Friday, 20 November 2009
Yesterday I walked. Boy, did I walk. I decided to walk the length of Andrassy utca up to Hero Square at the top. I tried to find an aerial picture on the intertubes showing how far I walked but the nearest I could get was the one above. And that's only about half the distance. From my apartment to the square is 2.5km one way. So there and back is roughly 3 miles, plus I decided to visit the currently running major exhibition at the National Museum called 'Botticelli to Titian' and is all Renaissance masters.
The weather was absolutely on my side. Bright blue sky and sunshine again. I packed a bottle of water and a banana and set off at about 9.45am. I walked up to the corner of the square where I had photographed the triangular metal statue with the cut out man and turned left into Andrassy utca.
Andrassy is a wide, European-style tree-lined boulevard - very French-looking to my eyes - that runs straight as an arrow up to Hero Square. Google maps told me it would take me about 35 minutes to walk it one way. I guessed it would take me longer as I intended to take photographs along the way.
It's a very posh street and is lined with designer shops at the start - Louis Vuitton, Dolce e Gabanna - and windows filled with the sad dead pelts of once-living animals (they're not exactly anti-fur here although I've seen some good fakes). I walked along, enjoying the bright sunshine, although not the traffic fumes, when suddenly the air was filled with the bright yellow confetti of autumn leaves, freed by a gust of warm wind. I stood by a ridiculously elaborate building and watched them rustle and swirl.
I passed the state Opera Building which, like every other building, is not exactly minimal. The row of worthies on the roof reminded me of St Peter's Square in Rome where the saints all gaze down on you to make sure you're behaving yourself:
Further up, near the Oktagon junction, there's a steely-blue building that I've not felt brave enough to enter on either this trip to Budapest or the one I did two years ago.
This is the House of Terror Museum. Quick history lesson. During World War II, Hungary made the unfortunate decision to side with the Axis forces and supported Hitler. The fascist political party which took control was called the Arrowcross. Their headquarters were at 60 Andrassy utca. Political prisoners, and especially Jewish prisoners, went in through the door, into the basement cells and were never heard or seen again. After the Soviets marched in and took over, it became the headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Secret Police (their version of the KGB) who continued 'disappearing' people. It is a building stuffed with pain and misery. In 2000 it was decided to turn it into a museum. One of its most striking features is the black glass overhang which has the word TERROR cut into it that casts a reverse shadow when the sun shines and spells out the word on the front of the building. You can just make it out in my photo. There's also a rusting metal symbolic sculpture just outside of a load of very large chains:
The incongruous setting is also remarkable - a house of fear and death in such an elegant location:
Still, onwards. Just on the other side of the road from the Terror House I found a large plaque dedicated to the dead of the First World War - I was struck by the terribly theatrical and scenery-chewing poses of those depicted:
Just beyond that was another building that had a remarkable painted facade (at least, we think it's been painted but it may be ceramic, which would be just as remarkable):
It strikes me, in Central Budapest at least - in fact, thinking about it, as it probably is in every major capital city - there is a lot of money around, a lot. There is also extreme poverty. There are homeless people here, living in the parks and the subways. But, as always, folks make the best of what they've got, and this tiny balcony over a supermarket doorway is so full of exuberance it made me smile, how could I not take a photo?
A few steps further up Andrassy, nearer to Hero Square, and you start to get into Embassy and Really Big Villa territory.
This, for example, is the South Korean embassy - like a pink wedding cake:
And these are its next-door neighbours (I think these are just ordinary residences):
And the other side of the road looks like this:
It was only then a matter of a few steps before the road opened into the hugeness of Heroes Square:
This is a very impressive square - far more imposing than anything London has to offer. As you face the column, on the left hand side is the National Museum:
and opposite, facing it on the other side of the square is the Contemporary Art Museum:
I decided to cross the road to get to the Square on the Contemporary Art Museum side. As I was crossing I could see what looked like a whole load of shopping trolleys collected together in a circle. Initially it didn't strike me as odd, until it dawned on me that there weren't any shops, never mind supermarkets, nearby. "Don't tell me it's a modern art installation...." I muttered to myself, chortling at the very idea. But, you know what? It surely is!
It's called 'Money-make Systems No. 3, 1996' and was created by Pacsika Rudolf.
I then spotted something in the park behind the Contemporary Art Museum that I'd read about online and had hoped that I'd find. It's called the Timewheel and it's the world's largest hourglass built to commemorate Hungary's entrance into the European Union in 2004. Made from pink granite, steel and glass, it weighs 60 tons. I can't find mention online of how tall it is, but it's BIG:
It takes a year for the sand to fall through from the top compartment to the bottom, ending at exactly midnight on New Year's Eve, then 4 people roll it round 180 degrees (it's on rollers at the bottom) so it can start all over again.
I then noticed, on the other side of the road, probably the most modern building I'd seen in Budapest so far - offices for ING and Deloitte, by the looks of it, all glittering vertical strips of mirrored glass:
Time to head across to the Square itself, but not before I took a breather on a bench beside a road going into the park. It dawned on me how similar to Central Park in New York this particular view was:
After resting my feet for a short while, I headed over to take some photos of the statues of the Heroes themselves. And, my, what a terribly butch lot they are. The posturing and enormous handlebar moustaches make them all look screamingly camp. I'm sorry if this offends any Hungarian readers who might happen to stumble upon this blog but, really - just look at them:
And as for the naked chap prancing around in the chariot......
I then went into the exhibition in the National Museum and saw more Renaissance paintings than you can shake a stick at. Overwhelmingly they reminded me of so many christmas cards but, then again, presumably during the 15th and 16th centuries, it was only the church who would commission any paintings at all, and so holy scenes, mostly of the Madonna and child, it was. Even though these were all by Botticelli, Tintoretto, Raphael, Titian and other great names, they kind of left me cold. What I did like were the portraits of wealthy merchants, some of them so fantastically well executed that they were as good as photographs, as good as the Holbein portraits that were exhibited at Tate Britain a few years ago.
By the time I left the museum it was past lunchtime and so time to head off back down Andrassy utca to the apartment. I had to keep stopping on the way and taking advantage of the frequent benches in order to rest my aching feet. And I hope you'll forgive me for not taking any photos on the return journey but the sun was in my eyes and, frankly, I was just too tired and wanted to get in to put my feet up!
This is, most likely, my final posting from Hungary as we're returning home tomorrow morning. It's been quite an intense two weeks, to say the least, but I think I've managed to see all that I wanted to of Budapest this time round, and I hope you've all enjoyed seeing it with me.