I suspect it was a bad attack of O.C.D., brought on by too much sunshine and Egri Bikavér, that prompted me to explore the two old towns that make up this old city in alphabetical order, so I set out for Buda on my first full day there.
It being such a magnificently beautiful morning and me being in a walking sort of mood and Gellért-hegy (Gellért Hill) sticking out of the ground like a sore craggy dolomite cliff rearing 130 metres above the embankment of the Danube, surmounted by the Liberation Monument and the Citadella, it struck me that that seemed like the best place to begin my explorations. Fantastic views across the city, fantastic statues and fantastic amounts of tourists were the main features up there.
The tourists were a bit irritating but fortunately they didn’t seem to be able to walk much more than a hundred metres from their tour buses. So, by sneaking off down the cool leafy paths of the park that carpeted the hillside between there and Erzsébet hid (Elizabeth bridge), I was able to escape the sharp pushy elbows and the constant drone of people bewailing the queues at the ice cream vendors’ carts and the huts selling fake Communist memorabilia and fridge magnets. At least the latter weren’t fake so I was able to walk around all day with an ‘I heart Stalinist doctrines’ job adhered firmly to the steel plate in my head.
What the tourists failed to understand was that by joining the queues they were further contributing to the length of them so, rather than whining, they would have been better going off to another country where fridge magnets and Cossack hats weren’t in as much demand for their holidays and they wouldn’t have me grunting obscenities at them under my breath.
In a quiet place in the woods, making sure I was all by myself and no one was looking, I abandoned my atheism for a few moments and said a little prayer for all the poor tour guides in the world.
That little hilltop promenade, believe it or not, took up a whole morning so next on my agenda had to be lunch, I supposed. Not wanting to surrender my place far from the madding crowd, who by then had become downright bloody infuriating, I made my way to the little dip between the Gellért and Vár hills where there stood a small enclave of Budapesti life. Here I bought a bottle of ice tea and a flat sort of spinach pasty thing which altogether cost me only a little more than the price of powdering my nose would have done at the top of the hill. I dined amongst some ordinary local people who looked like they had nipped out of work to eat their packed lunches in a small public garden not far from the Danube. These people smiled at me as if to say ‘welcome to our world of normality.’ At the top of the hill no one smiled.
The spectacular view of Budapest from Gellért-hegy.
My chosen hill for the afternoon was Vár-hegy (Castle Hill) which was much larger than my morning hill had been but bore some similarities in that some bits were absolutely packed with ovine tourists but not far away there were lovely quiet areas containing beautiful old buildings and points of interest which could be appreciated without me having to shout ‘shut up and get out of the sodding way’ at anyone.
Bus trips, I concluded, tend to concentrate on spectacular features and consequently miss out on the likes of the deserted medieval streets of terraced houses, churches, boutiques, book shops and cafés near the Vienna Gate and the Jewish Prayer House.
The Fishermen’s Bastion was beautiful. Stone built ramparts of a fairy tale appearance with the best views yet of the city far below but you had to buy at least a cappuccino and a sticky bun to get into or onto them. Each little café there did look fabulous with fabulous food at fabulous prices and a fabulous little trio of musicians banging out the Hungarian muse on traditional instruments. But this wasn’t for me so I just said ‘Fabulous!’ to myself and wandered off past the incredibly fabulous Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church) with its tall spire and shiny, multi-coloured tiled roof to find a quiet little café where I could have a fabulous and well deserved cold Hungarian beer at the end of a fabulously warm and sunny Budapest afternoon.