Budapest-3

 

Buda bt1

The Danube cruise I’ve booked is a simple no frills trip, ideal for the solo traveller. We do get a shot of vodka, or soft drink for the more sombre. I elbow my way to the aft viewing deck. The soundtrack is good, with enough classic rock zest to enliven the night. We set off down the Danube through a city of light. Yes, I could have stayed on deck forever, float on a river forever and ever. I steeled myself against the unlikelihood of receiving another drink, bathing my eyes in the nocturnal lightshow. Palaces appear to float on air where Buda rises to the West. Bridges, ablaze with light, span the dark honeyed mirror of the river, from the heights of Buda to the flatter land of Pest, just as magically aglow with its swarming boulevards and towering domes. 

Buda bt

We soon glide past an architectural highlight that tops and tails the tour.The Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s signature landmarks. A sublime confection of spires and facades gathered around an impressive central dome. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in the Neo gothic style. Completed in 1904, Stendl would never see his finished masterpiece; he went blind at the turn of the century and died in 1902. 

Buda Bt3

After that, there’s still more spectacle, and a constant buzz of sublime delight suffuses the deck. It feels like a sightseeing tennis batch, head constantly swivelling to catch the next spectacle. We pass beneath the four main bridges: St. Margaret’s, Chain Bridge, Elizabeth and Liberty. And back again. Returning to our dock after an hour afloat, there was a firework display farther up the river, which somehow seemed less spectacular than it must have been.

I walk home by Bajcsy Zsilinszky Utca, much easier to pronounce than spell. It’s a long walk on a wide boulevard, terminating in Deak Ter. Saint Stephen’s Basilica is near my destination. Budapest’s twin landmark with the Parliament Buildings, the summits of each reaching the same height of 96metres .

Buda bas

Saint Stephen refers to Hungary’s first king who ruled from the start of the second millennium until 1038. Stephen forged a unified kingdom in the Carpathian Basin that is regarded as the genesis of the modern state. His espousal of Christian doctrine and custom ensured his kingdom was acknowledged throughout Europe where paganism was in terminal decline. While anarchy followed his death, order was eventually restored and Stephen was elevated to sainthood. A cult arose around his relic: the Holy Dexter, or right hand. This has been around, to put it mildly, but after many centuries of sojourn at last came to rest in his eponymous Basilica in 1950. 

Buda Bas1

I return to visit the Basilica in the hot glare of noon. The huge Neo-Classical building was begun in 1851 and took over fifty years to complete. It was designed by Miklos Ybl (1814-1891) who was the country’s leading architect, also the designer of the Hungarian State Opera House nearby on the grand avenue Andrassy Utca. The majesty of that particular building was denied me by the curse of scaffolding, to which I was particularly prone on this trip. 

Buda bas2

The Basilica awaited in all its sun-blasted glory. The facade is framed by two slender bell towers, with the dome towering impressively over all. This is accessible, either by lift or by stairs. After yesterdays exertions I take the lift, leaving me with a short few steps spiralling within the dome before bursting out into raging air at the cupola. Dizzying views from the top whiten my knuckles; it is the vertigo of paradise.

Budasyn

Back on terra firma, I take some time to recover my nerves with a cool beer, or two. Budapest can be just as beautiful from the ground and I stroll aimlessly for a while, which is an essential pleasure in any city. Ever decreasing circles as I find myself back at base camp. The Jewish Quarter is just south of Karoly Utca, cramped and busy with plenty of informal bars. The Jewish community thrived here from the 19th century until the 1940s. Though decimated by Holocaust and Exodus, a small Jewish community survives. They can enjoy the legacy of happier times with the largest Synagogue  in Europe with room for over three thousand souls. Designed in Byzantine style by Ludwig Forster of Vienna in 1851, there is a Jewish museum onsite.

I don’t want to wait anymore

I’m tired of looking for answers

Take me to some place where

There’s music and there’s laughter

Budance

Darkness falls and the carnival is in full flight at Deak Ter. At the arcades off Karoly Utca, the beat pounds on. I’ve found my favourite bar, usually quiet, counter service where I perch at a barrel adrift from the river of life flowing past. They do Italian food here too, good for a light evening bite. Where the two main pedestrian thoroughfares meet, there’s an ad hoc dance floor, where tyro movers and shakers try out their latino steps and the panoply of Ballroom skills. It’s borderline chaos, sex with a smile, fun for all within its ambit, whether participant or passer through. Just watch me now, heel to heel and toe to toe, a few too many on board, just a few steps from home.    

I’ve woken up in a hotel room

My worries as big as the moon

Having no idea who or what or where I am

Show me my silver lining

First Aid Kit My/Silver Lining

Budapest – 2

Budachain1

Day in Buda and a Night Cruise.

After a seriously long sleep, I have a late morning light breakfast on the balcony. Tuesday is to be a full day with extensive exploration of Buda and a river cruise. First though, a fraught walk to Chain Bridge, running into building works and having to walk back through dusty construction site in 25 degree heat ending up where I began back at Deak Ter. The plaza at Chain Bridge is also difficult to negotiate; but hey, what’s the rush?

Find path to Chain Bridge at last where I buy my Budapest Card off a garrulous student type. Cross the bridge amidst a throng of excited tourists. The Danube below swarms with traffic, and it’s blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue! Chain Bridge was built in 1849 and was the first bridge to link the cities of Buda and Pest, facilitating their unification. Two massive stone towers emphasise the sense of fortification and provide functional support for the suspension chains. The effect is formidable and beautiful, even more emphatic at night with its illumination.

Budafun1

Grab a beer in a self service pavilion beside a tiny park and try to chillax. Not an easy feat in this city. After a queue, I take the funicular up to the castle. This attractive old world transport is a pleasant sidestep from the crowds, and fabulous views of Pest unfold as the wood and brass carriage soars towards the Castle. 

Budafrid

Buda Castle is a complex of Baroque palaces including the National Gallery, the Palace itself, and the History Museum. There are spectacular views of the city from the terrace in front of the National Gallery. I have plenty of time to enjoy it as I settle in for a half hour queue.

Budafrid2

The Gallery has a visiting Frida Kahlo show, and very good it is too. Which is just as well as the Renaissance section was closed. A pity that the art of Budapest was not there for me. The Museum of Fine Arts in Pest had been completely closed for renovation for some years but was scheduled to reopen in late summer. But on the eve of departure I learned that its reopening had been further deferred. The National Gallery is a fine building and I enjoyed what art I did see, an interesting selection of national art from the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Budafoun

Leaving the Gallery I head west to find the Matthias Fountain. This is named for the 15th Century King Matthias Corvinus who initiated major construction at the Castle. He was an early advocate of the Italian Renaissance, becoming a major patron of the arts and science in Hungary. He became something a folk hero amongst Hungarians, and was said to wander amongst the peasantry in disguise dispensing justice.

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City walls spread out from the Castle to embrace the ancient city of Buda. Looking east over the Danube gives the classic view of teeming Pest, most popularly enjoyed from the pretty Fisherman’s Bastion. The view from the western walls show an entirely different town from Pest.The walk along these ramparts is tree-lined and relaxed with lovely views of populated hills. Dog walkers, strollers, joggers and auld lads on benches (me included) give it an old village atmosphere. 

Lords Street (Uri Utca) is a long winding street of medieval buildings forming the spine of the old walled town. Orszaghaz Utca, running parallel, has a few hostelries and I stop for a meal and drink in one with a sun kissed terrace. Chicken and chips is even less exciting than it sounds, though I spend a pleasant hour in the falling sunshine. Old Buda is very quiet after the tourists depart. Thronged by day, it mellows after five. 

Budatower

The Church of St Mary Magdalene is at the end of Lords Street in Kapisztran Ter. Dating to the 13th century, it lies in ruins since WWII, but the impressive medieval tower still stands, ancient and adrift of the church that spawned it. Buda Tower, as it’s known, has one hundred and seventy steps to take you to the top. I climb it because it’s there and it takes some notional credit off my Budapest Card. Might have taken some days off my life too. In this heat after a busy day, I am reduced to a crawl to gain the summit. The lurching couple at the top seem oblivious to my arrival. As I collapse in a pool of sweat, they give a lively interpretation of The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, together all alone above the magic city. Hey, get a turret! 

Budagate1

I exit the Old Town by Vienna Gate and the road falls steeply away below the walls. I meander through an urban residential area with little to detain me. Reaching the river near Bethany Square, the metropolis is abuzz again. Trams trundle along the waterfront. Beyond  on the Pest shore, the spectacular Parliament Buildings dominate. The square is busy, its most notable sight being the Baroque Church of St. Anne. I stop at a relaxed outdoor bar, where a local clientele relax over drinks and snacks. I hope to time things right for my Danube trip. It grows dark so time is tight. I grab a tram along the river to Saint Margaret’s Bridge.

Budanite

You’re my river running high

Run deep, run wild

The walk takes me across the tip of St. Margaret’s Island. The bridge is long; the river’s wide; I cannot swim over. It’s a longer walk up to the designated dock, and I’m practically the last on board. I get a spot on the aft deck and we set off promptly. It is one of the best river trips ever.

Budadanchn

I, I follow, I follow you

Deep sea baby, I follow you

I, I follow, I follow you

Dark doom honey, I follow you.

(I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li)

Budapest -1

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The Danube does look blue from the air, sinuous and sensual, the main artery of Central Europe. Down there, Budapest glistens in the morning sun, its dream-laden domes floating above a millennium of urban development. The Celts, the Romans, the Magyars and the Turks have all ruled. Today it is the capital of Hungary, a city of almost two million people.

With Budapest, you get two cities for the price of one. Buda, on the West Bank of the Danube, is hilly and ancient. The old town is well delineated around its hilltop fortress, a typically medieval town spilling down ancient, winding streets. Pest, on the eastern side, is built on flatter land. This is the Enlightenment power city of Empire; grand wide avenues lined with palaces, everything on a massive scale, the layout geometric and modern. It seethes with life, traffic, trams, pedestrians, cafe and bar society with an urban beat. The two parts merged as one city in 1873.

Budapest airport is hectic and dull in the early morning. Take a quick bus into the city centre. It’s cheap and direct, easier than I anticipated. Late August approaching noon, and it’s hot, hot, hot in the traffic miasma of Deak Ter. I have to kill a few hours before check-in. I put into an Irish Pub nestled under a high archway through tall modern blocks. It’s called Publin. The waitress is pleasant and keeps steins of local brew coming. Pint’s about €2.50.

IMG_3871This, I find later, marks the outskirts of Pest’s fun precinct which centres on a couple of extensive pedestrianised arcades, fitted within the city block west of Deak Ter and south of Karoly Utka, It consists entirely of eateries and drinkeries. There’s good life here after dark, though strictly modern.

Town Hall Apartments are on Karoly Street. This is a busy narrow street with shopping, fast food, convenience stores and the like. Stalled traffic, queues, passive smoking, hip hop, shouting and sirens are a feature. I quite like it. My room is at the back of the large apartment block, so it’s nice and quiet. The balcony enjoys, or suffers, permanent shade. I welcome it. There’s a pleasant urban garden beneath, otherwise I’m hemmed in by walls, some balconied, some plain. To one side a slit of sky is provided by an older three story block. Apartment towers rise to my right with balconies attractively lit at night.

Having attempted to crash, after one fitful doze, I reckon I might as well press on till midnight and make a full twenty four hours of it. I step into the sturm und drang of Karoly Utca and on to Deak Ter.

Buda Deak

Deak Ter is really two squares. Deak itself is a transport hub, to put it mildly. Bus, tram, train and car traffic converge with the junction of two mighty auto thoroughfares and all the attendant pedestrians you could imagine. Elizabeth Square is something of a continuation, heading towards the river, and provides similar recreational escape to a carnival. There’s a funfair with ferris wheel to calm a soul down, kiosks and snack bars and a strip of crowded parkland to lounge around in. I head towards Vaci Utca, a couple of blocks on. This is a pedestrianised zone but still abuzz with foot traffic. Vaci Utca itself, is a long and winding road heading eastward, somewhat the equivalent of Grafton Street, with more emphasis on the elegance of boulevardiers and cafe society. 

Buda x

Next, I make for the River and find myself twixt two bridges, Chain Bridge, the original bridge connecting Buda and Pest and Elizabeth Bridge, which, when built in 1903, was the longest suspension bridge in the world. A tramway runs along the riverfront and there’s something about the scale and energy of this setting, the impressive bridges connecting Pest with the hills and palaces of Buda across the mighty river, all suspended in the cocoon of evening, that imbues me with the certainty that I stand at the centre of Europe.

Budasun

Nearby, I put into the Panoramic riverfront restaurant where Anton is my genial host. I’m regaled by a band of Gypsy musicians as I sip a brew in the setting sun. The meal was Goulash, both tasty and generous, with melt in the mouth meat and potatoes of great taste, lemon and coriander, I’d guess. My Gypsy serenaders return. They have chosen to pester only me, leaving others unmolested, but I’m so moved, in truth probably tired and emotional, that I buy their cd; even accepting their insistence that they’ve run out of change for my proffered six grand, nearly 20e. Kinda loved it. In truth, I struggle to get rid of money in Budapest which is very cheap. I fork out forty euro or so for a Budapest pass card the following day, but possibly only mine three quarters the value of it on trams and towers. I feel Ive earned my sleep, certain it will come. First though, a navigation of the music channels and a glass or two of wine. Something plays which resembles a strange melange of Irish Rock, Hip Hop and House. A suitably mad mix for the city I’m in.

Budakaroly

So wake me up when it’s all over

when I’m wiser and I’m older

All this time I was finding myself

And I didn’t know I was lost.

(Avicii/Aloe Blacc)