Monday 28 May 2012

Only Connect

a wall of pictures in our Budapest drawing room with 'Toft Church' shown bottom left 

Amongst our possessions is a ring made from the gun metal of a rifle, used during the Great War of 1914 - 1918, and passed down to us from grandparents. It is engraved simply 'YPRES'. A parent, as a young girl, received a prize at school from the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, who at the time was in exile and living in Chislehurst, now a suburb of London. More recently, our very dear young Russian friends attended the sale, prior to refurbishment, of The Savoy Hotel and presented us with a set of flatware stamped 'Savoy'. Such are life's little connections which both intrigue and, where we are concerned, endlessly fascinate.

A couple of years ago we purchased a small, Victorian watercolour of a church. Signed 'Toft Church' and 'Painted by an invalid', it sparked our curiosity. During the nineteenth century it was not at all uncommon for paintings, usually the work of gifted amateurs, to be signed in such a way. But as to the whereabouts of this country church, set in its rather ragged churchyard, a little research revealed it to be St. Andrew's, Toft, Cambridgeshire.

the church of St. Andrew's, Toft, Cambridgeshire signed 'Painted by an invalid'

To date the painting took a little more time. However, it would appear that in 1890 the tower of St. Andrew's collapsed in its entirety, presumably on account of poor construction, not to be rebuilt until 1894. Judging from the ivy firmly established at the ruined end, and the somewhat makeshift temporary building attached, we assume that our watercolour may be dated, more or less accurately, to around 1893. Thus a  small, but significant, connection is made.

This Friday we look forward to a totally different kind of connection with the arrival from The Netherlands of our Dutch friends for a short stay here with us in Budapest. And on Saturday evening, around the dinner table, British, Dutch, Hungarians, Poles and Croats will, drawing on a diversity of experiences, connect countries and cultures in a manner which, despite all the current economic difficulties, underlines the strength of European unity.

P.S. Apologies to E.M. Forster for both using and reinterpreting his words in the title of this post.

Monday 21 May 2012

From Primates to Platforms

We are creatures of habit. Breakfast is always taken in the Morning Room, Afternoon Tea is served at 4pm, we have patronised the same butcher for seven years and every Sunday, after church, we can be found in our favourite cukrászda indulging in coffee and cake. And, on good weather Fridays, more often than not, we travel, picnic in hand, to Ezstergom.

the so called 'Cat Stairs' which lead up to the Basilica in Esztergom, a town on the Danube

For, Friday is market day in this attractive town, nestling on the banks of the Danube, connected by the Mária Valéria bridge to Slovakia and dominated by the magnificent Basilica which defines Esztergom as the centre of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. The market traders bring a welcome touch of colour and a reminder of everyday life in this town which is besieged in summer by tourists invading by tour buses and river cruisers.

the Mária Valéria bridge which spans the Danube linking Hungary with Slovakia

the Basilica dominates the town from its hilltop situation commanding wonderful views 

On our most recent visit we did not make our usual uphill pilgrimage to the Cathedral, concentrating instead on the glorious Baroque and Classicist architecture to be found amidst the cobbled streets of the centre of town.

 a typical street scene in Esztergom where houses hug the hillside above the Danube 

Everywhere one turns, mellow stuccoed walls in pastel shades speak of an elegant past, intricately forged ironwork celebrates the craftsmanship of masters of that trade and shoals of students scurrying from one school building to another proclaim Esztergom to be a seat of C21 learning as well as a Royal Seat for two centuries, the seat of the Constitutional Court of Hungary, and a seat of religious devotion for 1000 years.

a monk hurries about his business passing a fine Baroque building in the centre of the town

a glimpse through an open doorway of an apartment building reveals a distant shady court

suited students, on their final day at school, make their ways to attend a last assembly

Our picnic was taken in the shade of a magnificent Plane tree, one of many which form a splendid avenue along a side canal of the mighty Danube beyond. These glorious, ancient trees stretch their sinewy limbs to create a dappled canopy over an inviting promenade, thoughtfully punctuated by elegant iron fronted seats which tempt one to rest, to linger, even to put the world to rights.

an ideal picnic spot in the canopy of an avenue of Plane trees alongside a Danube canal

We sipped iced lemonades on the terrace of a stylish café, we browsed amongst the nooks and crannies of our favourite second hand shop and we walked, wandered, strolled and sauntered through the labyrinths of small streets, peering into any open doorways or courtyards which afforded a closer look.

delicious iced lemonades, an ideal drink for a hot day in May, taken on the terrace of a café

the exterior and entrance of our favourite 'Használt cikk', second hand shop, in Esztergom

one of very many fine buildings of different architectural styles to be found in Esztergom

And, all too soon, the lipstick red metal bullet, which was our train, sped us back to Nyugati Pályaudvar [Western Railway Station] in Budapest. Here an altogether different cathedral awaited. Made of iron and glass, designed by Eiffel of Parisian tower fame, Nyugati Pályaudvar is a monument to a golden age of steam transport.

departure board at Esztergom station indicating the 17.10 train to Budapest from platform 4 

the Esztergom - Budapest train, a very new introduction to the line, and proving very popular 

a corner of Nyugati Pályaudvar designed by Eiffel and largely built of steel and glass

A Basilica to the Divine, a Cathedral to human achievement, all in the space of a single day!

Thursday 10 May 2012

Held in Trust

Comparisons can be, and often are, invidious. However, on occasion, and one such as this, they serve to make and illustrate a point.

Osterley Park, a Neo-Classical mansion, property of The National Trust

Cziráky-kastély, a Neo-Classical mansion, property of the Hungarian State, with custodian

Osterley Park lies within easy reach of London. The Cziráky-kastély, at Lovasberény, is not so many miles from Budapest. Osterley, complete with Adam interiors, pleasure grounds and landscaped park is generally regarded as one of the finest Neo-Classical houses in Britain. It is maintained to an exceptionally high standard by The National Trust. The Cziráky-kastély is considered to be one of the most significant examples of Neo-Classical architecture in Hungary. Its park, dating back to the eighteenth century and in the English style, extends to some 40 hectares. Both house and grounds, ruinous and ravaged by time, neglect, occupying armies, and complete indifference, are in the ownership of the Hungarian State with day to day responsibility delegated to the National Trust for Monuments.

the main entrance hall of Osterley Park as designed by Robert Adam

the main entrance hall of Cziráky-kastély at Lovasberény, Hungary

It is, we regret to say, a total disgrace. Advertised as open daily, we were fortunate to time our visit to a Saturday when it was possible to rouse the custodian by telephone who, it must be said, quite cheerfully cycled from the village, cutting across the park, dog at his side, keys jangling from his belt, to give us entry.

doorway to principal rooms - note the custodian's hat - designed in an 'enfilade' arrangement 

an internal corridor in the guest wing - note the wiring - similar to one in the servants' wing

Permitted to wander at will, our 'guide' meanwhile having retired to read his paper beneath the portico, we risked both life and limb to explore this vast shell of a one time splendid mansion. Falling plaster, bare brick, exposed timbers, dirt, dust and decay all combine to tell a sad, sorry story.

the Baroque chapel, as viewed from an upper window, situated in the English style park

detail of the exterior of the Baroque chapel in the park - one of several similar statues

remains of  a wall painting in the interior of the chapel having been partially restored

Outside the loveliest of Baroque chapels, emptied of its contents, shares dandelion-rich parkland with the ubiquitous Co-op Food Store. Power to the proletariat indeed!

a Co-op Food Store built in the mansion's parkland sometime during the 1960s or 1970s

But what, we ask ourselves, of the future of this priceless treasure? Clearly billions of Hungarian forint, and enormous will on the part of government and people, are urgently required if this, and so many buildings like it, are to be saved.

the National flag of Hungary flies proudly over the mansion - but to what real purpose?

No wonder Osterley looks safe, secure, and not a little smug in comparison.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Music, Muses, a Mitre and Margaret

The choir at St. Margaret's Anglican Episcopal Church, Budapest, with the addition of a Hattatt as its newest member, numbers four. Small, but perfectly formed, as were Apollo and his Muses of Greek legend, what the choir lacks in bodies it surely makes up for in the passionate singing of its individual members.

'Apollo and the Muses' by John Singer Sargent 1856 - 1925

But, on Sunday, 5th. May 2012, chorister members will swell to eight with the addition of the angelic voices of students of the Music Academy on the occasion of the visit to Budapest of The Bishop of Gibraltar and Europe, Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell. 

The Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell

The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, often abbreviated to the Diocese in Europe, is the 44th. Diocese of the Church of England. Covering 1/6th. of the Earth's landmass, it is the largest Diocese on the planet with 150 clergy serving 270 congregations in over 40 countries. Stretching from Madeira to Vladivostok, and Casablanca to Trondheim, it all seems somewhat far removed from Canterbury. 

So it is with much excitement that Bishop Geoffrey will be welcomed to the tiny Anglican outpost at St. Margaret's which thrives under the guidance of Reverend Dr. Frank Michael Hegedus, affectionately known as Father Frank.

stained glass window: St. Margaret of Scotland in the Chapel of Edinburgh Castle

St. Margaret's takes its name from Margaret of Scotland [1045 - 1093]. Born in Hungary, her father exiled by King Canute, she later returned to the British Isles to become Queen of Scotland after her marriage to King Malcolm III.

St. Margaret's Anglican Episcopal Church, Budapest, with entrance [bottom right]

The Church is housed in the basement of two adjoining sugared almond coloured nineteenth century houses in Almássy tér, a small square in 'downtown' Budapest. Although below ground, the ambience within is far from gloomy. Side windows flood the body of the Church with light, and brilliant white painted walls reflect every captured sunbeam. It is a joyous place, the Vox Humana of choir and congregation filling the air with melodic adagios, allegros,  andantinos, arpeggiandos and alleluias.

Father Frank addressing the congregation of St. Margaret's, Budapest

The spiritual welfare of some 30,000 souls lies within Bishop Geoffrey's overall responsibility. And in the small corner of the world that is St. Margaret's Anglican Episcopal Church, Budapest, we are confident that he will find God's Ministry alive and well.

map showing location of St. Margaret's in Almássy tér, Budapest

See you on Sunday!!