February 21, 2011


by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Last August, I suddenly found myself residing unexpectedly in Budapest, Hungary. I rented an apartment and committed to spending a year here, where I dedicated myself to writing, and doing a whole lot of inner growth.

While my internal exploration has its own particular challenge, as a writer, I can only say this—what a dramatic city in which to put pen to paper!

Long ago, Budapest was actually two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the beautiful Danube. Now one, there are famous bridges connecting them. Right in between, in the middle of the Danube, lies Margaret Island, named for a king’s daughter who became a nun and later sainted. The remains of her convent still exist at one end of the island. The rest of the area holds a serene tree-filled park, hiking trails, an Olympic size swimming pool, a hotel with underground thermal baths, nightclubs and restaurants, even a padded running track. The Hungarians love Margaret Island…as do I.

Despite Hungary’s bloody thousand year history—from the ferocious Attila the Hun and the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century, to the Ottoman wars in the sixteenth century, to Nazi control during WWII, and the virtual prisoner-like existence under a Communist regime and Stalin’s brutal puppet Mátyás Rákosi —like the grand lady she is, Budapest has managed to preserve her beauty, grace and dignity. And her romance. What a passionate and dreamy city to live in!

For exercise, I walk every day, rain, snow or shine. The sheer magnificence of the architecture of this city dulls any sense of cold or wet. I am mesmerized by the old villas that dot the landscape not two streets behind where I live. It amazes me that these huge mansions once housed only a single family and their servants. Now they are mostly embassies, one after the other flying their country’s flags. All along the streets of Budapest even the most insignificant apartment buildings are adorned with statues of angels, faces of cherubs, ornate rococo medallions. There is never a day that passes by when I don’t spy something else adorning a building I’ve strolled by several times.

I live near Heroes Square, and a block from the city park that houses a medieval castle, a lake, a zoo, and the famous palace-like Szechenyi Baths. Oh, these awesome thermal spas and baths! They are all over the city (Hungary has the greatest reserve of thermal mineral waters of any place on earth). Szechenyi (pronounced Say chen ee) is the most famous. In addition to the outdoor pools, the myriad of indoor baths have various water temperatures—take your pick. Wander into one room and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into ancient Roman times. Another room and you are in an elegant Grecian Temple. These are public baths, well maintained, and inexpensive for the patrons. The price for a day? Around $15, including your own private cabana for changing. There are hotels housing private spas and baths throughout the city that are dramatic and luxurious, usually free to hotel guests, and a bit pricier than the public baths to those not staying at the hotel.

Many refer to Budapest as the Paris of the East. Really? After spending less than a year here, I think it should be reversed: Paris should be called the Budapest of the West!

If you ever have a chance, or have not done so, do not miss Eastern Europe, especially this venerable city (look me up, I’ll show you around). Having been married to a German citizen, I am familiar with both the East and West. I much prefer Eastern Europe. There is a wonderful, aristocratic sense of the old here that is still captured in the hearts of the people.

Hungarian women are beautiful. They are sensual long into their ‘later years’. With all these baths and spas and mineral treatments around (there are three aestheticians right here on my street!) the care the women take of themselves is ingrained in them as part of their culture. Even during the restrictive Communist era, I am told the women still found a way to have their facials and attend the baths (If you want to get a visceral, bird’s eye view of the terrible reign of Communism in Hungary, I urge you to read Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People. Riveting).

Budapest is a romantic city, filled with passionate people who love the arts, culture and each other. With so much rich history here, I do hope one day we will broaden our publishing horizons and include areas such as Budapest as a backdrop for romance novels. With its wonderful past and historical detail, the possibilities for excellent romance stories are endless.

I don’t know how long I will live here, perhaps this year, perhaps whenever, but etched in my heart is an incredible city, complex in its history and its people. Whatever I do, wherever I go, Budapest will remain for me, one of the most romantic cities on earth.

What about you? What is your favorite romantic city you like/or would like to write about or wish to visit? Leave a comment, ask a question…I’ll be in and out to respond. Thanks for coming by.

I’ll leave you with a few Budapest websites you can check out on your own, but don’t miss this wonderful YouTube presentation of a tour of Budapest set to music.
Szechenyi Baths

Hungarian Parliament

Chain Bridge

Heroes Square

Margaret Island

History of Hungary

Kathleen Bittner Roth is a prepublished author who writes historical romance set in the Victorian period. Her website is http://www.kathleenbittnerroth.com/


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Welcome, Kathleen. Thanks for hosting for me today!

Great post. I appreciate you sharing your experience in Budapest with my readers.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

You're welcome! I love talking about this city!

Anonymous said...

Sounds too good to be true! Great post!

Oddly enough, I'm not a beach person, but loved Puerto Rico...and found the beaches there very romantic. And the climate suited me too!

L. K. Below said...

Budapest sounds like a beautiful city and I envy you the ability to live in it for a year. A part of me wishes to do something similar, but the closest I've gotten to doing that has been moving in with my boyfriend (and consequently relocating to the arctic). Thanks for sharing about this gorgeous city!

Vonnie Davis said...

I've only recently discovered some beautiful pictures of Budapest. Your post brought the city to life. My favorite city is Paris, and my current WIP is set there. I'm planning this to be the first book in a trilogy. The next will take place in both Paris and Berlin. Hummm...could the third take place in Paris and Budapest? I'm thinking here...which is a dangerous thing. Enjoy every moment of your time there. I envy you opportunity to reside and introspect in such a beautiful place.

Elizabeth Pina said...

Your story has a very suspenseful opening! I hope there were good reasons for you being in Bdapest.

What a beautiful city and how well you describe it. I loved the video and the beautiful scenery. Sad that graffiti strikes everywhere. Thanks for the links too.

Good luck!

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Tess, This is such an interesting city, that I hope I am able to see everything if I don't stay!

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi L.K.

Thanks for stopping by. Years ago (and I mean years and years ago) I had this thought that I would like to live in Europe for a bit at some point in my life. I think when we plant our seeds deep enough they eventually sprout! Decide where you would like to live for awhile and plant the seed!

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Vonnie,

Glad you enjoyed the post. Oh, please set your third book in your trilogy here in Budapest! There is so much romance here! Sometimes, on a sunny day, I go to an outdoor cafe across the street from the Franz Liszt Music Academy. The music coming out of those open windows is so romantic and will definitely spark some great ideas.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Elizabeth,

The pictures of Budapest do NOT DO it justice. You have to walk the streets and see all this detail. Taht Parliament Building up close is beyond one's imagination. I love walking around looking at the embassies. I think it is funny that the Russian embassy has this glass encased billboard out front with photos of Medvedev shaking hands with Obama!

Miriam Newman said...

What a wonderful post about such a beautiful city, Kathleen.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Mimriam,

Thanks for stopping by. In addition to exploring this fine city, I am currently working on a Victorian ms and also a Travel Memoir (that's where the "inner growth" material lands). Glad you enjoyed the post.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Oops, I meant Miriam...I write too fast! sorry.

LuAnn said...

My grandparents on my father's side were originally from Hungary. Grandma always had good things to say about Budapest.

I remember as a little girl listening to her talking to her friends on the phone in Hungarian. It fascinated me.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi LuAnn, thanks for stopping by. Oooh, the Hungarian language! It is so very difficult, considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. The distant relative to the language is Finnish! I recently heard a journalist speak about his adventures in Hungary when the wall fell in '89 and he, too, mentioned the difficult language. Sometimes it sounds Chinese to me.

Jenny B said...

Hello, Kathleen!

Sorry to be jumping in so late. What a great blog, and your knowledge of the city boggles my mind. The video was wonderful--which place is your absolute favorite?

It's hard to choose a single romantic destination, but wherever I go, I find myself looking up to the night sky. I love to gaze at the stars.

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Jenny,

Glad you could join us! I have to say, my favorite place is the Szechenyi Baths. It feels like walking into a palace and then you loll around feeling decadent and lazy. I go with my daughter-in-law and we go from pool to pool and chit chat, go to the restaurant, back to the baths. As for the stars at night...give me the Alps! In Budapest we are only a 2 1/2 hour train ride to Vienna, then a short trip to Salzburg and the Alps! In the U.S., I have to say Santa Fe, New Mexico. The stars there drop right out of the sky and into your heart!

StephB said...

What a wonderful delight to find you here on Anna's blog! (and Anna, too)

I was stationed in Taszar, Hungary near Kaposvar in 1997 as part of Operation Joint Guard. I was an MP in the Army. In Sept 1997, I had a chance to take a USO trip to Budapest and I LOVED IT.

Budapest is everything you said and more. It is wonderfully romantic city and the setting for my latest paranromal romance, The Count's Lair.

My favorite place to visit in Budapest was the Fisherman's Bastian and the view of the Parliament Building but I was also impressed with the Szechnkyi (sp?) Bridge.

We had a Hungarian interpreter on base. Her name was Rita and I still remember her. She was very kind, funny, and very generous. She embodied just about everyone I met in Hungary. The Hungarians are wonderful people. My experiences have resonated with me since.

If you want, stop on by my website.


Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Steph,

Wow, you're writing a paranormal set here! This is a perfect city for this genre. I don't know anyone who has visited Budpest who doesn't fall in love with it. I notice it is common to see a film crew around as well. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were here recently for a film she produced. They were right down the street with their kids in the park one day. I forget...I think the next Batman is due to be filmed here any minute with Christian Bale. I'll be sure and check your website out.