“Why don’t you go somewhere new, somewhere you haven’t been before?”
This is what my dad asked me when I said I was heading back to Budapest. I didn’t know exactly how to answer. Yes, I did consider going somewhere new for my first little solo trip, but ultimately, I felt drawn back to Budapest (by something other than the cheap flights, ha).
The question of whether to head somewhere new and unexplored or to head back to a well-loved location is one that will have crossed the mind of any keen traveller. I feel like it tends to skew toward the new, with many people stepping foot in a new country, spending two days in the capital and then pronouncing it ‘done.’ “I’ve never done Paris,” people muse, as if anyone has really ‘done’ anywhere, especially as a tourist.
Of course, I’m guilty of it too. I have a vague aspiration to visit every country in Europe in my twenties, and I definitely feel the pull to new places over old, even if I’ve only ever visited somewhere once and the memories are already fading. However, this isn’t supposed to be a well-considered blog about the general phenomenon that pushes people to want to tick places off the list, to make travel decisions based around scratching another place off the proverbial world map, though I would like to write that post at some point.
No, this is about Budapest, and why I wanted to go back, when there’s such a big world out there to see.
Firstly, I had extremely fond memories of the weeklong trip Kate and I took to Budapest back in April 2017. I remembered loving the sprawling streets, wide buildings and cheap drinks. I visited Budapest before I’d started making more of a concerted effort to explore Eastern Europe, aside from Berlin a few years prior, so it was my first introduction to state socialism, the USSR and the intense instability of this region for essentially the entirety of the last century. Even though we had a wonderful trip, there were, of course, museums I hadn’t visited, food I hadn’t eaten and pictures I never took, because I only had a phone camera on my last trip to Budapest and didn’t know the first thing about composition.
Yes, I had proper tourist plans for my return to Budapest, focused around culture and history and architecture. But, uh, I also had a much less lofty goal in mind… I really, really wanted to try to find my favourite marzipan stall.
Last trip, Kate and I were wandering around the streets of Budapest when we came across a small street market full of food stalls. We picked up some ice cream before I spotted the marzipan stall, piled high with huge chocolate-covered balls of marzipan in a variety of flavours.
Now, I love marzipan. I love it. My mum often works in Belgium and will bring me back little boxes of the almond sweets, which I’ll devour within the day. When I saw that little cart covered in pistachio, cherry and double chocolate marzipan blobs, among many other mouthwatering flavours, I sprinted over and bought myself a bag.
Because Kate and I are classy as fuck, we spent the latter half of our Budapest trip in a quaint little Airbnb, eating dinner on our balcony and drinking wine instead of cheap cocktails and beer (we spent the first part of our holiday in a party hostel drinking cocktails that were just shots and ice, so you know, sometimes we’re sloppy too). One afternoon, while Kate was taking a nap, I ventured out by myself to wander by the river, listen to music and… find my new favourite sweets vendor again. I bought myself another bag teeming with the almond confections and practically skipped back to our apartment, ready to dig in. I’d been having a tough few months, back in 2017, and I remember feeling a weight lift off my shoulders as I meandered around Budapest in the sunshine, marzipan in hand, soundtrack playing in my ears, knowing my best friend was waiting for me.
It’s not always the big attractions that stand out in our memories. Sometimes, it’s a perfect plate of food, or fun street musician, or delicious bag of marzipan sweets that stands out in your mind. I planned to spend Sunday afternoon wandering the streets near where I remembered the market to be, in a desperate attempt to find the marzipan stall and buy a few more blobs (sorry, I cannot think of a better word for those shapes).
I’m an optimist. I really thought I was going to find it. I was already imagining this blog post, with the final image being me with a delicious marzipan blob, making the case for heading back to beloved destinations for the most minor and frivolous of reasons. I walked around for a long time, dipping into squares and circling blocks, searching for a collection of food stalls. I knew it was near the river, in a square, and I remembered an H&M being nearby. Well, I found the H&M, but no stall. I walked along the river, but no stall. I wandered into every square on the map, but, alas, no stall.
Eventually, I’m pretty sure I found the same spot as last time. However, it was a building site. The square was covered in tarp, metal barriers and debris. There was no marzipan stall to be seen.
Unfortunately, there is no almond-y end to this story. After over ninety minutes of walking, I felt like I had to call time on my marzipan mission, though I wasn’t about to head back to London without getting my sugar fix. I ended up grabbing a chimney cake (Hungary is just admitting that this dessert is a tourist concoction, unlike Czechia) and eating it while sitting on some funky seats in the sun before catching my bus to the airport. It was no marzipan and I’m honestly still a little bit sad I didn’t find the original stall. This great confectionary was genuinely part of the reason I wanted to come back to Budapest. But of course, you can never count on finding tiny details to be the same some two and half years later. All you can do is remember the small things that make an adventure what it is, whether they are wild nights or almond blobs – and find yourself a sunny spot and an ice cream to soften the blow and make a new memory if, inevitably, things have changed while you were gone.