When my transfer to Budapest was announced in October 2021, I felt great joy and satisfaction, as I would be completing my diplomatic career in a country with a long and glorious history whose people have been linked to the Greek people for centuries.
Thus, I arrived in Budapest on January 19, 2020, full of appetite and enthusiasm for my new post. I was, however, unlucky. A month and a half later, the pandemic of COVID-19 hit; as a result, everything came to a halt.
However, the few outings I managed to make during this short period were enough to confirm that I was lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, which I had visited as a tourist in April 2006. It is worth remembering that the first time I learned more about Hungary was thanks to football in 1966 (I was nine years old), when my team, Panathinaikos, played against Ferencváros of Flórián Albert. A few years later, in 1971, Panathinaikos, coached by Ferenc Puskás, played in the final of the then European Championship at Wembley.
In high school, we learned about the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, statesman Lajos Kossuth and poet Sándor Petőfi. The great composers Ferenc Liszt and Imre Kálmán are very well-known in Greece.
Budapest and more
At some point, the coronavirus passed. Thus, I started to explore not only the capital but also other parts of Hungary. I loved walking along the banks of the Danube and admiring the view of Buda with the Matthias Church, the Fisherman's Bastion, the Buda Castle, the Gellért Monument, the Gellért Baths and other extraordinary buildings – a pleasant walk on the, now closed, Chain Bridge, which leads from Pest to Buda and vice versa.
What can anyone say about the Fisherman's Bastion, from where you have an incredible view of the city and the magnificent National Assembly building? Sometime last Christmas, I was hosting some friends who suggested that we go to the Fisherman's Bastion in the evening. That was it. What an incredible beauty to see Budapest from above! The illuminated National Assembly building reflected in the waters of the Danube and the Matthias Church standing there, covered in lights and history. And to add something practical for the visitor: it is in the evening, unlike in the morning hours, that there are plenty of parking spaces in this area.
Apart from Buda, I explored the area of Pest, where, by the way, my residence on Andrássy Avenue with its beautiful buildings is located. I was lucky that the residence is located directly opposite the Opera House. Like all Ambassadors, I was invited, to its opening ceremony of the building after the completion of the renovation work on March 12 this year. As a Greek, I was particularly moved to see around the Opera House statues of the Nine Muses whose names are written in Greek.
In Pest you can admire the majestic St. Stephen's Church and other beautiful buildings, such as the National Assembly, the Academy of Sciences, the Hungarian National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts.
In Budapest, I am utterly impressed by the interior decoration of many buildings, such as the National Assembly, the Opera House and several hotels. Real works of art!
But also, the museums of the Hungarian capital piqued my interest. Both the National Museum of Hungary and the Museum of Fine Arts have masterpieces. I have recently seen the exhibitions of Matisse and El Greco.
In addition to Budapest, Hungary has many more beautiful cities with a special character. The Danubian Szentendre and Vác, Visegrád and Esztergom with its magnificent Basilica, Eger with its famous wines, Debrecen and many others. I also love Gödöllő and its palace museum. In Visegrád, you can admire the panoramic view from the castle and see the bend of the Danube. Before the Second World War, Greeks had most of the riverboats on this river.
Anyone visiting Budapest considers it an obligation to take a short cruise on the Danube to admire the city from a different perspective. I personally prefer the night cruise, which allows you to see the buildings clearly and admire their style.
Another advantage of Budapest is the variety of its restaurants. You can eat very well for a few or a lot of forints. The luxury restaurants are nice. But I also like the small taverns in different corners of the city, offering traditional Hungarian dishes.
Connections from the past
Living in Budapest and visiting Hungarian cities, I was able to see the centuries-old relations between the Hungarian and Greek people.
I wonder how many people know that, of the crowns made during the Byzantine Empire, only two have survived and they are in Hungary! The lower part of the symbol of the Hungarian nation, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen was made in Constantinople in the 11th century and was given by Emperor Michael 7th Doukas to Prince Géza I of Hungary. As is known, this Crown is prominently placed in a hall of the Hungarian National Assembly. The names of the saints depicted are written in Greek. The other crown, this time Byzantine, is that of Emperor Constantine IX Monomahos (‘Monomakhosz-korona’ in Hungarian), who reigned from 1042 to 1055. This crown is in the Hungarian National Museum.
Margarita, whose name was given to the very beautiful Danube Island (known in Hungarian as ‘Margit-sziget’), was a Hungarian princess and the daughter of King Béla IV of Hungary and Maria Laskarina, who was a Byzantine princess.
Looking into more recent years, we come across the activity in Hungary of György Sina and his son Simon Sina. This family contributed financially to the construction of the famous Chain Bridge, as well as other buildings, such as the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. It should be noted that, with a grant from Simon Sina, the buildings of the Academy and the Observatory were built in Athens. This family also owned the palace of Gödöllő, which they donated to the imperial couple in 1867. Other Greek families lived and worked in Hungary, such as, for example, Muráti, Szacelláry and Haris.
In the past century, many Greeks came to Hungary during the Greek civil war (1944-1949) and thereafter. As their children and grandchildren have informed me, the Hungarian people supported them, so that, despite the many difficulties, they were able to get back on their feet in Hungary, thus contributing to its social and economic development. Many of these Greeks settled in Beloiannisz, a village outside Budapest. Coincidentally, the area where the village is located once belonged to György Sina and was called ‘the village of the Greeks’ (‘Görögfalva’).
Concluding this three-year period in Hungary, I will return to Greece with plenty of pleasant memories. I will definitely visit the country again. I feel Budapest as my own city and one that I could easily live in. I would urge my compatriots to visit Hungary, to get to know the wonderful people and a country, which is packed with history, natural beauties and unique monuments.
Nagy köszönet Magyarországnak, Budapestnek és a magyar embereknek a csodálatos évekért, amelyeket ebben a vendégszerető országban töltöttem.
[A big ‘thank you’ to Hungary, Budapest and the Hungarian people for the wonderful years I spent in this hospitable country.]
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