Budapest, the many faces of the Danube
Taking its cue from the cultural movements of yesterday and today, the Hungarian capital invites you for an immersion in its bubbling waters, haunting music and trendy parties.
The 'Pearl of the Danube' is like an Art Nouveau jewel, weathered by time. Its faded colours evoke the grandeur of yesterday, of the late 19th and early 20th century. As a cultural and artistic centre, the city then attracted intellectuals and rivalled both Paris and Vienna. The facades of that time, in typical Hungarian style, still decorate the city with elegance. From the Franz Liszt Academy to the Opera, through to the Paris Department Store, the charm of Mitteleuropa is in action. The decrepit buildings blackened by pollution, scars of the communist and post-communist era, bring out the splendour of these "treasures". Budapest is a city of striking contrasts.
Underground, the metro built in 1890 is the oldest in Europe after London's, and it still operates under Andrássy, the city's most beautiful avenue. It leads to the City Park, where in winter the lake is transformed into a giant ice rink. Nearby, at the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath, chess players match skill in hot steam. Budapest erected the spa as a lifestyle, much like the music that seems to flow from every window. The composers Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, who were both Hungarian, have left a great musical tradition.
Today, electro rhythms have taken over the dilapidated buildings of District 7, the former Jewish quarter, not far from the imposing synagogue. The famous romkert, ‘ruin bars’ furnished with found objects, serve Tokay (local wine) and pálinka (local fruit brandy) in addition to selections of craft beers. A perfect gathering spot for design, street food and counterculture enthusiasts, invaded by young night birds at dusk, until the moon, without warning, greets the morning sun. The nights are short in Budapest. We see the full cycle from the hills of Buda, across the other side of the Chain Bridge from Pest. It is no coincidence that the Danube is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site - just like the Buda Castle and Andrássy Avenue.
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© Text and photography courtesy of EnVols