Brexit, a personal response

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There is nothing that I can say about the outcome of the EU referendum and the prospect of Brexit that isn’t much better summed up in the comment from Nicholas (above in the Financial Times).

I have felt so many emotions over the past day – disbelief, shock, hurt, sadness, anger, betrayal…

On a personal level, my job is affected to an extent and I will now need to look into registering in Ireland to allow me to continue to work for my clients in the way that I do currently, however, it’s on a wider level that I feel the most sad.

I remember being at school and learning about the European Union, I remember colouring in stars on the flag and I feel so privileged now to have grown up believing that the whole European market was open to me – to holiday, to live to work… I studied law and European law at university and spent a semester living abroad in Hamburg. In those four months I took advantage of one of the fundamental freedoms that the European Union afforded me, the free movement of people. Over the course of four months I grew so much as a person. I laughed, cried, partied, drank, explored, learnt, and lived with people from throughout Europe, there is nothing like living in another country to really expand the mind and your horizons.

Living in Germany spurred me on to improve upon the German I learnt at school and so every Tuesday night I trot off to City Lit for a German class. Whilst I know that my German will never be good enough for me to do my job in German (I spend an awful lot of my time each day thinking about and manipulating what I write in English), I have always had it in the back of mind that living in a German-speaking country was an option open to me if I so chose. When we leave the European Union that choice becomes a lot more difficult to make.

Beyond the arguments about the free movement of goods, and the implications for the economy, it saddens me that the impetus for learning a European language will diminish further, a generation will become more inward-looking and insular and I fear that as a nation we will become more xenophobic. I, along with millions of others, benefited from the Erasmus programme and free movement and I am a changed person because of it. I feel sorry that we are closing our doors out of fear of letting people in, when maybe we should be more concerned about the fact that we aren’t allowing our young people out. Out into the world. Out into a community bigger than the island we live on. Out into a world of different people and views and experiences.

So much has been lost…

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Margaret Island, Budapest

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When I was looking online for advice on how long to spend in Budapest, the verdict seemed to be that although you could see the highlights in two days, you could easily spend four days there and still have things that you would want to do. We had four full days together with an evening and a bit of a morning and definitely found that there was stuff that we would have liked to do had we had another day or two. Having the time we did there meant that we took things at a fairly leisurely place. One of the things that we were pleasantly surprised by was the visit we paid to Margaret Island.

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Margaret Island sits in the middle of the Danube and is easily accessed from either Buda or Pest by a small bridge branching off Margaret Bridge. When we visited it was drizzling with rain and at times on our way we had to seek refuge under a nearby tree or building, but we were determined to carry on with our visit regardless. Plus, I was suffering from hayfever while I was in Budapest which was odd as the hayfever season in England was still a good few weeks off at the time, so I figured that the rain might actually dampen down the pollen floating around in the air.

The island is traffic-free and the perfect place for recreation with sports facilities and even dedicated springy running tracks. Arriving onto the island we were immediately confronted by a giant fountain and Zorba the Greek style music. It soon became clear that the fountain was ‘dancing’ in time to the music. We took up nearby seats and sat, entranced, by the fountain. I know it sounds super cheesey and, let’s be honest, it was, but it sort of transcended the line from cheesey to actually kitschy cool. It finished up with a rendition of Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye to signal the end and its return to a normal fountain. Apparently it does two ‘full shows’ a day and a few shorter shows (find the timetable here), the late show at 9pm looks like it’s all lit up so if you visit at a time when it’s dark by 9pm then you get a little light show too.

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suiteBudapest109

When the musical fountain show ended we headed back to the main roundabout to where we’d spotted a whole load of little pedal buggies. I handed over my driving license (as a deposit, not because of insanely strict bike rules) along with some cash (I forget how much but it wasn’t extortionate) and we commandeered ourselves a little egg-shaped pedal car and took ourselves off on a little pedal tour of the island. There were also regular bikes for hire but given the drizzle we decided that a roof was probably a good idea. Equally we eschewed the motorised buggies on the grounds that it was cheating and we had a lot of great Hungarian food to work off.

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suitebell

We tootled our way around the island, ringing our little strawberry bell whenever we had the need. Located on the island are all sorts of things to explore – ruins of a Franciscan church, a little zoo, baths, landscaped gardens and more. It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon in Budapest before returning to the city.

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The Prestige Hotel, Budapest

One of the things that I think has long put off my boyfriend from visiting Prague and Budapest has been their reputation for being a stag do destination and indeed when I have sometimes mentioned Budapest to people in the context of our holiday, I’ve had comments from people about the great nightlife. Now I like a good blow out night as much as the next girl but as I’ve got older they have become fewer and fewer and have mostly been replaced by nights in on the sofa gossiping over a bottle or two of wine. The fact that my boyfriend is older than me means that he’s mostly over the whole going out thing too and so a lively nightlife is not something we seek out when on holiday. However, it is entirely possible to visit Budapest and not see a single stag do (because we did it). I think that the most important factor in that was carefully choosing our hotel.

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary

I’ve already written about the Buda side of the city so now it’s time to hop over the Danube to the Pest side of the city. Located only minutes from the Danube and Chain Bridge, The Prestige Hotel Budapest, our home for our stay in Budapest was perfectly located for a peaceful stay in Budapest whilst being central enough to make the most of Pest.The Prestige Hotel Budapest opened only relatively recently, in April 2015. However, it’s located in a building dating from the 1860s which has been entirely overhauled to house the hotel. Glossy black floors lead through to a bright open six storey atrium with huge chandelier. It also houses Costes Downtown – the sister restaurant of Hungary’s first eatery to earn a Michelin star, Costes. If you choose a rate that includes breakfast then Costes Downtown is where you’ll enjoy your breakfast.

As the main reason for our trip to Budapest was my 30th birthday, we decided to splash out. We don’t normally go for particularly fancy hotels as we tend to prefer to spend our money on experiences or food as, let’s be honest, we don’t spend all that much time in the hotel anyway – we’re on holiday to see somewhere, so that’s what we do. However, this time we (well, I) went all out and booked a suite (and all the extras because if you can’t have champagne chilled and waiting for you when you’ve just turned 30, when can you?!).

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite

Our suite was gorgeous and sadly, probably bigger than our flat in London. The bed was the perfect Goldilocks bed, not too hard and not too soft, making it very tricky to wake up as early as I’d have ideally wanted to sometimes.

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite

In addition to a sofa in the corner which overlooked the central atrium, we had a fantastically comfortable seating area which we promptly spread out on and dove into the fizz and chocolates, pocketing the jar of Hungarian honey for use at home (we’ve since used it in a dressing and it’s lovely).

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite

I loved the little touches at the Prestige Hotel Budapest like the fact that the room came with a Nespresso coffee machine and particularly that when they came to turn down the bed each day, the staff left us with chocolates and a small card letting us know the weather forecast for the next day – perfect as the windows weren’t externally-facing and therefore it would be difficult to know otherwise.

The Prestige Hotel, Budapest Hungary suite

The staff were so helpful, from the driver who was there at the airport ready and waiting to whisk us in the air-conditioned Mercedes to the hotel (I seriously recommend it, it’s around €40 to the hotel and about €30 to go from the hotel back to the airport) to the staff on the check-in desk and anyone else we encountered during our time there.

We had a fantastic time at The Prestige Hotel Budapest and cannot recommend it highly enough if you’re wondering where to stay in Budapest.

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Borkonyha Winekitchen, Budapest

I very rarely book restaurants for when we go away on holiday. I can’t think of anything worse than having to abandon whatever we’re doing wherever we are to rush back to the hotel to get ready to go out for dinner. Equally I never plan out what we’re going to do (beyond having a vague idea of what I’d like to see and do based on a bit of research) because experience has taught me that even with the best advice on how long things ‘should’ take or how long you ‘need’ that the best thing about going anywhere is discovering things that you can’t plan for or realising that something is way more or less interesting than you thought. What looks like just a park on a map might have a really cool lakeside cafe in which leads to afternoon cake which then means that you aren’t as hungry when you need to be for a reservation. Plus, it’s easy to book somewhere on the basis of good reviews written by the English/Americans and then turn up and find the place is a complete tourist trap.

However, on our recent trip to Budapest I decided to book a restaurant (Aszu Etterem) for our first night because we were due to arrive late afternoon and I knew we wouldn’t have much time to find somewhere that looked good. As part of that research I found a few other places which looked great, but weren’t first night dinner places as they either looked fancier (Baraka) or more worth savouring (Borkonyha). So, unusually for me, I went ahead and booked dinner for us for three nights of five, leaving us enough scope for spontaneity and finding places we liked the look of while we were there.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

All of our meals in Budapest were good and I do in particular recommend Baraka (I may yet write about our meal there), but we loved Borkonyha. So much so that after our first dinner there on Tuesday night, we booked again there and then for a late lunch on the Friday. Although I took photos from our first dinner there, these are from our second visit because a late lunch means natural lighting and, accordingly, better photos.

Located close to the Basilica, Borkonyha Winekitchen is one of five Michelin starred restaurants in Budapest and despite its star is very reasonably priced, with the most expensive main course currently on their website being just £20 (not much more than some main dishes in bog standard chain restaurants here).

Borkonhya Winekitchen is described as being blend of a French-style bistro and a contemporary family restaurant offering the best of Hungarian cuisine. All accompanied by a fantastic selection of Hungarian wine.

On our second visit we wanted to try slightly different choices from the short-ish menu, although we would have both happily eaten the same dishes that we chose the first time. Although having said that, I couldn’t resist a repeat of my starter, pigeon breast and rilette with broccoli and dried apricot. Rich and delicious, the apricot nicely balanced out a rich sauce and the combination of rilette and breast provided variety in texture.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

My boyfriend chose the salmon, trout and scallop starter with fennel in a shrimp sauce. Different from his starter on our first visit, the “perfect” egg. He tucked in with relish and rated it more than his first starter, although it was probably a more conventional choice, which may explain it.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

After loving the fish of the day with green peas in an anchovy sauce on our first visit, my boyfriend decided to try something a bit different for him – the vegetarian option – a baked corn cake with soft cheese and olives in parsley cream. Although he is pescetarian he very rarely chooses the vegetarian option, normally going for a fish dish if possible and on this occasion I think would have, with hindsight, had the fish again, but said that this was alright.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

After having the farm chicken and quail breast with colorful carrots and cottage cheese on my first visit upon recommendation by the staff, this time I chose one of the dishes from the short list of specials, pork on a bed of chickpeas. Beautifully tender caramelised pork on smooth chickpeas. They also do a set menu for a price of, I think it was around €55.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

On our first visit we had opted for three courses and a bottle of wine and I think it all came to about £80, but then it occurred to us that, in a restaurant where a quarter of the wines are sold by the glass that we should ask for them to choose wines for us that matched our food, which they did beautifully with an array of Hungarian wines.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

Following an assortment of Hungarian cheese, the desserts were, as with all the dishes and as could probably be expected, a visual and culinary feast. A small selection meant that blueberry yogurt, almond crumbs and green tea was my dessert the first visit and my boyfriend’s on the second…

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

…whereas my boyfriend’s first visit choice was mine for our second visit – Bitter chocolate, passion fruit, coffee.

Borkonyha Winekitchen Michelin star restaurant Budapest Hungary

With a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and without any stuffiness, I’d thoroughly recommend a visit to Borkonyha to anyone who is off to Budapest, and let’s face it, everyone seems to be off at the moment. I’m not sure why but it’s an amazing city and deserves a visit.

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