BUDAPEST, Hungary 

  Debra's Diary ~ Date: 13-21 June 2007        We choose to visit our destinations at the time of year that will be the most suitable for filming, and will show off the place to its best advantage - so, choosing to go to Budapest in June seemed a good idea.  Based on predicted temperatures, we chose our hotel in Pest - a wonderful old apartment building turned into a hotel, with impossibly high ceilings; tall double-casement windows with shutters; polished wood floors; period furniture.  A joyous change from the modern brick and glass, flat-packed hotels.  Which just goes to show you shouldn't always rely on predictions - for our entire stay the temperature did not dip much below 37°C and wonderful old apartment buildings without air conditioning suddenly aren't a patch on modern brick and glass hotels with air conditioning, no matter how high the ceilings or how polished the wood!  Holidaying I can take the heat; you can wear clothing designed to keep you cool and spend as much time as you like under cover drinking cool drinks.  But filming in the heat is another matter entirely - especially when you've chosen a smart tailored dress, designed to hopefully disguise a less than even terrain beneath, teamed with an eye-catching complimentary little cardigan and matching shoes.  Which just goes to show you should always have a dress B in the newly-downsized-to-meet-absurdly-low-weight allowances suitcase.

But the show must go on (and the budget didn't allow for a return visit in a 20 degrees lower month) and Dave couldn't really see the problem (not understanding the importance of appearing comfortable and actually being comfortable), so we started filming.  We research heavily before we go anywhere, and have a pretty set route to follow, but we do like to be flexible, and if something up a side street catches our fancy, we're quite likely to divert our course to feature it, so our filming course is erratic at best, and we film until we've completed the allotted distance - no matter how long that takes.  We met Judit Nemeth at the Tourist Information Centre on March 15th Square - which was incredibly difficult to find - and she gave us our press packs, some useful pronunciation hints and sent us on our way.

We found Budapest easy to film and get around in, despite it's size.  Because we had chosen a route that encompassed both sides of the Danube, and (hopefully) all the really good bits, there were only a couple of instances when we broke off the foot-slog and took trams, underground trains or a bus.  Andras Török was a joy to meet - a former dissident, short-term Deputy Minister in the new government and now Director of an Arts Council and author of a best-selling book about Budapest - he was uniquely placed to talk about so many aspects of Hungarian culture.  The problem with situations like this is that we could have made a programme just about him! 

The only time I was actually cool was when we were in the Labyrinth, which is several metres underground. Its history was fascinating, from being cellars and hiding places for valuables, it became an air-raid shelter for 10,000 people during WW2, and then a secret military installation before being opened as an exhibit.  Even though it was so hot, we still had goulasch soup at lunchtime, but compensated with gallons of the local beer - such a change from our normal routine... Even filming at night was sticky and uncomfortable, but it has to be done - Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities at night - they've really thought about their illuminations, they are spectacular.  City Park was really pleasant to walk in, and the restaurant beside the thermal lake was particularly nice to sit in and rest the feet.  Quite often we eat sandwiches 'on the hoof', so a proper restaurant is to be savoured to the full.  At the Citadel on top of Gellert Hill there were superb views, a welcome breeze and more cold drinks which made the climb up worth it.  Although there were plenty of good restaurants with excellent food, we were usually so tired that we tended to eat within a small radius of our hotel with the occasional foray further afield, and found the prices to be pretty much on a par with the UK in the top tourist spots.  We're told the nightlife is good, but as we generally view the day's rushes and then plan for the next day to encompass any changes and fall into bed (having hastily ironed the smart dress for yet another attempt at a wrinkle-free day in the heat), I have to honestly say we didn't sample it.

We've been to Budapest in the winter too; that time we stayed in Buda in a wonderful sixties-style round tower of a hotel and had just as much fun wandering the streets, albeit bundled up in winter woollies. We visited the national museum, and although you have to put up your house and your passport as surety in order to obtain the MP3 players with the audio tour to guide you through Hungary's long history, it is worth it if only to go through the WW2-Communist years exhibits.  The House of Terror Museum is haunting, and I particularly enjoyed the stamp museum, but you need a generous amount of time to look at everything.  Definitely an all-year-round city to visit.


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