It makes us wonder: does anyone ever really know a city, a great European capital city such as Budapest,with all its ins and outs? Perhaps we do, perhaps we only think we do. Truth be told, something is always changing, fresh discoveries are always turning up, both old and new. And, as we find, it gives Ms Tittel great pleasure to reveal and share it all with us.
A tour guide for many years, her “Fabulous Budapest” was originally “Mesélő Budapest”, which is the same title in Hungarian, and was published in that language by the country’s biggest publishing group, Libri, in November 2016. Four editions were printed in the space of a year and to date it has sold well over 10,000 copies. Such “sikerlista” stardom has resulted in this revised, updated and extended version in English, launched right now in April 2018.
As pleasurable as it may be to sit on the couch at home with a cuppa and delve into Ms Tittel’s familiar and not-so-familiar world of Budapest, this is really a book to take out and about on a walk, on your bike or on a bus or a tram, to see for yourself. There are 370 pages and they have been lovingly prepared by a team of ladies: Eszter Kapitány’s design involves many text boxes in an arty scrapbook style, and there are some 400 colour photographs by Doraya Bouandel and Kinga Tittel herself.. Another lady, Judit Kecskés, contributed illustrations, including the stand-out cover and dozens of attractively drawn maps. It all makes for an attractive look offering something new, as far as we have seen, from all those guidebooks that have gone before.
As much as “Fabulous Budapest” is about the beautiful and lively city, the country as a whole cannot be ignored, and enough history has been included – the early Magyars, the Romans, Turks, Austrians, Russians, etc. – to put into context what we see in the streets and parks today. Thus, to give just a few examples, the seven founding leaders of the country on the semi-circular colonnades at Heroes Square are all identified and explained, and we read about the Habsburgs, the Holy Crown, 1956, coats of arms and so on.
But the book goes well beyond Heroes Square and all those other guidebook staples such as the Castle District, Central Market Hall, Chain Bridge, Parliament, House of Terror, Széchenyi Baths and … you know what we mean. This latest guidebook is right up to date and we find more modern-day sights and happenings such as the Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (outside the Kempinski), love locks, the Balna, the much-disliked Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation, the “Grand Budapest Hotel” film of 2014, the Hungarian Oscar winners from 2016 (“Son of Saul”) and 2017 (“Sing”), and even the Kermit the Frog statuette that appeared only last summer.
In the broader context, there are sections on such as the “Golden” football team of the 1950s and its star player Ferenc Puskas, the infamous “blood in the pool” water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, and even “Gloomy Sunday”, from 1933, also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song”.
Famous Hungarian inventors, Nobel Prize winners and film stars, notable VIP visits by US Presidents both in and out of office (Roosevelt, Nixon, Carter, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr.), British royalty (Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Charles and Diana), Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher are all covered.
Notable Jews of Hungarian origin are featured (newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, actor Tony Curtis, company founder Estée Lauder, composer and violinist Karl Goldmark and writer and politician Theodor Herzl). And there is architect and furniture designer Ernő Goldfinger, who is said to have supplied English writer Ian Fleming with the name of the arch-villain in the James Bond book.
Does the Danube ever freeze over, have you ever seen the rocky outcrop in the river known as Famine Rock, have you been to the Budapest Puppet Theatre or the Kodály Museum, do you know what “K stones” are (and the above stumbling stones)? It is all in Ms Tittel’s book.
She had an early interest in languages, travel and meeting foreigners, resulting in her taking guiding as an extra subject in secondary school and obtaining her guiding licence at age 18. In 2000 she went to Tunisia as a guide for almost a year and then became Shore Excursion Manager for Royal Caribbean Cruises, spending three years seeing the world. By now she has seen more than 70 countries.
Returning to Budapest in 2004, she started a family and added qualifications in translating and interpreting. Ms Tittel started guiding in Budapest in 2007 and works for several agencies handling Danube river cruises and as a freelancer.
Referring to the early days guiding abroad, she says: “I had to go away to appreciate Budapest. When I returned in 2004 I looked at the city a different way, appreciating what I had taken for granted before.”
Among the “Fun Facts” and “Did You Know” information of “Fabulous Budapest” is a text box on photographer André Kertész. “Everybody can look but they don’t necessarily see,” he said. It is a thought we have had when we see tourists on the Number Two tram going past the 60 pairs of iron shoes next to the Danube without noticing them, or walking past the incredible art nouveau Thonet House in Vaci utca without noticing the splendour above, their eyes on tacky souvenirs instead.
“Fabulous Budapest” adds to what we know and fills in the gaps in our understanding.
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