This is an excerpt from a 2003 letter.
Budapest has always been a “comfort city.” The first place hit after our first sojourn in Albania was Budapest and it seemed like Disneyland, even though it was only four years out of Communism itself. We had water, we had heat. We put them together and had long hot showers. During Milosevic it is the place we went to for refuge when things got too hot in Montenegro. We maintained a flat here for four months, and that was a comfort. But the food was the real part of the comfort. The Marriott has an American breakfast, pancakes, American bacon, home fries, with the Euro addition of chocolate croissants. And Hungarian food is flavorful.
We have several normal haunts in Budapest. The Café Gerbeund has blossomed into one of Mitteleuropa’s outstanding coffee houses. Yesterday we had iced coffee. Another haunt in Budapest has been the Central European University bookstore. It has a better selection than the English language bookstores in Vienna, and we always leave Budapest with bags heavier than when we came.
One very nice thing about Budapest the return of the river traffic after the repair of the Danube bridges in Serbia. We used to watch the flat-bottomed river freighters when we lived in Bratislava. They flew all the flags of the Danube, Romania, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. There were also not a few Russian and Moldova flagged boats. That all stopped with the NATO bombing, wrecked bridges blocking the Danube at Novi Sad. Now the bridges are up and the boats are back. I am enjoying sitting in a café counting flags. The cruise ships are beginning to operate again after the war scared them off.
For me, Budapest has always been the quintessence of the urban Danube, more than Vienna, Bratislava or Belgrade. At night it’s the most beautifully lit city, with the Habsburg palace, the parliament, the cathedral, fisherman’s bastion and chain bridge glittering reflectively in the waves of the beautiful brown Danube. Walking the embankment my mind turns to that Strauss waltz more here than in Vienna, whose heart is really not along the river. Strauss mixed with the Internationale.