Balaton in watercolor

Winter is coming! With chilly gray days that are getting progressively shorter and colder, I’m thinking wistfully about warm waters, richly hued sunsets and long lazy days. That’s why I chose to paint the sunset at Lake Balaton in Hungary, which was my last real taste of summer for the year.

This was particularly easy—it only took me two sessions to complete, and I had lots of fun doing it!

Since I opted to stop going to watercolor class in Haarlem from November onwards. I plan to use the off time from watercolor to get cracking on a few sewing and knitting projects for Little Mango. So, look long and hard… this is going to be my last watercolor project for a while. Hope you like it!

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Lake Balaton, the Hungarian Sea

A sandy beach and water sounded like paradise after being cooped up in scorching Budapest. After Marlon’s work in the city was done, we decided to cool off in landlocked Hungary’s most popular summer destination: Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe.

We arrived at Budapest Deli (one of Budapest’s two central train stations) bright and early Saturday to find a huge mob of overheated Hungarians all raring to escape the city.

Budapest Deli station crowd

Fortunately, we had booked tickets online a few days in advance. An eager, English-speaking trainee immediately spotted us looking lost and guided us to a ticket machine to print our tickets. He also helped us reserve seats in an air-conditioned car.

A little over two hours later, we arrived at the town of Siofok on the south shore of Lake Balaton. Walking to our apartment along Ady Endre utca, this main road lined with dozens of eateries began to feel oddly familiar. Then I realized it reminded me of… D’Mall.

Lake Balaton restaurants

All the tiny restaurants, people walking around in bare feet and swimwear, even the knockdown tiangge stalls hawking cheap bikinis felt so much like a slightly seedier Boracay, it began to feel bizarre. All that was missing was coconut trees, a tricycle service and Andok’s Lechon Manok (I really could have used the tricyles). “Can you believe we’re in the middle of Hungary?” I asked Marlon.

Seeing this poster knocked me right back to reality. No beach party in the Philippines would ever advertise topless pool girls so shamelessly. God bless the Eastern Europeans.

Lake Balaton beach poster

Now, the beach. It wasn’t Boracay, heck it wasn’t even Puerto Galera. But red-faced and sweaty at 39℃, with the prospect of a dreary Dutch autumn looming, I ran to that beach like a long-lost lover.

Lake Balaton shore

And the water… well, it was blue, clean, swimmable, with enough of it for me and half the population of Hungary. Above all, it was warm. Holland’s North Sea makes me shriek every time I dare to go in it, but Lake Balaton elicited nothing but embarrassingly orgasmic groans of pleasure.

Lake Balaton bathers

“Oh my God. Oh my GOD. I could spend the whole day in this water,” Marlon groaned as we waded into the lake with idiotic, summer-starved grins on our faces. And that’s exactly what we did.

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Budapest by night

To say a proper farewell to Budapest, our last evening was spent on one of the many boats that sail the Danube. The one we chose was just €9 in comparison to the plush €25-and-up cruises, so it wasn’t luxurious by any means and didn’t even leave on time! Luckily, regardless of the price of the ticket, everyone gets treated to the same stunning views of Budapest by night.

Parliament dome by night

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Budapest: Sunset on the Danube

You probably know by now that Budapest is named for the two halves of the city on either side of the Danube River: Buda and Pest. The city has several bridges linking its two sides, the first and most-photographed of which is the Chain Bridge.

Budapest Chain Bridge

During the entire trip, I was so lazy, and Budapest so hot, that I would look at Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge from the window of our hotel room and feel like it was a million miles away. I wondered if I would ever cross that bridge and ever make it to Buda! Still, it felt like a total cop-out to visit Budapest and only really visit Pest. So on our last Friday afternoon in Budapest, when the day finally cooled enough, I finally did it. I finally crossed that bridge!

As far as I could see, the Chain Bridge is happily padlock-free, although it doesn’t make it any less romantic.

Chain Bridge bride and groom

A glowing sunset reflected on the Parliament building…

Parliament and Chain Bridge

… and boats sailing down the still-blue Danube do more to create a romantic atmosphere than declarations of love from a hardware store.

Danube cruise

Of course, having the right company also adds to the romance. The fact that a busy husband makes it a point to take a day off from work to be with his pregnant wife is as romantic as day-to-day married life gets!

Marlon and I Chain Bridge

On the other side of the Chain Bridge was Buda. Hooray, I made it! We immediately took a cable car up Castle Hill…

Castle Hill tram

for sunset-shaded views of Pest, including the Danube and Chain Bridge, of course…

Castle Hill sunset

… as well as Budapest’s famous Parliament Building right next to Margaret Island and Margaret Bridge.

Parliament view from Pest

This is as far into Buda as I got: watching the rays of the setting sun wash over a patchwork of rooftops, as it disappeared behind the rolling green hills.

Pest sunset

From this brief glimpse of Buda, I could immediately see how different it looked and felt from Pest. Maybe I’ve only seen half of the entire picture that is Budapest, but what a pretty picture it’s been.

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Szimpla Kert: a ruin pub in Budapest

After satisfying my 30 year-old granny heart with an afternoon at the opera, I was determined to act my age for once and step out for some of Budapest’s famed nightlife. Budapest is known for its ruin pubs, and being the pioneer of the ruin pub scene, Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) in the 7th district is the most famous of them all.

Szimpla Kert ext

A ruin pub is essentially an abandoned building taken over and converted into a pub, or bar, with its own open-air garden and a lineup of music, film, theater and other community events.

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert is huge, but somehow manages to retain a cozy feeling. Maybe it’s the constant buzz, the mood lighting or the black-and-white archive footage projected on the crumbling brick wall of its open-air courtyard.

Szimpla Kert archive projection

There are also lots of little rooms, each with its own assortment of quirks and surprises, all wrapped up in one gritty, derelict, retro-tinged package.

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