‘Come to dinner’, he said. ‘See my new place. I’ve rented out my flat in the city and moved to the Buda hills. We can go walking.’ Dinner and walking in the same sentence? They sort of cancel themselves out in my mind, one being pleasurable, the other being penance.
He met me at the last stop of the No. 11 bus that wends its way from Batthyány tér to Nagybányai út. He asked again if I’d like to go for a walk in the hills, warning me that it was quite steep in places and checking to see if my shoes were suitable. They passed. I tried to pass but didn’t really have the nerve. It was obvious that he wanted me to see his neighbourhood. So we walked. And walked. And walked. And I heaved and sputtered, pulse racing, breath catching, all the time cursing my inability to say ‘No’ and deal with his disappointment. Perhaps he wouldn’t have cared – but then again, perhaps he would have.
‘Not far now. Just up around that corner’, he said. I was failing miserably to look as if this were a stroll in the park. But seconds from falling flat-faced and continuing on my hands and knees, we arrived at Árpád pihenő. And the view was worth it. The lookout terrace was built in 1925 by Glück Frigyes, a hotel owner and restauranteur who established many walking trails and lookout points in the Buda hills. Árpád pihenő stands on the edge of the flat plateau of the Látó hegy and is neither as old, nor as high as Glück’s other lookout, Erzsébet kilátó (built in 1908-1910) which stands atop János Hegy and is the highest point in Budapest. But the view is gobsmackingly gorgeous.
As we wandered round the lookout, I could see Parliament off in the distance. I could count the bridges crossing the Danube. And from my vantange point, the air was cleaner and smelled of life. It was fresh and windy and approaching dusk. And standing there high above the city, looking down on where I’ve come to think of home, I could see why he’d chosen to move to the hills. As we wandered back down to civilisation, he told me stories of distrubing wild boar on his night-time runs. I really was in a different world and yet we’d not even walked one whole kilometre!
Later, sitting on his balcony, eating dinner while watching the lights come on in the hills around us, I was struck by the silence and how very different life in Buda must be. I briefly contemplated moving, but then I reminded myself that I was a Pesti-girl at heart. But should I ever feel the need for some fresh air and solitude, I can always catch the No. 11 bus.