The last time all four of us were in Budapest was over three years ago. We had decided that we would see the sunrise above Budapest, the city we first learned to love, as a family, ten years earlier:one of those “must-do-101-things-to-see-before-you-die” experiences. It is the middle of summer, July, so we rise and leave our Socialist-era apartment on Dr. László Csányi Boulevard, as it is grandly called, in the town of Vác, some 35 kilometers north of Budapest, in the darkness before dawn. We are headed for Gellert Hill which, as any and every guidebook will tell you, “offers the best panoramic views of Budapest”. Or more precisely we are headed for the Citadel on this hill, a place embedded in the consciousness of all the city’s residents because the Hapsburg’s built it, after the Revolution of 1848-49 had failed to overthrow them, to overlook the city, and fire at will on its inhabitants, if it was ever required to do so again. The views are stunning regardless. We travel in the growing light and it soon becomes clear we will arrive just after the sun officially rises over Pest.
Nonetheless we arrive and the Citadel is deserted. There are many memories here: the time we took my Hungarian Mother-in-law here on her last day in Budapest before she would return to New Zealand never again to see this city, the heart of her homeland. Or the time we stood on a sixth-floor balcony directly opposite the Citadel, in Pest, on a glorious evening on August 20th 1997, and saw a fireworks display that took our breath away. So we feel we are on almost sacred soil here. We pass the sleeping guard and the signs that say not only are photographs forbidden, but also that this place is guarded by dogs. We ignore these signs. The Citadel is ours and ours alone. It is too early at 5:00am for any one else but us and a sleeping guard. For a brief half hour or so, it remains our playground. In a few hours busloads of tourists will ascend the hill and they will enjoy “the best panoramic views of Budapest”, just as promised in all the guidebooks.
We make shadows. To remind ourselves that even though we truly blessed to be here, as the sun rises above the Danube, and the cities of Pest, Buda and Old Buda, there are sins of the past and future this land and this city have suffered, and are yet to suffer. At least, that is what I tell myself.