We landed in Budapest in December 2015. We were going to visit our dear friends Ami, George, and Asta Kroon, and Julie Bagladi, who had been our friends and neighbors in the West Village for many years. We used to have Sunday Family Dinner together every weekend, until they retired and moved to Budapest for its beauty, affordability, and healthcare. As we looked out the window of the taxi from the airport, we passed Soviet-style buildings on the outskirts of the city, which fascinated me because I’d never been to this part of Europe.
Ami and George live in the glorious historic center of Pest. Buda is the more hilly side of the city across the Danube River. (Together, both halves of the city are Budapest.) They know how much I love markets, so on our first night, we headed out for dinner at a Christmas market.
The Hungarians sure know how to put on a Christmas market!
That night we had mulled wine flavored with blueberry and pomegranate at the Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival at Vörösmarty Square. We had cabbage rolls, pork shoulder, and beef stew served on a potato pancake as big as my head. I’m not sure if the rooster testicle stew was a real thing or a joke on the tourists, but we opted to skip it. We watched the bakers make cinnamon chimney cakes for us over an open fire, and we had some more mulled wine.
Over the next few days, we’d wander through multiple holiday markets, each with its distinct characteristics, unique vendors selling handmade traditional crafts, and foods – meats, cheeses, handmade chocolates, and traditional baked goods. And lots of twinkly lights.
Speaking of handmade crafts, I fell absolutely in love with the teensy tiny ornaments, like 1″ tall bears with moving arms and legs, tiny fabric babies in walnut cribs, and angels made with dried lotus pods. We saw metal smiths forging medieval knives right in the market, and ladies sewing enchanting baby toys and hand puppets in their market booths. We also met a couple who make brilliant shearling coats and hats. James got me my dream hat for Christmas, and we gave one to Ami that matches Asta’s fur.
If you ever have the chance, go to Budapest for Christmas. Actually, go to Budapest any time you want. During the holidays, it is cold and grey, but the city is alive with lights, wonderful shopping streets, classic coffee houses serving fabulous pastries, world class restaurants, wine bars, and music venues. In warm weather, the city is blooming with flowers, and all the cafes open their outdoor terraces. And some other time, I will tell you about the magnificent thermal baths all over the city too!
~Karen Seiger, Markets of New York City