The times, they are a-changin’.

It’s comforting to know that wherever you travel, some things remain the same. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and politicians like to pull out all the stops to make sure they’re re-elected. Hungary’s first parliamentary election under its new constitution takes place on April 6, and the political party that’s currently in power (called Fidesz) would really like to stay there. Because of this, there have been lots of renovations and public works unveiled in the weeks leading up to the elections. As a non-European expat, I can’t vote in the elections (Hungarian residents who are EU citizens can) but I can enjoy the fruits of their campaigning labors.

The first renovation to be unveiled was the Hungarian Parliament building (Az Országháza) and the open square in front of it, Kossuth Lajos tér. From the first time I visited Budapest in 2011, the exterior of the Parliament building had been undergoing a thorough cleaning and renovation, with scaffolding covering nearly the entire building. The square in front of the building wasn’t much to look at either. It mainly consisted of a parking lot and large clumps of unhappy tourists, who were both confused by the ticket purchase process and angered by the fact that they had to stand outside in the elements for hours. On March 15, National Day (which commemorates the 1848 revolution), the newly renovated square and fully restored building were unveiled. The scaffolding came down, the parking lot was moved underground, a visitor’s center was created, and the square became a lovely pedestrian-friendly place to spend an afternoon. The government also announced that there would be hourly changing-of-the-guard ceremonies while Parliament is in session, and daily there will be brief ceremonies for the raising and lowering of an enormous Hungarian flag. I went with my girlfriends to check it out on the opening day, and despite the wind (and ensuing dust storm) there was a huge crowd! I’m definitely going back on sunny summer days.

The Library of the Parliament - it was so completely obscured before the renovation that most people didn't know it was there!
The Library of the Parliament – it was so completely obscured before the renovation that most people didn’t know it was there!
A reflecting pool across from the entrance was added.
A reflecting pool across from the entrance was added.
Welcome to the Parliament!
Welcome to the Parliament!
The newly cleaned facade is an amazing contrast to the blackened look it sported before.
The newly cleaned facade is an amazing contrast to the blackened look it sported before.
The Museum of Ethnography sits across the square from Parliament. Several scenes from NBC's Dracula were shot inside!
The Museum of Ethnography sits across the square from Parliament. Several scenes from NBC’s Dracula were shot inside!

This past weekend, as the last full weekend before the elections, was crammed with political rallies and demonstrations. Our building sits on Andrassy, and most parades and rallies take place on that street because of its location and historical significance. On Saturday, we had a lovely lunch on a terrace down the street from us and watched the Fidesz party’s parade down the street towards Heroes’ Square.

Participants carry signs with the name of their hometown or village.
Participants carry signs with the name of their hometown or village.
"The name is the omen - Victor" (because the current prime minister, and the head of their party, is named Viktor)
“The name is the omen – Victor” (because the current prime minister, and the head of their party, is named Viktor)
The blue and orange flag in the background is for the Székely Land, which is a part of Romania but home to a majority of ethnic Hungarians (and is extremely controversial, apparently)
The blue and orange flag in the background is for the Székely Land, which is a part of Romania but home to a majority of ethnic Hungarians (and is extremely controversial, apparently)

We arrived home that evening to a bunch of propaganda in our mailbox for the next day’s rallies by the Socialist party, including this charming flyer:

I don't know exactly what this says, but I DO know that 1) this was handed out by anti-Fidesz parties and 2) Fidesz has been in charge from 2010 - 2014.
I don’t know exactly what this says, but I DO know that 1) this was handed out by anti-Fidesz parties and 2) Fidesz has been in charge from 2010 – 2014.

Don’t worry, though, our apartment is probably the safest place to be!

The view from our guest bedroom windows.
The view from our guest bedroom windows. There are approximately 6 more police vans and 20 more officers out of sight of the camera!

On Sunday, rather than watching the Socialists’ parade, we opted to join our friends Julie and Wim and take a tour of the new Metro 4, which opened to great pomp and circumstance on March 28th. To say the unveiling of Metro 4 has been a long time coming would be more than an understatement; the first plans for the metro were created in 1972. Yes, you read that correctly. You can see the history of the line here, and read a cynical editorial of the more recent disasters that befell this metro line here. All told, the metro cost approximately $2 billion USD, which is staggering on its own, but even more so when you learn that with that money, Budapest could have completely renovated all three existing lines and their 40-something stations (with matching newly-built metro cars, as well). Was it worth it? I don’t know, but it sure looks pretty. We started our journey at one end, Keleti Palyaudvar (the eastern train station) and ended at Kelenföld train station, getting out at each stop along the way to view the station and its surroundings.

My favorite by far was at Rakoczi tér, which had a Hungarian flag themed interior and a gorgeous water feature on the outside, complete with a crazy reflection system to get natural light down to the train-level.

The tubes bring natural light from the surface down to the bottom of the metro.
The tubes bring natural light from the surface down to the bottom of the metro.
The colors of the Hungarian flag.
The colors of the Hungarian flag.
These are part of the reflection system that brings the light into the tubes.
These are part of the reflection system that brings the light into the tubes.
Just outside the Rakoczi tér metro station - the market hall.
Julie checks out the Rakoczi tér market hall just outside the metro station.

Other stations had futuristic interiors.

Interior of Keleti metro station.
Interior of Keleti metro station.
Interior of Kalvin tér metro station
Interior of Kalvin tér metro station

And others were full of color.

The psychedelic ceiling of Szt. Gellert tér metro.
The psychedelic ceiling of Szt. Gellert tér metro.
Seriously, don't drink before going in here.
Seriously, don’t drink before going in here.
Can't pass up a photo op while the metro is CLEAN!
Can’t pass up a photo op while the metro is new and CLEAN!
The kindergarten colors of Moricz Zsigmond korter (say that three times fast...)
The kindergarten colors of Moricz Zsigmond korter (say that three times fast…)

And some were just weird.

The ceiling of... I forget. Újbuda központ maybe?
The ceiling of… I forget. Újbuda központ maybe?
The exit of the Bikás park station.
The exit of the Bikás park station.

We were definitely not the only people checking out the metro on opening weekend – the cars were crammed full, and the metro company reported today that about half a million people rode Metro 4 this weekend! It probably helped that the new line was free for the whole opening weekend. As for me, while I love the new line, it doesn’t actually go anywhere that I could use regularly (getting to the line requires me to take either a tram and another metro, or three metros, or a bus and a tram… you get the idea). It’s entirely possible that was my one and only time to ride it. But I may just have to do it again for fun sometime…

 

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