Budapest has better food, better people, better women, sometimes better drink, even the transport police are better in their own strange way–though I’m sure this will be an unpopular statement. Let me go into detail on just how these things are better…

The Women.

Every time I meet a new Hungarian male, and have explained “Nem beszél Magyarul”, the first conversation we have is as follows: “Ahh you’re English? What do you think of our Hungarian women? Nice eh?”

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At first I had no idea what the appropriate response was. At home, if I was to reply in the affirmative whilst a member of the fairer sex was present I’d likely receive a slap. In some cases it has been waiters or barmen who have asked, whilst in England this would likely result in disciplinary action and some sort of sexism or harassment lawsuit.

I soon realised it was meant in no unfair way, with no malice or oppression in mind.

Hungarian men are simply incredibly proud of their female counterparts and would like the world to know and be jealous. Well, congratulations, Hungary! I believe you to be the one of many countries who lay claim to “the finest women in the world” and have some truth in the title. Women I have met here so far have been the nicest and friendliest, even when having to decipher my horrible English accent.

As for their beauty, I’m not sure how much I can or even I am allowed to say. I don’t mean to slight any Hungarian women, but unfortunately for anybody who seeks my opinion I have eyes for only one. She is of course the most beautiful girl I have ever met, but that aside, it’s her flat I’m staying in. In order to retain a roof over my head and also the current contact between the larger part of my body and any external appendages that I do so enjoy, I must withhold any further views. Sorry.

The Money.

The money is colourful and comes in a single unit. This won’t be so interesting to many. A month in Budapest however, and my heart still does a little flip any time I’m paying for anything. “two-thousand-and-whaaaa?”, “A flat costs HOW MANY MILLION?!”

On my person I have 1700ft. This is roughly between five or six of my boring English Pounds. When I eventually return home I will put forward the notion that we do away with pounds entirely and operate solely in pennies. Everything sounds better when it cost a few thousand. Milk? That’s one-hundred-and-seventy-pennies please. A pint of cider? That will be three-hundred-and-twenty-five pennies.

I would like to withdraw three-hundred-thousand pennies from my account to pay the deposit for my flat, please! Actually, I think this is how I will operate back in the U.K even without popular support. “Europe’s gotten to him” they’ll say. Then they’ll try it, and they’ll feel the power that comes with these imaginary riches.

Smoking.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Smoking is still cool, even though it has been banned inside bars and restaurants. The comparative and increasing difficulty of smoking in England is just testament to how cool it is to smoke. Nothing that is easy to do or doesn’t involve an element of risk is fun, right?

Smoking in England is now akin to destroying a centre for homeless and hopelessly adorable puppies and kittens followed by a swift and accidental Seppeku. Not only are you a mass murderer and hater of cute and fluffy things, but also incurably and fatally stupid.

In the past the brand of cigarettes you chose to smoke spoke volumes about your person, now all smokers in England are either unemployed, ex-convicts, drug addicts or French. Tobacco smokers? Spit! The most graceful display involving smoking now possible the U.K is the mating call of a young inebriated female after a night out; she will sway towards a group of desirable males and proffer herself to them with the cry “GIZZA FAG MAAATE”. The lucky partner will be the one (or more!) who is quickest with the doubledeck, or shows the most skill at rolling the perfect log.

Meanwhile in Hungary… A couple sits on the terrace of a popular but elegant eatery of a candlelit night in Vörösmarty Tér. They’re leaning towards each other across the table. They were holding hands, she’s reluctant to pull away from his gentle but firm touch. She pulls a Vogue to her lips and flutters her eye lashes at him. He produces a zippo and slowly, tantalisingly he flips the lid, strokes the wheel against the flint. A spark. She draws deeply as he returns the flame to his own Marlboro red, the packet nestled in the top pocket of his crisp and expensive shirt. They gaze at each other in loving nicotine bliss.

No amount of “A Dohanyzás súlyosan kárositja az Ön és a környezetében elők egészségét!” is going to ruin this image. My Hungarian isn’t great but I’m pretty sure that translates as “Smoking is totally awesome and makes you best buddies with Jack Nicholson, Roger Moore and Paul Newman” anyway.

Cafe Culture.

Britons love to drink. I mean really love. Popular opinion is that for centuries we drank Gin and Ale because of the simple belief it was cleaner than water. Somewhere along the line the water board neglected to make clear that our water is now in fact drinkable. It has been for a long time, but the fact remains we love a good drink. Not just a good drink, but a follow up drink too, you know, to whet the whistle, then a subsequent shot, to keep the cold out, right?

Drinking here is just different. That’s not to say absent; it’s even easier to spot. People standing around in the street clutching bottles of Soproni. The terraces are cram­med, and harried waitresses flit about tourists too scared to order, believing the stream of Hungarian following any order longer than “pint please” is some ancient curse designed to deliver fire from the bowels of hell right to the mouths of anybody who dare order a cocktail.

The difference may be explained by the heat or the culture but whatever it is the atmosphere is incredible. Rather than cram­- ming forty units into as many minutes, I am content to spend a warm evening on a terrace sipping my lager and lime, tipping the waitress the appropriate amount of change and then heading to one of the 0-24’s to purchase bread and sausage for the slow saunter back home.

A quick tip for the West­ern Europeans or other native English speaking countries; do not ask for a cider. Neither you nor your server will be pleased, and an unhappy five minutes trying to explain exactly what cider is can be spared you.

Kontrollers.

Last week was my first time getting the tram in Budapest by myself.

For an adult, this is hardly a daunting coming-of-age task, yet it filled me with equal parts dread and excitement. My girlfriend left me the name of the street I was to get to, a single ticket and the instruction that I was to under no circumstances use it.

This instruction was delivered deadpan, and I remember distinctly fearing for my more sensitive areas should I disregard her warning.

Kontrol. I believe these strange black, yellow and ominous figures have mystical and inexplicable powers. My evidence? Even in their absence they have the ability to turn my girlfriend (a Hungarian citizen) into a paranoid conspiracy theorist with a McCain’s factory on her shoulder.

She was caught many years previous in a compromising situation (being with no ticket) and the compromise was a hefty fine and the notifying of the authorities, including a fearsome Grandmother.

At first I put her tennis-watching behaviour down to a bad experience, but I began to notice this behaviour more and more, on those less and less likely to be the perpetrators of such a heinous crime as trying to get from one place to another for free.

A business man in a pressed suit with a briefcase promptly made a U-turn upon seeing Kontrol board the bus he’d been waiting ten minutes for; an elderly lady readied her ticket for validation, looks up and down the train. The coast clear, she discreted her ticket and gave me an unsettling wink. Does anybody pay for the tram in Hungary?

The time came for me to make my own solo trip. I humoured my girlfriend’s warnings by looking up and down the platform and having a quick reconnoitre as I boarded: all clear. The next station was clear again.

Rather than relaxing in to comfortable security I was more anxious. I am a criminal! I’m breaking the law in a foreign country! It’s hardly a heist, and my prize is being able to successfully arrive at my destination without having to put too many feet in front of the other, but I strutted when I reached my destination.

It’s The Bourne Identity and I’ve just outwitted the best and brightest of the Hungarian security forces to… travel eight stops without paying 350FT, (one-hundred-and-seven pennies! This will catch on!).


Photos by Jeffree Benet