I return to Budapest.
The last I visited Budapest was in the summer of 1995. It was a time of change as the Soviet Army had left the country just four years earlier. I arrived by ferry via the Danube from Vienna. My lodgings were in a friend’s “little communist efficiency apartment” surrounded by brutally ugly Soviet architecture and streets filled with Russian Ladas. But even then, I noted the many fast food places from Burger King to Dunkin’ Donuts to Pizza Hut. I diaried my experiences and, out of curiosity, I am interested to learn how Budapest, and this traveler, have changed.
In 1992, I had the pleasure of hosting an exchange student for a year. She was Hungarian by birth and her parents, both Olympic swimmers, had defected to Germany following the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Barbara was a delight and I had the opportunity to visit her and her parents two years later. I had hoped she could travel with me to Budapest but other commitments prevented this. So, her family arranged for me to stay at a cousin’s apartment. I boarded a Hovercraft in Vienna to zip down the Danube to Budapest:
Little sleep and hurried to catch the early Hovercraft down the Duna/Danube to Budapest. Boat is quite comfortable as we zoom down the river past tiny summerhouses along the Austrian shore.
Across the Yugoslav border, Bratislava is quite beautiful with a castle atop the hill and a couple hotels along the banks. Trees cover both shores but little else. Not even much traffic. Pleasant, cool and a nice change from the trains. Some places along the banks are reinforced with concrete with the natural river generally wider. The five locks are interesting and unexpected; the second one I drop over 40 feet.
I arrive in Budapest by 1 pm. Cabs are expensive and language barrier obvious so I took the bus and arrived after 2 at my little Communist efficiency apartment. Anita and friend Veronica (who speaks English) are there and give directions and instructions. She is actually giving me the entire apartment and staying with her father while I visit! They returned to work and I started my adventure by trying to figure out the maze that is Buda and Pest.
Rode the U-Bahn downtown then to the Palace. I toured the huge and very impressive National Gallery and enjoyed the Matthias Church which witnessed the coronation of Franz Joseph. The biggest problem is that it reached 90 with high humidity, not cooling until after 6 pm.
I strolled to the Pest side of the city and into the shopping area of Váci Utca where I exchanged money and ate on Parizai Street. Had my usual beer and pasta. Got ice cream and strolled as it is nice out now that the sun is down. Returned to my little Commie Apt. for a wonderful cool shower. Barb called. Thunderstorms there and cooler. Hope it reaches here.
Listening to Hungarian music on the stereo and hanging out the window watching the weeds grow in the park across the street, just like in the movies. There are few lights but I can see TVs flashing in every window. Overall, it all has a deserted feel. Apartment is very simply furnished. Getting familiar with city and liking it more and more; friendly, sometimes too. Lots of English. Pretty but large, somewhat drab and dirty. The Communist influence can be seen and felt. But, surprisingly, too many fast foods here: McDonalds, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donut, KFC and Pizza Hut.
What is that crazy beep? At the hour and several at 6 am.
Day of ups and downs in hilly, crooked Buda and Pest. Rode subway to National Museum. Museum closed to all but a couple old rocks and the crown & scepter hat from the trip from Fort Knox. Too early to eat so headed to the castle again via subway. Getting along well in spite of language and the maze of the world’s second oldest subway system. Used castle bus and narrowly escaped controllers; a lot of Buda locals validate tickets only when they hear controllers announce themselves.
Walked around old Buda enjoying the courtyards and streets. Visited the crypt in National Gallery and enjoyed the beautiful paintings; nice little lady let me join a guide. Went to History Museum and enjoyed English displays of their info. Descended deep into the early 18th century cellar where it was cool and I could see the original castle foundations.
Cloudy and cooler when I left. I rode a cable car to bottom of hill and walked across the bridge and around Parliament. Then walked over to the Néprajzi Museum of Ethnography which was getting ready for the celebration of the 5th year of the Bank of Hungary. Excellent exhibits of dress, celebrations, pictures, artifacts and culture. Walked to St. Stephen’s and saw his “relic,” a hand, then relaxed in the cool church.
Frommer’s book seems a Pre-Communist edition so not much luck in finding a restaurant using it. Many street names have been changed. Walked around Váci Ut and stumbled upon 150-year-old Pilvox Taverna on the site where Sándor Petōfi recited his “National Poem” and other great deeds of revolution of 1848.
I ate a great dinner of delicious sweet carp and paprika noodles, beer and coffee for about $13. Evening is the best. Rode the metro to Nyugati Pu West train station, site of the most decadent McDonalds in world. Returned via train to my stop and walked home under a full moon to a cool bath and stereo.
It is wonderful in mornings to lie in bed, which is a simple futon on the floor. After subway, train, bus and then feet, I got to the top of the Citadel for a great view. Hot, hazy but pretty city. Met fellow Americans and headed for the City Park, Heroes’ Square and Zoo. Square is impressive and so are the museums. Everything is BIG. A memorial Tomb is also there as are many soldiers trying to move one red carpet.
Toured the very nice Szépművészeti Fine Art Múzeum in Heroes’ Square and bought a wonderful cat poster. Then I walked through the gardens to the Zoo. I can’t believe it was so hard to find but provides a nice break. Hippos were the best as were the seals and polar bear. Left under darkening clouds. Produced big raindrops but few umbrellas and no relief of 90+ temperatures.
Shopped at Kaiser Supermarket. What an experience. Good selection of foods and great prices with wine about $2 a bottle. Hungarian yellow peppers and the yellow tomatoes are both very good. Have my ticket for tomorrow, departing by the air-conditioned high-speed Bartok Bela train (Hungarian composer 1881-1945). My experience is that this is a gross exaggeration.
I returned to the neighborhood Lehel Ter Market and bought nice plant for Anita. Changing clothes, I headed downtown for a PO and shopping, finding some small ethnic plates off Vaci. Also found the Corso Beer Garten off Petōfi Square and had veal and gnocci, with paprika of course. Then went to Cafe Gerbeaud for cappuccino and pastry — a type of tiramisu. Read USA Today and felt like the true ex-pat in Budapest. Heavy clouds, cooling, lightening. Reluctantly this tired but strong socialist worker plods home. But not before I walked to the Danube to look at the lights over the castle. Buda is beautiful. I should have walked over the bridge to see more – next time.
Now, June 2019, is the “next time.” I can see many changes upon arrive: the horrendous traffic, the Budapest Eye ferris wheel, the long parade of tour boats on the water, and racing motorized skateboards and zipping bicycles along the Danube promenade. But perhaps it is I who has changed the most. Thanks to Google Maps and my diary, I recognize I saw much while here but knew little, including which side of the Danube I slept.
The skyline remains beautiful and the heart of Budapest beckons. I promise to do better this time around.