Bonus Year #5: Budapest, Hungary

Updated: September 10, 2001
Two Reasons I Know I am in Budapest

We arrived in Budapest in the early morning and spent much of the day wandering around the cold, overcast city vaguely disappointed. Around six o'clock I was walking along the Pest side of the Danube when I looked up. Directly above me on the horizon was a bizarrely misshapen gray cloud: it looked like a sort of flattened mushroom cloud bursting over the palaces and ramparts of the Buda hill. To the left it became blurred as though the artist had smeared his pastels accidentally.

As I watched, the sun sank behind the cloud and lit up the border of the cloud with fiery white light. This had the effect of making the rest of the cloud seem near black: a black mushroom cloud outlined in blazing, brilliant, end-of-day sunset rays. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the cloud, watching the sun through the only partly opaque cloud sink lower and lower until I could see the full outline of the perfectly round orb near the bottom of the orb. Then I looked out across the Danube where the sun pouring though the clouds was sending a streak of red fire across the river. The reflection alone was nearly blinding, though I couldn't even think of diverting my gaze. This had the glorious effect of making the whole river look bright blue as it was split in half by the piercing sunrays. I simply stared, wordless. And I suddenly knew that I was in Budapest.

Later in the evening we sat in a techno club we had found. It was not very busy, being a Sunday night. Still, it was a fabulous venue located in a cellar, with no sign: merely a logo above the door. You went down the stairs and were greeted with a near labyrinthine collection of small rooms filled with tables, torn couches, and of course, a red lit dance floor. Music vacillating from acid jazz to house played through the smoke filled air. The few patrons all seemed to know the DJs, the bartender and each other. People chattered away in Hungarian, and as a non-local I was fabulously out of my element. I talked over a few drinks to Lada, as she slowly smoked several cigarettes, and I watched the Hungarians around me greet each other, bob to the music, and laugh, and smile, and drink, and talk.

And I knew again that I was in Budapest.