. Oh my, the cold took my breath away; I hurried back inside, collecting my warm outdoor clothing, but without a hat. I made my way to the Oktogon, by metro and very quickly found my way to the most charming hat shop, tucked away inside one of the many apartment courtyards in Jokai Ter. My head was throbbing with the cold, so after paying just a couple of pounds for a woollen hat that covered all but my face, left feeling comfortably warm, despite the minus freezing temperature.

Spending time in Budapest during the winter months is a wonderful experience, especially, before or during Christmas and the New Year. It is bitter cold but dry, crisp and sunny. I have been to Budapest many times, but never had so many wonderful experiences as staying there during Christmas and New Year. During this trip, which lasted three weeks, every day was as interesting and exciting as the day before. A trip to the Szechenyi Spa baths behind the Hero Square Statues bore no similarity to the one I had taken during the summer. From the Hot, Deep, Outside, Spa, people were barely visible, as the steam must have risen at least 4 meters in to the air. Outside of the pool the temperature was minus 16 degrees and the only unbearable part of this wonderful experience was leaving. All done up in my winter clothes, including hat, I made my back past Hero Square Statues, standing on the opposite side of the road; I could hardly believe my eyes. All around the statues were millions of tiny exploding stars, it was an amazing site. I learned later that I had witnessed a rare phenomenon, when the Heat from the Szechenyi Spa and the Cold from the Ice Skating Lake, both situated behind the statues, come together and crystallise before your very eyes.
During the winter they freeze over the lake and from tiniest novice to the largest experienced skater, anyone can enjoy the experience of skating in the open air. I however, did not, and decided to stick with the Spa Baths.

One evening I made my way to Vaci street. As I headed for the yellow metro, it began to snow, large fluffy flakes, like I had not seen since a child. Coming out of the station at Vorosmarty Ter, was just extraordinary. A gypsy band was playing and their sounds resonated throughout the square. People were sitting outside restaurants, sipping hot toddies and all around the square, local people were selling their goods from open front, log cabins, hand made items, which were absolutely exquisite. Leather goods, wooden carved statues, wooden toys, glass ware, gold and silver jewellery, to name just a few. Beautiful Christmas Decorations made with tiny white lights were hanging from everywhere, whilst the aroma of delicious food filled the air. There would not have been a single person on that square stating that they do not feel very Christmassy this year.

My most memorable occasion was an invitation to the Castle, to join the Opera singers, who were performing at the famous Opera House on Andrassy during Christmas and the New Year. We were to sample the famous Hungarian Tokai wines. Catching a taxi from Pest to the Buda Castle would have taken no time at all and the driver would take the quickest route. It was snowing and knowing that the Hotels, buildings and bridges on the Pest side of the River Danube, were highly decorated, decided to go by bus. Catching it at Deak Ter, we went across the river and started to wind our way up to the castle. The view was breathtaking. No words can explain the beauty of the Christmas lights along that stretch of river, you will have to go and see it for yourself.

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