For our first full day in Budapest we decided to join a "Free Walking Tour" - we ended up actuallly doing two of these. The first one was a general orientation and history tour which moved us around the inner city (actually came right past our flat!!), across the chain bridge and up the hill to the Castle and church of St. Mattias.
This was an excellent thing to do for our first morning as it took us to the significant vantage points while adding the insights of the Tour Leader - Annika was a literature graduate who also hopes to teach Hungarian as a second language, she was intelligent, amusing and very knowledgeable with a good way with people.
We appreciated getting a background into this history of this country which has done it tough .. especially being on the losing side of a number of wars. The influence of the Hapsburgs, the losses of land after WW1, siding with the Nazis and eventually being invaded in WW2 and then being "saved" by the Russians who forgot to go home too! The repetitive destruction of the city means that the buildings are not nearly as old as we are used to seeing in Rome etc. The neo-classical facades (as in Vienna) come mainly from the last Hapsburg period around the beginning of the 20th century - the dome on St. Stephan's was only finished in 1989!! We were easily the oldest in the group (check out their Facebook page!) but felt quite at home. The views from the Palace and Church surrounds of Buda were truoly magnificent and the hill isn't nearly as steep as it looks!!
The second tour, in the afternoon, was the Communist one. Despite being something of a "progressive lecture" it proved to be equally fascinating. Sadly, I can't recall the second young woman's name but she was equally intelligent, committed and even more fiesty!! Her grandfather was a university lecturer and a member of the Communist Party and she spoke simply of her memories of growing up at the tail end of communism in Hungary - she had spoken with her grandfather often about his recollections. She was around Matt's age (33) so had clear childhood memories of a time which passed in around 1989. She was also strong on the realities of "post-communism" and reflected on the way our media dominated West is really not all that far removed from the realities of Soviet propaganda!!! Rupert Murdoch and Stalin are perhaps just different morphs of the same evil!!
She lives in a Soviet era flat in the outer ring (aka "non-tourist") part of Budapest. 50 flats, very run down and trying to cope with the sudden loss of the "State" which, even if it was corrupt and moribund, actually looked after everything!! (How do you set up a "Body Corporate" in a land that depended on the State for everything - especially when the flats are extremely run down and really need repalcing??) Her only chance of aquiring somewhere decent to live is via "inheritance". The inner-city (aka "tourist land") is increasingly being bought up by western investors pushing the locals (who earn only around (200 Euro a month) out of their own city ... invaded yet again - just different villians!!!
We compared "Soviet era" buildings with "what the West is buying"; we looked at a very recent, controversial monument blaming Germany for the deaths of all the Jews in WW2 (any decent reflection realises that the Hungarian Black Arrows (aka local Nazis) was equally to blame!; and we saw Ronnie Regan's statue in the square with the last Soviet monument as a sort of comedic detente.
All in all a great and challenging day!! We finished off with a fine meal in the Jewish Quarter and some nice wine!!!