Dear July, seventeen to twenty: Budapest heat.

Tuesday, July 21

Dear July,

Today, a rather dark rainy heat-up-some-chicken-soup-to-make-yourself-feel-better kind of Monday, I’ve been thinking about Hungary.

The year I turned twelve, my family spent the summer in Budapest. My Dad was working over there for a few months, so we went to be with him. It was hot. The hottest it had been in years, apparently. We watched a lot of BBC World in our little apartment (the only TV channel in English and we grew thirsty for words we recognised) and there were continual cries of ‘Heat wave! Heat wave!’ on the news. On the days we went into the city – our feet clapping in flip flops, collecting dust from the streets – we’d practically sprint from one café to the next, buying bottles of cold water or Lipton’s lemon iced tea to gulp down. We spent all of our days in shorts or swimming costumes, jumping and splashing into the blue pool outside, diving for coins with goggles sucked onto to our faces. We had to sleep with the fan on full and windows cracked open – the sound of crickets and dogs barking and the opera singer next door practicing scales echoing long into the night.

We wiped watermelon juice from our chins, and licked peach juice off our wrists. We ate lemon sorbet ice-cream every other day. We put ketchup on pizza like the locals. We ate the best thing I've ever eaten - a big deep-fried fritter-type thing topped with sour cream and grated cheese called 'Lángos' - and have never found again since. Almost every time we went out for dinner, we’d order 'cucumber salad' as a side: cucumbers soaked in a vinaigrette dressing. One time we ordered ‘Grandma’s special cucumber salad’ because the name made us laugh, but when it arrived, it was just a plate of fat dill pickles (which forevermore made us suspicious of food described as ‘special’). They had bizarre translations for things on the menus. ‘Diced curd with graves’ was one option on the desert menu (literally no idea). ‘Chicken throat shaped pasta’ was another.

We went to the circus while we were there – silver clad trapeze artists, cats jumping from great heights onto red cushions. We visited a park full of old communist statues. We went to Lake Balaton and felt the mud squelching between our toes. We went into supermarkets so big the staff had to roller-skate from one end to the next. We bought vegetables that came straight from the fields, meaning they hadn’t been prettified, meaning the closer you got to the produce stalls, the stronger the smell got, meaning sometimes you’d pick up a nectarine and it would look deliciously juicy face up, but when you turned it over the reverse side would be crawling with flies

Living in a country where we were constantly faced with things we didn’t know – food, words, buildings, customs – could have been a small disaster. The three of us – my brother, my sister, me – were still quite young so were prone to whining, as children sometimes are (‘Whatsthat?’ ‘Idontlikeit.’ ‘Idontwantit’ ‘Whatsthat?’). But that summer knocked it out of us, I think. We had so much fun, and my Mum taught us to think of everything as "an experience".

‘We might not like it,’ she said. ‘But it’s all an experience, so we’ll just give it a go.’

‘It’s an experience,’ has now became short-hand for: ‘That was weird, but strangely wonderful’. By the end of the summer, we’d all grown a few inches; our hair had turned a few shades lighter, our skin had turned a few shades darker, and we’d stopped complaining as much. We spent the last few weeks laughing our heads off at things that no one seemed to find as funny as us when we got back home – ‘Well, you just had to be there, I guess.’ – but that was okay. We didn’t mind (#heatstroke).

I came across Anya Silver’s poem 'Doing Laundry in Budapest' today, which set me off on this path of reminiscing. (Forgive me. I hope this post isn't too long or self-indulgently nostalgic to read.) We have no photographs of it – they all got lost – but it’s a summer I remember in warm bursts of colour. Orange and browns and reds.

Silver (the poet I was reading today) writes about pickles, and covering her shoulders to get into churches, and the begging ladies on the street who sold half-dead flowers to passers-by and I recognised the images in her words: I’ve been there, I thought. I’ve seen those things. I’ve eaten those pickles. I bought those flowers. 

(Pictures - letters of the Hungarian alphabet - by: Anna Kövecses. 

Also: this song by reminds me so much of being there - it was 2003, after all. My sister and I listened to Delta Goodrem's album on repeat the first night we were there. We'd somehow managed to convince ourselves that there were terrorists running about outside our hotel so were trying to distract ourselves. Like I said, we were pretty young and had poor geographical knowledge so we had no idea where in the world Hungary actually was. Ha.)


  1. This post is lovely. I'm very nostalgic about my childhood and love reading about other peoples. Plus, your writing is wonderful :)

    1. Thank you, Jenny <3 it was a good summer!


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