I suppose that Budapest is a lot like any other mid-sized European capital that has conserved its heritage and not had a lot of money flowing in during the last century. Not having been to Paris or London or Vienna I really can't say for certain. But I did get the impression from the internet that they were all bigger and busier and noisier as well as much more expensive, so Budapest was where I decided to spend my hard-earned dollars. I was really on the way to Transylvania, but you have to get there from somewhere, because the only planes that land in The Land Beyond The Forest are Whizz Air out of London, which means changing in Heathrow and paying godawful luggage charges. Turkish Air was not only much cheaper for an American leaving from DC, it was rather nice . . . except for the transfers in Istanbul, which reminded me a great deal of a childhood spent wandering the back alleys of the Far East. I mean, climbing off the plane by means of an exterior stair backed up on the tarmac is all nice and very 60's retro. But those overcrowded buses with standing room only bumping from the far end of the runway to the terminal aren't a whole lot different from the military buses running down Route 1 on Okinawa from Naha to Kadena in 1964, which is nothing to do with luggage.
Still, it's all worth it to wake up in Budapest and really KNOW that you are outside the American Pale and halfway into the unknown.
Most of all, Budapest was an amazingly friendly city for a place where the local language doesn't even belong to the Indo-European linguistic group. I had read some stories suggesting a legacy of suspicion and paranoia lingering from the Communist era, but we saw none, either in the city or when we ventured into the countryside.
Okay, the short version.
Buda-pest began life as the Roman settlement of Aquincum on the bank of the Danube slightly north and west of the modern city. The location appealed to the Romans not only due to its strategic location controlling northern access to the Pannonian Plain, but its abundance of hot springs, which made it an ideal location for Public Baths.
The Romans left town during the Age of Migrations, when it got far too expensive to maintain a position so far away from home for limited returns. The Baths however had a major resurgence during the 18th and 19th centuries, becoming very popular with European aristocracy until the World Wars.
Aquincum however was built on exposed level ground. Following nasty invasions in the 13th century by the Tatars, Magyar King Bela IV decided to fortify a hill overlooking the Danube. By the mid 14th century, Buda was a thriving royal city. Meanwhile, the settlement of Pest on the other side of the Danube also built itself city walls, and became the home of merchants and tradesmen serving the castle. This pattern continues today, with the grand architecture of the Royal Palace, the State Residence, and many embassies and notables on Castle Hill, while banks, stockbrokers, and international hotels line the Danube on the Pest side. Aquincum fell into gentile poverty, while a bustling town of Obuda (Old Buda) south of Castle Hill continued to supply common people with quarters for life and commerce. The two halves of the city are linked by a series of bridges, some of them quite beautiful.
A proud and magnificent people with a wonderful sense of humor. An ancient city filled with marvelous architecture and the most gorgeously blue skies I've seen in this lifetime. Oh, and music, too. GOOD music, the kind that Mozart and Beethoven wrote. The Hungarians claim that both of them stole some of their best tunes from Magyar musicians. Save heaven for somebody who wants it. When I die, I want to go to Budapest.