As a freelance contributor to JetWings, The Man magazine, GQ, NDTV, New Indian Express Indulge and Blackbook (among others), Ashwin Rajagopalan has experienced more destinations than most. His travel philosophy is about scratching the surface of a city, and discovering the best it has to offer, even if that means going off the tourist trail. Get his take on Budapest, the city that “never ceases to surprise”.
What brings you to Budapest?
I’ve been fascinated by this city almost from the moment I saw an image of the city’s historic waterfront buildings by night.
Do you usually travel for work or pleasure?
It’s almost always a blend of both. I can’t remember the last time I went to a new destination to unwind. I’m always busy ticking off lists and trying to make discoveries that I barely get to cool my heels.
What’s your favourite thing to do when exploring a new city?
I love to look for local experiences. I want to dine where the locals dine, go to the same markets where they shop. Of course you can’t escape the ‘must do’ tourist stops but I always try to go beyond them.
Do you ever have trouble finding vegan or vegetarian options while travelling?
Not any more. There’s hardly a place in the world where you can’t find vegan dishes, you do need to know where to look though.
What was your favourite vegan dish sampled while in Budapest?
The Alba truffle-flavoured, deconstructed mushrooms at Caviar & Bull. Loved the interplay of textures and flavours.
What drew you to Budapest in the first place?
The wide array of experiences, from 19th century architecture to Communist-era tales and the 21st century ruin bar phenomenon. I love cities that are multifaceted and can keep throwing up surprises just when you think you’ve seen it all
Did the city live up to your expectations?
It exceeded my expectations. I came here thinking this might just be a picture post card city with sweeping views and great architecture but there’s more to this city than meets the eye. You can peel this city one layer at a time and it never ceases to surprise.
Did anything surprise you?
The wine scene in Hungary. I was amazed to discover that the country has 22 wine regions (that’s more than France!) and probably the finest dessert wine I’ve ever sampled. Some of the Sommeliers I met – like Viktoria at Caviar & Bull, Corinthia, know how to source the best Hungarian small batch wines. It’s probably why you rarely see any fine Hungarian wine outside the country, it doesn’t leave Budapest.
What would you do next time, that you didn’t get to try this time?
An all-nighter hopping ruin bars. I managed to check out some iconic bars like Kuplung but I would like to spend more time soaking it all in.
Ultimate tip for Budapest?
Don’t underestimate this city and think you can conquer it in two days; that’s what I learned even as I pushed my Fitbit trying to explore the city. Four, maybe five days and you’ve probably covered some ground. The city looks pretty by day but stunning in the night, so if you’re planning a cruise down the Danube wait for sunset.