Budapest Run

The Budapest Run

Journeys » The Budapest Run

July 20, 2023: The Budapest run took me through the city’s last millennium, from Magyars on horseback invading from the east to the middle ages to the Hungarian revolution against the Soviets in 1956. What a city, and what a run!

The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.

Werner Herzog

So far on the Central Europe Trip, Budapest wins our vote for favorite city.  This was a bit of a surprise.  Hungary is a democracy, a member of the EU and NATO.  However, their government has swung rather authoritarian in the past few years.  The language is also very different than any other in Europe (English is closer to Russian than Hungarian).  And Budapest is a larger city, not as walkable as we typically enjoy.  So we approached this part of our trip with guarded expectations.

But wow, were we ever wrong.  The people (with one notable exception) were welcoming, and the food exceptional.  The architecture and culture were intriguing, and the excellent public transport made connecting the sprawling city a breeze.

Fishermen's Bastion
The Fishermen’s Bastion guarding Matthais Church and Buda Castle

A Very Brief History of Hungary

Hungary sits in the Carpathian Basin, flat plains between mountains to the north and south.  The Danube flows through the center, and it is here that the Romans established their frontier in about 100AD.  The Huns drove them out 300 years later, and the area reverted to tribal kingdoms.

In 896, seven Magyar tribes swept out of the Asian Steppes.  With a new technology – stirrups – their agile cavalry quickly conquered the area.  But by the year 1000, Magyar King Stephen converted to Christianity to legitimize his holdings and keep peace with his neighbors.  In the following centuries, the Magyars were overrun in turn by Mongol Hordes, the Ottoman Turks, and the Austrian Hapsburg empire.

Finally in 1867, Austria and Hungary united to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and prosperity followed. Much of Budapest’s architecture dates the Millennial Celebration in 1896 – the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar’s arrival.  The magnificent parliament building, Hero’s Square, Fishermen’s Bastion and more date from this celebration. Reluctantly, Hungary was drawn into WWI by their Austrian allies – and they lost 2/3 of their country in the aftermath. They rebuilt, only to have much of the city – along with its Jewish population – destroyed in WWII.  The Soviet communist domination was no better. Despite bloody revolutions, they remained under the Soviet thumb.

Then, finally, Hungary became a free democracy finally in the revolutions of 1989.

Hungarian Parliament
Hungary’s magnificent Parliament

Running Backwards through Time… 2014

The state sponsored an urban renewal project in 2014 and it included a life-size bronze of Lieutenant Detective Columbo and his dog (named “Dog”).  Yes… I am referring to Peter Falk’s TV character from the 1970s-90s.  Strange but true, and no one is sure why.  Even Columbo looks puzzled…

Columbo in Budapest
Lieutenant Detective Columbo in Budapest

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Not far from Columbo stands a more apt bronze, Imre Nagy.  While a committed communist, he championed democratic choice and led the 1956 revolt against the soviets after Stalin died.  The Soviets sent in tanks and crushed the rebellion.  This was, perhaps, an inspiration for China’s Tiananmen Square response 33 years later.  Nagy was arrested and executed.  While lauded as a hero, his communist leanings do not fit with the politics of the ruling Fidez party, so the bronze was recently moved from Parliament Square to a discrete location near Margaret Island.

Imray Nagy
Imray Nagy watching over Hungary

The Holocaust and WWII

Hungary, eager to regain territory lost in WW1, allied with Germany in WWII.  They were not very enthusiastic, however, and did not however cooperate on Hitler’s devastating “final solution.” In 1944, Hungary secretly negotiated for peace with the allies.  Hitler found out, invaded, and set up the puppet Arrow-Cross government.  Within a short period, over 430,000 Jews were rounded up and promised “relocation.”  In fact, they were shipped by railcar to Auschwitz.  On arrival, 80% were sent directly to “decontamination showers.”  From the these gas chambers, their bodies were carried – by other prisoners – to the incinerators.  I found a moving memorial to this horror as I turned my Budapest run back along the Danube .

Below Arpad Bridge on the Danube
Below Arpad Bridge on the Danube…
Mártír emlékmű
… stands a Mártír emlékmű (Martyrs’ Memorial)

Medieval Saints

In the early 1200s, the Genghis Khan’s Mongol Horde drove King Bela IV of Hungary to a remote holding in what is now Croatia.  There, his daughter Margaret was born.  He swore that if God would liberate Hungary from the Mongols, he would dedicate his daughter to the church.  And then – the great Khan died, the Mongols retreated, and Bela was restored. 

But Bela needed allies, and so tried to marry Margaret to a Bavarian King.  She refused, and retreated to a Dominican monastery on an island in the Danube River near Budapest.  Margaret was later canonized, and Margaret Island is now a vast city park.  The park and lonely remains of the monastery were my favorite part of my Budapest run.

Margit Isle
The bridge to Margit Isle…
Ready to Run
…leading to a great running path
Picnic in the park
Picnic in the park
Musical Fountain
The Musical Fountain
St. Martgrit's Dominican Convent
The remains of St. Margaret’s Dominican Convent

896 and the 1896 Millennial Celebration

1896 was the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar tribes’ arrival.  Prosperous from its position in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Budapest celebrated with magnificent buildings throughout the city.  The highlight though was (and is) Varosliget Park, with its Hero’s Square, Széchenyi thermal bath, and Vajdahunyad Castle. 

Hero’s Square…
… with the Seven Magyar Chieftains
Széchenyi thermal baths continue the Roman tradition
Vajdahunyad Castle

Most entertaining was a modern addition, a sculpture of actor Bela Lugosi of Hungary, famous for playing Dracula in the 1931 black-and-white classic film.  A sculptor installed it one night in 2003 with the help of friends, and the city has let it remain, honoring one of its famous citizens.

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula

After Bela, I made for home on Andrassy Ut. The Budapest Run was a one to be savored.

The Budapest Run through History

More Running Bytes from Around the World

The Zagreb Rerun

We had time for a quick Zagreb Rerun this year.  Though short, it was a nostalgic stop, like visiting an old friend.

The Krakow Planty Run

I anticipated this for months: The Krakow Planty Run, through the park that rings Krakow’s old town.  Thank heavens for “Planty” of shade!

Running Prague

I drifted to sleep last night with visions running Prague in the cool morning, before the arrival of the heat and tourist crowds.  I’d have the Charles Bridge and its views of St. Vitus Cathedral all to myself.  Bliss!


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