This is a view of Pest from the elevated, aristocratic perspective of Buda castle.

The Romance of Budapest

Budapest, Hungary is, as Mary Musgrove would put it, "One of your new creations" (Persuasion, Austen, ch 9). It is the product of the 1873 merger of Buda on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east. These two halves were once confined to staring at each other with curious longing over the relentless stream of the Danube, accessible to each other only by a clandestine boat trip. But after the first bridge connecting them was built in 1849, the romance ignited and the official union was only a matter of time.

Sound like the plot for a romance novel? Well, it is, really. Budapest is aloof aristocrat meets quirky bourgeoisie upstart, so naturally it is right up my street—or river, I suppose. The HEA was inevitable.

A view of Buda castle from the incandescent, nocturnal gaze of Pest.

And the locals embrace the metaphor, too. As you cross over the bridges joining these two halves of the city, you cannot miss the innumerable assortment of locks attached to the bridge. It is tradition for newly-weds to fix a lock on a bridge and throw the key into the river. Not a very environmentally friendly spell, but the symbolism is clear enough.

By Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff - Own work (scan from original book), Public Domain
Representation of Buda in the Middle Ages–public domain image from a woodcut in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), provided by By Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, from original.

It is hard to escape the feeling of magic in a place where such a marriage smooths over an ancient dualism, and such an ancient dualism hides a network of tiny underground streams. The series of empires (Roman, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Soviet) who have sought to subsume the cluster of local (originally pagan) cultural groups are like the Danube itself: the grand river you see that distracts you from all the tiny hot springs that are ever bubbling under hill and plain. There is a seething plurality of history behind the spell of this love story.

And yes, I said hot springs. The area is famous for them, and bathing in these mineral waters is considered a panacea. The locals do so regularly, for their health.

So it is steamy. This beguiling city is not just a romance, but a romance with heat and a history, a complexity, an aesthetic opulence that breathes magical realism. This is perfect material for the steamy Gothic Romance I am writing as a gift for my newsletter subscribers. It isn't set in Budapest, but it could be: it has the hills, the history, the wine growing and the whiff of magic. Is it any wonder that I love the romance of Budapest?

And did I mention that the local wine is excellent? So I never had a chance, really. I am charmed. The lock is turned, the spell is complete, and the key is lost in the endless flow of the river.