This Easter, we invited 14-year-old Dylan to visit us in Budapest. My partner and her sister planned an itinerary for him. I wasn’t allowed to contribute, probably no bad thing.
It’s a difficult age, 14. You’ve put away childish things but you’re not yet old enough to explore on your own or with a gang of mates. I remember being dragged round museums and art galleries when all I wanted to do was skulk off to the nearest amusement arcade, record or clothes shop.
For those of you below a certain age, records were what we used to call vinyl.
I would imagine Dylan is pretty much a boy of today. He is clothes and technology mad. Like you, perhaps, I am not sure if the time our young spend glued to their screens does them any good. But there are positive benefits for adults.
There was no chance of Dylan being homesick. He “Facetimed” his family every day and Snapchatted his friends at night, managing to play his part in what sounded like a riveting teenage triangle drama. I came to see Dylan’s screen as a pacifier, which was fine with me. I also got into taking trout-mouth selfies at historical monuments.
The big difference between Dylan and me when I was 14 is his awareness of brands. To him, they’re like sports or pop stars. We ate at Starbucks every morning. Dylan was delighted that Starbucks in Budapest is much cheaper than it is in the United Kingdom, though he was intrigued to discover that you have to push the door to get in, rather than open it outwards.
My attempts to get Dylan to comment on the difference between a Hungarian Starbucks waffle with chocolate sauce and mango juice were a waste of time though. It seems they’re exactly the same wherever you are in the world.
As soon as Dylan was fortified by however many thousand calories there are in waffles and mango juice, we set out to “do Budapest”, as they say.
One of the great things about Budapest is that it’s possible to rent an inexpensive, centrally located apartment for nowhere near as much as it would cost in London. Our one-bedroom apartment on Ó utca was EUR 370 for three nights and we could walk everywhere we needed to.
During the four days Dylan was with us, we schlepped up to Heroes’ Square where he took photos of statues for a school photography project. We walked over to the Budapest Eye, down to the Chain Bridge, over to Buda and along the Várkert Bazár, where we hung out at the Easter fair and Dylan had his first lángos – fried dough with garlic paste, sour cream and grated cheese. He was more impressed by his Zing Burger, which he decided was the best he had ever had.
We took the funicular railway up to the castle. It takes about two minutes and offers beautiful views across the river to the Parliament building. Dylan was snapping away with his iPhone all the way up so, no doubt, the pictures were all over his social media feeds.
He was also impressed with the entire district around the castle, including Matthias Church. I must admit I was surprised at how large the Castle District actually is. I was also surprised at how interested Dylan was. When I was his age I would have been looking for an escape route.
Happily for me, our next stop was Budapest’s amazing Pinball or, if you’re Hungarian, Flipper Museum.
Dylan had never played a pinball machine. I, on the other hand – with my “supple wrist…. crazy flipper fingers”, to quote “Pinball Wizard” by The Who – was very familiar with pinball machines by the time I was Dylan’s age.
Much of my own youth was misspent in amusement arcades or the smoky back rooms of cafes, playing machines that sometimes dated back to the 1950s. So, for me, the Pinball Museum was pure heaven.
Tucked away behind a scruffy door down a nondescript side street about 500 meters from the WestEnd shopping center, the Pinball Museum looks like some kind of vault. Once you’re inside, you’re dazzled by a barrage of flashing, colored lights and assaulted by a cacophony of Tourette’s like pings, bleeps, crashes, boings, rat-tat-tats, shrieks, rattles, groans and snatches of music.
I found machines I am sure I played on back in the 1970s, with fantastic images of mermaids, space creatures, hot rods and bizarre planets. The museum has a superb collection of machines that were produced as movie tie-ins, including “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Star Wars” and just about every 1970s and ’80s classic you can think of. It also has rock and roll themed machines that naturally includes a “Tommy” machine inspired by the 1975 movie based on The Who’s pinball-themed rock opera.
Entrance to the Pinball Museum is HUF 3,000 forints, HUF 2,000 if you’re under 26 or over 62. All the machines are free and you can stay as long as you like. If you hang on to the wristband they give you when you go in, you apparently receive a HUF 500 discount on your next visit.
Dylan pronounced the place “amazing” and even bought a bright orange retro-styled Budapest Pinball Museum t-shirt. But, for him, the best was yet to come.
After five hours in the Lukács Thermal Baths Dylan was bright pink, thoroughly exhausted but beaming from ear to ear. “That was the best part of my trip,” he told me.
“Better than Starbucks?” I asked.
He hesitated only a few seconds before nodding.
Find out more about theBudapest Pinball Museum at www.flippermuzeum.hu and Lukács Thermal Baths at www.en.lukacsfurdo.hu.