Winter Weekend in Budapest: Alone in Great Company

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The snow and the Danube and the golden domes and the hot chocolate...the Gellert Baths, the sour cream pancakes, dumpling soups, peach nectar, river fish cooked just so...I am just back from a weekend in Budapest and am already dreaming of returning.

Everything had gone wrong, the romantic weekend was now reduced to me trying to find a friend free to travel at the last minute, and ultimately resigning myself to making the trip alone. As most people know, when you travel alone you meet people, you see places in a different way than when in a couple. I was rediscovering not only the joy of travelling alone, but the way one if forced to become more open, to say yes when asked to join a party, a dinner, at the last minute. And the joy of living on one's own timetable...if I want to go to bed early, I can, or sleep ten hours I can. If I want to eat Mexican food at midnight after a dinner of duck and foie gras, I can.

While in Budapest, I did everything I wanted to! It did not hurt that it was quite inexpensive to dine, shop and wander. I spent hours in the steaming pools, dry and wet saunas of the beautiful Gellert Baths, total cost about ten dollars. Friday evening's dinner at Muzeum Etterum was traditional goulasch soup, river trout, three kinds of desserts and great Hungarian red wine for about a third of the orice of a restaurant in Paris. A fantastic lunch in the Old Jewish quarter, of dumpling soups, pickled things I had not tasted for decades, sour cream dolloped on top of it all, was about five bucks at the very local Prici Papa located at Kiraly Utca . Languishing on a lazy Saturday afternoon in the beautiful turn of the century Café Gerbeaud, over a dark hot chocolate with cream and little cookies of all kinds, was the perfect way to finish off a wonderful Saturday afternoon.

But the best part was where I stayed, Brody House , and the lovely men who own it and, when not in London, Saint Petersburg, or Istanbul, looking to carry their idea of private club/hotel further afield, hold a kind of permanent salon in the rooms of what was once a private home. The building is located across the street from the National Museum and is rumored to have housed a former Prime Minister in the 19th century, and went on to survive World War II, the Budapest uprisings and Communist era a little worse for wear, which added to its faded beauty. All of this lends to the charm when you walk up the stone staircase to discover the tasteful decorated interiors with high ceilings, room after room, inviting you to have a drink, play chess, watch a film (Brody House is family friendly), meet a local artist or two, mingle with other guests, have a late breakfast, a meal at any time...all while feeling as if you are at home, and the party is coming to you.

Will Clothier and Peter Grundberg, the former a Brit who wanted more than London, a MBA and doing what was expected of him so he jumped in a car and took off alone driving through Eastern Europe, deciding finally to settle in Budapest, and the latter, an outgoing Brit-Swede art lover, real estate impresario, who along with Will, have also purchased apartments which you can rent for longer stays in the city. They actually began as party guys, literally, organizing events in many of the stunningly gorgeous spaces in and around Budapest. These two gentleman (in the true sense of the word) left me with the impression of the kind of really fun and interesting friends of friends who you call up when you show up in a city where you know absolutely no one, and you come away feeling like you have known them forever. In other words, Brody House, has really figured out to both be accommodating if you are in Budapest to get something done (I would suggest it for the business traveller who is bored by yet another Hilton or night in a sterile hotel) or for someone like me who had no plans and just wanted to hang out and walk around the city and enjoy myself.

Brody House has seven rooms, each decorated by one of their favorite artists, two of which I spent Saturday night talking with about how they ended up in Hungary. Works by Bullett Shih, a New York transplant, who headed to Budapest almost as soon as the Soviet Union fell apart, as did Japanese transplant, Fukui Yusuke, decorate the rooms at Brody House, along with stunning functional objects such as music speakers, recycled wood tables and beds. Both artists work in the art studios which Brody House has set up for resident artists, and which will soon also host an Art Bar. In other words, Will and Peter of Brody House deeply invested in the cultural life of the Hungarian capital and in for the long haul. One of the features of these stunning rooms, is that there are no televisions. Everyone travels with a smart phone or iPad these days and it was so lovely to not hear blaring CNN or be tempted to turn on the television, and instead wander out into the common rooms and read or start a conversation over a glass of wine with another guest. I met a French magician in town, a group of British aristocrats who were visiting to hang out and play polo, and some of the crew from Monocle magazine, as well as a family with a baby, all occupying the rooms that weekend. That plus some great Hungarian women, very outspoken, added to the lively atmosphere at Brody House.

On Saturday I discovered the Pest side of the River Danube, wandering along streets following a map Will had drawn for me, so I could visit both cultural sites such as Saint Stephen's cathedral but also boutiques selling clothes by local designers. At Mono, I found earrings, belts, a great winter coat and one off wild winter hat on sale for drop dead prices. Local hand-made felt and wool decorated bags and hand-embroidered pillow cases were chosen for gifts, along with chocolates from Gerbeaud's, and a beautiful art book from one of the best shops for art, fashion, graphics (also the best latte I had while in Budapest), Printa. High end Hungarian fashion was to be found at Nanushka, while funkier Hungarian young designers sold their wares at Retrock Deluxe

On Sunday, I wandered around the more touristy yet more beautifully renovated side of the river, in Buda, where the magnificent views of Pest and the Danube also sports some great restaurants such as Pierrot, where the cauliflower and shrimp soup was more than a little delicious and the chicken stuffed pancake left me beyond contented. Wine bars seemed to be everywhere, and for more underground nightlife, the ruin bars which spring up temporarily in old gorgeous un-renovated buildings are a Budapest tradition. I have to add that a late night stop which I adored being the native Texan I am, was US expat, Mo's Mexican restaurant, Iguana (he also has some great taqueria's sprinkled around Kiraly Utca area) where the best nacho chips in Europe and guacamole and old Mexican movie posters reminded me of home...something a Texan expat in Europe needs to feel from time to time.

Needless to say, I was happy I came. And I was well taken care of, looked after by a group of Hungarians, sprinkled with expat entrepreneurs, artists and the odd Brit who seemed to never be able to find his own clothes the entire weekend and kept having to borrow a coat, losing a pair of trousers, all with a smile on his face, his wife, son and in-laws looking on in amusement. The conversations about the art scene, politics, where Europe is heading, why we expats made the life choices we did, all of it was great. These were my kind of people.

Then, as the music plays, and the candles and half empty wine glasses and new friends continue to exchange and laugh and can slip away into your big white bed, under the delightfully fluffy duvet, and curl up with a stack of great magazines found lying around Brody House, and chill...alone, and contented. "...a hip rough-luxe style guest house and arts club". (You can also link through to the artists mentioned via this site)
You can also ask about apartments for rent.

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