Friday, 4 April 2014

Budapest day 2 - in which we visit a crazy Spar and a ruin bar

Simon suggests we should begin our first full day with champagne breakfast at the New York Café. It seems rude to argue. Legend has it that when it opened, one of the well-known artists of the time threw the key into the Danube so it could never close. The breakfast buffet is impressive and so is the opulent rococo décor. We eat and drink our fill and set off on foot for Oktogon, where we buy a 72 hour Budapest card and catch the M1 metro.

This is the oldest Metro line and the tiny carriages are quaint, as are the stations. It runs in a straight line just below street level and you have to go back up to the street to change direction. It ends at the Danube, where we switch to line 2 to cross under it and emerge at St Ana’s Basilica. The square is flanked by clock towers, and I’m so busy looking at those, Simon has to point out the spectacular parliament building just across the river.

We stroll along the river to the bottom of the funicular railway, which we take up to the palace area, within the old city walls. The palace is massive and the architecture impressive – more so when you realise how extensively it was damaged during WW2. It’s now a museum. Alongside are the foundations of much earlier fortifications, and the current presidential palace.

We begin to walk around the top of the city walls, along an avenue of blossom trees. There are great views of the distant Buda hills and the closer rooftops of building from various periods. We notice a couple of ancient rooftops that have miraculously survived centuries of neglect, as well as a more modern but fascinatingly undulating roof that we decide to check out later.
Arriving at the centre of the old town, we can’t miss the hideous Hilton Hotel which jars horribly with the native architecture. They are relaying the cobbles here and we’re happy to move swiftly on to St Stephen’s church and the Fishermen’s Bastion. The bastion is Disneyesque, reminiscent of the medieval style castles in animated movies and, although it pre-dates them it’s much more modern than it looks. It gives great views of both the Pest area across the river and the lower parts of Buda, though.

We’re ready for a rest and a drink now and stop at the first appealing bar, called Sörözö Knajpa, which turns out to be tiny – the entire bar area is no bigger than our dining room, with just two small round tables and a two-seater bench opposite. Luckily it’s warm enough to sit outside, where we’re amused to feature in the photos of other tourists.

Leaving the walled city we walk down into central Buda in the direction of the crazy undulating roof. It’s disappointing to find it sits above a disastrous piece of architecture and is apparently an apartment and office complex. We can sort of see what the designer had in mind but didn’t quite carry it off. I’m still without glasses so we go into the Mammoth shopping centre, which is as giant as it sounds, and find some.
Crossing back to Pest we make our way to heroes square, a large plaza with a column at the centre, flanked by colonnades bearing statues of rulers and statesmen from Hungary’s history. Beyond the square, we enter City Park, a pleasant green space with some romantic buildings. The first looks like a medieval castle flanked by a lake, part of which is a skating rink in winter. It houses the Agricultural Museum.

City Park is the location of the Széchenyi Baths, one of the many thermal baths fed from natural hot springs. There’s also the Palace of Art, a Zoo, a circus and numerous statues. I’m particularly amused by the travelling bar, which drinkers power by pedalling.

We make our way back along the length of Andrassy Ut, the smartest street in Budapest, which houses many of the grandest buildings although many are in a poor state of repair. There are mansions, theatres and the notorious House of Terror, the former HQ of the secret police reputedly constructed with walls of double thickness to muffle the screams of those it interrogated. Arriving back in our quarter Simon takes me to see the Spar supermarket which is housed in a building that seems to have been perhaps a factory in a previous life – it’s a cavernous space with high ceilings and metal gantries, really quite bizarre.

Opposite, and equally bizarre in its own way, is Fogas Ház ruin bar. These bars spring up in abandoned buildings and are furnished with found objects – this one has a pleasant open courtyard and beyond it a tented space like a mini big-top. We enjoy a drink there before dinner, then we eat at Klassz on Andrassy Ut, a wine bar with excellent food. My cauliflower risotto is amazing and Simon orders the local Mangalita pork – actually wild boar - which is delicious. The wine is fantastic, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment