A BLAST IN PEST!

A BLAST IN PEST!

Reviewers on Trip Advisor gave the Opera House 4-5 stars. It’s also described as one of the top attractions in Budapest. SoI took an afternoon tour, paying for the admission, a fee to take photos and a mini concert. The experience took about 45 minutes and it didn’t go backstage as the opera house is being renovated. The guide showed us the box where Emperor Franz Josef sat during the one time he visited the opera in Vienna.

The building does look impressive from the outside, but inside it’s quite small. It was bombed in WW11, and had to be completely renovated. Yes, the British and Americans were blamed yet again. I became a little tired of hearing this refrain in Budapest. The mini concert consisted of a tenor singing a short aria. I felt underwhelmed and overcharged. If you’ve been to the opera house in Vienna, save your money and don’t bother to visit.

What do you do with obsolete Communist statues? You put them in a park outside Budapest and turn them into a tourist attraction. To get there took an over an hour by tram and bus. The bus came on time and dropped me outside Memento Park. I invested in a guide book which gave useful information on who and where the statues had been previously. I wandered around in brilliant sunshine marvelling at the size and the enormity of them, but to see these massive figures on squares and streets in everyday life must have been frightening for the population. Big Brother is watching you! At the end of the park there is a long brick wall and a road. The road leads nowhere and there is nothing behind the wall.

Back in Budapest I decided to see Heroes Square and you must arrive by metro. The square was commissioned by the Hapsburgs to celebrate the 1000 anniversary of the founding of Hungary in 1894. Before trams were invented horses pulled carriages along the route of the metro. As you climb up a few stairs you look across to Heroes Square, and it is jaw dropping. It’s the largest square in Budapest. Figures from Hungarian history sit on half circle monuments. Two museums are located on either side of the square, and at the rear there is City Park, with a 20th century fairy tale castle. You can’t go inside it but I walked through the courtyard, it’s nice to look at but there’s nothing of significant interest.

I took a tour of the Parliament building. This gets booked up weeks in advance, and it’s best to purchase on line tickets which I did. I was lucky enough to get the last ticket for the English speaking tour. As you can imagine this is the most popular tour. If you can’t get tickets for it, I recommend you take a tour in another language because the building is worth seeing inside. In the Communist era the assembly only met 4 times a year. Now it’s a fully functioning Parliament. Two guards with swords keep watch over the crown jewels, and if a tourist gets to near they are challenged, same with photos you can take them anywhere in the rest of the building but none are permitted in this room. The guide repeatedfour times to the same stupid individual and as he was led away he continued to argue. It’s a magnificent building, with wonderful gold leaf painting, but it’s notoriginal which did not escape the Russian siege or the bombing of WW11.

I booked a ticket to see Hungarian folk dancing. The dances were dominated by men, and the women only supplied a supporting role. There was plenty of thigh and shoe slapping, jumping up and down, and a lot of knee bending. All I could think of was in ten or fifteen years they will be queuing up for knee replacements!

On my last Sunday I went to a Hungarian operetta – ‘The Gypsy Princess.’This is a story set in 1915 which a singer falls in love with an aristocrat. He signs an agreement to marry her before she goes to America to find fortune. When she returns he has promised to marry another girl!  Eventually they are reunited and head to the US together. That’s what I surmised, because the subtitles were in German! The operetta is extremely popular in there and in Austria and Hungary.

The song that runs through it is called “Long live love.” Well, I think that’s what it is and it stayed in my brain for at least 3 days afterwards!  The audience was 98% Hungarian who had dressed up for the occasion. I went to get a drink at the interval and was surprised to find the bar deserted. When the bell rang for the second half, they charged up the stairs. Most of the audience had gone out to smoke. They seemed to enjoy it, but nobody smiled or laughed. At the end of each piece of music, the audience clapped not spontaneously but all together and in time.  Nobody stood up and clapped, and nobody shouted “Bravo.” It reminded me of the Communist conferences which were televised years ago when the enthusiastic audience clapped for ten minutes. I attempted to converse with people sitting on both sides of me, first in English and then in German. I received suspicious looks and no response, so I took the hint.

I enjoyed my time in Budapest, but I wouldn’t want to live there. There’s an edge to the city and I felt a sense of desperateness. If you look around nobody smiles, the clothes are cheap and poorly made. Food is expensive. Spar grocery shops have invaded the city. People are struggling to make ends meet. The wages are low here. Smoking is huge, both with men and women. Vodka is popular and relatively cheap. I’ve seen more street homeless here than in all the cities I’ve visited. My apartment was near a large square. At night, men and women would bed down on thin cardboard and often didn’t have anything to cover them. I never saw them beg, but I think the police presence probably detered them. The situation for these people is bleak as there doesn’t seem to be any outreach or help for them.

Yesterday I flew to Sofia. More in 12 days’ time as I’m going on a Communist tour and won’t be able to write a blog!

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