Happy New Year! (we said BUEK in Budapest)
|New Year's Day on top of Gellert Hill|
We had a couple of good reasons to spend New Year in Budapest. The first was that our friends Agnes and Bertil invited us to join them there. They live in Sweden but a few years ago they bought an apartment in a stunning spot, right beside the Danube, about two blocks downstream from Parliament (their building is obscured by the tree in the photo above). I can't imagine ever tiring of watching the river traffic and the big sky over Buda from their front room.
|With Bertil and Agnes at the opera (Die Fledermaus, by J. Strauss)|
|Heroes, Saints and Kings - what Hungarians have to celebrate|
So we spent New Year with Agnes and Bertil, home from the sea, and getting to know Budapest better - and both gave us great pleasure.
|St Stephen's basilica, and Christmas market|
|Glugging back hot mulled wine in the late afternoon|
|Food and hot drink at the night market|
For me, it was a second visit. I'd been in Budapest briefly, for work, in 2005, and come home enthusing about the city and its architecture. Alex was perplexed, and somewhat disbelieving. He'd made two previous visits, one in 1971 when his parents' friends and relatives were still alive, and didn't need any reminding of the reasons why so many thousands of Hungarians had risked their lives to escape the Communist regime, and another in 1995 after his mother's death and when his first marriage was in shreds. On neither visit did he spend much time looking at the architecture, and if he did, what he saw were bullet holes and grime, loss and shadows.
|Horseman in front of the Royal Palace|
|The Hapsburg eagle|
|The Comedy Cafe on Budapest's "Broadway"|
|Apostolek restaurant, off Vaci Ut, est 1906|
|17 Bocskai Ut|
|3rd floor, Semmelweis Institute - where it all started|
|There's a shop called Alex just over the road...|
Mostly we walked and walked. Budapest is a city for walking, though its trams and metro are easy to use.
There was so much to look at in the streets - women in magnificent furs, delicate Christmas lights hanging from long avenues of lamps, sculpture everywhere (in squares, on street corners, railings, building facades, gates), and a thick carpet of beautiful old buildings.
|The skating rink off Heroes Square|
|Szechenyi thermal baths|
|The back entrance to the Royal Palace|
A lot of Budapest's grandeur dates from the 1896 celebrations of 1000 years of Hungarian rule. The monuments in Heroes Square at the end of Andrassy St are the most over-sized, splendiferous things you are every likely to find in a European capital - I've read that at the end of the 19th century, Budapest was the fastest growing capital city in Europe, with a population of 775,000.
|Hungary's founding fathers - the Magyar horseman|
It's been all downhill since then, I'm afraid. But incredibly, much of what was built in those triumphal years survived the destructive, torrid 20th century. Budapest is, if nothing else, solid. A few years ago it was solid and grimy, but now so much sparkles. The Hungarian Parliament, built for the millenium celebrations at a cost equal to that of building a town for 40,000 people (or so the guide told us), is so shamelessly golden and pompous that you have no trouble believing that Hungary, as the junior partner of the Habsburg empire, was once a European power to be reckoned with.
|Inside the dome of Parliament|
|Hungarians revere the crown of St Stephen|
Alex saw Budapest differently this time. He saw its beauty, and not just its terror. We did go to the House of Terror, now a museum, at 60 Andrassy Ut, an address he remembers his parents talking about in lowered tones with their friends in Sydney. In the late 1930s until the defeat of Nazi Germany, it was the headquarters of first the Hungarian fascists, the Arrow Cross, and then when the Soviets took control of the Eastern Bloc, the secret police, the AVH, moved in for 40 years. It was when the boys from 60 Andrassy St came to his father's workplace one day, looking for him (he was late that morning), that the decision was taken, very quickly, to find a way across the border into Czechoslovakia, and from there into Austria and a refugee camp in Hamburg.
|Memorial wall outside the House of Terror|
|Post New Year's Eve - Johnny Walker on ice|
Lugging our bags along K pontoon by 9 pm after a long day's travelling, via Istanbul, we thought how strange it felt to be coming home to a boat, in the dead of winter, in a small Turkish town. But a day later, we're back to normal. The boat is cosy, and at the hairdresser this morning I learned that snow overnight has closed Istanbul airport. Better to be born lucky than rich, as Alex often tells me. Is that Hungarian?