During the last century, adjacent towns across Hungary joined to form cities. And so it was with the formation of Budapest; a city created from the piece parts of Buda, Pest and Óbuda. Óbuda, literally translated as “Old Buda”, is the oldest, and least well known, of the three original cities. Artifacts discovered in Óbuda trace from the Stone Age. More obvious are the tenth century Roman ruins sprinkled throughout the district. The emergence of the Var (Castle) area in neighboring Buda during the sixteenth century diminished the importance of Óbuda, a fact which remains true today. Tourists race thru the Var in packs but generally avoid Óbuda. As an American, I can’t wrap my head around a city that stopped being cool over 500 years ago – which in and of itself, is pretty cool.
Until Friday, I was just another typical American tourist who had never ventured to Óbuda. As I drank my coffee one morning last week, I wrote a blog about springtime. With a beautiful weekend ahead, I wanted to go somewhere but not too far. Hence my blog speculation about a visit to Óbuda or Szentendre, each within 30 minutes of our apartment. When I drop ideas into my blog, I generally do it for one important reason; to force myself to take action. These ideas range from the trivial – searching for corned beef and cabbage, to the life altering – retiring in 2015. Putting them into my blog serves another purpose. When I say “Hey Pat, grab your coat, we have to explore Óbuda.”, he grabs his jacket without question and files out the door.
Friday afternoon, I closed my computer early, logged off from work and jumped on the number 9 bus near our apartment towards Óbuda. As we walked to the bus stop, Pat realized he had forgotten his camera. Sometimes, I enjoy the peacefulness of him not scouting shots and me not scribbling notes. “Don’t worry, let’s just enjoy our evening.” We exited at the Kispelli stop and walked towards the baroque church steeple. When in doubt, heading towards an old church steeple is the safe bet. Near the church, we found a neighborhood of cobbled streets, ancient beaver tailed tile roofs, and concrete block housing covered in graffiti. We walked hand in hand with no agenda, free to investigate whatever buildings appeared the most interesting: a church, a synagogue, and a street of classic baroque houses. In the back of our minds, we realized the eventual destination was the main square, but we had time. We meandered with no reason to hurry along.
Eventually we spotted a pathway under the highway which deposited us right onto the Fő tér – Hungarian for the main square. This square is typical of many of the main squares in smaller villages though out the region – and for that reason alone, it is worth the detour. A few restaurants, a smattering of statues, iron lamps and colorful buildings line the periphery. Seated on the benches in the square were a couple kissing, an elderly woman reading the paper, and a young man studying. While the main square was the goal, a worthy goal, the neighboring streets and churches proved equally compelling.
As we returned to our starting point, we heard fiddle music and followed the sound. It led us to a rambling, old style restaurant reminiscent of the Revolutionary War period, white colonnaded houses converted to inns in upstate New York where we used to live. Four or five various sized dining rooms rimmed an inner courtyard. “Is it OK if we just want drinks?” … “But of course, come in.” Eventually, we decided to eat dinner. While this may be the fanciest restaurant in town; our wine, beer, soups, main courses and a tip set us back a relatively paltry 42 dollars.
When we left the restaurant, again we heard the haunting violin music which had set us on this course initially. In a building adjoining the restaurant, we discovered a music school. Peeking through the black wrought iron window guards, we watched a young woman and older man practicing their folk music as their teacher looked on. Violin music is so core to the traditions of this region, it felt like the perfect ending to our visit.
Saturday afternoon, I told Pat, “Hey, I want to blog about Óbuda, but I have no pictures. Without a word, he got up, grabbed his jacket, this time remembering his camera, and we returned. We walked separately, each of us snapping photos – a much different experience from the day before. This time we had a job to do – chasing the late day sun, losing each other for a while, only to reconnect.
Neighborhoods like this used to scare me – the communist housing seems so stark and threatening. Few people speak English which still intimidates me. Graffiti covers the walls while rubbish is strewn throughout the alley ways. Óbuda has a decidedly “wrong side of the tracks” feel. Yet, in the last two and a half years, we have visited friends in much these same neighborhoods. We recognize it for what it is, the Central European equivalent of suburbia – no more, no less.
Generally, vacations allow for little more than the main sights of a city. Hours spent off the beaten path can feel wasted, even frightening. A trip to Óbuda will consume no more than two hours. If you go, I’d love to hear about your experience. And if you have your own off the beaten path stories, please share them also.
Do it yourself:
Getting to Fő tér: Take the metro (M2) to Batthyhány tér. From Batthyhány tér take the Suburban Railway (HÉV) to Árpád híd (if you have a transportation pass, this is included in that pass) OR
Take the 9 bus from Nyugati Rail Station just next to McDonald’s. Exit Kispelli and head toward the green baroque steeple. Then head over towards the highway and find the cut under. The bus is covered in a transportation pass.
You can catch the return bus back to Nyugati across the street from where you exited the arrival bus (which is not always the case). You will see the blue bus sign across the street near the huge, open field.
Food/Drink: We stumbled upon Kehli Vendelgo established as a restaurant in 1899 and still serving tasty and traditional Hungarian meals in a lovely old world ambiance with dirt cheap prices and a charming English speaking waiter. What more could we hope for. I believe after 8PM on most nights, they have traditional music.
There are lots of bars in the ground floors of the communist style buildings. Stop any place which looks interesting for a drink. Do not be surprised if someone notices your English and comes over to chat. Some of our best stories come from run down bars filled with interesting characters.
Categories: Insiders Budapest