Christmas Markets of Budapest and Zagreb
Covered in five layers of warm clothes I felt equipped enough to step out and brave the winter chill. It was only half past four in the evening and the sun had already set. From a distance, I could see a street buzzing with people, flickering lights and could hear some music. Earlier in the day my guide – a very pretty and tall Hungarian woman, had told me that I was in Budapest just in time to experience the beautiful Christmas markets. ‘The weather is good right now. Not too cold yet. From January onwards the chill sets in.. that’s when winters truly arrive for us’, she said looking at me, as I stood shivering trying to get the most of the winter sun.
Damn this breeze. I walked as fast as I could clenching my coat and rubbing my hands. The sight of a giant Christmas tree at the end of the street was a happy distraction. In front of it were four old women, almost bent in half, greeting each other happily. I wondered how much would’ve changed over the years. Not much I hoped.
Like most Christmas markets in Europe, the Budapest market too, was located in the town square. Decorated with warm yellow lights, it comprised of many traditional, small wooden shops selling local handicrafts and toys. The stall in one corner was particularly bright and had the most number of people crowding in front of it. It was playing christmas classics. Two girls behind the counter were busy serving hot mulled wine to the shoppers while the third guy stirred the boiling wine in a large vessel. Right across this counter was a merry-go-round where parents patiently waited with their little kids for their turn. As the kids got on to the ride, I watched the parents hop across towards this stall.
I walked around the market sipping on mulled wine and watching the locals catching up over this merriment. An A Cappella band was singing the title track of The Lion King while little kids danced to their beats. A few dads had their kids sitting on their shoulder, giving them the best view of the stage. Moms were busy clicking pictures, collecting memories. And in this madness there were a bunch of college kids running in and out of stores, scouting for deals and Christmas presents, wearing short skirts with stockings and boots. Whaatt? No!! You’re gonna catch pneumonia girl!
Three days later I was in Zagreb, Croatia and the market wasn’t much different, just with more singing and dancing. Every street had a local musician singing old classics while strumming the guitar. A band of four played popular carols on their trumpets. And then we heard ‘Sway with me’ from far. They were a group of four girls performing on the stage and reminded me of Spice Girls, except I think they had more spunk and talent than the Spice Girls.
The town square in Zagreb had a beautifully decorated fountain where kids tossed coins and made a wish. Some little ones just stood in front of the fountain, watching the water and mesmerized by the lights. It’s another thing that this fountain was right outside the national bank of Zagreb. Well done Zagreb Banca!
December is a wonderful time to be in Europe. The markets give a good glimpse of the local culture and people. The lights make you forget the cold, and the loud laughter and music around makes you wish you could pack some of this festive mood and take it back home in your suitcase.
Have you been to any of the European Christmas markets?
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