Urban Exploration.

The weather in Budapest has been wonderful lately (hello, sunshine and short skirts!), which means that even the laziest and most decadent of housewives (ahem. yours truly.) wants to get out of the apartment. Today, after a lunch with some of my expat girlfriends, we decided to take advantage of the weather and take a stroll. As we were walking, we kept noticing these gorgeous buildings – or rather, buildings with the potential to be gorgeous, since we were in the 8th district. We commented that so often, we’re looking down at our feet (there’s a lot of stuff on the Budapest streets that you don’t want to step in…) and completely missing the interesting stuff above street level.

One of these poor guys is missing its head, but it's still pretty charming.
One of these poor guys is missing its head, but it’s still pretty charming.
A gorgeous building in the 8th district - can you imagine how it would look with just a little money and time?
A gorgeous building in the 8th district – can you imagine how it would look with just a little money and time?
This building isn't in great shape (especially the bottom floor, covered in graffiti), but whenever I see it, I long to buy it and fix it up. If only I had a few spare billions of forints lying around.
This building isn’t in great shape (especially the bottom floor, covered in graffiti), but whenever I see it, I long to buy it and fix it up. If only I had a few spare billions of forints lying around.

Our conversation about looking above our heads reminded me of some exploring I did in our own apartment building. The building we live in was built in 1873, which was in the sort of golden age of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Like many of the buildings from that time, ours has a set of servants’ stairs – a staircase at the back of the apartment building just for the household staff to use. I didn’t know that it existed for the first year or so that we lived here – the entrance on the ground floor is blocked by an iron door, and they’re no longer in use – but after a tour of some other apartment buildings with a guide who mentioned the servants’ stairs, I went to take a look. It was easy to tell why they’re not used – as I was standing there, I could hear the sound of plaster cascading down the walls and steps. The weird thing is that I never bothered to look above my head while I was checking the stairs out… until yesterday, when I went back to snap a picture in the sunlight. And then I noticed this.

Stairway to... nowhere.
Stairway to… nowhere.

At some point, a false ceiling was created, and now the servants’ stairs just… end. (This made me curious as to what they look like on the 3rd floor. The answer? I have no idea, because they’re behind an iron door. It sort of looks like the 3rd floor of the staircase has been turned into an apartment… but if so, that is one tiny apartment. It’s like 10 meters square!)

Looking down the servants' stairs from the 2nd floor.
Looking down the servants’ stairs from the 2nd floor. I would NOT walk on these.

It’s worth pointing out that while these stairs are pretty shady looking, our main staircase isn’t much to look at either…

The main staircase in our building, as well as our Communist-era lift that always makes visitors nervous
The main staircase in our building, as well as our Communist-era lift that always makes visitors nervous

Especially in comparison to, say, this gorgeous staircase we encountered on a tour in the 5th district.

Fancy.
Fancy.

And while I was exploring, I popped up to the 4th floor. I always wondered how the workers got on the rooftops of the Oktogon buildings to change the advertisements (our building has a Rolex logo on top), and now I know. On most floors, there are two apartment doors in the stairwell. On the fourth, there’s only one apartment, and the other door is this lovely creature that leads to the roof.

Someone clearly didn't like this door.
Someone didn’t like this door.

The best part is that someone has clearly locked themselves in the roof before, based on the chopped out pieces of wood and the fact that there is now a handwritten note on the door with the name and number of the building manager in case of emergency!

Up to the roof!
Up to the roof!

I thought about venturing up to the roof, but the state of the door dissuaded me…. I don’t know how to say, “I’m locked in the attic, please come rescue me!” in Hungarian.

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