A blizzard of white flakes saturated the sky for days. Temperatures dropped to -10 and wearing 7 jumpers to go outside was no longer optional; The Beast From the East was operating with full throttle.
In Budapest, the snow is a normal part of city life every year, but it doesn’t make it any less of a hassle. Walking anywhere becomes ten times more painful, choosing outfits boils downs to how thick and warm layers are, and warm stews and drinks are compulsory – luckily for those in Budapest, Hungarians do rich, warm, stews and soups (and generally Winter-food) the best.
The snowy blankets dissipate from the city centre’s surfaces fairly fast due to the heavy footfall and busy transport system. But for a magical snow experience, head to the hills – the Buda hills. With ‘peaks’ rising up to 500m, the Buda Hills stand majestically over the city centre, looking over the Pest side. In Summer, the Hills are a serene escape and full of Summer lovin’, but in Winter, grab your skis, snowboards and sledges for a fun-filled mini Winter getaway. To get there, the Children’s Railway is the way.
(Screen Grabs from my Normafa film)
This train system is run by children under the supervision of adult railway workers and is super cute and idyllic. Running once every hour, buy a ticket, hop on a carriage and admire the amazing woodland views as you course through the hills, stopping at iconic Buda Hill spots like Janos Hill (the highest peak in Budapest), Vadaspark (home to a charming Zoo) and Normafa (where the best and most beautiful scenery can be experienced).
The snow thankfully stopped seeping through the thick clouds for a few hours, making our day out far more pleasant yet not much warmer. Armed with gloves, several pairs of socks and so many layers raising one’s arms became too difficult to even think about, we took the Children’s Railway from its first stop and headed to Normafa to check out the hype.
It felt like I was in a Wes Anderson movie; small school children dressed in train conductor uniforms (hats included) operated the red coloured train which chugged through the snowy hills. Barren trees were coated with thick snow and brave hikers wore skis to cut through the meter-deep snow, waving cheerfully at us feeble and lazier train-goers. At each stop, a small train conductor child would open the carriage door and yell something in Hungarian, most likely the stop’s name but I can’t be certain – my Hungarian is limited to several words and phrases. At Normafa, we jumped off our carriage and watched the train slowly disappear into the horizon. A few minutes walking then led us to the stunning views everything Normafa promised us.
Suddenly we were transported to what felt The Alps; snow covered the hills, making them perfect for any Winter sport imaginable. I figured kids on sledges with poor parents dragging them along the ground would have been unquestionable, but even adults equipped with skis and snowboards were taking the snow seriously. Clenching our teeth through the unbearable cold, which seemed to get more bitter by the minute, we people-watched and sauntered around, admiring the stunning view and chuckling at those slipping so admirably on the icy surfaces.
For the duration of the journey I was judging those dressed in entire ski outfits – I’m talking padded trousers, coats and fluffy boots – but never have I felt the cold so much and felt my toes so little. I took back all my judgements in a heartbeat as I jumped on the feet, regretting having taken the sensation of normal limb movement for granted the whole of my life. Nearby, little wooden huts were serving Hungarian snacks and drinks to warm up visitors – this was our only hope. Langos, with sour cream and cheese, strudel, filled with a variety of fillings, and sweet lemony tea provided temporary relief from the icy sensations riddling our bodies.
Enough was enough, and we said goodbye to the beautiful hills and retreated, heading back home before nightfall brought about even lower temperatures. It was a magical snowy experienced to be cherished, but with some minor details to be definitely left behind… Remember folks: comfort over fashion.