| Karin Olofsdotter

My Budapest - the Ambassador Walks to Work

In its WittyLeaks series, a recent issue of Diplomacy & Trade has carried a piece by the Swedish ambassador to Hungary, Karin Olofsdotter who describes her walk from her residence to work as she observes everyday life in Budapest.

It might come as a surprise to some of you that I walk to work – the usual image of an Ambassador is that she or he is driven in a fancy car with a flag on it. Swedish Ambassadors are not allowed to use the embassy car or driver to take them to and from work. Once we are at the office, we can be taken around as much as the job requires. So my options are my own car or walking – and I prefer the latter as it gets me to work in half an hour, gives me the opportunity to see some of daily life in the city and is good for my waistline. In this issue of WittyLeaks, I will share some of my impressions walking to my office.

‘My’ walk starts by going down the steep Diana utca in the 12th district passing a school – can’t help but noticing how the teenagers I meet on their way to school look exactly the same as in Sweden. They all look slightly bored and blasé, the girls are smoking and the boys have pants hanging so low I actually wonder how they keep them up. I guess this is a sign of me getting older – nagging on today’s youth!

I have a magnificent view of the city from here, I can see all the way to the back side of the castle. Then, I hit Szent Orbán tér – I send a thought to the Prime Minister of Hungary and to the Saint of Wines. At my residence, we only serve Hungarian wines – Sweden is not exactly a wine producing country and we can’t serve vodka to every meal. I wish more Hungarian wines could be exported to my country – there are Hungarian wines sold there, of course, but most on the mid- to lower end of the quality scale – I really hope my colleagues at the Hungarian Embassy in Stockholm are successful in promoting the great wines of this country. I also pass a Korean restaurant, it seems popular – there is quite a big Korean community in Budapest most likely due to the successful Korean investments in Hungary. But still no Swedish restaurant…

I turn left at Abos utca. It is a winding street with a mix of older villas and architecture from the sixties and seventies – most apartments must have fantastic views from the balconies. I must say that one of the great pleasures of living in the 12th district is the views – not the steep hills however… The garbage truck is coming in the opposite direction. It looks the same as in my country but safety seems to be taken more seriously here – the two men working are wearing fluorescent orange vests, thus, they are clearly seen in the heavy morning traffic. A difference, however, in the street scene is that cars can park in opposite directions on the same side of the curb – that would not happen in the very orderly Sweden and is probably very much forbidden – but is probably very practical! This street must be very popular to live on and the owners must be doing fairly well, there are hardly any ‘Eladó’ (For sale) signs here, which I see a lot of on many other streets. Now, I turn left at Határõr út where birch trees are growing – they really give me a sense of home, and as usual, the dog in the garden barks as it sees me pass. The owner must also be a lover of old-era cars – he has a Trabant convertible in excellent condition! I would love to be taken for a spin in that one now that spring is finally here.

Of course, I meet a lot of people during my walk to work. What strikes me with the older generation of Budapesters is that they are always very elegant. The men wear hats, ties, suits and polished leather shoes. The ladies are nicely coiffured, probably go to the hairdresser just to get their hair arranged, also wear hats, coats, nylon stockings and heels – even if they just seem to be out strolling or going to the grocer’s. It is not like this in Sweden. Older people in their seventies dress the same as their twenty-year-old grandchildren. To me, being so elegantly dressed is very ‘Continental Europe’ and something I miss in my own country – why does everyone have to look the same?!? From Határõr út, I have a great view over to Rózsadomb and the TV-tower. As I walk along, I cannot help but wonder how it was on this street during the Second World War – were there street fights here between the Germans and the Soviets? What did the architecture look like – was it as residential or was it more of old summer residences for the wealthy and the aristocracy?

Now, I turn down a long staircase that takes me to the bottom of the hill, it was renovated during winter and then it was a bit hard to get down, but now it is really great. Halfway down the stairs, someone has used a tree stump to cut out a chair – great piece of artwork and very practical if you want to take a break.

Csaba utca starts at the bottom of the stairs. I recall this street from Kati Marton’s book about her parents’ life in Budapest in the ‘50s. I believe she grew up here. If you haven’t read it – do – it’s called “Enemies of the people: my family’s journey to America”. At the corner is a house with a terrace to die for – it is for sale! When walking past, I always wonder who lived there originally and had the guts to build such a grand railing.

The renovations of the French Ambassador’s residence are proceeding, I pass it on my right, and I am sure it will be lovely once it’s done. Just opposite is one of my favourite buildings, to me it epitomizes the intellectual Central Europe – the inhabitants clearly love books and when I walk home at night, I can see them sitting reading in their library. Unfortunately, many of the buildings are in clear need of restoration – I do absolutely understand that there is not money for that, but this city is full of architectural gems waiting for more than a new coat of paint.

I have to run to cross Városmajor utca to make the green light. Talking about renovations, the school at the corner has been redone during the winter and it looks extraordinary. Just passed a young couple kissing – I have noted that Hungarians, no matter at what age, seem to express tenderness much more openly than Swedes – this is really something we should learn from!

My last stretch of walk passes small shops selling almost everything a person needs – from washing detergent to cookies and various alcoholic beverages. As you might now, we still have a state monopoly regarding sales of the latter, so, in Sweden it is much harder to buy wine and spirits. I also pass several flower shops – also a big difference in our cultures and countries. Flowers are relatively much more expensive in Sweden and we don’t have the same tradition of men giving women flowers – maybe also something we should learn…

Slowly getting closer to my office, I pass Széll Kálmán tér – busting of commerce – older people selling flowers, Roma women and men selling garments, people heading to work on the tram and by metro. This is maybe not the most beautiful square in town but it shows the diversity of the city. A couple of minutes later, I hit the embassy at Kapás utca, having passed the dog play ground on Csalogány utca.

I really love my morning walk, and through walking the same route all the time, I can follow the changes of season, the city developments and get inspired for work!

Karin Olofsdotter

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