Winter Sports in Budapest

Last Saturday 16 degrees Celsius big sunshine, yesterday 3 degrees some rain. This morning I opened my curtains on a big blanket of snow – surprise! It had not been announced. I can already hear some lament that it is too cold here, getting colder, too grey, getting darker so early in the afternoon. This is snow and snow lifts my spirits. It is joyful and playful. When you say snow I think winter sports, ski, snowmen, snow ball battles, sledding, and ice skating. I think hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts. I love the warm fuzzy feeling when your body melts, feet first, once you come home after an hour outside in the snow.

So when I saw the snow this morning I knew it would be part of my day. Part of my dog Venus’ day too. Someone had given me dog booties and although my tiny Italian greyhound had showed adverse disposition with shoes before I thought that with snow on the ground I should try this new model. I had barely finished equipping her fourth paw that she had shaken off the first bootie. Then she looked miserable and refused to move so I took the booties off, put her coat on, and off we went.

Hungary is a flat country but Budapest is a hilly city. Half way up the Martin hill I thought that maybe if it continued snowing a few days there would be enough snow to go sledding. Then I reached Normafa – almost the highest point with asphalt, the hill which leads to János hegy, John’s hill, the ‘summit’ of Budapest at 528 meters. No need to wait for one more day of snow there. Suddenly in a few minutes it was like I had been transported back in the Alps in a winter station. Not only people had sleds, but skis, not only Nordic skis but alpine skis too! Some people even wore their full ski gear with flashy colors.

Multicolored flat plastic sleds and classical wooden sleds where competing on the hill, adults and kids alike were enjoying what could be labelled by many a sad cold grey day. Venus was not the only dog running fast and being all crazy about the snow but she was certainly the smallest and the fastest. I took plenty of photos just in case it would not last like last year when winter came for less than two weeks.

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After strolling in the woods and meeting a few skiers we started our way back home. The GPS told me that it was at about 4.4 km and that it should take me 46 minutes walking. I chose a road that I didn’t know to avoid the major fare with too much traffic for my taste and Venus’ security. After ten minutes my GPS vanished because my phone was out of battery. Ha! Anywhere in the desert or even in New York if you want to go south, you go south, there will always be a straight way to get from point A to point B. Not in in the Budapest hills. Streets curve and a street which starts going south will then curve east and finally take you north. Some streets lead to dead ends or huge detours that are perhaps feasible with a car but not by foot, not if you wish to be home before dark. So I had to rely on instinct and a few foot prints to dare take snowy dirt ways until I finally reached Agnes, a street I knew.

Once home, the first thing I did was to drink a hot cup of chocolate.

No? You want the truth? Really? OK – the first thing I did was not watch my milk carefully and make a big spill all over the stove.  I did curse a bit but I am still happy I enjoyed the snow today and walked over 12 000 steps!

Logistics: use bus 21 or 21A to reach Normafa or legs or bike or chair lift (Libego) or – last resort – car (on days like this car parks were full). I count my steps with Withings.

Budapest, my new home town

My first steps in Budapest were in several supermarkets, not museums. Expats are not tourists. Expats need to make their nest first, then they are ready to explore. And go to work!

From abroad we say Budapest. Once we have settled in the capital city we learn how to speak like locals. You either live in Buda on the west side of the Danube or in Pest (pronounced Pesht) on the east side. It was not until 1849 that a bridge – Chain Bridge or Széchenyi Hid in Hungarian – connected the multiple Buda hills to the plains of very flat Pest. About twenty years later Obuda (the ‘old’ Buda, north of Buda), united with Buda and Pest.

In Paris the districts (arrondissements) are set in a clockwise spiral, like a snail which makes them easy to learn: small numbers in the center and larger numbers on the outside. Because of the development of Buda, Obuda and Pest separately for many years, the numbers of the districts don’t really follow each other in an easy spiral. Buda has its center, district 1 (district 12 is next to it) and Pest has also its center, district 5 (district 13 is next to it), tough logic. Obuda comprises district 3 and 4 which says that this city was developed before Pest.

District 1 is dominated by the city’s main castle surrounded by ramparts. Locals call it the Vár district and it is about 100 meters above sea level. We live in district 12, a residential district, one of the largest, with the greenest hills – also the highest: this is where you may climb the highest point of the city, the János Hegy (John’s Hill) at 527 meters. The President, Prime Minister and many ambassadors together with only 75,000 others inhabitants live in district 12 out of almost two million inhabitants. Some time ago it was covered with vines. District 5 is where the magnificent parliament and our embassy are. It is also the most touristic district including the Basilica, the main pedestrian street Vaci utca, a huge Eiffel-inspired covered market ‘Vasarcsarnok’ and many five-star hotels.

From our new house to the embassy we take a tram for 15 minutes and then the subway for six minutes. There are four subway lines in Budapest. The Budapest subway was the first on the continental mainland, the second in Europe after London. Line 1 is yellow, line 2 is red, line 3 is blue and the brand new line 4 is green. The nearest subway station to the parliament is named Kossuth Lajos (pronounced Koshout Lah-yos) after a famous lawyer, journalist and politician considered the father of Hungarian democracy. On April 14th, 1849 he proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Hungary and the downfall of the Habsburg dynasty. Alas the Austrian Chancellor refused and Kossuth took exile in England and died in Turin.

The parliament, a major symbol of Budapest, is inspired by the British parliament. Near it is Szabadság tér (pronounced ‘Sobodshag‘) which translates as Liberty or Freedom square. The embassy is located in one of the beautiful old buildings which line the plaza.

Our surroundings are beautiful and our commute is short. This is a good start!