Sunday, 20 October 2013

Post Paprika Town

Yes, I can now officially report that Paprika Town is in abeyance.

No more regular blog reports should be expected. Then again, as life is unpredictable, I might still add to these pages at any time if events or inspiration stir the creative will.

Paprika Town meanwhile will remain online. I hope it continues to provide some interest, help and inspiration of its own to anyone visiting or planning to stay in the fascinating and beautiful city of Budapest.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Crowds flood Danube as water rises

The floods that hit Budapest in early June have been an interesting experience. I would like to have reported from the front line - at the flood defences - but due to Hungarian bureaucracy, my application to be a volunteer somehow didn't succeed. So I have been an observer.

A city under flood might be similar to a city under siege. There is tension and anxiety, but also a sense of resignation. Nature cannot be fought, it can only be managed. And this flood didn't arrive as a rushing torrent, but as a steady, irresistible rise in the levels of the Danube, until it finally overreached its banks.

The river rose by one-third of its normal height. The corniche roads on both sides of the river disappeared under water. Margit Island, the large r&r islet in the middle of the river, was evacuated and closed down. One metro station was abandoned, and traffic and public road transport was redirected. The giant parliament building that faces the river became a moated palace, fronted by water at its foundations.

Photos: Sandra Király and

The magnificently sweeping Danube is undoubtedly at the heart of this city. Its reliable presence, whether in sight or not, is a constant for Budapest life. When it floods, it is like an ailment that afflicts the city. There is awareness, concern and assistance. Yet, no panic. Ultimately, it feels as if the Danube knows best how to deal with its own condition. Mere mortals can only help in limited ways, by channelling its flow and sandbagging higher levels where the Danube really doesn't want to go. A flood, it seems, is just another manifestation of the organic nature of this city.

Indeed, for people at large, including the many tourists now in Budapest, the flooding Danube became the latest and most popular public attraction. People flocked down to its banks, or its new shorelines, just to stand, watch and take photos of the spectacle. Welcome blue skies and hot temperatures on Sunday, when the flood was near its peak, drew heavy crowds keen to witness a Danube that had gained a third in width, and photograph ramparts, road signs and bus shelters that now peeked unnaturally above the flood.

Further out from the metropolitan city, concern for property, and indeed life, was greater. The Romai district, in north-west Budapest, is a frequent victim of even minor floods and sand-bagging volunteers were out in force to protect the area. Further north still, the beautiful town of Szentendre, and other towns and villages near the Danube bend, drew hundreds of volunteers as well as disaster professionals to help erect flood defences.

The waters will take some time to subside and will undoubtedly leave some chaos in their wake. But Budapest seems to have an army of clean-up workers, generally taken from the unemployed, to address such situations.

Much of Budapest's beauty is the result of human hand – but it is a very naturalistic hand, submissive to the city's organic nature. Budapest is quite simply an elemental city. And whatever the elements throw, it continues to impress as the most unique and special place on the Danube.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Good vibrations?

I have always found it a little dispiriting to follow a link to a blog only to find the blog discontinued. There must be – a very big number – of abandoned blogs floating in cyberspace: the detritus of past creative efforts that once fulfilled a role but now simply remain adrift as digital hazards to future cyber-surfers.

This blog has had no entries for a few months because I have been distracted by some health issues. However, if PaprikaTown should end then I am resolved there will be a message flagging up the fact. That, after all, is simple courtesy.

And speaking of courtesy reminds me of the small debate raised by the recent republishing of my post "What's special about Hungary?". Comments seem evenly divided over my suggestion that Hungarians are unusually polite. Views range from broad agreement to a belief that I must be on drugs (only vitamins, actually).

Well, my Budapest wanderings on the hot May Day holiday do support both points of view. Being vehemently abused by a very large Hungarian family man for obstructing his photos of noisy, circulating racing vehicles (at Széchenyi Bridge), was unpleasant. Stepping two paces forward would have solved his problem, but it seemed he had claimed his Hungarian space.

Later, I found myself on a hillside on Buda for a free outdoor concert. A tall sound and light stage at the bottom of Tabán hill had drawn thousands to stand, sit or lie on the large grassy hill, covering nearly every square metre. The music was typical Hungarian jazz-rock. The audience was peaceful, co-operative and harmonious, even with flowing beer. All that was missing was flowers in the hair!

I've never said Hungary is perfect. But there does exist plenty of goodwill.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Back to the future

If you're a follower of an Englishman in Budapest, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that the flat problem is now solved.

Surprisingly, it's back to V district, with a TOP FLOOR flat near Ferenciek tere.

Although on paper more expensive than planned, I'm hoping the overall deal will prove cost effective. The common cost – paid in addition to rent – is, in this case, inclusive of all heating and water bills.

Heating through winter can be a major expense, especially for an idle type like me. One monthly gas bill at my first 80sqm flat reached over 40000 forint.

My new establishment offers 'house heating', which means one central boiler, and costs divided between tenants. Since heating is usually an additional personal expense, being included in the common cost makes the largish common cost effectively very low. That, at least, is the way I like to view it.

Of course, not all is rosy. Is it ever? Being on the top floor means boiled water has a long way to travel. I've checked with my neighbour and apparently we up here are less well served than our neighbours below. On the ground floor they complain of suffocating heat. Up here we experience a healthier regime that would leave most Spartans in bliss.

I exaggerate perhaps, but I've been over this territory before. Living room and bedroom reach 20C. But, thankfully, bathroom has a super-efficient radiator that warms it to 25C!

The local area off Ferenciek tere, partly pedestrianised, is elegant, intellectual (several university buildings), and almost cloister-like in some streets, especially at night. The famously tourist-trapping Váci ut is also not far away.

Several pedestrian streets leading to Váci have laid red carpet down their full length. Not sure if this is to protect from ice or is just a signal: walk this way for Santa's over-priced grotto!

But, as usual, the Christmas lights and decorations in Budapest are delightful and always warm the heart, even as fingers freeze when taking photos!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Find help in Budapest

I've been asked to write about help organisations for those new to Budapest.

There's nothing very original about this brief list. But these are organisations that I've found helpful.

Let's start with expat-blog. is a global website that exists entirely online. It's function is to provide geographically local forums – by expats for expats – covering expat locations throughout the world.

In the case of Hungary there is both a Hungary site and a Budapest site, but the two tend to cross-pollinate.

For me, the most useful feature is the active forums, where almost any question on Hungary can be asked. Answers come from a reliable backbone of voluntary, long-term, expat and Hungarian contributors, plus anyone else who wants to express a view. Local forums are also available in a choice of user languages.

If you want cost of living info, tips on dealing with bureaucracy, how to access tradespeople, where to buy stuff, or you just want to find sociable friends, the forums at expat-blog could be a good start.
The site is especially useful when planning a stay or move to Hungary. Get in your questions before you go! Expat-blog also carries classifieds and a business directory and gives a heads-up to local expat blogs.

Next up, Run by Stuart, an English guy who has lived and worked in Budapest for – a longish time, expatshungary covers a lot of bases offering personal technical advice online to those planning to relocate, plus lots of discounts on an ever-widening range of local company products and services to those who have already arrived. The website also carries streaming Hungarian news, articles on issues of local interest, and a classifieds section.

Expatshungary also organises occasional, well-attended social gatherings at suitable bar/restaurant settings. And Stuart is involved as well in running a Friday night pub club in Budapest, The Club, which can always be relied on for meeting regulars. is another global website for expats organised through local bases. In this case, the prime objective is to bring people together in person, with monthly gatherings at (usually) glittering wine bar/restaurant venues. In Budapest, these events are always well attended, drawing around 150 guests, and you should expect to meet plenty of people working for international companies, or trying to run their own businesses, who've polished up their shoes for an evening of friendly social engagement. is mainly an online media operation. The website carries a long menu that categories almost every kind of information topic you might need for daily life in Budapest. Beyond the main news headlines, there is information on cinema, clubs, bars, restaurants, music, events, culture, concerts, shopping, business, travel, sport, weather and a long list of service companies. The website is also associated with the Budapest Sun newspaper.

As in any capital city, there are of course clubs and meeting groups – including those organised by expats – to satisfy all variety of personal interests. These are best discovered for oneself. But I will mention two organisations that offer entertainment and social engagement.

BabyBlueBanana brings stand-up comics to Budapest for regular comedy evenings, organises weekly pub quizzes at the popular Caledonia pub and also hosts speed-dating nights!

The Budapest Hash House Harriers, on the other hand, is a small self-organised group manifested out of a global organisation begun in Kuala Lumpur 74 years ago which now has similar groups in 185 countries.

Nominally a cross-country running group, following a hare and hounds trail principle, the main purpose of The Hash is to provide social activity (exercise) while exploring the local environment. My one experience so far involved an initial tram ride, casual walking, some steep Buda hills, and at least four refreshment stops: at a pub, an outdoor food festival, an alfresco restaurant and a champagne distillery on open day. Did I say the purpose was exercise? The Budapest club motto "A drinking club with a running problem" may describe it better!

The above are just a few favourite things that make sure you are never lost in Budapest. But if you plan to visit soon please note: warm summery October has just flipped into Budapest winter with temperatures plummeting to 0 C. Fortunately, we have no hurricanes!


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