Travel Tales #6 – Budapest

ImageBudapest is a lovely old European city, built and rebuilt as tides of war and armies swept over it, from the conquering Roman Empire to Attila the Hun to the Ottoman Turks to the German occupiers, Allied bombers, and Russian armies of World War II. The city is bisected by the Danube (Duna) River, with Buda on the west one side, and Pest on the east. The government buildings are on the Pest side (as was our apartment), with other castles and churches on the Buda side. The Pest side is flat, and the Buda side rises to a mountain height, which must have been the more defensible ground, as it’s easy to see the fortress-like structures ascending the mountainside. All of the bridges connecting the two sides were destroyed during World War II, and later rebuilt.

ImageHungary still bears scars. Lovely balconies adorn stone buildings, sometimes holes in walls sit incongruously close to the satellite dishes hanging from an upper floor. There’s charming café society on the sidewalks of the theater district, but the people standing on the corner outside our apartment building were probably there every morning because they had nowhere to go, no work, no money for the café life. As we were right in the center of Pest, and only for a few days, it was hard to get an accurate picture of what daily life might look like for “regular” people, but my impression was one of diligent work by those who had work, not the more restful pace of the Netherlands.

On our tour, we saw some of the Buda side of the river — generally more well-to-do than the Pest side, but there are plenty of richer and poorer areas on both sides. On the Buda side, we saw some “blokies,” or Soviet-era apartment buildings, constructed to house the poorer residents (at right). They look a lot like some of our concrete block housing projects.

ImageOur guide told us that originally the Soviet plan was for Hungary to be a center for production of steel. But that did not work well, since Hungary did not have either coal or iron ore. The original plan was for something like district heating, fueled by the steel industry, but without that source of heat, many buildings were under-heated. That led to people visiting friends in cool/cold weather asking them what floor they lived on — the higher the floor, the more clothing one would wear to keep warm!

In an interesting juxtaposition, I stood in one spot on the Buda side and, turning in a circle, photographed a blokie (at left), an older synagogue and a pricey and modern Radisson hotel built over hot springs, and a traditional, two-story building.

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