Posts Tagged ‘Blaha Lujza tér’

Deák Bill in Review

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

After writing that last blog post about some strands of Hungarian music, I actually got out and about and caught Deák Bill and his band at the Old Man’s Music Pub near Blaha Lujza square.

As soon as I walked in, I spotted Bill sitting at a table with friends. He’s easy to find in a crowd with his tell-tale crutch sticking up above peoples’ heads. The pub itself is a decent size. It serves as a restaurant as well, with table service up until 23:00 hours. The food looked good and smelled nice. The only oddity about this was that the waiters offered bar to table service for drinks to dining customers, but the hungry folks had to slug it out English style in order to get to the bar. It was worth it considering a nice pint of Soproni was only 550 forints.

As for the show itself, I had a great time, and it was much louder than I expected (earplugs required in my opinion). Bill had a young band with him consisting of drums, guitar, bass and a pretty sweet sounding keyboard. I would say they fall more into rock than blues, but wherever that argument leads, Bill can sing and the people love him. His voice is a bit rough at times, but he’s got some serious force behind it, and again, the people love him.

One young man behind me shouted “Bill a király!” after every song. This was followed by a whoop-whoop of sorts. It wasn’t anything awful, but it was a bit close to my ear. After about 20 of these, I turned and looked at the young man. Just remember that he probably spoke no English, and my Hungarian is just a little bit broken. Also, we didn’t speak to each other, but when he smiled, the look on his face said something like ‘You know I’m right, right?’. It was a pretty funny moment in the evening’s festivities. All I could do was smile back at him and nod my head in agreement.

Besides more than a fair share of Hungarian songs, they played Hungarianized versions of Hey Joe & Johnny B. Goode. At one point, people were shouting out requests. Bill replied with ‘Nem szabad’. This means not allowed. My inside sources say this was probably in response to a request for the Transylvania national anthem or something else suitably controversial. That sort of request is a sticky situation politically. Bill certainly came across as the nice guy for laying that request to rest.

I was also presently surprised by all the different types of people that came out to see Bill and his band. There were working class folks, those a bit more monied, Hungarian hipster girls (dancing up front and singing along word for word), intellectual types and plenty of average Joe types, or average János types as would be the case over here. Whatever their background or social standing, they all sang along and raised their glasses to Bill.

I will certainly see the king of Kőbánya blues next time he performs on home turf in Budapest. It’s a good night out, and the gig at Old’s Man Music Pub was free, although I know many of performances are not without an entrance fee.

I’m telling you, the adoration of the crowds, the amazing sound of his keyboard player and Bill’s voice make it all worthwhile to miss just a bit of the brilliance that is Hungarian television.

Bill a király!

Useful tips for your trip to Budapest 2: How to get around in Pest?

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Budapest is a really big city with millions of people living in it. You can drive for an hour and not get from one end to another, but frankly, much of this expanse towards the edges is made up of the ‘burbs with giant 24-hour Tescos and industrial areas. If you spend a couple of days in town, however, chances are that you will be loitering in the more ‘happening’ places: around downtown Pest and the Buda castle, in which case you will be able to enjoy the truly extensive and reliable public transport system – or the freedom of getting from A to B on your own two feet.

Budapest is made up of the hilly and leafy Buda on the western banks of the Danube and the flat and urban Pest on the east, also known as the right hand side, should you be swimming against current in the Danube. The Danube is bang in the middle, obediently running in a straight line from north to south, like a knife in butter.

budapest-birds-eye1The purpose of this post is to explain the basic layout of the Pest side. First of all, because it’s so beautifully messy, and logical and mnemonic at the same time, that it is nothing short of sheer bloody poetry in the form on nineteenth-century urban planning. Secondly, because it’s kinda useful when you want to get back to your digs after a long day (or night) and need something to orient yourself by.

Although the city, as any city of medieval origins, is a far cry from the orderliness of a US-style grid oriented to cardinal directions, once you get a knack of the layout, you’re pretty much sorted. It is a wheel of three concentric half-circles (boulevard – körút) connected by spokes of straight roads (út), which are wonderfully overlaid by an efficient system of bus and underground lines, including night services on major roads. The three half circles more or less begin with one bridge on the Danube and end in another. Legend holds that the whole system was invented because the boulevards of Pest are basically necessary to keep Buda stapled to the rest of the meaningful universe. Have a look at the right side of the map below and observe the sweeping yellow curves:

Budapest downtown map






1. Kiskörút – ‘Small Boulevard’, the innermost half-circle (N to S)

In reality it begins at downtown Deák tér, the single biggest hub of Budapest public transport where all Metro (underground) lines meet. However, with a bit of help of József Attila utca, which connects it with the Danube, it actually begins with the lovely Chain Bridge, also known as Széchenyi Lánchíd. This is the picture perfect one with the stone lions. (You may have gathered that híd means ‘bridge’ by now.)

Turn your back to the lions (they don’t bite) and walk away from the Danube towards downtown on József Attila utca, across Erzsébet tér and the aforementioned Deák tér and you’ll get onto Kiskörút for real. Kiskörút is made up of segments called Károly körút, Múzeum körút and Vámház körút, and Tram 47 runs along it nicely, in case you want to save yourself some walking. If you did everything right, you’ll soon reach Szabadság híd (ta-da!), the green metal bridge connecting tourist attractions like the Great Covered Market on the Pest side and the Gellért Baths in Buda. But let’s get back to Pest now.

2. Nagykörút – ‘Grand Boulevard’, the middle half-circle (N to S)

If we start our journey at the Nagykörút’s northern end like in the case of its little brother above, it begins with Margit híd in the north and ends with Petőfi híd in the south. It’s consecutive segments are called Szent István, Teréz, Erzsébet, József, and Ferenc körút, and Trams 4 and 6 run along it 24 hours a day.  Very importantly, the future Street & River pad is located a couple of minutes away from the northern end, in close proximity of Margaret Island (Margitsziget) and the Parliament!

3. Róbert Károly /Hungária/Könyves Kálmán körút – the outer half-circle (N to S)

More adventurous (and less time-poor) visitors may be travelling as far as the longest and busiest boulevard stretching from Árpád híd in the north to Rákóczi híd in the south. Tram 1 runs along it, and then some.

This should be enough of curves, let’s see the straight lines now. I have mentioned that these half circles are connected by busy ‘spokes’ or straight arterial roads. The intersections where these roads meet the boulevards are typically bustling hubs with many places of interest and shopping venues nearby. The two most important are:

4. Andrássy út

Running from downtown Deák tér to must-see-tourist-sight Hősök tere this avenue, originally fashioned after Paris’s Champs Elysée  is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and home to luxury brands and stunning architecture. The pretty little Millenium underground (also known as Line 1 or yellow line) runs underneath the road, but it’s really worth the walk if you feel sporty. It meets Kiskörút at Deák tér, cuts across Nagykörút at the Octogon and if you sit on the underground beyond Hősök tere until you get kicked out two stops later, you can surface at the outermost boulevard, called Hungária.

5. Kossuth Lajos utca / Rákóczi út

Starting at the serenely elegant white Erzsébet híd, this long stretch of road connects all three half circles with the busiest underground line (Line 2, red line) and bus route (7, 5 and many others) including the frequent and safe night bus service (907). Moving away from the bridge, this road meets Kiskörút at Astoria, then cuts across Nagykörút at Blaha Lujza tér, reaching the outer half circle of Hungária körút at the exotically named Zugló Vasútállomás. Then it goes on and reaches infinity where parallels meet, solids turn into plasma and yellow wax peppers cost 150 forints for a pound.

Here is a map of the underground system:


Obviously between these major hubs there is a dense network of city streets with more trams, trolley buses and buses, but you can always make your life easier if your remember how these five major roads intersect and connect. It’s like a simple spiderweb that catches you when you feel entirely and irrevocably lost. You can’t really do that in downtown Pest. If getting lost is what rocks your boat, walk over a bridge and try Buda.

Aluminium: The Hungarian Steel

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

We can only hope that the pram in the picture does not contain babies or small animals.

Enjoy this very special snapshot of the dazzling Corvin Department Store on Blaha Lujza tér. The photo is from 1975, the fine vintage year when Street & River’s Zsuzsa herself began her intrepid travels in a very similar pram, sans the motorcar attached to the wheels. Never been a fan of high-speed infant mobility.

Photo: Corvin Department Store, Budapest, 1975.

Source:, courtesy of Tamás Urbán

Corvin Department Store looks back on a long history. Its ‘modern’ facade quietly crumbled into retro chic in the past few years and it’s hard to imagine that the windowless aluminium sheeting is a mere shell concealing a completely different building underneath.

The original building at the site was the Apollo Cinema, which moved into the nearby Royal Hotel in 1915 to give way to the new enterprise. The new building, and the department store in it, was owned by a German company and it opened its poncey gates to the public on 1 March 1926. Architect Zoltán Reiss designed a Classicist palace, with a glass roof and decoration designed by Fülöp Ö. Beck and Szigfrid Pongrácz. The building was also home to a restaurant, a cafe, ticket office and photography studio, where fashion shows, art exhibitions and live music attracted the fashionable Budapest public. From 1931, it also boasted the first escalator installed in Hungary!

Fájl:Corvin anno.png

The four-storey building was damaged in the war and closed in 1944. But the winds of change brought an even bigger shell shock in peace time: in 1948, the store was nationalised and renamed as Budapest Nagyáruház. In 1956, the revolution was even less merciful than the war and the building suffered severe damage. In 1966, it was transferred into the state-owned National Department Store Company (from 1967 Centrum Department Stores) and underwent major transformation. This is when Reiss’s grandiose Neoclassical palace was clad in functional aluminium from head to toe, in the spirit of… well, we don’t know.  For the average citizen, unversed in property management, this architectural masterstroke normally only begins to make sense in window cleaning season, but then it really does.

Anyway, this is the building we have now. After 1989, the store story becomes more complicated and less interesting. It changed hands several times and somehow lost even that humble lustre it has somehow managed to retain in the years when you could still buy a panty hose for 37 shiny Hungarian Forints (and thought little or nothing of tying a pram on top of the family car to defy the basic laws of aerodynamics).

The building is now home to a number of smaller stores of various profile and quality, as well as a large supermarket on the ground floor.  In 2007, the department store got a new lease of life when the roof was transformed into Corvintető. A year later this popular night club and summer watering hole also took over the fourth floor, which in the glory days used to be the happy home of the employee creche and designated smoking area. Please ponder the synergy of these two essential functionalities for a second.

By the way, if you want to see the Buda Hills without actually climbing them, just go up to the roof on a summer evening, get a fröccs and enjoy.


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