Same people. Same place. Same century. But an eight year difference. It seems my skin has weathered a bit since 2004. And I have a little more to spare around my middle – although the string bag pulling on my jumper probably doesn’t help. I guess this is the phenomenon known as ‘ageing’. And it appears that I am not, very sadly, immune. Mr Lenin is taking the years in his stride just fine, however. Mrs P wants us to go back to Budapest. We’ve pencilled in 2020. So maybe I’ll have a third photo to add to this pair in another eight years time. If the size of the image below is a little small, by the by, then clicking on it will take you the original on Flickr, with all sorts of size options available.
Tag Archives: budapest
About a month ago I mentioned that all I have to show for my 2004 trip to Budapest were ten rather lousy photos. I suggested I might manage a few more than that on this years trip to the Hungarian capital. Well, the photo processing and uploading process is finally complete, and the final tally of shots kept (from a total of 1300 plus photos taken) stands at very nearly five hundred. There are, however, a couple of reasons for such a high number of keepers. Firstly, I didn’t delete very many of my photos of Mrs P or myself – there’s a single album of those containing more than 140 shots. Secondly, we were gone for seven nights. Longer than the average ‘city break’.
And lastly, I kept a few of the scraps, that would normally be discarded. I wanted to play with some Lightroom Presets that I’d downloaded. Adobe Lightroom is one powerful piece of software, and Presets (rather than the filters that you apply in most editing software) can produce some very funky finishes. The photo below is one. The rest are to be found in a set of Flickr – click here.
I’ve written a couple of prior posts about our stay in Budapest. This is my last, and perhaps only worth reading if you have a trip there planned. Although, if you haven’t got Budapest on your travel radar, then adjust your settings. Move it to, or at least close to, the top of your list. It’s a glorious city in so many ways. The architecture, history and transport system I have already touched on. But there’s more to it than that. The food is fantastic. Really, really good. Better than we had in Paris, for less expenditure. If you like Goulash, that will help. If you don’t there’s plenty else on offer.
Menza is a modern restaurant, with a lovely outside seating area, vibrant interior and great service. It looks like it’ll be expensive when you approach it – it has a quality vibe. Their food tastes like it should be expensive. And yet, whilst not cheap, you’ll leave feeling you had a right bargain. Cafe New York is a more elegant, plush and upmarket restaurant altogether. It looks like it will be very pricey. And it is. But a cup of coffee and a bread basket for breakfast is perfectly doable, even for shoestring travelers like myself. And given that you get to sit in one of the most gorgeous buildings you’ll ever see, the price becomes even easier to swallow – see my photos of this cafe here. If the price is too steep, head back to Andrassy Avenue, not far from Menza, and pop into the Alexandra Bookshop. Up the escalator is a coffee house that comes a close second best to Cafe New York.
The Central Market hall is a great place to wander around in the afternoon to buy supplies of salami, paprika, caviar and (if you’re not fussed about the method of production) foie grois. Photos of the market are here. But do leave time on at least one afternoon to have lunch at one of the three branches of Trofea Grill. The food is excellent, the service too. And at little more than £10 for an eat and drink as much as you want buffet, it’s a serious steal. The ‘drink’ includes, champagne, beer, wine or soft drinks. All included in the price. Seriously. If your stays clocks into 5pm (or if you arrive in the evening) the price goes up, but it’s still a darned good deal. Incidentally, prior to my trip to Budapest, I had been singing the praises of the Mongolian Grill, which I visited in 2003 and which does a similar deal. We tried to go this time as well, but fell foul of their new opening times – for winter, one would presume. They’ve abandoned the lunch time opening. Anyway, I’ve sampled both, and Trofea would now be my automatic default choice.
Once you’ve stuffed yourself to the point you can’t move, you’ll need some seated entertainment for the evening. There’s two obvious choices for the tourist. The Hungarian Folklore which performs in various theatres, and the Opera House. We did both. The Folklore performance cost us about £10 each, to watch what started as a pleasant and humorous display of traditional garb and song. Then ended with umpteen repetitions of the same moves, many of which appear to have been stolen from Michael Jackson. On the other hand, you can grab tickets to see the latest rendition of one of Hungary’s most famous operas, Hunyadi Laszlo, in the glorious Opera House, for about £3.5 each. The was a digital board to read what was being said (in English) so following the story was no problem. If you have time only to see with the folklore display, or an opera, it really is a no brainer. The latter. Click here for photos.
We have come to the end. I have said all I have to say about Budapest without becoming overly repetitive. It’s a glorious city. One of Europe’s finest. In fact, I’d place it in my top three when including value as a metric. It’s exciting, vibrant, historic, attractive…heck, throw in any positive adjective you want. The place really is a treasure. I’ll finish by disclosing just a couple more sets I have uploaded to Flickr. Take a walk with my along the Streets of Budapest and then for a leisurely stroll along the River Danube. If you missed any of my earlier Budapest posts, then the entire collection of albums can be found here.
Budapest is full of architectural delights, and needless to say the religiously orientated structures that heavily dot the city don’t disappoint. There’s a genuinely diverse collection of churches, basilicas and synagogues with a generous smattering of Islamic houses of worship. The latter shouldn’t be surprising, given the lengthy period of occupation by the Ottomans. There’s the Basilica of St Stephen, named after perhaps the most famous and important Hungarian of them all. To say he has a big hand in the founding of Hungary is an understatement. Although his hand doesn’t look so big. You can check it out. It’s on display inside the basilica, and looks every bit it’s thousand years of age.
The worlds fifth largest synagogue, and largest in Europe, lies within the centre of Budapest as well. It is imposing, and very Moorish. But also a bit pricey to go inside. Too pricey for my wallet. The Matthias Church on Castle Hill however, is a bargain. We just joined the queue and walked in for free. It was only later, upon exiting, that we realised you’re meant to buy a £3 ticket. But if the two ticket inspectors on the door aren’t going to actually bother to check tickets, then the uniformed will stroll in, gratis. It’s worth the £3 though, although it’s perhaps the exterior which is most impressive. The tiled roof is a marvel. Click here for photos of the Basilica, here for the synagogue and here for the Matthias Church.
If the churches haven’t soothed your soul, head on for a bath. Budapest is know as the City of Spas for good reason. Sulphuric H2O burbles up to the surface from drilled wells, filling ornate thermal baths that mostly line the river Danube. The waters are as hot as 42 degrees, which is perhaps a little too warm for my liking. I settled for 38 degrees as being my perfect temperature. We tried a total of four baths during our trip. First was the famous and opulent Gellert Hotel, followed by the slightly more out of the way Lukacs baths. The latter was more popular with locals and was considerably more functional.
This was followed up with a trip to the Szechenyi complex, which was undoubtedly the most glorious from an architectural point of view. It’s also most people’s favourites, but not ours. The pools are outside, and whilst still warm, could have been a bit warmer. But it was also far too crowded by party people. Last on the itinary was the Turkisk Rudas baths. Currently undergoing renovation, they look from the outside like a building site. The interior is another story – fabulous. The Rudas baths have another massive advantage over the others in that it’s easy to use. The Gellert and Lukacs are a nightmare. Where do you enter? Where should you change? Where are the pools? You can spend as long working that out as you will in the baths. The staff in the Gellert were spectacularly unhelpful. You’ll seriously need a relaxing soak just to wash out the stress of getting in the water.I didn’t take any interior photos of any of the baths, preferring not to risk my camera. But there are some exterior shots of the Gellert Hotel here.
The ‘c’ word in the English language is the worst word you can utter. I suspect it may also be the worst word you can utter in Budapest. But it’s a different ‘c’ word. Communism ruled the political and economical roost for more than four decades. In 1956 it ruled the roost in the streets too, when Soviet tanks reduced glorious avenues and streets to rubble during the famous uprising. Thousands were killed, injured or imprisoned during the rather brutal repression of those who thought differently. Thereafter, Hungary was allowed a higher degree of freedom than most of the Soviet Union’s satellite states, and became known as the happy campers of the Warsaw Pact. But then, they had already been cowed. And I suspect the majority of the citizens of Buda and Pest’s neighbourhoods were happier still to see the back of communism.
The scars of occupation and repression run deep and are still very visible. There are plenty of holes in grand old buildings where Russian bullets and munitions found (or missed) their targets. There is also the House of Terror, one of the cities finest museums, and a must-visit. It was home to the secret services of both the Hungarian versions of the Gestapo and the KGB. You can see the portraits of the victims of 1956 on the outside of the building. Inside you are greeted by a brutal looking tank. And then the expected memoribilia, stories and photos of the horrors of World War Two and the Cold War era.
The final stage of the tour rather sticks with you. You enter an elevator, which crawls very slowly into the basement. It’s slow so that you can watch a video on a large flat screen. A grandfatherly figure recounts his role in the basement of the building, where undesirables were kept, tortured and executed. He describe the execution process in great detail. There was no last meal. No last rites. No last letters – they were torn up and binned. There was no drop either. The condemned was made to stand on a step, the noose placed around his neck, and the step kicked away. One man would pull on the rope and another wrench his head to the side. If the wretch at the end of the noose was lucky, his neck would break and he’d be quickly off to whatever is beyond. If he’s lucky. The film comes to an end, the elevator opens, and you are in the basement. The miserable cells line the corridor. And at the end is a small room, with a wooden post, a step and the rope. It is an eerie experience.
There’s another monument to communism in Budapest. It’s a very capitalist monument to communism, proof of the triumph of one ideology over the other. Memento Park. Whereas many former communist countries in eastern and central Europe took hammers to their sickly Soviet statues, the powers that be in Budapest simply packed theirs up, moved them to the suburbs and put them on display for all to see. For a small fee, of course. Tourists and locals alike can wander amongst the wannabe heroes of communism. Pose with Lenin. And mock him too. It’s allowed, these days, to poke fun at the Ultimate Comrade. And his motley crew. There’s plenty of goodies in the gift shop too. Postcards, fake Soviet papers, CD’s featuring the finest of Stalin’s bands. There’s a small building to tell the story of communism in Hungary, finishing with a series of 15 minute films. They are originals, from the secret services training programme, teaching new recruits on how to be good agents.
The Budapest tour of communism isn’t exhausted yet, of course. Forty plus years of control leaves it’s mark. There are the concrete housing blocks. These featured in most propaganda style photos that were used by western governments to show what a dreary place a communist state is. The skies were always grey. The people always miserable. And if a uniform or two, preferably with jack boots, could be fitted in, all the better. The concrete blocks did, and still do, exist of course. I’m sure there were blue skies though. I’m sure some people had good days. And we had our own share of drab concrete housing blocks in Britain too. They didn’t tell the whole story then, and you’ll not notice them on your trip to Budapest beyond the drive from the airport in the burbs to your hotel.
There’s also the metro system. Budapest boasts the world’s third oldest underground railways line, after London and Liverpool in the UK. Line one was in use before the turn of the 20th century. It’s fabulous architectural masterpiece. It looks like a one hundred year old system, in all the right ways. The other two lines? They are pure 1970′s communism. I loved them too. Gloriously communistic. Look – this is public transport. You’d expect the reds to have some successes, here and there. If wasn’t going to be that most visible icon of socialism, public transport, then what else would it be? Budapest is a dream to get around thanks to the metro system, the fabulous tram network and even the very Soviet looking trolley buses. Cheap too. We paid little more than ten British pounds for a seven day travel card that allowed us to use all these systems.
Photos? Of course. The House of Terror wouldn’t allow photography inside, but I do have some shots of the incredibly foreboding exterior – click here. I confess – I did go a little bit renegade and used my phone to snap some discreet shots inside. Including one of that noose – click here. I shot plenty of photos in Memento Park – click here. And there’s some of me and Mrs P in the park in our own set – click here. Lastly, I brought back quite a few shots of the different transit systems – click here. I got a bit creative in the processing of some of those images. Anyway, this post, like communism in Hungary, is done. I hope you enjoyed my walk around the capitals dark side.
Yesterday’s post was the first in a couple of weeks. It’s been an awfully long time since I went that long without publishing anything. To be honest, it would probably be healthy to have breaks now and again from the blogosphere. But anyway, as was rather given away in yesterday’s blog entry, there was a valid reason for my absence. A week in Budapest, Hungary. Eight days and seven nights to be exact. That account for half my period of absence. The other half? Working through the 1,300 plus photos I took with the Fuji X-S1 I bought. And just working. You know…the day job.
Budapest is a truly fantastic city. You get a true two fer one, seeing as Buda and Pest were originally individual cities, brought together into a more singular entity only in comparatively recent times. I went there is 2004 and didn’t hesitate given the prospect of returning. It’s a city of spas, with plenty of thermal baths to choose from. It’s a city of fabulous architecture. It’s a city of ancient history, recent trauma and culture galore. Those who have been to Mexico will notice the place to feel oddly familiar. As I understand it, the Americas were populated with Mongolian expansion. And the Mongols got as far west as Budapest. Who knows, maybe there’s something there…
Of those 1,300 odd photos I took, just over 500 made the final cut. Which is an unusually high number. I shoot liberally and repetitively and I’d normally delete about 70 to 80 per cent of the shots from any trip. To be fair, 142 of those photos were of myself or Mrs P, many of which would have been trashed in normal circumstances. She often grumbles at my deletion policy, so on this occasion I put every single one of them in a folder and uploaded the lot. No processing, nada. Click here to see them on Flickr. She’ll be happy, and that’s all that matters. Another 50 odd of the photos are ones I’d normally have deleted, but have saved in a ‘Memories’ album. We have incredibly fond memories of Budapest, and they are worth saving.
So that leaves just 300 worthy photos. Although, let’s call it 350. I would have published some of the snaps of Mrs P and myself. These numbers are about right. But amongst all this number crunching, there’s one figure I should highlight above all others. The number ten thousand. Yes, now we get to the point of the post. During my flurry of uploading, I posted the ten thousandth photo to my Flickr account. It’s taken quite some time to get there. I joined Flickr sometime in 2005, and became a Pro member in 2006. I think ten thousand photos is an impressive milestone. The photo that became numero diez mil? This one….