Pest to Buda: The Road to Yesterday

From the busy bohemian affair that is Pest, Buda is a world away. It is as if the Danube which bisects these two cities injects the air with a change that is palpable as you make your way to the capital of medieval Hungary. The good Welsh folk would declare us tup to have opted for a walking tour on a morning that proceeded to get distressingly foggy and frigid. But we will run with Kurt Vonnegut here. That “bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”

There was drama on the square outside St. Stephen’s Basilica. A bomb scare. Police arriving officiously and dawdlers scuttling equally hastily. We had left behind the grandeur of old buildings reminiscent of the golden age of the Austro-Hungarian empire, caryatids and brawny males holding up doorways, ornate moldings, some Art Nouveau architecture spicing up the mix, when we came upon Freedom Square. Memorials laced with irony. For there’s the memorial to the Holocaust in the form of an eagle, representative of Nazi Germany, attacking the Archangel Gabriel symbolic of the victims, when you know that the Hungarians colluded with the Nazis. And then there is that of the Soviet liberation of the country during WWII, a stark obelisk with the commie star crowning it. There is American president Ronald Reagan too caught in mid-stride facing the American embassy, as an acknowledgement of his role in ending the Cold War (“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”), leading to the welcome exit of the Soviet regime from Eastern Europe.

You know when not to talk politics I suppose even though the mind might be brimming with points you want to make.

What you do instead is gasp at the grandeur of the Hungarian Parliament which on the dreariest of days knows how to cut it even as you stand by the Danube and feel the icy fingers of the breeze pierce the barrier of your warm clothing, your feet doubling up as numb blocks that keep moving because they have to.

Sixty pairs of bronze shoes lined up along the banks of the river. Grisly memories of Jews shot along the banks of the Danube by the anti-semitic party that was ruling the city after the Germans had toppled the erstwhile government in the mid ’40s. Heartbreak. A city filled with heartbreak that time cannot wash away.

Just as we had crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Vee abandoned us. He could take the cold no more. We carried on, toiling up stone steps, buoyed by visions of warm cafés awaiting us atop the hill. It is a matter of gravity that when we did reach the top of the hill, dreams were shattered. What was this? An open-air bar called Budapest Terrace. The temptation to be a stick in the mud was overwhelming, to throw a proper fit. We exchanged that urge for steaming cups of hot chocolate. Shiver and sip, sip and shiver, nose tingling, cold misery threatening to bog us down. But misery did have the panoramic company of the Danube and the moreish flavours of the best hot cocoa I have had in years.

As dusk gathered beneath the dim lights of wrought-iron lamps, we tread uneven cobbles, coming upon bronze statues and listening to Alejandro, the tour guide, narrate medieval stories of ambition and greed, the arrival of Renaissance art in the palace when a king wed a Beatrice of Naples, the Ottoman Turks and then the Habsburg queen Maria Theresa. Vee joined us again after warming his insides with pálinka. He had carried a bottle for us to swig on. It did its job as did the combined glory of hearty goulash (which you cannot get away from here), fried potatoes and chicken paprikash at a traditional Hungarian eatery.

Then it was truly dark and I cannot tell you how exquisite Buda was. Ludicrous baroque beauty that renders all adjectives redundant. The Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Matthias Church which was the site of many a coronation, old Roman excavations in the basement of hotels, the view of the parliament from across the Danube. We let it all come together in deserted Buda on a freezing December night and weave a mesh of golden spell upon us then, this golden city called Boodahpesht.

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Imre Nagy, the Hungarian Communist politician whose attempt to win Hungary independence from the Soviet Union cost him his life in 1958. This national hero now stands upon the bronze bridge gazing at the Hungarian Parliament.
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The Hungarian Parliament 

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Jews who were shot in the winter of 1944-45 into the river by militiamen from the Arrow Cross Party. “…I heard a series of popping sounds. Thinking the Russians had arrived, I slunk to the window. But what I saw was worse than anything I had ever seen before, worse than the most frightening accounts I had ever witnessed. Two Arrow Cross men were standing on the embankment of the river, aiming at and shooting a group of men, women and children into the Danube – one after the other, on their coats the Yellow Star. I looked at the Danube. It was neither blue nor gray but red. With a throbbing heart, I ran back to the room in the middle of the apartment and sat on the floor, gasping for air.”  Reminiscences of a survivor.
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Castle Hill
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Fishing Kids Fountain
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Matthias Fountain depicting a hunting party led by King Matthias of Hungary
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Hungarian soldier on Castle Hill
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Goulash
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Chicken paprikash with spätzle
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 St. Matthias Church

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A look at St. Matthias Church from Fisherman’s Bastion
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Fisherman’s Bastion, a paean in turrets to the seven Magyar tribes who arrived in Hungary in the 9th century
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Yes, the Hungarian Parliament
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The unfolding of Budapest’s beauty at night, the perfect place to prepare for a hangover (those Pálinkas can pack a punch) .

 

 

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

71 thoughts on “Pest to Buda: The Road to Yesterday

  1. As usual, lovely photos and evocative prose. I first went to Budapest in 1972! I didn’t return until 1992, but this time on business, to find it much changed in parts. I’ve been meaning to return and will probably have an opportunity later this year when my dear Hungarian friend marries her long-term French boyfriend.

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    1. Whoa 1972 would have been a different Budapest! I would love to read your perception of the changes that have taken place from your previous two visits and your impending one (I like the when and not if this time :-)) Thanks Sheree. xx

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  2. It is an exquisite city and it has a bloody past. So many do. So long as we heed our history though, we can progress. Your pictures really do the city justice and your prose is deeply affecting. Why then is it the spatzle that calls me … don’t answer that wink ? ? xx

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      1. Nay …. I was there for two weeks then back to France at the end of last week. A trip to Switzerland this week and now back in France. I do have the red wine though – natch ? xx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabolous post with gorgeous photos of a beautiful city, Dippy-Dotty❣️My first visit to Budapest was in February more than ten years ago and you have brought back happy memories of great tours, the opera, the food and drinks and hot chocolate and lovely people … ❤

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    1. Thank you dearest Dina. I bet your photos of the city would be something to watch out for. Budapest must have changed a fair bit in the last decade. I would love to read about your experiences in the city and see snippets of it alongside 🙂 xx

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  4. there is a beautiful view of the river from up on the hill by the church. did you pay to use the walkway behind the church? I did. it wasn’t that much and I had some wonderful views. I was there during the day but you night shots of the church are wonderful.

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    1. As far as I remember at night it was free, Jim, and moreover it was not peak season. Apart from a handful of people, we pretty much had it to ourselves. Did you visit during summer? I have missed out on daytime photos of Buda and that of the Parliament under clear skies.

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  5. What a beautiful post. The architecture is stunning. I love visiting places that feel different, rather than carbon copy skyscrapers that could be anywhere in the world!

    That line of shoes is so sad though…

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    1. Thank you and with you there, Josypheen. The architecture makes all the difference and if I could I would love to remember the many stories behind each and every stone structure. The shoes…they make your throat choke especially on a
      winter’s day because the victims would have been shot into the Danube in such freezing climes.

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      1. Urgh. It is really hard to imagine people acting like that to each other… and then you see things about the wall in the US, and Brexit in the UK. I hope we never get to that point again, but monuments like those shoes are a good reminder to stop us moving in that direction!

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  6. You write such beautiful descriptive narrative. A city with such a sad history (the shoes will burn in my mind forever) but hopefully better present even with the bomb scare (shudder). Would love to visit one day! But which? Buda or Pest? Maybe Pest because Lex can be one sometimes 😉 Neek

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    1. Ahahaha well both Buda and Pest nonetheless, I will say. Adi falls in the same category but I daresay we cannot do without them (since this is the age of campy love, also because the Malbec is warming me up nicely). Thank you Neek. The city has disturbing history…but if you think of it which nation does not. Our world is built upon this vast foundation of history that warns us about the road not to take. xx

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  7. Those shoes are a haunting reminder of the dark stories of the past. But we need to remember them so that history never repeats them. Long ago, I had a penpal who lived in Pecs, and this post made me think a lot of her. What an incredible city she lived in! It is a delight to read yoru posts.

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    1. Thank you Amanda. The shoes were startling. The stories become more and more hideous with every bit that is revealed to the curious mind. The point is indeed to remember, something that someone mentioned to us at Auschwitz-Birkenau (I could never forget her words). A penpal there, hmm I wonder what she would have to tell us. xx

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      1. I distinctly remember it good at Auschwitz rhetorically asking us, ” Have the world learnt any lessons from the Holocaust? It doesn’t seem so.” Truly sobering…

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      2. I distinctly remember our guide at Auschwitz rhetorically asking us, ” Have the world learnt any lessons from the Holocaust? It doesn’t seem so.” Truly sobering…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Very moving – that monument with the shoes. Your story reminds me of long ago trip to Prague – it was so cold, and the so icy, we stumbled from café to pub, stopping every few meters to eat dumplings and drink something hot. We could not stand to be outside. You are made of braver stuff!

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    1. We were more mulish in our endeavour to see as much as we could. Really quite batty. You know, it is that café-pub-café tripping that makes it even more special. If I could, I would make a home inside a café! Also, in Budapest, hot wine ran in my veins. Along with a healthy dose of palinka. xx

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      1. That must have been painful as well. Sometimes I really do believe there are two types of human species because such atrocities are unthinkable to me.

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  9. Ohhh man…the shoes!! All my near and dear ones know that I am strangely very much interestingin and addicted to the discussions, movies and books revolving around the holocaust. I don’t know what it is but I strongly believe I have some past life connection to this shocking chapter of history. Just the thought of visiting these sites makes chills go down my spine and I never even want to venture close to them. It seems incomprehensible to me that we let this happen to millions of our own kind in such an inhuman manner. These shoes will be haunting me for days now and they should haunt the world to remind us that humanity stooped so low once upon a time.

    On a cheerier and ironical note….Budapest is so high on my bucket list these days! It will definitely get a strong vote from me when we begin planning our next vacation! xx

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    1. You will find Budapest worth the talk and planning you know. It bedazzles.

      The many memorials to the Holocaust — I could not bring myself to write a post on Auschwitz-Birkenau yet. It is a disastrous memory for the human race to come to terms with and yet it still carries on around the world in its many manifestations. We never learn. xx

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  10. Oh man, I didn’t think there was any way to make me want to go there even more than I already do but you have done it! ? Love the history component event is it’s a a grim one. It reminds us of our mortality and the terrible things we can inflict on others.

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  11. Excellently written post. So evocative and so different from our experience. We set off from Viennese blizzards and arrived to blue skies, sunshine and alfresco dining by the river one February! Two different climatic zones, I concluded.

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  12. Budapest sounds like a very interesting city! History is so sad, but I’m glad we don’t forget it and live with the memory (even if it sounds like it has been slightly …adjusted in certain memorials). Loved this post – it made me crave some of that hot chocolate!xxx

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    1. Hiya lovely, thanks! I can see you in Pest making the most of its carefree personality, so do go if you get the opportunity…the memories ah they can never be washed away and that is a good thing. We need perspective.
      The main ingredient that made the hot chocolate exquisite was Cold. xx

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  13. […] take one of the bloggers whose writing prose I am in love with: TravellingDiaryOfADippyDottyGirl. Arundhati has the most unique, eloquent and immersive writing voice; when I read her posts, I feel […]

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  14. “Ludicrous baroque beauty that renders all adjectives redundant. ” My favorite phrase.

    Thank you for including the remembrance of the holocaust massacre on the Danube. Chilling.

    Poor Adi, he looks ccooooolllldddd! Brr!

    xx

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    1. Why thanks 🙂 Just that sometimes words cannot do justice to the beauty of our surroundings. It is difficult for the past to be wiped away because we humans like to remember (though we tend to forget as easily).
      Hah the photos of Adi and Vee by the Danube make me roar with laughter. xx

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  15. Magical photos of a city I have yet to visit. The memorial with the bronze shoes is powerful and chilling.

    As nice as the architecture is, you got me with the goulash and spätzle…two of my favourite things.

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    1. Why thank you, Bhavna. So happy to hear that you are heading to Budapest soon. For some reason this comment of yours landed in my spam folder and I just saw it. I will swing over to your blog and browse it. Krakow is a lovely place to live. Cheers.

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