Monday, May 31, 2010

Budapest - now and then

Budapest is a city of two million people, with a very long history.

The Romans had an important  colony called Aquinsum until the mid-fifth century. They located and developed thermal water sources, which continue to be an important attraction today. In the mid-fifth century the Romans were forced to flea from the Huns, who occupied most of what is now Hungary until what we now consider the Hungarians (the Magyars) arrived in the year 1000. The years since have seen a pattern of building, destruction and rebuilding that would last until the mid-twentieth century and included the Mongols burning down what was then Buda and Pest in 1241, and periodic destruction by Turks, Habsburgs, and others, and then the Germans and Russians in World War II, and the Russians during the 1956 uprising. Walking around Budapest, one sees ample evidence of war damage, pockmarked buildings, and bullet holes in various state of repair.

Just looking around, one can imagine the splendor and opulence of pre World War II Budapest. It is evident however that fifty years of communist rule and decay has taken its toll. While some buildings have been beautifully renovated and would be at home in London, Paris or Rome, many buildings are in dire need of repair. Sleek Mercedes, Audis and other luxury cars roll down the streets next to Ladas, Trabants and Yugos belching black smoke. While most monuments to the Soviet era have been removed, there is still a monument to the so-called liberators of Budapest in 1945 (the Russians). Budapest is a place of many faces.

There is also the ugly past of anti-semitism, including the Arrow Cross movement of World War II, where fascist Hungarians turned out to be as effective at murdering Jews and others as the Nazis. Just today I came across a grim reminder, a swastika cut into a park bench, not representative of the Hungarian population of today, but still a grim reminder of its past.

Let's hope that the future holds peace and prosperity for Budapest.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The many faces of Wes

I met Wes Voorheis in 2003 when he began managing some important litigation in which I was counsel, and before long our relationship became one of friendship and respect. On my 50th birthday, when I was lying in the hospital on chemotherapy, my life hanging in the balance, it was Wes and my partner and friend Cara Cameron who brought me a birthday lunch - it brightened an otherwise grim day - it's not a lot of fun having a birthday on a cancer ward, particularly when you believe it will be your last. The lunch he and Cara brought was a gesture of kindness which I have not forgotten.

Imagine my joy therefore when Wes told me he would meet me in Vienna with his lovely daughter Anne to cycle with me to Budapest. His presence here has been very special, a lovely sequel to our lunch in the hospital, and I thought I would celebrate our friendship with my photos of the many faces of Wes, and what better starting point than Wes with his dear (and playful and sometimes embarassed by her father - just like all kids) daughter:

We had such fun with cycling Wes, and as you can see from the last photo below, even the ducks wanted to part of the fun:

and let`s not forget jet lagged, or tired or exhausted Wes, the body may have tired, but the spirit never dimmed:

and Wes was always thinking, his mind working, even when just sitting on the sidewalk:

and then there was Wes on the Budapest subway, he even befriended the ticket checker and borrowed his official armband!

and we enjoyed great meals together (especially when Wes paid), and even just waiting for a table (that's Wes, looking dapper in his red shirt) or strolling around:

but most importantly we all shared this journey as friends.


Wes, thanks for being here, life would not be the same without you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Scenes from Budapest

We spent the day enjoying Budapest’s wonders. Actually I should say Buda and Pest, the two parts of the City separated by the Danube and joined by 8 bridges. Buda is the older of the two, and they say Pest is more lively, but both have a rich heritage, and a vibrant buzz – Budapest is hopping. We walked the streets, crossed its bridges, admired its architecture, sampled some its wonderful food, enjoyed its street music (including klezmer) and then late in the afternoon took the waters at the Gellert Baths, one of the many thermal centres in the City. I am told that 70 million liters of 21-78 Celsius warm thermal water spring forth daily from Budapests 118 natural thermal springs. The Gellert is one of Budapest's oldest and most opulent baths, and we enjoyed the hot pools (36 and 38 C), steam baths (followed by cold plunges) and saunas. A visit to the baths is a throwback to a more leisurely time, a opprotunity to indulge oneself and just relax. They say that taking Budapests thermal waters has great health benefits, and even if it doesn’t, boy did it feel good.

At night we all went out for a great Italian meal, taught the restaurant how to make a Tom Collins (Wes’s favourite cocktail, which I now enjoy - just google it and make one for yourself) then Vince and I took some photos from the Castle promenade, which is just beside out hotel. As you can see, day or night, Budapest is the best.