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You are invited to view Gareth James’s photo album: Budapest at Easter
Budapest at Easter
Mar 27, 2013
by Gareth James
 
 

The latest in my re-visits to European capitals finds me back in Budapest after exactly 25 years. Last time I also visited Vienna, arriving from there by bus. I had been taken to the bus station in Vienna in a smart car with an uniformed driver. I was met at Budapest bus station by the hotel bell-boy with a blackboard on which he’d chalked ‘Mr James’. That completely summed the contrast between Vienna and communist Budapest back in 1988.

Well, the communists have gone but the current President is showing dangerous signs of autocracy, not that you’d know it ‘on the streets’. Like all other East European cities, business is the new politics and everywhere you go they’re after your Euro with tours, restaurants and the usual tourist tat. I didn’t feel it had developed as much as other cities in the region – Prague & Dresden my most recent examples – but it sure is a different place from Easter 1988.

It’s an attractive city straddling the Danube, with low-lying Pest on one bank and higher-level Buda on the other, the more compact & historical of the two, and some iconic bridges linking them. Most places can be seen on foot, though there’s a good metro, tram & bus network if you’re lazy or if its cold / wet (all of these applied to me at some point!), which enables you to look up and appreciate the vast amount of gorgeous secessionist (art nouveau to you) architecture, much of which is still awaiting restoration.

The parliament building is extraordinary, sitting on the river much like ours, and this time I got inside where there’s more gold leaf than you see in most lifetimes. The two main churches – Matyas in Buda and St. Stephen’s in Pest – are completely different but equally gorgeous, and the four main museums and galleries between them cover Hungarian history, Hungarian art (more lovely secessionist stuff), international painting & sculpture and applied art & design.

I made two visits to the stunning State Opera House, but neither for opera – a ballet of Onegin and a concert of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion (somewhat appropriately, on Easter Saturday), both excellent, with tickets a fraction of London prices. Bar one disappointing meal, I ate well – though the goose liver and goose liver mousse were probably a bit risky for a man who’s had gout twice! Being a wine-producing country, you get some great red and white stuff to wash it all down with too.

Covered in snow when I arrived, it started cold but pretty before we got a big, quick melt which turned the city into a giant puddle as your feet became soggy and you dodged mini-avalanches from building roofs as you walked. One more day and it was all gone – snow and water.

A welcome re-visit to one of Europe’s finest cities; if you haven’t, you should.

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