Sunday, 2 March 2014

Beautiful Budapest

A Walk Across Beautiful Budapest

Who are the Hungarians?  During this visit, my fifth to Beautiful Budapest, I have tried to grapple with this question.

My apartment (£300 per week for a couple, £500 for four - book here) was on the flat side of the Danube, placed somewhere between the Basilica and the luxurious Gresham hotel (£300 per night).  In this picture, made from the hilly "Buda" side of the Danube, you can see the Basilica through a gap in the buildings.  The sumptuous Gresham hotel is to the Left of the Chain bridge.  The flat I loaned from friends is somewhere behind this sumptuous hotel

Before they built the Chain bridge people believed it would be impossible ever to connect the older hilltop city of Buda with the newer residential flat lands of Pest. With the arrival of the industrial revolution a suspension bridge, very like the Welsh Menai Bridge, was finally constructed by Scottish engineers, thus in 1849 Buda and Pest became merged into a single city named Budapest.  For the next 70 years, up until the first World war, the city went on expanding under the patronage of the Hapsburgs.

It was a golden age because a Habsburg Empress of Austria and queen of Hungary called Elizabeth loved the Hungarians and would refer to Budapest as being Vienna's  "little sister".  This all came to an end after the Hungarians were punished for being on the wrong side of two World wars, for much of the rest of the 20th century their city and culture laboured under the yolk of Communist rule.  Their middle classes were smashed and much of their territory was, and remains, confiscated, but they have had one piece of real luck; the structure and integrity of Budapest was preserved.  After the lifting of the iron curtain the Hungarians inherited a smaller country with a run down capital that is un spoiled and amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe.  All they needed to do was renovate what was already there, and now at last the city is filling up again with well off fun loving cosmopolitans and a new outward looking middle class.  

Today we will walk across the newer Pest side of the city amongst buildings made between 1800 - 1920 which were the golden years of the Austrian Hungarian Empire.  After walking  to the end of the Gresham we turn left, away from the delights of the palaces, galleries and castles of the old hilltop city Buda, and towards the St Stephens Basilica which looks a bit like St Paul's in London. But before doing it is worth looking at this beautiful view across the Danube.

The old hilltop city of Buda

Our backs are protected by the spreading wings of the Turul bird who looks down at us from his perch high up on Buda hill next to the Presidential offices.

Turul holds the sword of Attila in it's talons

In about 600AD, the Magyar tribe who considered themselves the descendants of the Huns, lived in central Russia.  Legend has it that they were called by the sacred Turul bird to return to the land of Attila. One part of the tribe went North and settled in Finland where the became the Finns who speak a language connected to Hungarian, the other part were led by the Turul to the spot in Hungary where they believed the great warrior king Attila the Hun had settled his capital 400 years earlier.   The Hungarians still half remember their links to the world-crushing Huns, for instance my taxi driver is called Attila.

We are now walking towards the Basilica, in summer this is my favourite spot to draw all the beautiful girls who  sit on the cool white stairs of the Basilica,

Girl on the steps the white steps of the Basilica (summer 2012)

or groups of  young people who sun themselves at coffee and wine bars around the wide open space of the square in front of the great church.   

There is fun modern sculpture of an overweight soldier who looks on to the square and reminds tourists of the sort of people who built and lived in Pest in the late nineteenth century. 

This man might have witnessed the construction of the beautiful Roman Catholic St Stephen's Basilica which was built between 1860 - 1905.  So much was happening in his city he must have thought the Austrian Hungarian Empire would never end

 St Stephen's Basilica 1905
An even larger building completed a year earlier is the nearby Parliament buildings which were constructed 1885 - 1905.

 The Parliament Building 1873 - The biggest neoclassic building in Pest

So much of this reminds me of London, but to our plump Hungarian soldier his city must of seemed to be making a statement about ultra fashionable modernity where all the best features of older European capitals had been collected together.  This point of view can be seen in the Art Nouveau street furniture which is quite unlike London's.

These are the tall lamps that light the Basilica Square

I found this confection in a nearby square

And this one in Buda

Passing St Stephen's we find ourselves at one end of the Avenue Andrassy.  The buildings have the proportions of Regents Street and is lined with similarly expensive shops.   At the far end of Andrassy is Heroes Square, National Art Collections, City Park and Budapest Zoo.  Along the way we pass the State Opera House built in 1884 where Gustave Mahler was resident conductor in 1888 - 1891 and which compares in opulence to the Paris Opera. 

For such a small Nation the Hungarians have produced many great composers; Franz Liszt,   Bela Bartok   Gyorgy Ligeti  Zoltan Kodaly, the list of performers is endless.  Further along the Andrassy we come to Kodaly Square where Kodaly lived and there is a Kodaly museum.  Budapest also has the famous List Academy

 Milkos Zrinski (1620–1664)
Croatian and Hungarian military leader, statesman and poet

The Square has four sculptures, this is one I particularly liked.  Notice the fallen warriors at Zrinkis Milkos' feet.  Ironically Zrinki died on the tusks of a wounded boar in a hunting accident.

This is another sculpture I chose to draw along the way.  There were too many to choose from or learn about.

Jokai (1824 - 1904)

As we reach the far end of Avenue Andrassy, which is 2 km long, the houses become grander and more ornate.  

many had railings with this pretty Art Nouveau pattern 
The most impressive sculptures are in Heroes Square which was built to celebrate 1000 years of the Hungarian State.  This column is surrounded by warrior horsemen in one of the most well organised sculptural arrangements I have ever seen.  The horsemen are the 7 Hungarian chieftains of the Magya led by prince Árpád who arrived in the "city of Attila" in the ninth century.  The Square is romantic and absolutely gorgeous.

At the top of the column us an angel carrying a crown and cross.  

The 14 great kings of Hungary are arranged on either side in a colonnaded semi circle.  On the perimeter of the square are palaces of the Arts and City Park.

City Park brings us back down to earth.  It is pretty with boating ponds against backdrops of elegant building.  There are ducks for children to feed and the whole scene reminds me of St James Park.  Ordinary Hungarians are enjoying the early Spring sunshine.

These three contrasting chaps were watching an amateur football match.
Mothers were there with there pushchairs

these three Hungarian  mothers, Bridgtta, Lena and Tundi, were gossiping

Bridgtta, Lena and Tundi

 whilst keeping an ever watchful eye on their todlers in a play area

one of whom was chasing pigeons

These two girls were wrapped in conversation as they walked by

and these lovers were sitting on a nearby bench

Budapest Zoo is on one edge of City Park. £10 gains you access to an extensive collection of animals and lunch cost me £4.  The canteen was a good place to draw children

This is Lulu, who was a perky in her zebra trousers.  She was on a day out with her silky friend and her grandmother. 

and this is a little boy at another table

I spent many hours drawing the animals, especially the birds.  There were cormorants nesting in the trees.

and a badger like being led round the park on a lead

I especially enjoyed drawing the Squirrel Monkeys

and the children feeding the goats and Llamas

There were too many animals to draw, so I will end with one more; a kangaroo

and I have too many drawings to show you.  If you would like to see the others please visit my facebook page.

If you visit Budapest please try this Italian Restaurant - their Italian food is the best I have found anywhere.

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