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Artistic Enlightenment (Shortly Followed by Cake)

Long needed were those mornings where, upon awakening, the glorious sensation hits that you have absolutely nothing to do whatsoever. So used to rude awakenings by a shrill 7am alarm and mounds of tasks to accomplish, these few mornings had been the biggest gift. A sleepy trip to Great Market Hall was needed, however, to pick up an assortment of compulsory holiday gifts. 

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Tiny bags of paprika (interestingly translated from Hungarian to “red gold”) were mandatory of course, complete with tiny hand-carved wooden spoons, traditional candies, marzipan chocolates and tiny bottles of palinka – one way of getting around the 100ml liquid restriction on flights. I lazily strolled around the great hall, walking up and downstairs in search for more surprises (and a steaming cup of coffee).

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I braved my way back into the crispy morning air to navigate around Vaci street to find some breakfast, stumbling on Mantra Specialty Coffee Minibar on narrow side road, snugly hid amidst larger shops and apartments – mini was definitely the word for it. Inside, you hang your coat and winter wearables on a coatrack and order from an extensive drinks menu, covering all your caffeinated and non-caffeinated requirements, all the way from your standard latte (done extremely well) to almond milk super-matcha latte extravaganzas (don’t go looking for this drink because I just made it up). To accompany, snacks were, of course, available, from vegan cakes, muffins and pastries to salads, quiches and sandwiches.

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Wanting to visit all the museums possible, but having little time left in the beautiful city, the National Gallery had to be a priority. After a lunchtime spent at home, thoroughly embracing my lack of priorities, I braced myself with my woolly clothes and camera and ventured back to the Castle District across the river in Buda. The overwhelming collection at the National Gallery is well worth visiting, containing pieces right from 11th century Hungary up to present day contemporary works, spanning all kinds of media – definitely not just a gallery full of traditional oil paintings. 

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Feel the painting… be the painting…

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The marvellous architecture boasts grandeur, with white tall pillars and high ceilings and stacked floors and interior terraces. And when you reach the top floor, where the gallery’s defining dome peaks, its interior composition revealed, you immediately encounter beautiful contemporary sculpture, including several “flying” men encircling the circumference of the dome.

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In need of yet more coffee, we quickly headed to Steamhouse Café. Located at the top of Batthyany Square Market Hall, a once busy market at the heart of life around the area, this cafe serves up speciality coffee at an affordable price – in fact, nearly any coffee in Budapest is at least half the price of what you’ll find in good ol’ (money grabbing) London. We perched on the wooden tables behind the beautifully designed counter, stacked with beans, cakes and treats, which looked out onto the Danube and the beautiful Hungarian Parliament building, lit golden at night. 

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We ordered double shot lattes, a locally baked almond chocolate croissant and a slice of cheesecake, and boy were we in for a treat; to get the best coffee you’ll taste in Budapest, head here asap. It was so good, in fact, we ordered another, not to mention two more slices of cheesecake. Maybe we were especially hungry, but the offerings were just that good.

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Just a man and his cheesecake.

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Me laughing.

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Me when the cheesecake finished.

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