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Favorite thing: If you believe the locals, Blaha Lujza Ter is possibly the most dangerous square in all of Budapest. It is grim, and there are some dodgy characters about, but I've wandered around here at all hours. It's not so bad, but you should be careful. Just as an idea of the characters that hang out here, Blaha Lujza ter was made famous recently by a you tube video of the antics of a Romanian gypsy orphan who robbed and stabbed people while laughing all the time. The news reported he'd been sent home, but people think he will come back.
But Blaha Lujza is the most happening square in District 8, the infamous ghetto. You probably won't want to come here as a tourist, except maybe to see the grand New York Hotel. But if you want to catch a glimpse of Budapest's best bohemian bars, you'll find yourself drawn here like a magnet. Bars like the excellent Corvin Tetto, the roof top summer bar on the old communist department store, are directly on Blaha Lujza, but other great places, like the jazzy, Serbian Jelen, and the ever popular Szimpla are both nearby.
Updated May 28, 2011
Favorite thing: Hungary and both capital Budapest becomes higher and higher in economy and lot of business class buildings are appearing. The biggest impression for me is that some of these buildings are with unique architecture, as building shown in my picture.
Updated Mar 4, 2011
Favorite thing: It was great having my own personal guide for a very short (between bars) tour of this district and believe it or not Tim I took in every word.
Budapaest VII is the city's historic Jewish enclave and from the late 1800's until the early 1930's the area was a prosperous residential and industrious one. During this period the neighbourhood took on its present-day appearance with its five-storey apartment blocks built around central courtyards, along with a trio of major synagogues including the Dohany Schul.
On the run-up to World War II, as the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party came to prominence and Hungary joined the German Axis alliance, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head and the 1938 Nuremberg Laws officially defined Jews as second-class humans.
Ironically in the early days of World Was II Hungarian Jews fared much better than most of their European fellows. Despite the fact that they were severly restricted, and many of the men conscripted into forced labour battalions, the Government refused to allow their deportation.
As well as the Hungarian Government's refusal to deal forcibly with its Jews (apart from the 20,000 plus who died in forced labour camps) the Government had entered armistice negotiations with the Americans and British. In March 1944 the German Army invaded the country, installing their own choice of Prime Minister and takng control of the Hungarian Armed Forces.
Adolf Eichmann was sent by Hitler to organise the deportation and control of the Jewish population, a task he seems to have taken to with relish, and within three months of his appointment almost half-a-million Hungarian Jews had been sent to be executed in the concentration camps, mostly to Auschwitz.
Of the Jews remaining in the city those not deported, and who didn't have some kind of diplomatic protection, were later rounded up and forced to move into the walled ghetto in the area around the Great Synagogue where conditions of overcrowding and lack of food and medicines resulted in further tens of thousands of fatalities.
A sizeable minority managed to evade both deportation and ghettoization due to efforts of the Swedish and Swiss Diplomatic Legations and in particular the individual efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who issued safe conduct passes and set up houses under the protection of their respective Embassies.
The Russian Army liberated the ghetto and its estimated (by then) 70,000 inhabitants in Jan 1945 and with the 20,000 or so Jews who emerged from their various safe houses and other refuges brought the city's immediate post-war Jewish population to about 100,000, about half of what it had been in 1941.
Fondest memory: The modern Budapest VII is no longer solely a Jewish area but still has its three synagogues, several Kosher restaurants and some interesting little shops. Most of its buildings are survivors from its pre-war heyday and whilst some are a little down-at-heel many have recently been given serious makeovers and others are in the process.
There are several trendy-looking bars, restaurants and some upmarket shops but these are balanced by just as many little characterful places such as Kak Rosa where Tim and I enjoyed a very pleasant, and extremely reasonably-priced, lunch and the little camera shop which Tim pointed out where nothing was newer than maybe the original Polaroid.
Dohany utca, where the synagogue is, is a street of bars which tempt a serious mini-pub crawl and where the price of a "korso" (large beer) starts from 290 Forints and doesn't look as if it ever exceeds 400.
Yep definitely a place which needs a serious revisit next time I'm in town.
Updated Feb 10, 2011
Favorite thing: I just love that Andrassy is called an "utca" - utca simply means "street". It says something about a city when one of its UNESCO listed sites has such a common appellation as simple as a "street".
And a street it is, it's the street that connects the utilitarian transport intersection of Deak Ferenc ter, where the three Metros meet, to the equally egalitarian City Park, where locals congregate at the first hint of good weather. It's a pretty magnificent street (and magnificently pretty) as it sets off from the city bordered by some of the most exclusive shops before heading onwards towards the culture offered by the State Opera House and a couple of surrounding Szinhaz's.
Having caught its bit of "high culture" it then arrives at the Oktogon, surrounded on all eight sides by bars, restaurants, little shops and even fast-food takeaways. But then one has to bear in mind that "high culture" in Budapest is in fact literal - with opera tickets starting from 500 Forints the culture is "high" without being exclusive.
After Oktogon the street widens and becomes an almost exclusive enclave of the wealthy with its garden-fronted mansions and elegant townhouses but it is still not exclusive-exclusive. By now you have tree-lined promenades not only on both sides of the road but also right down the middle with the Metro following your footsteps a few metres under them.
Andrassy was built as a functional radial route in and out of the city. Construction commenced in 1872 and its inauguration was in 1876, timed to coincide with the 20th August national holiday. The rich and famous of the time bought and built on both sides of this simple street and commissioned some of the best examples of Budapest's rich architectural heritage. Maybe this was a crafty plan on behalf of the city planners as soon afterwards they got the funding to build the first Continental European Metro under the street so as to reduce the traffic noise.
Fondest memory: Anywhere else in Europe this would have been called a "Boulevard" and maybe even a "Grande" one at that but not so here in Budapest. That's something that endears me to this city - as if it was socialist long before Socialism was spelled with a capital "S" and despite the post-war Communist idea of what Socialism should be as soon as Communism was kicked out socialism was regained - "Paprika Socialism" - rich and smooth and always affordable provided you don't buy the stuff in the fancy packets.
Updated Feb 8, 2011
Favorite thing: This is something you don't have to worry about as the Danube has been flooding in the area since time immemorial. During Budapest's 19th century development the city's planners had the foresight to ensure that its flood defences were more than adequate and able to cope with water levels rising by up to 10 metres. The highest recorded river rise was 8.6 metres in 2006 and so there was still plenty of leeway.
There are a couple of roadways which have been constructed along the river which are below the flood defence level but that simply creates an inconvenience for motorists and the public transport system is barely affected.
Updated Feb 8, 2011
Favorite thing: In its entirety Budapest stretches for about 28 km along the banks of the Danube but most of the places of tourist interest are centrally-located and easily accessed on foot or by short journeys using the excellent public transport system.
Within the city centre there's plenty of signposts giving directions to nearby places of interest and most of the Metro stations, railway stations and other strategic points have useful city maps. These maps are also available from the various "Tourinform" offices.
The streets themselves are well-signed and usually the streetsign also includes the district, the building numbers, and the direction thereof.
If you do get temporarily lost you'll find the locals particularly helpful with directions, and especially if you pop into a bar and buy a drink before asking for assistance ;)
Updated Feb 8, 2011
Favorite thing: Whilst Budapest has some grandly-ornate buildings it's also worth keeping an eye on what's at your feet. Around the city centre you'll notice these decorative manhole covers which I think are those of the local electricity company.
For a few more examples visit this page: Manhole Miscellany
Written Jan 28, 2011
Favorite thing: The currency of Hungary is the Forint. As a rough guide, there are 280 Forints to the Euro, 210 Forints to the US Dollar, and 325 Forints to the pound. The forint has been very unstable, however, since the financial crisis, falling from 250 to the euro, down to 330, before bouncing back to the 270-290 region. So don't trust my numbers!
Hungary is a relatively cheap place to visit, especially outside of Budapest. There have been some huge bargains on the hotel front since the economic collapse of 2008. Food and transport is particularly cheap, except the metro system in the capital, which charges Western European rates for a substandard service with only one ride per ticket. A main dish at a reasonable restaurant generally costing less than 10 euros.
The low prices of everything means that big notes can be difficult to dispose of, and the ATMs, which are all over the city, tend to give out the biggest notes possible. I had real problems getting anyone to accept the 10000 Forint note, worth about 40 euros, and I couldn't even spend a 5000 Forint note (about 20 euros) in a place as big and international as Burger King, so good luck spending the bigger notes in the small family run restaurants.
Updated Jan 11, 2011
Favorite thing: On the southern end of District V you'll find the up and coming Kalvin square. Once the renovations have been completed, the square will be one of the best in Budapest. Right now it should be on your radar for a number of great bars and restaurants, as well as being the starting point for the famous Raday Utca, a pleasant pedestrianised street filled with bars, restaurants and boutique shops. You've also got the National History museum right next door.
Written Jan 1, 2011
Favorite thing: Even though it's north of the centre, Nyugati Ter means "West Square". The confusion lies in the naming of the train stations which the square serves. Like most of Budapest's squares, there's little walking space available, but it does have an enormous underground square. It's like nothing else in Budapest: it has shops, restaurants, and lots of small market stalls. But it's also grim, littered with drunks and prostitutes, and best avoided late at night.
What you will find here is the fantastic looking Nyugati station, designed by Eiffel himself. It's useful mostly for destinations inside Hungary. There's also the excellent West End shopping centre. There's nothing much touristic beyond Nyugati, so if you've come this far, jump on the metro and head back into the city.
The name looks difficult, but the pronunciation is somewhat like "new-gatti".
Updated Jan 1, 2011
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