‘So’, I said, ‘what do you want to do?’ My visitor technically wasn’t my visitor at all. I’d borrowed him for the afternoon from a friend who had to work and couldn’t entertain.
‘I need a coffee.’ It was one o’clock in the afternoon. We’d stayed out a little late the night before so coffee was also high on my agenda. After a quick think I settled on a tiny café/bakery on Hunyadi tér – ChocoDeli – that I am particularly fond of. I had hoped that the market would be in full swing but it doesn’t happen on a Sunday. Hunyadi tér market is one of the nicest in the city (and its market hall is the only one in the city that hasn’t yet been renovated). It has lots of great produce (particularly its herbs, its cheeses, and its flowers) and ChocoDeli has the best croissants in Budapest. But it, too, was closed.
It was one of those blue-skied sunshine Budapest days that come in spring and autumn – perfect for walking. So we walked. We followed Csengery to Almássy to Hársfa and down to Rákóczi, taking time along the way to look at some of the old buildings which though in dire need of a facelift, are still very beautiful. I was aiming for Bezerédi utca where the bullet holes from 1956 are still clearly visible. One top-floor window seems to have come under particularly heavy fire and when I look up, I have little difficulty imagining a sniper’s silhouette. I am fascinated by these remnants of times gone and never pass a bullet-ridden facade without stopping briefly to think a little and wonder.
Onwards then to the former Koztarsasag tér (now János Pál Pápa tér) where I noticed that the old Erkel theatre has reopened after many years of standing idly by; it looks impressive. We stopped at the plaque commemorating the only foreign press casualty of 1956, French photographer Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini. He was 29. As always when I call on him, I was moved by the passion with which some people live their lives.
I was also hungry and wanted food and more particularly I wanted goose leg and red cabbage. And I wanted it from Huszár, one of my favourite restaurants in the city that sits on the Berzényi Daniel utca side of the square. But it, too, was closed – or closed to us at least – for a private function. I wasn’t doing very well at all.
With thoughts of food temporarily shelved (I’d called the lads at Kómpót on Corvin Sétány to make sure it was open so was happy enough), we strolled down to Kerepesi cemetery. It was a glorious day to commune with the dead and wander through monuments to the likes of Antall József, Kossuth Lajos, and Blaha Lujza. To the left of the main entrance, the Russian quarter had undergone a major renovation. It was a little surreal. More thinking is required on that one.
We caught the tram to Nagyvarad tér and walked down to check out the renovation of the old military school at Ludovika tér. Now the Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetemet (National Public Service University – a joint cooperation between the National Defence Academy, the Police Academy, and the Public Administration Faculty at Corvinus) it’s a wonderful example of what money can do for old buildings. Truly stunning.
Finally, after a little detour up Leonardo Da Vinci utca to see the urban garden in full bloom, we ate. Not exactly your typical tourist trail admittedly, but sometimes venturing off the beaten track is a little more rewarding. Next week I might borrow a dog… or a toddler… and see where that takes me.
First published in the Budapest Times 17 October 2014