Budapest, as the entire Hungary, has been a land dominated by a variety of populations, from the Middle Ages with the Mongol invasion, to the Ottomans during the 16th century, all the way through the Austrian Empire of the 19th century and the stifling period of the Communist Era.
The Regime Change known as “rendszerváltás” began in 1989, but this transition took place more gradually in Hungary, than it did in other Eastern European countries. If you talk to locals, some strongly believe that some of the country’s leaders have come to power because of the connections they had made within the Party before 1989. Hence this country is still living its transformation.
If you visit Budapest you will grasp the phoenix-like metamorphosis of an urban center that is establishing its identity as a whole. Budapest itself became a single city rather late in time, since the cities of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda, united in 1873. But today visitors can perceive, in this grandiose European capital, the rebirth of an entire country that wants to glorify its heritage and become a capable competitor in a variety of fields.
The Budapest Central European Fashion Week
The Budapest Central European Fashion Week (that took place from April 27th until the 29th) attests how Hungarians can put a contemporary twist to their elegant past. The opening VIP Dinner took place in the splendid courtyard of the Ybl Palota, also known as Ybl-Palace, designed by Miklós Ybl in 1869 in Neo-Renaissance style. What used to be the building for the First Hungarian Savings Bank of Pest, is currently a historical space that hosts prestigious events.
The runway shows were held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Várkert Bazár, The Castle Garden of Budapest, also designed by Miklós Ybl, is a 19th century complex that welcomed some innovative creative minds of the Eastern European fashion industry. These included Mérő Péter, Laformela, Cukovy, Sentiments, Celeni, Maison Marquise, Abodi, Nanushka, Sugarbird, Dorko, Nah-Nu, Jiri Kalfar, Virág Kerényi, Tomcsanyi, Nubu, Ioana Ciolacu, Katti Zoób, Nora Sarman, Zsigmond Dora Menswear, Omelya T-Dress, Je suis belle, Artista.
BCEFW was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and all the fashion shows had a live coverage by local networks. In full line with the current digital age, along with the collections, the main protagonists were the influencers covering the event via Instagram or YouTube — like the Hungarian stylist, show-director, fashion journalist, and costume designer Márk Lakatos.
The closing VIP Afterparty further attested the forward-thinking twist the Hungarian capital has embraced. The venue was Ötkert, the hippest urban-club, just a few steps away from the St. Stephen’s Basilica. The church is named in honor of the first King of Hungary, and houses in its reliquary Stephen’s right hand. During the evenings, the square in front of the Basilica, is usually populated with people who peacefully drink and chit chatter — you may perceive a similar atmosphere to the one of the “piazza” of an Italian town.
The Budapest Central European Fashion Week truly triumphed in glamorous organization and inventive style, showing its potential to become the fashion hub of Eastern Europe.
The World of Opera
Music is part of Hungary’s DNA and the entire world should be grateful to composer and pedagogue Zoltán Kodály for his interactive, and kinesthetic method, that is used worldwide to teach how to sight-read music.
One of the most glorious opera houses in Europe, the Magyar Állami Operaház (Hungarian State Opera) is situated on the beautiful Andrássy Boulevard, also known as the Champs–Élysées of Budapest. Currently the opera house is under restoration, supervised by baritone and General Director Szilveszter Ókovács, former publicity supremo. This venue has Hungary’s largest ceiling fresco, and the gut-renovation of the stage, opera boxes, arches, changing rooms and equipment will undoubtedly reprise it to its former grandiosity.
In the meantime, another theatre named after Hungary’s most celebrated 19th century composer other than Liszt — Ferenc Erkel — hosts the performances that would usually go on stage of the Magyar Állami Operaház. The Erkel Theatre, considered Budapest’s “people’s opera,” finished its renovation in 2013 and today welcomes on its stage exquisite lyrical performances such as Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (Az álarcosbál) or poetic ballet adaptations of masterpieces, such as Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (A vágy villamosa).
But the Hungarian Capital’s operatic scene has in store much more ambitious surprises. The Eiffel Studios are going to be the headquarters of a futuristic music scene in Budapest, built on a former railway station. The plan is very articulated and will feature stage theaters for performances, recording studios, storage rooms for carpenters, locksmiths and costumes. The intent is to revive theatre professions that are perishing, and that involve distinct craftsmanship, such as wigmakers, shoemakers and tailoring. Specific workshops intend to pass on these skills to younger generations. To homage the ground on which these studios will rise, some vintage trains will be placed, for visitors to admire and fully celebrate the site’s history.
Rejuvenating The Glorious Past
Up until ten years ago if you strolled around the streets of Budapest you would see all its imposing landmarks covered by a curtain of filthiness. Today whether it’s the Parliament, Liberty Square, Hero’s Square, Buda Castle, every monument and building is immaculately clean and a pleasure for the eyes. The place to go for a majestic panoramic view, is the Fishermen’s Bastion (Halaszbastya), a terrace in Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque style situated in Buda, around Matthias Church.
Those who wish to get a taste of the local food scene, can walk around the Mátyás-templom, and enjoy an outdoor meal at Pest-Buda Vendéglő. Here you can fully savor the typical Hungarian dishes, such as beef goulash, chicken paprikash, apple strudel and Rizsfelfújt (the typical Hungarian nut pastry). But if you want to shop your own groceries or even buy souvenirs, you should visit the Great Market Hall. It was constructed in 1897 and damaged during World War II, but it was restored during the nineties to reconstitute the market to its full architectural glory, which is breathtaking. Here you can find the typical Hungarian food specialities, from lángos to Hungarian salami and paprika, along with the famous Tokaj wines.
You may be surprised by how gastronomy is boosting in this town, to the point that an Italian chef, Gianni Annoni, moved to Budapest and opened his own restaurant and hosted the celebrity cooking show Mesterszakács. He is not the only example of a prestigious expat who has elected Budapest as his new home; visual artist Marco Veronese moved from Istanbul to the Hungarian capital, as did the New York mezzo-soprano Alexandra Ivanoff.
The culture of Budapest is truly glorified but is also innovating itself continuously. An excellent example is the diner Trabant60 that is an ode to the sixties, with its vintage design, car pieces, toys and televisions sets. When you descend to the underground floor to freshen yourself at the restrooms, an entire Visitor’s Center unveils to you with a museum-setting, featuring original costumes and furniture.
If you want to treat yourself in a historical café — that is now part of the Boscolo Hotel of The Dedica Anthology — you must not miss the New York Kávéház, defined by many travelers the most beautiful café in the world. The resplendent charm of the eclectic Italian Renaissance-styled New York Palace, was popular place amongst writers and editors, and the most influential newspapers were edited in the upstairs gallery.
After all this eating and sightseeing some relaxation is imperative. You can either speedboat on the Danube, as the sun kisses your face and the breeze brushes through your hair, or you may plunge in the traditional and stupendous thermal baths. The most renown are the Gellért Baths, with their hypnotizing Art Nouveau decor. There is an ample selection of baths in Budapest, that include the Rudas Baths (with an octagonal pool), Veli Bej Baths (in Turkish style), Király Baths (featuring pools of the Ottoman-era ). If you want to experience both the indoor and outdoor pools, the Széchenyi Baths are recommended, especially for their waters that are high in calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate, ideal to heal pains in the joints, arthritis, blood circulation and disorders of the nervous system.
City of Bridges
The Hungarian capital is also famous for its impressive bridges. Szabadság híd, also known as Liberty Bridge was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1896 and was originally named after him. The rich ornaments became an international sensation and still are today: on top of each pillar triumphs a Turul, which is a mythical Hungarian bird standing on a golden ball. Erzsébet híd bears the name of Queen Elizabeth, and was built in eclectic style, but had to be reconstructed in the sixties after it was bombarded by the German troops during the Second World War. Megyeri híd is the longest bridge of Budapest, spanning over the Danube connecting two Northern parts of the city, in Buda and in Pest. Árpád híd (previously called Stalin Bridge) currently takes its name after the leader of the seven tribes of Magyars (that are also tributed with the seven towers at the Fisherman’s Bastion). If you are a fond lover of Bridges and want to cover all the ones Budapest has to offer, you can add to your list Margit híd (that leads to the Margaret Island), Lánchíd (the most photographed bridge of the Hungarian capital), Petőfi híd (named after the revolutionary poet, Sándor Petőfi), Lágymányosi híd (that has special giant mirrors which light the road).
Budapest is a natural outdoor set for Hollywood productions, that want to shoot period dramas set in Europe. The Hungarian capital every month has its streets populated with film crews adapting its streets for each movie setting. A variety of Hollywood stars have filmed in Budapest, these include Robert Redford, Bruce Willis, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Ryan Gosling, Owen Wilson, Harrison Ford, Charlize Theron, Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Lawrence. Whether Budapest is playing itself or Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Helsinki or even Baltimore, the result is always spectacular. The epitome of cinematic magic is how Budapest was transformed into Buenos Aires during the shooting of Evita, and Hungarian rumors reveal that Andrew Lloyd Webber played one of the extras during a workers’ rally scene.
You will be mesmerized by how green Budapest is. The city overflows with gardens, from Margaret Island (Margitsziget) in the centre of town, to the Gellért Hill that leads up to the Citadella, the fortress built in 1851 by Julius Jacob von Haynau, commander of the Austrian Empire. Budapest is also included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and not many people know that it is also an eco-friendly travel destination. Environmental hotels are on the rise in Budapest, such as the Budapest Museum Central Hotel, the Ibis Hero’s Square Hotel. Several eateries also rekindle visitors with nature, like the lovely KIOSK, set in an old Piarist building, with a tree inside the restaurant that rises towards the soaring ceilings, and where the menu is freshly sourced.
Furthermore an impressive campaign has been carried out by the Budapest City Government to promote cycling, which has increased abundantly in the course of the years. But even flying into the Hungarian capital is sustainable, since the Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport has been recognized as achieving carbon neutrality by the Airport Carbon Accreditation program. In Europe, only 30 airports are in the elite club of carbon-neutral operations, and in Central Eastern Europe Budapest is the first to receive this recognition.
While leaving Budapest one cannot but express gratitude for the inspiring example of re-birth: Köszönöm szépen — Thank you so much!