My first feeling on arriving in a place where I know none of the language is usually one of terror. I’m so used to knowing enough to get by that to be completely unable to understand anything is a strange and unsettling experience.
And so it was in Budapest. Not only don’t I know their language, I don’t even know the group. The grammar and most of the vocabulary are a complete mystery. Unlike languages as seemingly remote as Hindi and Farsi, Hungarian isn’t even an Indo-European language, although there seems to have been some significant intermixing in the gene pool since the original speakers brought it here, as the speakers look completely European (as is the case with most Finnish speakers I’ve met). But, like the Khazars, that’s a can of worms I won’t open.
Fortunately, I have something of a talent for picking up languages fast, and a day’s exposure to street signs, notices, menus, and overheard conversations gives me enough to get around—even enough to order food and a beer for my dinner without resorting to English or, worse, grunting and pointing.
One of the first words I picked up in Budapest is cipő (shoes). For some reason I don’t entirely understand, Budapest is curiously oversupplied with shoe shops. After seeing the word a dozen times in half an hour, its meaning was firmly cemented in my mind.
Budapest is a grand city, with elegant town houses, wide boulevards, and other opulent trappings of turn-of-the-century wealth—it was, in fact, the second city in the world to have an underground railway, before Paris but after London. The last fifty years, in particular, don’t seem to have been kind to the place, though it’s not really much worse than Brussels, a city with similarly grand architecture interspersed with brutal eyesores, and dingy and graffiti’d outside a picturesque centre. Budapest Keleti pályaudvar isn’t really any worse than Brussels’ Gare du Midi—more taxi touts, sure, but less smell of urine.
I’ve never seen a Trabant in Brussels, though, while I’ve noticed a fair few in Budapest. They’re outnumbered by Ladas, particularly the agricultural-looking Niva off-roader. Then again, someone around the corner from me also owns one of those. I don’t know if he takes it off road, but I reckon it would do a better job of dealing with mud than a Porsche Cayenne or similar yummy-mummy school-run-mobile. Less posing value, though.