A Nice Walk in Budapest
One of my favorite walks in the world goes for about two kilometers and takes you through three of the most colorful of Budapest’s 23 districts, Districts V, VI, and VII. District V is the heart of the Pest side of this bifurcated city. Many of the best and most interesting restaurants in the city are here. District VI includes the theater district, including the beautiful Hungarian State Opera. The Seventh was formerly the Jewish Quarter, and has the largest synagogue in Europe, as well as a host of interesting coffeehouses.
Our walk starts on Ferenczy Istvan Street in a residential part of District V, right by Karolyi-kert a beautiful, semi-private park, directly behind the Karolyi Palace, now a writer’s museum and restaurant, but once home to the Karolyi family. The area has looked the same since the 17th Century, though many of the surrounding buildings have been built more recently. At the eastern end of the park is Csendes (pronounced “CHEN-desh”), an outdoor wine bar open from the first moderate day in April until the last such day in September or October.
After squeezing through a spot where the street narrows a little claustrophobically, we come to Muzeum Avenue and turn left, to the north. Every art or music piece has its high points and low points, without which, the work would feel flat and gray. This stretch is visually a little low, though there is an outstanding, and friendly, 3rd Wave coffee shop called Fekete (Black) that we’ll pass by on our left. Muzeum meets Kossuth Lajos Way next to the Astoria Hotel, a beautiful 100-year-old building, and we dip into an underground walkway, which passes by the Astoria Metro Station. Crossing diagonally, northeast, we come out by a group of restaurants and bars, and continue north for a block.
Muzeum Avenue has changed its name to Karoly (Royal) Avenue. The first corner is a weird little intersection where Karoly meets Wesselenyi & Dohany (Tobacco) Streets. We’ll pause for a moment to lose our breath as we look at the Dohany Street Synagogue, Europe’s largest. It’s about 150 years old, seats 3000, and was designed in a Moorish style, reminiscent of Alhambra.
We’ve entered the 7th District, where the buildings crowd the street, and nearly every block has a coffee shop or bar…except this eastbound stretch of Wesselenyi. However, I want to show you the Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue, and this is the best approach to it. One highlight of this path is that we pass a great little used camera store. They don’t have much in the way of high-end used cameras such as Hasselblads, Mamiyas or Rolleis, but they do have a great selection of Soviet-era pieces such as Zenits, Horizont, and Praktika. You can also buy a 5-liter jug of fixer which should take care of you for a good long time (or until its expiration date if you worry about such things in your analog photography).
We turn northward again and walk up Kazinczy Street. Through this area, it’s all cobblestones, and the only demarcation between the street and sidewalk is a strip of reflectors. Don’t worry, though, the drivers know you’re there, and they’re going pretty slowly. The Orthodox Synagogue, built just before WWI of orange-brown bricks, dominates the right side of the street, and appears to define the street’s curve.
Continuing up the street, we come to the quirky Café Analog. Devoted to espresso and the aggressively low-tech photography known as Lomography, it’s a fun little shop where you can buy a new Holga or Diana, a shot of espresso, a few rolls of film, and a pastry.
The last bit of Kazinczy Street is a somewhat jarring blend of old buildings that look like their facades could collapse at any moment, construction projects, and new buildings. Then, as if we’re dreaming, we walk past a small, green corner playground and onto Kiraly Street, where the party is always on, and always loud. We could see a British stag party, with the drunken groom dressed as a bunny or Snow White, or female Viking, locals walking past with a blend of disdain and wistfulness. Or the beer bike will roll past, with 10–12 people drinking from a keg on wheels, and singing their favorite songs loudly and out of tune.
After a couple blocks, we make our last turn onto Nagymezo Street, just in front of the Avila Parish Church of St. Theresa, a beautiful yellow building built more than 200 years ago. Nagymezo quickly opens into a wide boulevard lined with trees and parks, making the space feel lighter than the rest of District VII. In fact, as we reach Andrassy Boulevard and cross into the Theater District, we’re leaving the 7th and entering District VI. And after that 2 km walk, it’s time for a beer and burger at Pesti Diszno, a bistro specializing in Hungarian pork, and duck dishes.
Thanks for taking such a long walk with me. Now it’s your turn. Show me your favorite place to walk.