As I walked into the dormitory an ageing man welcomed me as if we were best friends who had not met for ages. He gushed compliments about Italy, talked about its delicious food, quaint towns, interesting culture and what not, hardly leaving me any time to respond. He was one of those who love listening to themselves talk and don’t expect any reaction from their counterparts. All I could do was listen, simper, and hope he’d soon be over. It took him some time, but in the end he concluded he was going out to eat, and would I like to join him? As I’d already had lunch there was no need for a white lie to politely turn down his invitation. As soon as he’d left, the room became quiet again and I was able to brace myself for the visit of another exciting European capital.

I admired many beautiful buildings lining the avenues. Some of them were reminiscent of the Italian architectural tradition, but I found these less impressive than others which broke with the classical lines and were more representative of certain central European artistic currents. After all I was here to be inspired by novel things: this architecture was remarkable not only because of its beautiful ornaments of floral designs or ceramic elements such as coloured tiles or roof decorations, but for the original layout of volumes and the organisation of space, definitely out of the ordinary.

Now sometimes a bit rundown, Budapest reveals the grandeur of the empire-kingdom of which it was once the royal capital, a couple of hundred miles downstream of the imperial capital Vienna. The heyday of this city is still apparent in its urban texture that served as testing ground for the eclectic and innovative trends in architecture and arts in general.

There were of course celebrated monuments, such as the Parliament, where extensive work was under way to renovate the back square, Buda castle, and the citadel. But I was literally in rapture when I found myself, as if by chance, in front of the majestic entrance to the Gellért thermal springs, or when I discovered the central market hall, more than a hundred years old. To reach this place I had walked across a marvellous iron bridge over the Danube. It was besieged by heavy traffic, but the frequent tramcars that were engulfed in a tide of vehicles brought a note of joy in the context of this pandemonium. Maybe it was their light yellow colour that so perfectly matched the pale green hue of the bridge. Looking up I could see the metallic structure towering into the blue sky, studded by lines of round rivets and decorated with stately coats of arms.

I devoted two days to the visit of Budapest and I enjoyed every moment of it. When I got back to the hostel in the evening I found my man. Someone was already sleeping, but he chattered away in his usual loud impertinent tone. He acted as if he was the sole occupant of the room, so I tactfully asked him to keep it down a bit. A young chap in the bed above his was having a nap, but I heard the man ask him to join him for dinner. Needless to say, the reply was a negative. I knew it would be my turn to be invited next, so I made up a quick excuse and got away with it once more.