A Tryst with Budapest

Recently, I was on a 9-hour flight from Helsinki to Chicago. I was sitting on the isle seat in a 2-seat row when a nice gentleman, who I guess was around 30 years old, came to take his window seat. He was wearing a black baseball cap.

Once seated, he glanced with a smile at me a few times. So I asked about his journey. He said he was flying from Budapest and that Chicago is home. Fair enough. I continued by asking him to tell me about his trip, at which he replied that he was only in Budapest for the weekend. It’s unlikely then that he is on a business trip, I thought. He proceeded to tell me with a smile that he went there to get hair plugs, lifting his cap off just slightly to reveal that this was indeed true. Briefly, hair plugging is the surgical transplantation technique of…I can’t do this. Just look it up. I was put off by the gnarly sight, but because he was super nice, and because this was a 9-hour flight I collected composure and made the best of it. He apologized in advance that he would have to get up every 2 hours to go to the lavatory and spray medicine on his head. I told him there was no problem because I had planned on staying up to adjust to the new timezone, and that besides I have a small bladder. And so it went: every two hours I got up to let him, well, water his plants.

Equally restless, but infinitely more fun was the different and longer weekend that I had spent in Budapest. I had arrived there by train after spending a highly cultured week in Vienna. For various reasons that I can’t go into know, I had concluded that Budapest would be a good place to wanton away all that earnest work I had just invested in to raise my cultural capital.

Techno music obsessed, Budapest’s bars serve the sleepless partygoers. An 11PM to 7PM nightclub exists. Best of X accolades are awarded to night clubs, and locals acknowledge the prestige by flocking to them. And the shot of choice is the traditional Hungarian fruit brandy Pálinka. You can dance yourself clean throughout the night, and wash it all off in one of their many Turkish baths the following day. I went to Rudas Gyógyfürdő. Built by the Ottomans, it comprises a series of thermal pools and claims medicinal efficacy of the water’s mineral contents. To complete this Bacchanalian menu, Budapest offers many fine restaurants for the discerning gourmand: Michelin-starred Borkonyha proved itself; The Big Fish Seafood Bistro is a market style selection process that made for an indelible dinner; Prime Étterem is a bit of an old boys’ club, but the steaks were top-notch.

Naturally, there is so much more to the Hungarian capital than bars, baths, fancy food, and evidently hair plug clinics. Budapest exhibits remarkable Medieval architecture, for example. And while I did managed to attend a performance by the famed National Hungarian Ballet, and two modern dance pieces at the Erkel Theater, I will need to return with the responsibilty to appreciate the Magyar cultural heritage. For there is much to learn on this stretch of the Danube.



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