Friday, August 2, 2013


There are so many layers to the urban fabric of Budapest that it is impossible to not to be intrigued and fall in love with this city. We did - within the first five minutes of arrival! It is at the same time gorgeous and gritty, modern and vintage, polished and patinaed, hilly and flat. Its complex history has resulted in a diversity which extends to language, food, architecture and music. "Cultures have been clashing in Budapest for a good many centuries, and usually not to Hungary’s benefit. But through several waves of occupation, tyranny and heroic revolt, it has become one of the few places on earth that have learned the trick of transforming that clash into music." (NYTimes)


The city wasn't always a single metropolis. Prior to 1873, when Buda and Pest were combined, they were separate cities on either side of the Danube joined by the first permanent bridge, Széchenyi Lánchíd (the Chain Bridge). Amazingly, it was designed and shipped in sections from the UK to Hungary in the 1840's. The dignified and intricate framework of crisscrossed steel is studded with enormous bolts, embellished with stone lions, and happened to be located about 300 feet from 'our' apartment in a fascinating neighborhood of the 5th district. More about this area later...

On our first evening at dusk, as we strolled along the boulevard bordering the Pest riverfront, we stopped for a refreshing drink on the deck of a barge (top) to survey our surroundings. Later, our dinner at an outdoor wine bar, Borkonyha (Sas utca 3;, consisted of a Hungarian specialty - braised Mangalica hog cheeks with roasted baby carrots - wildly delicious! Not ready to call it a day, we boarded yet another barge to explore the illuminated architecture along the river, a sight most dramatic and lovely at night. The Hungarian Parliament building (bottom) was positively glowing. Completed in 1904, this spired, opulent, gold-leafed hall (88 lbs of gold) is a uniquely Hungarian combination of Gothic and Renaissance revival styles. It is stunning both outside and in, as we learned the next day on a tour of the interior.

NEXT: photos and details of our favorite apartment in Budapest!

Széchenyi Lánchíd (CHAIN BRIDGE)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Budapest, once in the shadow of Prague, may well be one of the most intriguing cities in Europe. After years of wishing to explore it firsthand, I recently had the chance to visit.

It was a trip back in time to a world of dark cathedrals, cast-iron suspension bridges, and crumbling mansions turned into indescribably fantastic open-air clubs (more on that later). Overwhelmingly, there was evidence of the confluence of cultures and influences that formed the city's aesthetic sensibility – it was cutting-edge hip and old-world royal at the same time; illuminated gold spires of Parliment reflecting in the fast-moving dark waters of the Danube. Other aspects were rougher around the edges, bringing to mind the East Village of the eighties. 


Budapest was spared much of the bombing that devastated other Axis countries like Germany, and the gorgeous nineteenth-century architecture that dominates the city was frozen by the Iron Curtain. Gradually, as repression lifted, a vibrant, multicultural city emerged against this backdrop. Today Budapest exudes what could be called an 'urban rustic' aesthetic. 

One example is the emergence of 'ruin pubs,' built into the rubble of abandoned buildings. The first to become established was Szimpla Kert (above). Inside, the walls are covered with graffiti carved deeply into the plaster. Furniture is an eclectic mix of flea market finds and lighting is, well, let's just say it's doubtful that it  meets code! Cast-iron spiral staircases weave upward through a network of catwalks and awnings, surrounding an enormous interior courtyard filled with tables of people drinking, among other things, flaming absinthe! whilst being misted from above to ward off the heat (not caring that water and electricity aren't always a good mix).

At night, locals gather in outdoor parks to share drinks and play music. At a large park in the center of Pest, a recessed pond was surrounded by shelters constructed of every possible material, shipping pallets in one case (above) serving margaritas and Belgian frites. 

Next week: more on the architecture and urban fabric of this incredible city.