That’s Happy New Year to you. I spent a frigid New Year’s Eve wandering the streets of downtown Budapest with my visiting pals Del and Jacky. It was COLD (in the teens)–a shock to the system after the moderate temperatures in Italy (more on that trip to come). Ever since I got here, Budapest has struck me as a city that is a magnet for folks from their late teens to mid-thirties. That is the population you most often see roaming the streets on a Budapest evening, and filling the ruin pubs and squares. And on New Year’s Eve this was clearer than ever. The bus from the airport to the metro the night before had been chock-full of non-Hungarian college students (and I had to giggle as even the English ones ignored two announcements in both Hungarian and English to get off at the SECOND Kobanya Kispest stop, not the first one). I have to say I felt OLD (as well as COLD) fighting the massive crowds of (mostly) young people on Szilveszter.
Szilveszter, by the way, because it is the eve of St. Szilveszter’s feast. From what I could see, New Year’s Eve in Budapest is about drinking (big surprise), noise, and fireworks. There were stands on the main squares selling hot mulled wine and other alcoholic drinks, as well as coffee, hot chocolate, and various types of food. People walked around blowing obnoxious noisemakers in your ears. And there were fireworks everywhere–on the main celebratory squares such as Vörosmarty tér, but also on smaller squares such as the one our rental apartment faced. Sky rockets and other fireworks going off constantly, not just at midnight. The skies were full of beautiful colors, a rainbow of “shooting stars.” Indeed, they were shooting off fireworks until at least 3 a.m. outside my window!
Our plan was to wander around the town, although we could only do this for so long before we were frozen and had to warm up. We tried some mulled wine and hot chocolate from one of the stands, which provided a temporary fix (and the hot chocolate was quite gourmet for something from a stand). We walked down to the river and around that area to see the lights. One of my favorite Budapest sights is the buildings, bridges, and monuments along the Danube, all lit up every evening. Then we returned to Vörosmarty where we saw more fireworks with the crowds. By about 11:45 we had had it, however. So we headed back towards our apartment, swimming upstream as it were against the massive tide of folks heading toward the Danube. We stopped at a coffee shop for some coffee and tea, and we were comfortably ensconced there as 2016 rolled in. So yes, I missed one of the characteristic Hungarian Szilveszter events, which is the singing of the national anthem at midnight. But I figured I’d seen enough fireworks and it was just too damn cold and crowded to be standing out there for another fifteen minutes. I guess that’s when you know you’re old . . .
After sleeping in on New Year’s Day, we ate our pork lunch for good luck in the new year and spent the next couple of equally cold days roaming Budapest on the same plan–walk a bit, find somewhere warm to visit: a museum, a pub, a restaurant, a coffee shop. Budapest is most definitely a walking city, and that is by far my favorite activity while there. We had some tasty chow and some good Hungarian craft brews, and I showed first-time visitors Jacky & Del some of the key sights, such as the bridges, Matyas Church and Castle Hill, St. Stephen’s, Parliament, the Shoes along the Danube memorial, and Szabadszag Tér, as well as Szimpla Kert, the granddaddy of ruin pubs. Even in frigid temperatures, Budapest proves to still be a fun walking city.