Our hotel in Budapest was called the Opera Garden – the clue is in the name: it was very near the State Opera House which we passed regularly. It’s very grand and adorned with a wonderful collection of composers’ statues:
Here’s a slightly dodgy set of iPhone photos of the interior from the night we went to see a ballet version of Anna Karenina.
And finally from the Opera, here we are having lunch in the Café on the day we left for the airport (and very good it was too).
The Opera House lies on Andrassy út, Budapest’s longest and grandest avenue. There are many more interesting sights both on it and in the surrounding streets, such as the tiled Mai Manó House. During the interwar years it was “the most glamorous nightclub I have ever visited” (Patrick Leigh Fermor) and long before that it was home to the Hapsburg court photographer after whom it was named. Fittingly, it is now a photography museum.
Nearby is the Operetta Theatre and more quirky sculptures. Miklós Radnóti, the leaning statue, was a poet who was shot in 1944 while serving in a Jewish labour brigade.
Further up Andrassy út is the House of Terror, once the dreaded headquarters of the secret police under both the Fascist Arrow Cross in World War 2 and the Communists. The exhibits here were horrific, particularly the reconstructed torture chamber in the basement. It’s hard to believe what people can do to each other: the veneer of civilisation is very thin. Outside is a monument to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Andrassy út ends at Hósök tere (Heroes’ Square), a ceremonial plaza centred on the 36m high Millenary Monument. The gilded building pictured is the Museum of Fine Arts.
Beyond Heroes’ Square is Városliget (City Park) with its fairy tale castle and pseud-Romanesque Chapel.
Also in the park are the Széchenyi Baths which have their own thermal spring. We didn’t bathe but went inside to admire the décor. It could be a palace not a swimming pool!
Nearby are three monuments which measure Hungary’s progress since the fall of communism. The Timewheel is the world’s largest hourglass which, on the last day of each year, rotates 180º to symbolise becoming part of the European Union in 2004. Where a statue to Stalin once stood is the Monument to the Uprising, a forest of oxidised columns and a Hungarian flag with a hole in the centre to recall the cutting out of the Soviet symbol in 1956. Beyond this, a crucifix rises over the foundations of the Virgin Mary Church that the Communists demolished in 1951.
I fear this has not been a very uplifting post: too many links to death and destruction, even though I’ve tried not to dwell on them. Next time, I’ll try to do better – I have an island and a cave for you.