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It’s 20th August, Foundation of the State Day in Hungary.
Pulling into Budapest we notice the empty IKEA parking lot and a desolate Tesco. Maybe it was mistake driving down from Zagreb on a public holiday. But the closer we get to the city centre, the livelier it gets. Hungarian flags line the Budapest bridges and flutter enthusiastically. Closer to the water gathered crowds sway to music coming from giant loud speakers. The RJs speak in Hungarian so I don’t catch a word, but the mood is infectious.
The day’s celebrations are set to culminate in a firework display on the Danube. Families and tourists have flocked to the waterfront with hours to spare, catching good seats. Along the sideline the city police stand in their yellow vests, patient. Vendors, in tight, short skirts, offer water and other refreshments, even though most people have come well prepared – I see biscuits, sandwiches, fizzy drinks and even a bottle of tequila being passed around.
Pumpkin seeds (at least that’s what I think they are) seem to be quite the local favourite here. Women set up stalls on streets that are pedestrian-only for the night. They sell heaps on squares of paper, much like bhel is served in India, or peanuts in other parts. The seeds are shelled and munched on, while the discarded bits collect in small piles. These little pale hillocks stand all along the waterfront, some tall and proud, others squashed flat by a careless foot.
The firework display starts exactly at 21:00. Hungarian pop makes way for a cheerful instrumental track. Young kids climb on shoulders, older ones stand over any vantage point they find; every head is tilted to the skies. There are three simultaneous spots (in the water) from where the crackers are launched. For half an hour Budapest’s clear night sky sparkles, glitters, and cracks.
The display signs off in a magnificent, colour filled burst, and an applause. The crowds start filtering out, making way for the cleaning crews armed with bins on wheels, brooms and picks. The police continue their shift. The air isn’t singed with smoke. Neither is the sky. It continues to be a beautiful night in Budapest.