Two hundred and ninety six steps up I clambered to reach the viewing platform at the base of St. Stephen’s dome. The steps were straight and spiral and short and tall, the inconsistencies rendering the climb that much more exhausting. But I was never truly tired – not really. Nothing kept me from pressing always forward, passing others who needed a break. I’ve been exercising more lately, and I felt it here, at the end of another crazy climb in a foreign country. I could have kept going higher.
Come to think of it, I’ll almost always take the climb, if offered, and until this trip I didn’t realize how often I’ve done so. Dad and I scaled, together, to the top of St. Peter’s 24 years ago when I made my first trip to Rome with him. In the sweltering heat of late Roman spring we trudged upward, sweat pouring from our brows. But the view was worth it.
A few years later, P and I went to Florence, where we schlepped together to the top of the Duomo on a cold, wet, grey February morning, stepping carefully so as not to lose our footing in the water puddled on the heavily worn, slippery marble. The misty atmosphere at that height transported us back centuries into the world of the Italian Renaissance.
How did I get here today?
The morning started with me taking breakfast at Gerbeaud Cafe, and then finally introducing myself to the subway system. I hadn’t actually used it yet, and it was time that I did so, as I’ll need it later this trip. For now, I just took it for a brief ride to the base of Andrássy Ut, a long, treed, boulevard modeled after the Champs-Elysées in Paris. There are a number of sights to be seen here.
One such sight is the Hungarian State Opera House. According to the complete stranger who came up to me and started talking, it opened in 1885. I of course, didn’t want to engage the gentleman in conversation, assuming he was begging for money. In retrospect, I was just a rude tourist.
It was closed now, but I would return to the Opera House in the afternoon for a tour. It’s gorgeous inside, but much smaller than La Scala in Milan. For the sake of acoustics, however, it shares the same horseshoe-shaped configuration
The guide during the tour pointed out that Empress Sisi (Elizabeth), the wife of Franz Joesph I, often came to the opera here and was partial to this box, the one on the right in the photo, adjacent to the stage. This isn’t the royal box, he observed, as it doesn’t have a particularly good view of the show. Rather this is the box from which the Empress could easily be seen by the most people, and that’s why she chose it.
Across from the Opera House is the Dreschler House, former home to the State Ballet. It’s an absoultely stunning structure. The Ballet has long since moved out, however, and the building has stood vacant for many years now. Plans are now in the works to renovate the building as a luxury hotel.
Continuing down the boulevard, I reached the House of Terror. This building houses a museum of exhibits related to the totalitarian (ie fascist and communist) regimes of Hungary in the 20th century. During those eras the building was headquarters for the Arrow Cross Party, the Hungarian equivalent to the Nazi party, and the State Protection Authority, the Hungarian Secret Police from 1945 – 1956.
Considering that today is Monday, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the museum was closed.
I went, then, across the street to the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum, in memorial to the famed Hungarian composer Liszt Ferencz. According to the guidebook, this should be open on Monday. Unfortunately, according to the signs it wasn’t open on this particular Monday.
And so I continued my walk up Andrássy Ut, finally reaching the end at Heroe’s Square under a bright, hot, noontime sun. Construction of the memorial began in 1896, commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, as well as the founding of the Hungarian State in that year.
It’s a spectacular square, but my tired feet were more than a little disappointed to find a large field of pavement, rather than the soft grass I expected.
Behind Heroe’s Square I found a large city park, and eventually a place to sit on a chair and rest my feet overlooking this small lake, where I sat, gazing at this castle. Notably the castle houses an agriculture museum. The museum, of course, was closed on Mondays.
After taking some time for my feet to recover from the long walk, I took the subway back down Andrássy Ut, where I found lunch and the afore-mentioned tour of the Opera House. By the end of the tour, I was well into the afternoon, so I worked my way back to my hotel, discovering, upon reaching St. Stephen’s, that I really hadn’t been very far away.
And that, my friends, took me to the base of the steps and a choice. It was then that I made the decision to take the steps, rather than the elevator, to the base of the dome. Because I could. Perhaps one day I’ll take the elevator, but right here, right now, I wanted the steps.
And in the end, I took the steps down as well. Just because.