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CENTRAL EUROPE: part one… BUDAPEST

Not wanting to write yet another too typical travelogue, I’ve been curiously stuck about how to share our two recent trips. The first was a holiday with the Silha-Reimann family to central Europe in mid-June. Then, just a week following our return from Budapest, Vienna & Prague, I completed the process I’d had to begin as part of the month of essential preparations before Europe: packing-up GRB BELLS, stock & show, & flying to Chicago for the annual convention of the American Bell Association. Two rather different kind of travel, yet both taking us to architectural wonderlands.

I wish I could simply & easily share these recent extravagances as well as celebrate more the mundane, but I’m finding so little focus in writing time, in spite that this was supposed to be a bit of a break in a too busy schedule…

Then there are many hundreds of photographs which I still am sorting… I went a little crazy with the camera.

Most of the shots were basically junk, except that they represent all the practical experience I need using my camera on the move. I am more used to composing & lighting static objects in my studio. Still, I enjoyed the fine frustrations of that ongoing education.

I tried for shots in museums to document ideas or to capture details of pieces I found interesting. Light & reflection were frequently difficult, of course, But, to be able to use [digital] cameras inside those treasure-filled walls seems quite a sweet boon!

I also experimented trying for candidly peopled moments in the streets, sometimes shooting from the hip. But mainly it was all the astounding building details which seduced me… perhaps in part because they were easier than moving bodies to capture! Those capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are dripping rich in Nouveau stone & plaster work… plus many older styles as well, of course! Many wonderful metal parts to fascinate my jeweler’s eye, as well. I’m collecting a file of images of hinges, latches & odd bits of mechanique.

To then be able to see buildings in Chicago, some done during roughly similar time periods, gave a delicious second viewpoint. Many of those details, often metal grills or elevator doors, suitable to join that file, are now in the Art Institutes’s collection there, since so many older buildings have not been so protected as those in Europe. The architectural tour by boat on the Chicago River was a superlative experience. There is still in a boom of building on the cutting edge in that city.

My brother Jon thankfully suggested that excursion to us, because he’d enjoyed it when he was recently there. I made hundreds of shots on that tour alone! Fortunately not all of those survived the editing session on the flight home! How many abstract photographs of reflections in International Style skyscrapers can one slide one’s eyes over, searching for some interesting detail? Ultimately it was the viewpoint from the water, slipping under bridges, which most illuminating.

All four cities developed from the rivers which first helped to site them & thus are currently [ahem] fascinating to me. Part, I suppose, of the flotilla of boat energies I live alongside now… Another posting I anticipate one day will collect photos of the variety of boats we see from Soundcliff.

Ah then, the requisite bridges, for surface transportation to interface the water’s flow… can often be seen as a sort of jewelry for these riverine metropolises. Over the Danube, between the cities of Buda & Pest, there is indeed a “Chain Bridge” which reputably replicates a much older version by the same name. I had naively imagined it would be some enlarged version of typical oppositional chain links, but I got to discover its strength was more in the sense of a bicycle chain… with links of multiple parallel 2+inch-thick steel bars vaguely dog-biscuit-bone-shaped… more than 10 feet long!… hinged together on huge bolts. Becoming very smooth jewelry suitably scaled to a huge task… some chain indeed!

The building behind is a fine Nouveau facade now housing the Gresham Hotel. It has a very soft feel to its stonework edged with gilded subtlety.

Stephen & I first stayed for several nights on the Pest side of the Danube, finding our legs for these cities in a curious lodging hosted by a small novel of a character who saw visions in the apartments he rented bed & breakfast style, in several buildings which we could only view a bit differently. We enjoyed our situation just a block from the city’s market & soon felt competent with tram, bus & underground, plus walking the streets & bridges to be able to share the city with Stephen’s family when they arrived several days later.

Inside this courtyard…

Was our room in Pest with its heavy decor.

We moved several days later, when the rest of the family arrived, to the Buda Hilton, built to incorporate ruins up on the hill with the Royal Palace next to the coronation church, St Mathias. Our windows looked out toward the Danube river & Pest beyond, through the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion, a perfectly amazing bit of architecture built around 1900 & named to commemorate medieval fishermen who defended the walls. I called it Fisherman’s Folly because its function is to be only decorative, which it does to perfection! Here the facade of those windows reflects it…

Several of its seven spires dominated the view from our room…

In this setting the contemporary ceramic mural in the lobby seemed thus fantastically right.

From another viewpoint the the Parliament Building echoes London.

This is a city sill repairing itself after several generations living under Communist rule. , she emerges ever more sparkling, from under the grime of neglect. One remnant of that was this window which Stephen explained was much more how he remembered it from a previous visit.

We reflected on that seeing these dusty books…

While most of the architectural bloom is focused on restoration & repair of extant treasures, there are some new projects, even in the inner core. They seem sometimes a bit jarring… perhaps because they are so rare. Our Hilton was one such example. Others such as this arts center, seen from the river boat on which we had our first group dinner, are farther away from the historic district & feel quite positive for the city’s modern growth. This new ghost will no doubt evolve into place along the Danube parade.

Here the family listens to our guide in the market tell how different it was when she was growing up in the Communist era. Nephew Johnny, Stephen & his brother Mark stand to the left. His sister Alice, her son David, celebrating recent High School graduation, & daughter Sarah, newly graduated as well, from University of Wisconsin, John is their father & Helen is our thoughtful matriarch, widow of Stephen’s father Otto, who gifted this trip to us.

I am always interested to see how any city’s produce, meat & fish compare to Seattle’s own famous Pike Place Market. This functionally lovely old building displayed beautiful goods, from the coarser & staple foodstuffs on the lower level… sauerkraut & pickles, sausages & cured meats… to the fresh meat & seafood, spices, produce & cheese on the main floor. the mezzanines above offered clothing stalls & restaurants.

We brought the country’s signature paprika home for experimenting with our own goulash.

While this photo does not capture much of the poignancy of the event it commemorates, here is the memorial for the Jews who were thrown into the river of the mid twentieth century’s cataclysm, leaving as symbols their empty shoes on the river’s bank…

Stephen & I chose attend a concert because it featured a men’s chorus, which we enjoyed even as it evolved that they were actually more of a background group for a jazz quartet with a wildly hefty violinist. That venue seemed to have been originally some sort of factory now surrounded by a contemporary youth park, with a new media center & gardens with ponds.

We are off the beaten path, having taken the subway only then to walk some blocks into a neighborhood. We happily appreciated we were not so local as most in the audience seemed to be. Following our noses takes us to such places…

I used that orientation the evening we were taking the family to a restaurant we’d found several nights before, while we were staying in Pest. The pair of taxis we hailed at the hotel would not accept my being the fifth passenger, so I took off on foot for a bus to the subway & then walked again to the outdoor tables where they had only begun to order drinks & first courses. It had all happened so quickly some in the family were a bit concerned, but I liked exhibiting my independent capability.

We’d been fortunate to see a deeper Budapest… like the Ethnographic Museum in a gorgeous old building once housing the Palace of Justice. It has classically polished stone balustrades, but now exhibits the more basic history behind this city’s life. Display after display showed the costumes & tools, the essential fibre & sinew of folk aeconomie which most overlays of modernity continue to ignore at their peril.

Here also was a travelling exhibit based on the primary types of musical instruments from all parts of the wold, old & new, grouped in type by nomenclature denoting how the sound was generated: strings, horns, percussion. While it might annoy some kinds of sophistication, wire cages substituted for more usual protective glass cases supported by barrels which were obviously also their packing cases. A simple & rare coup in functional design, allowing the exhibit to be fielded in more primitive venues….

I was disappointed to be still searching for the Scythian gold shown in the guidebook, which I had written about at university, then finally discovered in the National Museum… sadly late on a Sunday. We would depart before the possibility of a more generous viewing of those rich collections. Such vicissitudes are the meat of travel stories, I guess..

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No visit to Budapest could be quite complete without a bath… the Romans who made an early city here no doubt made use of the thermals. A number of hotels have spas & there are several traditionally domed bath houses which were built by the Turks when they pushed this far into Europe four centuries ago. I was reticent at first but I relaxed to love the fantastical light bouncing around inside the stone dome, reflecting off the water, softened by steam. I could imagine all those centuries unchanged around this basic utility.

I will post this much & return with more chapters of the travel to Vienna, Cesky Krumlov & Prague later. Chicago waits as well…

One last image of Budapest becomes a beautiful puzzle… part of a larger sculptural commemoration of the city’s millennium called Heroes Square. High above a colonnade rides this prancing dude who is “War”. Yes, there is a nearly matching “Peace” but she is a rather staid figure, energetically weighted by her over sized palm frond. Some depth is telling a story here inside my curious reactions… he’s had me musing ever since.