I felt the engine reduce power as the plane began to angle for descent. We drifted through the sky, soaring beneath the clouds and into the golden light of an early morning. I gazed out onto the countryside as we approached the frosty peaks of the Hungarian mountains.
A Literary Love Affair
I’ve always loved reading. Growing up, I would devour as many books as I could within a day. For the past year, I haven’t been reading as much as I should – a sin for someone who calls themselves a writer. A two hour plane journey seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back into it again. I pulled Danielle Steel’s Fairytale from my bag, another title to add to my GoodReads shelf.
Reading again has reminded me of how it feels to be inspired by words on the page, to get lost in the world that a story leads you into. And, occasionally, you travel to a real-life place that has the exact same effect.
Heading to a Hungarian city
Early on a Saturday morning in January, I boarded a Ryanair plane bound for Budapest with no real knowledge of where I was going. The trip was organised by my boyfriend Ryan, and of course, we could have spent hours researching what to do and where to go, but somehow we thought it was better to go in blind and let the city reveal its story.
What’s Budapest known for?
The Danube River splits the city into Buda and Pest. Typically known for its art, Budapest was ranked the second best European city by Condé Nast Traveler and I can certainly see why. The city’s true beauty lies in its historic buildings in the world heritage site; Parliament Square, Buda Castle and Liberty Statue. The city itself feels like the Hungarian equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge. Red brickwork lines the Danube, dressed in fronds of sprawling ivy.
Budapest’s fairy tale qualities
There was something special about the crisp, winter light during my two days in Budapest. It highlighted every detail of the ornate buildings surrounding Buda Castle. Ryan and I strolled through the grounds, admiring the fairy tale castle standing high upon the hill overlooking the city, it’s many pointed towers giving it the look of a crown. The walls were white stone, the roof polished terracotta, and the castle glistened in the winter sun as we adored it from every angle.
Snow began to fall on the Danube, a soft white blanket masking the frozen water like the purest white linen. It reminded me of a scene from Fairytale, and how words can spark an image in the back of your mind as you read each line. Better yet, in that moment I didn’t need to imagine. I felt inspired to open the next blank page of my notebook and use words to paint the scene in front of me.
Back in Hungarian time
One of my favourite encounters on the journey was the trams. Ryan and I hopped on the first carriage and held onto the handrail as the train began to depart. I had never taken the tram before, I was always told they were ‘well before my time.’ The carriage was empty, with the exception of a small bearded man stood at the opposite end, his fur coat larger than him. My mitten began to slip from the hand rail as I leaned further towards the window, pressing my cheek against the frosted glass. Crystal flakes fell from the sky, painting the naked trees with a soft chalk. We journeyed over Elizabeth Bridge. The Danube resembled a mirrored facet as the sun reflected off the glaze.
Learning Budapest’s secrets
We spent our final hour sitting inside Starbucks, a particularly pleasing find. I thought back to when I had visited North America last year and how the cities of Europe feel so close together. I’ve never been the travelling-type to go on weekend city breaks. But being able to catch a plane for only an hour or two and spend two days in a completely new city reminded me just how easy it can be to travel, to open the next chapters of a new journey.
Sometimes it’s nothing more than walking through a foreign square and sitting in a familiar coffee shop surrounded by strangers; a book on the table and a hot chocolate in your hand.