One flat mate calls me a crazy man, the other merely shakes her head, while my ever-overprotective mother even some 7,000 kilometers away in the eastern United States vehemently warns me against the follies of being ill prepared and naïve, cautionary tales of lone outings gone awry and horrors abounding for unwary wanderer.
What were my whole being to burst as a result of pent-up energy that I would not take to the hills at least three, maybe four or five, times a week; only having moved here a month ago, I’m now well addicted to running up the Buda hills, rousing myself in the early morning to beat the tourists to the top of the Citadella.
With Pest being flat as a potato pancake as it is, I’d be in need of a new set of kneecaps jogging in circles around Varosliget every day. Nothing can compare to the short warm-up and cool Duna air to fill the lungs crossing Erzsébet Híd, only to surprise the body with a sudden vertical charge up Géllert Hill.
I return a righteous peace sign to an enviable rock-hard Géllert standing and signing vigilantly to the flaccid spread of Pest before him, say my “Sziasztok” to the two aged women selling embroidered table cloths on the slick staircase, and kick my motivational motor into high gear as I take on the excruciatingly mildly steeped paths meandering ‘round the great Buda mound. I give a friendly wave to the homeless gentleman rolling up his sleeping mat in the more wooded part of the hill, feign retching — very difficult to do at this point between the labored panting — at a couple christening a splintery red love seat (read: bench that a certain homeless man certainly did not piddle on moments before) just off the main path, and add injury to insult by guiding my poorly shod feet onto a boulder-strewn, unpaved path which I fondly deign “the fairy road” for its tiny, yet deep hollowed-out grottos.
At the top, once the heart has slowed from my 235-metre-high fortress siege, I’m rewarded by the lady-in-waiting (-to-pop-off-a-giant-beer-bottle-top), the uniquely named Statue of Liberty, and, below, her worshippers hawking her miniatures to sagging tourists exhausted from the jaunt to the hillside stronghold from their felt-seated coach buses some fifty feet away.
I make it a point to pass my favorite vendor, a serially surly Romanian man whose most curious souvenirs are a collection of flimsy hats purportedly made from the area’s indigenous mushrooms. Past the anachronistic artillery and archery range and ‘round back of the tower lie pebbly paths snaking, as the Danube does around Margit and Csepel islands, around a colorful, undiscerning blend of Gerber daisies, marigolds, wave petunias, and feathery fiery red and orange cockscombs. The ground gives way to cracked pavement once more, and I begin my jiggly descent down dangerously steep, crumbling stairs, a fatal tumble made more possible by common wall lizards flitting in and out of dark holes.
As the pulse levels out along with the grade of the path, I slow enough to admire the blocky statues of heroes past and graffiti-tagged murals depicting faceless, square-shouldered Hungarians forging and fording the country’s way into the age of industry: an extra push to run harder and, upon reaching the bottom just before the grand entrance of the famous Géllert Hotel facing the forest-green Szabadsag hid, the energy to do it all over again.