Category Archives: Hungary

Thursday Doors, Budapest in Hungary

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Budapest did not become a single city until the official amalgamation on 17th November 1873 of right-bank Buda and Óbuda together with Pest on the left bank.  This was seen as a supremely symbolic event that marked a union between Western and Eastern Europe and the city became the second capital of Austria-Hungary.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Early Days, 1956 Part One – The Balance Of Power

andrew age 2

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when I was two years old with a dodgy home haircut, a nautical jumper, velveteen shorts and a firm grip on the family cat.

In this year there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance because it provided a convenient link from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in which British banks and business had a significant financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the entire British fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the upstarts.

1956 suez

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century of Benjamin Disraeli and Napoleon III and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The liberal government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be completely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

1956 soviet tankStalin's Boots HungaryAnonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but paradoxically was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United States Dweight D Eisenhower was dealing with both issues at the same time and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the bombastic actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt he found himself severely compromised.

It was also rather a nasty concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower insisted on a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  In Britain Anthony Eden promptly resigned, in France there was a political crisis, a period of instability and the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958.

1956 anthony eden  egypt_russian_1956

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World Superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.

Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the certain end of the world.

secret bunker

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Cold War Europe

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Entrance Tickets, The Budapest Parliament Building

Budapest parliament (1)

The five of us debated entrance to the Parliament building.  Even with half price entrance fees (2,000 Florints) for citizens of the European Union there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm to visit the interior and after a show of hands it was only Sue and I that paid up and waited in line to go inside while the others made their various ways back to the Hotel Gellért.

The forty minute tour took us up wide open staircases, through elaborately decorated corridors, magnificently appointed state rooms and into the debating chambers but the highlight was the central dome (ninety-six metres high, remember) and in pride of place the fabulous crown of Saint Stephen.

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European Capital of Culture 2000 – Prague

Prague Czech Republic

On arrival in Prague we joined others in a mini-bus taxi that took us efficiently to the city and our hotel for a very reasonable rate.  A good taxi ride, most unexpected, what an excellent start!

The hotel was first class and we had an interesting room in a converted attic that was clean and spacious but with a lot of what I thought were unnecessary instructions on how guests shouldn’t move the furniture around, I mean, unless they were practising Feng Shui and were particularly picky about the bed facing a special direction or something why would anybody want to?

Prague Czech Republic

The receptionist was very helpful but gave far more information about the city than anyone could possibly cope with in one go and forgetting most of it almost immediately as it went in one ear and straight out of the other left the hotel to find somewhere for an evening meal.

Because it was late we decided not to go too far and found a charming little restaurant in an adjacent street and sat outside on an uneven pavement at a dangerously unstable table and ordered a first meal in Prague.

After a generous beef Stroganoff (always one of my favourites) we walked around for a while had another drink and then went back to the hotel.  We found the way back without a problem, but once inside the labyrinth of stairs got completely lost.  We had missed the correct route in the confusing warren of corridors and were in completely the wrong part of the hotel.  We sorted it out after a while, went to bed and slept well.

In the morning there was a good breakfast with the usual cold buffet full of continental offerings but with some unusual hot items in addition.  There were sausages but unfortunately they were frankfurters and I am afraid that I just do not like frankfurters because of that horrible rubbery chewy consistency.  Not much chance of a superior Lincolnshire sausage here because it is close to Germany of course and clearly under the Teutonic influence when it comes to bangers.

Prague Castle and Cathedral

The weather was overcast but seemed to be ever so slowly improving so we left the umbrellas behind and went out into the city.  Our first planned destination was the City’s old town, which was reached by crossing the Charles Bridge and I know that it was overcast and there was no sun to help cheer things up but the famous statues were dull and grimy and seemed to me to be desperately in need of a good scrub.  There must be enough tourist revenues pouring in to fund the process and I am sure that the city authorities are thinking about it but they really need to get on with the job.

I have an idea to help them.  One statue, St John Nepomuk, is supposed to bring luck to those who touch it and it is polished bright where tourists rub their hands on it.  If the City spread the word that touching any statue would bring similar good fortune then they would all be gleaming clean in no time at all.

St John Nepomuk

Actually I found this statue a bit surprising because poor old John Nepomuk didn’t seem to have a great deal of luck himself in his lifetime as he was a Jesuit priest who was tortured and killed by King Wenceslas in 1393 and his body was thrown into the river.  Because of his aquatic final resting place he is regarded as a protector from floods but he must have been off duty in August 2003 when the city endured its worst floods for two hundred years and forty thousand people were evacuated and the cost of repairing the damage ran into billions.

The streets were busy and we walked until reaching the old town, which opened up into a spacious and welcoming central square and it was free of traffic so we were able to wander aimlessly around looking ever upwards and admiring the buildings that surrounded it.

In the centre is the Jan Hus monument, a religious reformer who was burnt at the stake for his beliefs.  I was beginning to detect a gruesome pattern here.  In the Middle Ages there always came a time where persisting with a point of view became dangerous to life and limb and poor old Jan obviously did not get his timing right, a bit like Thomas More and his out of touch views on King Henry’s wedding plans.

It was about half past ten so we sat at a pavement café and had a Staropramen, which is an agreeable Czech beer and surveyed the sky and speculated about whether the sun would come out.  Although it was early I don’t think anyone in Prague would have found this early drinking unusual because according to the Economist, in a poll in 2006, the people of the Czech republic are the biggest alcohol consuming nation in the World.

The weather didn’t look very promising but we strained my eyes searching for spreading patches of blue.  They appeared sometimes but always to be cruelly snatched away just when things seemed to be improving.  We optimistically assured ourselves that it would definitely be out by the afternoon.

Prague Czech Republic

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

Durham Cathedral Door KnockerBudapest Hungary MarketBarcelona CatalunyaGermany Black Forest FasnachtIMG_0627

Anyone care to take a guess in which countries these pictures were taken?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

Budapest Hungary Market

Does anyone know what they are?  I don’t…  

Warsaw, The River Vistula, Gary Cooper and some Film Trivia

Warsaw and the Vistula

I’ll tell you how cold it was this morning, so cold that it stopped Kim from stopping every few metres and window shopping, so cold that my face was stinging and my eyes were watering.  It probably wasn’t such a great idea then to take a route to the old town along the banks of the River Vistula.

It was quite a long walk to even get there along a busy boulevard called Jerusalem Avenue on account of the fact that there was once a Jewish town around here and to mark the spot there is a curious fifteen metre high artificial palm tree which supposes symbolises the natural vegetation of Jerusalem.  To be honest I thought it just looked odd!

Eventually we reached the river and I knew straight away that I had made a mistake.  After all the hard work repairing the damage of the Valentine’s night evening meal fiasco I almost immediately flushed away any bonus points earned.

I had imagined the riverside walk to be a similar experience to strolling alongside the Danube in Budapest but it was immediately obvious that no one was going to write a dainty waltz and call it the Blue Vistula!  It was grey and ugly and there were no embankments just muddy no-man’s-land where the water met the silt and the river debris.

Kim wasn’t at all happy about this and to be honest neither was I. There was no one else around, just a busy road running adjacent to the path and we had to pass under several bridges where I imagined danger to be lurking in every shadow.  The bridges too were ugly, in complete contrast to those in Budapest.  In fact they were so ugly there were no love locks attached to any of them, which is of course a good thing, in fact they were so ugly that I imagine that the only lock someone would attach here would be a hate lock!

We walked quickly and as we got closer to the Old Town the environment became less threatening, there were more people and soon we were climbing steps and making our way to the restored streets and squares.  On reflection I am certain that there was no danger down by the river, it was just so unattractive and didn’t feel good.

Solidarity Gary Cooper

As we approached we passed the heavily guarded Presidential Palace and on the pavement outside there was a display commemorating some previous uprising or other and as a backdrop there was a huge canvas poster of Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Kane in the film High Noon.

I had no idea why until I looked it up later:

In 1989 there were some partially free elections in Poland and this was the official poster of the Solidarity movement and it shows Cooper armed not with a pistol in his right hand but with a folded ballot saying ‘Wybory’ (elections)  while the Solidarity logo is pinned to his vest above the sheriff’s badge. The message at the bottom of the poster reads: “W samo południe: 4 czerwca 1989,” which translates to “High Noon: 4 June 1989.”

Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa  explained it later:

“It was a simple but effective gimmick that at the time was misunderstood by the Communists. They tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the ‘Wild’ West, especially the U.S. But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom. ”

In 1953 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon* and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland.

I digress for a moment.  Gary Cooper wasn’t present at the ceremony because of filming commitments and the award was accepted on his behalf by John Wayne.  In the speech Wayne said he liked the film so much he was going to try and find out why he hadn’t been offered the part.  This was rather hypocritical, he hated the film so much that he called it “… the most un-American thing I’ve seen in my whole life.”  With a town full of cowards and a scared Marshall (Cooper) he didn’t think it captured the true spirit of the old west as he personally preferred to represent it.  Soon after he collaborated with the film director Howard Hawkes to make the film Rio Bravo which presents a similar story line in a completely alternative way.  Wayne and Hawkes liked their own film so much that they remade it twice – El Dorado and Rio Lobo.

It was still quite busy today but nothing like as crowded and vibrant as the previous day so we walked around the remaining restored red brick walls of the Old Town which didn’t take very long and then at a previous fortress gate we made our way inside and really did nothing more than repeat the circuitous walk that we negotiated the day previously. In the Old Town square, the statue of Syrena, the mermaid symbol of the city, seemed hopelessly marooned in the middle of an artificial skating rink which looked cold, empty and uninviting.  It was raw and bleak, the stubborn mist hung low and the wind cut through our clothes like a sabre.

We needed to find somewhere warm, and this is how cold it was, Kim didn’t object for even a moment when I suggested that we make our way to the Royal Castle and take a look at the Museum inside.

Royal Castle Warsaw

I took this picture the following day when the mist had cleared and the sun came back out!

* Best Actor for a western is quite rare.  Warner Baxter won  for In Old Arizona (1929), Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou (1965), and John Wayne for True Grit (1969). The most recent nominations for actors in a Western include Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves (1990), Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven (1992) and Jeff Bridges in True Grit (2010).