Our stay in Budapest started with packing the car in heavy rain at Lake Szelid. It was time to leave the peaceful countryside. Buda is west of the Danube but Magda arranged for us to use a friend’s apartment in Pest on the eastern side.
We arrived late evening, found a parking space and took what we needed for our stay. We must have looked like a couple of tramps wandering through Embassy-land with Bonnie’s bed, stuffed carrier and trolley bags.
Security is tight here and we could not get the right combination of keys to open both locks to the apartment. Magda phoned the owner. “No, you have to open the third lock as well: the special bolt.” Once in, we found a spacious, luxury two bedroom apartment with a large lounge, kitchen and bathroom with all amenities, including an internet radio.
Refreshed, we set off next morning to Matthias Church in Buda, west of the Danube. This area, which also includes the upper lookout at Fisherman’s Bastion, gives the best panoramic view of the river Danube.
The chain bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge across this section of the Danube and features on the 200-forint coin. Every year thousands of balloons turn the bridge pink on World Breast Cancer Day. [It is also worth noting that it was an Englishman, William Tierney Clark, who designed the bridge. It was a Scot, Adam Clark, who built it and is celebrated in the name of the square at the western end of the bridge. Ed.]
The 17th/18th century Parliament Building that I learned was based on London’s parliament building was completed on the 100th anniversary of Hungary becoming a nation. Magda tells me the story of the raven that stands proud atop the church. You can find the tale here.
On 20 August, Hungarians commemorate the foundation of their 1000-year-old state and their first and holy king, Saint Stephen. His statue and image are everywhere. One building stands out of place in this area. The Hilton Hotel, built during the Soviet occupation, directly behind the church is an eyesore amidst such amazing architecture.
We moved on to the Castle, but it’s currently being renovated so we could not enter. Instead I managed to take a quick photo of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office with guards outside. Nobody arrested me, so we drove to the Gellért Hotel and Thermal Baths, a place of many memories for Magda.
Life under the Soviet occupation
Before the Second World War Magdalena’s family owned a large apartment. This took up the whole floor of a traditional block of flats overlooking Margaret Island in the Danube. After the Soviet occupation it was expropriated by the State. When Magda was born, the whole family: great grandmother, two daughters, granddaughter and great granddaughter and Magda’s father occupied one room. All facilities were shared with two other families.
Nearby, on top of Gellért Hill, is the Citadel, built by the Habsburgs in 1854 after the 1848-49 War of Independence. There too is the imposing Statue of Liberty. We were taken there by a taxi driver who told us, that the lady holding a palm leaf between her hands was often asked during the Communist times, when she was going to jump. The inscription says “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people in 1945.”
Buda’s more recent history
Buda continued to play a part in rebellion against occupiers. In the 1956 revolution against the Soviets, Buda Castle served as the headquarters of the Hungarian revolution.
At the end of the day I am beginning to understand the long history of Hungary from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the Nazi and Soviet occupations to the current day.