The city park is the last vestige of the lazy yet restless urban dweller who can’t be buggered to make the lengthier trek or train ride outside the city limits. Considering New York hoards over eight million inside the relatively tight squeeze of five boroughs, the numbers contained in the twenty-three districts of Budapest, with its headcount stretching to top even two million, might not seem so impressive. Still, with Pest (the portion east of the Danube River) covering about two-thirds of the city’s territory and given the continuous albeit staggered flow of tourists and immigrants alike each year, the toll on the land, and particularly the designated green spaces within, is apparent.
One of the most familiar features of the Hungarian capital, besides the grand castle upon its Buda pedestal west of the Duna, is Hősök tere, Heroes’ Square, unabashedly planted at the end of the route of Andrássy avenue and thus announcing the opulent entrance of the famous Városliget, or City Park. Beyond this monument and its vast mall are the splendiferous Széchenyi Fürdő and multi-era-style Vajdahunyad Castle, the former demonstrating the geothermal advantages of a thousands-of-years’ thinning of the earth’s crust in this particular region and the latter lauding the achievements of agriculture, forestry, and fishing since the arrival of the once-nomadic tribes in a down- and westward swoop from Siberia. Outside the castle doors inviting visitors to appreciate the efforts of conservation and environmental awareness, however, a moribund scene of few trees, some oaks with bulbous evidence of cancerous disease (in fact, on display in the forestry exhibition of the Castle’s Museum of Hungarian Agriculture) and trampled, dying grass throughout is not unlike many of the other smaller and often worse-off recreational areas within Pest.
Only last weekend, the most unsavory of characters (said with the utmost adoration and interest) set out their treasures on cardboard pieces, dirty threadbare rugs, and worn car mats – a fine affair for the last-minute buzzard looking to peck out possible gifts for family and friends only a few days before Christmas. But woe to the grass that once was, as the area is now a frozen mud tundra littered with the waste of discarded containers, empty (or suspiciously half full) two-liter plastic wine bottles, and toked-to-the-last cigarette butts. All this despite the abundance of sidewalks and vehicle-free thoroughfares winding through the park.
Besides the troubling issue of trampled terrain and remarkable amount of litter in noticeably consistent locations in Pest, another eyesore remains the act of public urination – and sometimes defecation – in and around public parks. Given most businesses and public bathrooms charge a fee for use of their facilities, it’s not uncommon to see a squatter or wall-wetter even in the most visible of places, be it in clear view from a tram, next to a park bench, or shamefully (or shamelessly?) attempted behind a slight lamppost. As dog owners are apparently wont to do, these public load-pinchers don’t see the point in a post-clean-up either.
Lastly on the Budapest bitching list is the status of the city’s air pollution. A jog through the dimbes-dombos (“hilly”, uttered mostly by children, yet irresistibly alliterative) region of Buda is a welcome reprieve to the smoggy lungs of the Pest resident, who unwillingly inhales the foulest poisonous fumes of diesel-powered cars along the districts’ narrow streets. The evidence grimly presents itself on the otherwise grandiose facades even on the fanciest hotels, museums, and shops, adding a gloomy layer of soot to match the miserable winter skies of December – a pretty town, nonetheless, when viewed from afar.