The street I call my own isn’t actually mine. It’s only mine in my heart (for now), and it’s located in the middle of my neighbourhood in Budapest, Hungary. Király Utca (King Street) is my adopted street for many reasons. It’s my community when I’m in Budapest and the shops and people are my own too. I love this street because it’s so many things, and is always changing. Kind of like me.
Budapest draws me to it because of my cultural heritage, but mostly because of my heart. My husband and I share a deep love for our culture and its long and storied history. We’re Canadians, but we are at home in Hungary and Király Utca is our home away from home.
When we stay in Budapest (usually once a year) we always stay on Király Utca. Waking early means we can eat our Hungarian breakfast of tomatoes, peppers, hot sausages and strong coffee before we wander out the door of the small and comfortable Hotel Ambra, and find ourselves on the familiar cobblestones of our street.
Király Utca is a long street that links us directly to the busy underground at Déak Ferenc Tere and Heroes’ Square at the opposite end. I can happily spend a whole day doing precisely nothing in our adopted neighbourhood. Our typical day has no real plan, but usually ends with dinner at my favourite restaurant, Noir et l’Or which, despite its name, does not feature a stitch of French food. Tucked into the Art Nouveau façade of the buildings on Kiraly Utca, Noir et l’Or is a modern space on the interior serving traditional Hungarian fare with a modern twist. Vegetarians beware; Hungary is a bastion for carnivores.
My favourite restaurant shares its façade with used book stores, paper shops, and the folks of the neighbourhood transacting business at the pastry shops, the famous Budapest káve házek (coffee houses) and our local 24/7 ABC where we regularly stock up on groceries, soap, newspapers (although we struggle to understand them) and of course, liquor, but not between the hours of 11p.m. and 8a.m. thanks to a local government edict which has attempted to clean up the bottles left on Király Utca after nights of carousing. Not that I mind. It hasn’t succeeded in eradicated the colour from my neighbourhood.
I love that I can walk through the old passages between streets that grant access to the centre courtyards of the apartment blocks on Király Utca, which on Sundays are open air markets and otherwise are gathering places for friends to congregate for drinks and the customary Hungarian two kisses on the cheek. I even love the graffiti on the buildings of Király Utca.
Király Utca is ideally located for us to walk to the Danube, watch people, or wander over to St. Elizabeth’s Jewish synagogue. We can catch the underground and hop up to the Sport Arena. We can head to the Big Market in the old train station when we feel the need for a quick bite and our requisite exposure to the tourist kitsch of entirely too many embroidered doilies.
What I love most of all about Király Utca is the abandoned apartment block right outside of our hotel. Every year we visit, we imagine owning a small apartment in that building, with its old windows, its suspect plumbing and its view of the cobblestone street and our neighbours going about their lives. We imagine ourselves climbing the dark interior stairs (I’d die of shock if there was a lift), loaded down with groceries, newspapers and blank journals to document our personal transition to life as citizens of Budapest, which would mean that Király Utca really is the street where we live, if only sometimes.