Donald MacLeod: Grand Budapest is swell! If only that gatecrashing bully-boy from Turkey would sling his hook

Budapest at sunset (Getty Images)

OUR cheery airport taxi driver was merely trying to make polite conversation, bless him.

“Szia Donald úr, Üdvözlünk Budapest. Is ez az els alkalom Magyarországon?”

Eh? Run that by me again, please!

Much to my relief, he did so, but this time in English: “Welcome to Budapest, Mr Donald. Is this your first time in Hungary?”

Well it was, and hopefully it won’t be my last time. Because Budapest was brilliant.

So much so, my wife and I agreed we would return in a heartbeat if ever given the chance.

I had my doubts when I initially booked the trip. As romantic holiday destinations go, Budapest didn’t seem to figure in the same league as Paris, Rome, Vienna or Prague.

Thinking it would be cold, dirty and austere, still trying to shake off its communist hangover…How wrong could I be?

Budapest was a revelation. A traveller’s delight!

Cosmopolitan, clean, modern and cool, relaxed to the point it almost felt bohemian.

The autumn sun shone, the views were as spectacular as they were magical, especially those looking to and from the UNESCO world heritage site of the Buda Castle Quarter and the neo-gothic turrets and terraces of Fisherman’s Bastion, the Danube glittering day and night.

As for its bars and restaurants?

Well, they too were absolutely fantastic.

But there was, for a short time, a pest in Budapest! And his initially low-key arrival seemed to place the city in a security lockdown.

Brutal Turkish dictator President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was here to see his chum-in-arms, Hungarian PM Victor Orban.

One minute, we were snapping pics of the Danube from the battlements of Fisherman’s Bastion. The next we were surrounded and snapped at by hundreds of fully-armed police, with low-flying helicopters buzzing about overhead.

I thought at first we had accidentally strayed on to the set of a James Bond movie and Daniel Craig was going to come abseiling down on top of us. Well, there was no 007 but there were certainly seemed to be a few evil-looking baddies who could have passed for fully paid-up members of SPECTRE.

Just like us, disgruntled local folk were kettled, constrained, threateningly frowned upon by fidgety-armed security, unable to go anywhere until these hardmen saw fit to move on to another part of the city.

If there is one thing that makes a politician unpopular with his electorate, it is stopping them going about their normal daily business, all simply so the bigwigs can enjoy a jolly at their expense.

Something we are all too familiar with back in the UK.

But I suppose, in its own way, this pest’s visit to Budapest made our trip even more memorable.

I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry, and can’t wait to return… Hungry for more Hungary!

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