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My child is growing up

I’ve lived a life without issue. I have no children. I’ve not watched someone grow day by day, week by week, month by month. I’ve not been present for the teething, the nappy changes, and the terrible twos. I’ve not see them start school, play sports, and pass exams. I’ve not seen the first date, the broken hearts, and the angst that comes with being a teenager. The closest I’ve come to such a metamorphosis is my little corner of the VIII kerület (district).

When I moved into the neighbourhood back in 2008, I was flying in the face of some strenuous objections. It wasn’t somewhere I wanted to live. It was full of minorities. (There are just about enough Irish in Budapest to form a minor minority… hello?) It was home to drug dealers and hookers and less than savoury people. It had no decent shops. It had nothing in the way of good restaurants or wine bars. And apart from Corvin cinema, it had nothing much in the way of entertainment at all.

Now, rating powers of observation on a scale of one to ten, with one being ‘so unobservant that I didn’t notice that taxis in Budapest were turning yellow’ and ten being ‘so unobservant that I didn’t notice that the Nemzeti Hotel on Blaha is now furnished’ I’d rate myself about five. Okay, so I never noticed Corvin Plaza being built. In fact, I didn’t know it had opened till a month later when it was pointed out to me by a friend. And I live just 200 meters from its front door. But since then, I’ve been paying closer attention to what’s going on in my corner of the VIIIth.

corvinCorvin Sétány now boasts its own fab Hungarian fusion restaurant – Kompót – that has an excellent daily menu and a yellow fin tuna starter that’s to die for. It also has a great little wine and chocolate bar – Vino és Wonka – that has a chalkboard menu sporting wines from every wine region in Hungary, wines you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else. And it has a friendly fruit and veg shop that will source whatever exotic fruit or veg you can think of. It’s home to Dumaszínház – comedy central and has other restaurants, bars, and cafés to suit all tastes.  It has a gym with a 25-metre pool (or so I hear), a Norbi outlet, and just opened, (or should I say, just noticed) a Lidl. And this is on the Sétány, not in the mall itself. The area is landscaped to within an inch of its life with the best of materials and in summer is a great outdoor space with live music, and an almost Barcelonian feel to it.

Until recently, it had its own community garden but this was bulldozed a few months ago. Fences went up. The diggers came in. And I was left wondering what was afoot. Yesterday I saw the placard. Another 227 flats are being built … these, in addition to the hundreds already built in phases I and II. When will it end?

My child has grown from an unruly but lovable ragamuffin into a cosmopolitan teen with its own ideas and opinions, its own taste and style, it own flair and fashion. And I’m the one rebelling.

Of course I love it. I want for nothing. Everything is there, right on my doorstep. What’s not to like? But a little part of me wishes that it was still untamed. That it hadn’t matured so quickly. That we weren’t losing touch.

First published in the Budapest Times 28 February 2014

 

Why I love living in Budapest No. 5

You just never know what you’ll find in this city. You think you have it sussed. You think you know your streets. And then, you walk around a corner and literally, there’s a whole new world in front of you.

The sun is  out, the temperatures have risen, the flowers are beginning to bloom, my nose is running and my eyes are itching. Spring is officially here. Next month, I have my second birthday as a home-owner. I signed the contract for my flat on April 15. Tax day in America. I didn’t move in until November so I’ve been in the neighbourhood for a year and some months. The ‘neighbourhood’ is the eighteenth-century suburb, now District VIII, which was originally called Alsó-Külváros (literally ‘Lower Suburb’). It was named after the heir of the Hungarian throne, Emperor Josephn 11 in 1777 – and now goes by the name Józsefváros. I thought I had it pretty much sussed… but I thought wrong.

Yesterday I went to the local garden centre to buy some plants to replace the ones that didn’t survive the winter in my windowboxes. I’d been there before and have vague recollections of MC mentioning botanical gardens. So KG and myself thought we’d stop by to check them out… just for a look-see. What I thought were the Gardens turned out to be the Natural History Museum. The gardens themselves have a rather innocuous-looking entrance marked by a metal plaque. And, to be honest, from the outside looking it, it looks very much like a construction site. But curiosity won out. This is one of the three sites where Ferenc Molnár’s novel, A Pál utcai fiúk (1907)  originally takes place: Füvészkert (botanical garden). (It’s a book worth reading: translated as the The Paul Street Boys.) So we paid our 600 ft  (€2.20, $3.40, £2.00) and wandered around.

It’s the oldest of the gardens in Hungary, founded sometime between 1771 and 1847, depending on what you read!!! and apparently is home to 7000 plants including 150-year-old orchids. What struck me first was the noise – or rather the absence of noise. All we could here were birds chirping. It’s definitely undergoing some sort of renovation (we later saw a sign that reckons it’ll be finished in August 2010 so by next year perhaps, it should be done!) and parts of it are very decrepit. No matter. It’s an oasis in the heart of the city. The palmház (Palm House) is fascinating, if a little humid. It was built in 1866, renovated in 1966 and is amazingly colourful – right down to the piping!  Other buildings were closed (we got there a little late in the day) and unfortunately, neither of us saw anything that might remotely resemble a café.  A return visit is in the diary for the summer! Maybe next time we might dress differently though as two old dears thought we looked as if we worked there!

Walking back  to the flat through District VIII, we hit upon the Law Faculty buildings of Pázmány Péter Catholic University,  a public university of the Catholic Church, recognized by the State, founded in the seventeenth century, and one of Hungary’s oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher education. And I never knew it was there! Perhaps more importantly, if somewhat mundane, there’s a rather nice-looking supermarket (if supermarkets can look nice) tucked away in the back streets behind my flat… again, one I’d never noticed/seen before. And less attractive are the 4000 0r so flats of the Corvinus development that are going up at an alarming rate. God only knows who is going to buy them. Another year or so and the neighbourhood will have changed, yet again! This city is one of the most vibrant in which I’ve lived –  it’s the constant discovery of new places that makes living here so great.