Saturday, October 10, 2009

early signs

Just arrived in Budapest and, so far, I'm not sure what to think of it. My plane landed this evening, meaning I've had that strange, slightly disorientating feeling of arriving in the city at night, where everything is obscured from view, or else at best lit artificially. The early signs were almost completely useless; watching the lights of the city from the window as the plane swooped down towards the airport - my first reference point, the first thing I could see clearly in the black was a shopping mall on the outskirts of the city. I strained my eyesight and caught sight of a logo - it read 'TESCO'. I long to visit somewhere where the imprint of British and American commerce is not so all-pervading.

In the taxi from the airport, unable to read the road signs or adverts, and listening to the cabbie's radio, I mused that in many ways Budapest is as far out of my comfort zone as I've been. I'm well travelled through the well-signposted cities of Western Europe. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon. I've extended my reach to a smattering of coastal cities in North America. But this is my first city with a history of Soviet occupation, my first city with a dialect that completely baffles me. It is also, I realise, the first time in my life I have ever been in a landlocked country. Culturally, linguistically, gastronomically, architecturally; my frame of reference is distant and uncertain.

Then, checked in to my hotel, I tried to get my bearings - walking down to Belváros, the city's downtown, its hub. I know it's the tourist district, so I don't expect too much. And so I enjoy my stroll and work up an appetite. But I feel like I'm in any European city, and the expected wave of strangeness never arrives. Instead, I muse, I'm experiencing a city typical - rather than atypical - of Western Europe: Benetton, Burger King, Subway and Tesco. So I decide that I'm probably just in the wrong frame of mind and return to my hotel. Tomorrow morning I will locate the heart of Budapest - and I'm still optimistic I'll be blown away.

No comments: