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24hr Budapest

Soaking in the first and last rays of sun I’d seen in far too long, thousands of kilometres above sea level, we descended through a seemingly impenetrable horizontal wall of cloud. Peeking through, swathes of forests and clusters of tiny hours emerged, blanketed with fresh, bright white snow. The horizon was enveloped in fog as we landed, shapes of buildings, masts and planes faint in the distance, camouflaged. 

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Men in high-vis toddled and swerved to and fro around the runway, across the ice, performing their routine with extra difficulty. Plane-ladders and tunnels were stuck in heaps of ice and snow a few hundred meters from the airport building, bordered off by wet, red tape, flittering in the icy wind. My fellow passengers and I wrapped up, deboarded with haste and waddled to several shuttle buses, waiting instead to save us from the tumultuous weather.

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Whilst bumbling upon several buses and metros, trying (and failing) to get to grips with a whole different transport system and currency (suddenly feeling a kind of longing for TFL), flecks of white fell once again upon Budapest. The metro exuded a long forgotten communism, almost a nostalgic nod to the history of Hungary and Eastern Europe during the 1900’s. The aged, dirty, dark blue carriages rattled to and from the platforms, underground, across the city, their interiors strangely spacious, with aged black leather benches and long neon red lamps above the loud and sudden automatic doors. Graffiti marked the walls, advertisements aided in covering up the anarchy and rows of warm lamps overhead lit the carriages and their sleepy passengers as night fell.

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Above ground, tall, majestic buildings lined wide roads, almost Parisian in style. Streets were illuminated by old-fashioned street lamps, and the snowfall added more so to the magic. Descending a slippery flight of steps, we made our way to the Danube river, separating the two sides of Budapest: Buda and Pest. Glowing river boats were parked by the land, next to a tram track that veered into the far distance, bringing every other minute or so a slim and short, yet rather tall, dirty-yellow tram carriage, picking up and dropping off shivering passengers into the night.

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Looking out to onto Buda, now on the Pest land, a colossal castle-like monument reigned the scenery, radiating ambery-orange beams, that almost formed a dome, of light into the fog-laden sky. Admiring Buda’s twinkly reflection in the icy Danube, we slid our way to the famous Elisabeth Bridge, lit magically with rows and rows of tiny light bulbs, also watching huge clumps of ice swim down the river current. The other half the river was static, literally frozen, seemingly unwilling to participate in the Pest-side’s shenanigans.

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We gazed out on to the night (and snow) enveloped city whilst standing on Elisabeth Bridge – if the cold wasn’t enough to take your breath away then the scenery was sure to. Though minus in temperatures and marshmallow-style being in fleeting-fashion, the icy weather ironically added an intangible warmth and allure to this historic and astonishingly beautiful city.

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