A Brief Trip to the Empire

Sausage. Mulled wine. Red Cabbage. Certainly, such warrior grub would stagnate and get boring after a few days, right? Nope, think again. There’s something to be said for Hungarian tenacity, especially when it comes to making and eating food.

This was a vacation. Except for the massive and imposing final papers that I’m busy NOT doing right now, I’m done with the graded portion of school for this semester. This was a trip planned about two weeks in advance, consisting of C of I grad and former Anderson Lobby Crew old dog Mark Bui asking, “Hey, you guys coming to Budapest?” Like hell I would pass that up, especially if it meant missing a class or two along the way.

So Karly and I went to Budapest for 4 days. I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I’ve noticed that I’m like a turtle with its head in its shell when it comes to awareness. The only thing that I’d heard, from Karly mind you, is that the city was beautiful. Yeah, I guess that’s one way to put it. Sort of like saying the universe is kinda big. The architect that existed in me when I was 9 years old came back to life and swooned so hard he fell over, mostly due to the Gothic, Art Nouveau, and other styles that I’m going to pretend I know about. They say first impressions are the most powerful… Well, Budapest threw a haymaker right into my optical nerve, and made my eyeballs fall in love.

On Monday, the day before we flew back to grand old Belfast, we headed over to the Buda side of things. See, and I didn’t know this until a few days ago, but Budapest was actually two cities, split in half by the mighty mighty Danube. Over to the west is Buda, and to the east is Pest. Mark’s school and residence is on the Pest side, so that’s where we spent most of our time. More important to me than anything else though: Buda has the castle. Always see the castle.

Aside from the sight-seeing, most of our time in Budapest was spent at the Christmas markets, looking for hats. It sounds silly, and maybe in retrospect it was, but these hats are something else: Communist relics were never more comfortable. Alas, despite the ridiculously generous new currency, I was still dreaming outside my budget for such a head full of fluffy goodness. I settled for clothing and trinkets. And sausage.

Speaking of, I’d like to take a moment and go back to the food thing I touched on at the start. When you think of Hungary, what does your mind see? Unless I’m making hot-air assumptions, like I’m prone to doing, there might not be a lot of contemporary things there, especially when you compare it to some place with a very vibrant set of associations, like Ireland or Germany or Italy. Central Europe was (and still is, I’m not an expert) a very foreign place to my brain. But darn it, Hungarians know how to cook. Every market we went to had AT LEAST 5 stands with almost the exact same set of munchables: Sausage, goose, duck, pig; meat, meat and more meat, as far as the eye could see; potatoes, broccoli, cabbage. Hearty foods. There’s no fluff to this. You eat to enjoy and to feel full, and then wash it all down with a mug of piping hot wine, because in this moment, you're not a connoisseur, you're a warrior.

So, thanks Budapest. I only spent a few days with you, and you’re still kind of veiled in mystery to me, but I think I want to keep it like that. To me it seems silly to travel somewhere new and exhaust every possibility the place has to offer. I’ll chalk one up to leaving things to the imagination, so that one day I can come back and experience this all over again.

From over here to over there,


Will Callahan is a junior with double majors in literature and math-physics. He's spending the fall 2015 semester studying abroad in Belfast as an Irish-American Scholar.