Went to Budapest for a few days holiday last week…
Weds 28th May
Let’s see….red, already have the beginnings of blisters on feet, sticky with the heat, legs aching a bit…but, there’s a cool bottle of beer within easy reach, and I’m actually in Budapest. Good start, then. On the taxi-ride from the airport, and later, walking through warm, dark streets towards Városliget (City Park) I try and stop my mind skittering around looking for anything familiar. This is a bit like Rome…that’s like.. It’s a natural impulse, I suppose, but it feels a little like having a demented spider in your head. It gets in the way of relaxing and letting the place be what it is…itself.
A series of un-mistakably professional invitations from a succession of women follows me up the street. Grinning weakly, I hasten in the general direction of somewhere else. (Turns out my hostel is just off the districts’ main kerb-crawling route. I run an interesting gauntlet walking back from the Metro each night)
As a result I end up wandering around what I initially take to be an extra-ordinary collection of buildings, all flood-lit in the middle of the park. Apart from some neo-classical and baroque bits, the rest is unfamiliar, bristling with odd towers, unexpected balconies and lovely wall paintings. Turns out the most interesting (gothic) building is a museum of agriculture. This is so unexpected that I’m genuinely disappointed that it’s closed, although not surprised, it being 11 pm.
Subsequently consulting the guide book, I learn that the whole complex is one amazing building, known as Vajdahunyad Castle. It was built as part of a huge programme of civic improvements around the 1890s to celebrate the Hungarian Millennium.
Originally designed as a series of interconnected temporary pavilions and a kind of architectural ‘greatest hits’. It’s a collage of references to over a dozen different buildings (scattered all over Hungary) and covering hundreds of years, starting with a replica of a mediaeval chapel portico and finishing in neo-classical splendour. So popular did they prove that eventually the temporary pavilions were replaced with one massive, permanent building. I’m very glad; it’s a uniquely wonderful mongrel of a building, delightfully endearing.