Where’s the winter gone? Am I the only one in the city feeling cheated? It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of hot weather. I’m quite partial to the cold and this year I feel that I didn’t get my fair share. While others are welcoming the warmer weather with smiles of happiness, I’m disconsolate.
I love Budapest in the winter. It’s idyllic. When dressed up in snow, the place resembles something out of fairy tale. The Castle District, Freedom Statue, the lions on the Chain Bridge – each one with its snowy cape adds to the timeless feeling that is evoked by movies like Dr Zhivago. Walking through the streets with icicles threatening to drop on my head, sliding down the icy steps to the metro, picking my way carefully through the freshly shovelled footpaths – it’s as close to wonderland as I’m ever likely to get.
I have no trouble imagining ladies in fur-lined velvet cloaks, complete with matching bonnets and muffs. I can quite easily picture tall, strapping men in knee-length boots and fur hats descending from horse-drawn carriages. For me, Budapest in winter is the stuff old-time movies are made of. And this year, rather than the usual full-length feature, all I got to see was the trailer.
This time last year, we had snow. Today we have spring sunshine and fifteen degrees. The sunglasses are out and a brave few have cast aside their jackets and are tempting fate with t-shirts.
Admittedly, spring time in Budapest is just as magical – though totally different. It’s as if the city awakens. Those impatient for the summer wonder why the cafés have yet to set up their terraces. In a few more weeks, the city will be transformed. Streets like Raday utca and Nagymezo will become open-air restaurants. Liszt Fernc tér will come in to its own. The many bars on Kaczinsky utca will start to unfurl the tarps on their garden pubs that will be the focal point of Budapest’s summer social life.
I’ve explained to those who visit here in winter that to fully appreciate everything this city has to offer, they need to come back again in the summer. To those who’ve come in summer, I urge them to come back and experience the magic of winter. Budapest is two cities, literally and figuratively. We have Buda and Pest on either side of the Danube and we have winter and summer on either side of the climate spectrum. Both have their high points and their lows. Both can be appreciated and bemoaned.
I love the winter months because the city looks clean, the air is clear, and the buildings are at their best. I love the summer months because the days are longer, the gardens are open, and the holiday atmosphere pervades.
I dislike the winter because so many people go to ground, refusing to come out. I dislike the summer because there are too many people on town (and I have the nerve to say I’m easily pleased…mmmm). From March to June it’s close to perfect. Sun-drenched streets, longer days, balmier nights – what’s not to like?
Once I get over this temporary feeling of being cheated, expect to see me in good humour until the temperatures fly above 30 degrees in July and August. This is when my inner crank reappears, and I start moaning again. In the meantime, enjoy. In Budapest, you never know what will happen…winter might just come back for an encore.
First published in the Budapest Times 14 March 2014