I don’t see London, I don’t see France

…and I don’t like how this rhyme continues. To think that six weeks ago I was in San Diego, California (see my post about it)—and downtown San Diego was easier to access then than downtown Budapest is right now. For me, that is.

Even so, nowadays I see Budapest, all day, every day—so I thought I’d tell you what I see from my window. It’s on the photo above (repeated below for you to see better).

IMG_8732

I put some arrows on the photo, and I will tell you what each arrow is pointing at. I’m not going to go into detail about the things you see, but I will put in a link so that you can learn more.

So, here goes, from left to right.

Hotel Marriott. Used to be Intercontinental. One of the first modern five-star hotels in Budapest. The building is really ugly, but it’s along one of the most pleasant walkways in the city, called the Danube Promenade (Dunakorzó). In front of the building, there is a statue of Shakespeare. And if you look just a bit down from the building, you’ll see a yellow vehicle that I was fortunate enough to capture (OMG they are running in the lockdown!). That’s tram 2, the single most picturesque public transit line in the city. The carriages are mostly fifty years old, but they are also sturdy and, for the most part, refurbished.

Next are the twin spires of a historic Inner-City Parish Church. It shows a Baroque exterior these days but the first church was built at this site in 1046, in the Romanesque style. To be sure, the present-day building contains remains from earlier ages. The church is now crammed between the sleek Elizabeth bridge and other buildings.

Next up, Elizabeth bridge (Erzsébet híd). It was the first suspension bridge built in the city. Completed in 1964, it’s relatively new. There was another bridge at the same place, in use since 1903, but that one, like all other bridges in the city, were destroyed by the retreating Nazi troops in January 1945. The bridge now carries a major throughfare of the city.

If you look down again just a bit, you can get a glimpse of the top of the oldest bridge of the city. This is called the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd), originally opened in 1849. Named after Hungarian politician, reformer, and writer Count István Széchenyi, it was designed by William Tierney Clark, and constructed by the firm of Adam Clark. Funnily enough, the square on the West end of the bridge is named after Adam, not William. That square is not visible on the photo, so you will have to believe me that it contains the zero kilometer stone that all distances on major highways are counted from, as well as the first roundabout of the country.

The river all these bridges are on is the Danube (Duna in Hungarian), flowing right from the Black Forest… to the Black Sea. It divides the city into two parts, Pest on the East (left on the photo, we are looking South) and Buda on the West (right on the photo), hence the name Budapest. The real story is of course more complicated, but it will have to do for a brief blog post.

There are some more bridges if you look a bit further away: the green one is Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd), the plain one after that is Petőfi Bridge, and the red one in the distance is Rákóczi Bridge. The red one is the newest of the lot, opened in 1995. (There is one even newer bridge, but it’s to the utter North, behind us.) When there is no pandemic, there are cruise boats all over the riverbanks.

As you count the bridges, you may spot two more notable buildings (both marked with arrows), still on the Pest side. The leftmost one is the new National Theater—the building, the management and the repertoire are equally quite controversial and at times political. Next to it is the Palace of Arts or Müpa (official website here), opened in 2005, which houses a concert hall, a theater and the Ludwig Museum. The concert hall is one of the most modern in the world. The hall itself is suspended from the ceiling, to suppress the vibration coming from the nearby Rákóczi bridge as well as the tram and train lines running next to it. This blogger has heard many a great concert in that hall, including Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum where the composer himself was present.

Now we arrive at the Buda side. I want to point out three groups of buildings: first, in the distance, you see the campus of the Budapest Technical University (BME) where this blogger studied engineering in the early 90s, as well as the Science faculty of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). The arrow points at the observatory on the top of one of the buildings.

Then we see three arrows pointing to buildings in the Castle Quarter. These are the lower ones and appear closer to my vantage point. These are some of the most famous buildings in the city. The first one is Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya), then comes the dome of the National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria), then a tower in the ancient Dominican cloister (part of the Hilton hotel), and then the magnificent Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom).

On the hilltop, it’s the Liberty Statue (Szabadság-szobor). It has nothing to do with the monument in New York—it was erected to the memory of the liberation of Hungary by the Soviet forces in 1945. Obviously, this event is also controversial and to this day subject to conflicting political interpretations. Put more simply, to some it meant an occupation, rather than a liberation, of the country. Next to the Liberty statue is the Citadella (Citadel), a former Austrian fortification from 1851. I have no idea what they are using it today—not that it’s too interesting: the whole hilltop (Gellért hill, Gellérthegy) is simply the best vantage point in the city.

So this is what my home office window opens to. Not hard to be, you could say. I wrote this post because I thought I help more by sharing it that by being ashamed of it… and you may be able to travel in mind (and refresh hopefully fond memories from past visits).

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