by Kathleen Bittner Roth
While my internal exploration has its own particular challenge, as a writer, I can only say this—what a dramatic city in which to put pen to paper!
Long ago, Budapest was actually two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the beautiful Danube. Now one, there are famous bridges connecting them. Right in between, in the middle of the Danube, lies Margaret Island, named for a king’s daughter who became a nun and later sainted. The remains of her convent still exist at one end of the island. The rest of the area holds a serene tree-filled park, hiking trails, an Olympic size swimming pool, a hotel with underground thermal baths, nightclubs and restaurants, even a padded running track. The Hungarians love Margaret Island…as do I.
Despite Hungary’s bloody thousand year history—from the ferocious Attila the Hun and the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century, to the Ottoman wars in the sixteenth century, to Nazi control during WWII, and the virtual prisoner-like existence under a Communist regime and Stalin’s brutal puppet Mátyás Rákosi —like the grand lady she is, Budapest has managed to preserve her beauty, grace and dignity. And her romance. What a passionate and dreamy city to live in!
For exercise, I walk every day, rain, snow or shine. The sheer magnificence of the architecture of this city dulls any sense of cold or wet. I am mesmerized by the old villas that dot the landscape not two streets behind where I live. It amazes me that these huge mansions once housed only a single family and their servants. Now they are mostly embassies, one after the other flying their country’s flags. All along the streets of Budapest even the most insignificant apartment buildings are adorned with statues of angels, faces of cherubs, ornate rococo medallions. There is never a day that passes by when I don’t spy something else adorning a building I’ve strolled by several times.
I live near Heroes Square, and a block from the city park that houses a medieval castle, a lake, a zoo, and the famous palace-like Szechenyi Baths. Oh, these awesome thermal spas and baths! They are all over the city (Hungary has the greatest reserve of thermal mineral waters of any place on earth). Szechenyi (pronounced Say chen ee) is the most famous. In addition to the outdoor pools, the myriad of indoor baths have various water temperatures—take your pick. Wander into one room and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into ancient Roman times. Another room and you are in an elegant Grecian Temple. These are public baths, well maintained, and inexpensive for the patrons. The price for a day? Around $15, including your own private cabana for changing. There are hotels housing private spas and baths throughout the city that are dramatic and luxurious, usually free to hotel guests, and a bit pricier than the public baths to those not staying at the hotel.
Many refer to Budapest as the Paris of the East. Really? After spending less than a year here, I think it should be reversed: Paris should be called the Budapest of the West!
If you ever have a chance, or have not done so, do not miss Eastern Europe, especially this venerable city (look me up, I’ll show you around). Having been married to a German citizen, I am familiar with both the East and West. I much prefer Eastern Europe. There is a wonderful, aristocratic sense of the old here that is still captured in the hearts of the people.
Hungarian women are beautiful. They are sensual long into their ‘later years’. With all these baths and spas and mineral treatments around (there are three aestheticians right here on my street!) the care the women take of themselves is ingrained in them as part of their culture. Even during the restrictive Communist era, I am told the women still found a way to have their facials and attend the baths (If you want to get a visceral, bird’s eye view of the terrible reign of Communism in Hungary, I urge you to read Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People. Riveting).
Budapest is a romantic city, filled with passionate people who love the arts, culture and each other. With so much rich history here, I do hope one day we will broaden our publishing horizons and include areas such as Budapest as a backdrop for romance novels. With its wonderful past and historical detail, the possibilities for excellent romance stories are endless.
I don’t know how long I will live here, perhaps this year, perhaps whenever, but etched in my heart is an incredible city, complex in its history and its people. Whatever I do, wherever I go, Budapest will remain for me, one of the most romantic cities on earth.
What about you? What is your favorite romantic city you like/or would like to write about or wish to visit? Leave a comment, ask a question…I’ll be in and out to respond. Thanks for coming by.
I’ll leave you with a few Budapest websites you can check out on your own, but don’t miss this wonderful YouTube presentation of a tour of Budapest set to music.
History of Hungary
Kathleen Bittner Roth is a prepublished author who writes historical romance set in the Victorian period. Her website is http://www.kathleenbittnerroth.com/