The Probably Cherry Tree of Gellért Hill

All things considered, I was doing pretty well with my exploration of the lesser known Budapest project, resisting the easy temptations of Városliget and Margitsziget whenever the sun is shining. Actually, I do go to Margitsziget pretty much all the time, but no matter how I look at it, running with a DSLR is still quite cumbersome- though you do curse yourself when you miss splendid fogs and sunrises, but perhaps it doesn’t make sense to force things which were not meant to happen.

But then, as I was walking by Gellért Hill one of these days, I saw IT. IT is some sort of a cherry tree (I should probably not venture into precise tree identification any time soon, given my recent debacle), perched on one of the hill’s promontories in such a way as to be the perfect accessory for shots containing the river, Freedom Bridge and/or the sunrise, for those insane enough to show up at ungodly hours. The recent time adjustment does help a little bit, but this is probably the only positive side of it, though truly nothing could console me on Monday morning when my inner clock was cursing like mad in total confusion as to why I should be awake in what seemed to be still the dead of night but was actually almost 7 AM.

Now the thing with this likely-cherry is that you’re not the only one seeing it. Everyone does, locals and tourists alike, and they conclude that the one thing which could make the already perfect composition even perfecter is their humble self. So for every shot you take you have to suffer through a small army of people leaning against the poor tree, sporting insipid grins and trying to make their hair look good in spite of the spring breeze/hurricane.

Once you’re done and trod upwards on the hill you start coming to terms with the fact that you have taken almost identical shots for the past five or so years, with the only thing changing being the identity of the intermittent grinners, who are hopefully off frame anyway. This being said, no matter how many times you’ve visited it, and irrespective of the season, Gellért hill is ridiculously scenic, plus the hike is of the exact length which does not kill you, but makes you stronger (or so you hope).

Since we’re closing in on the end of March, the walk is often punctuated by martenitsi, a sure sign that Bulgarians have been around. Time for well researched scientific conclusions then: Bulgarians travel more these days, or more of them live in Budapest, or probably both, as each year I see more martenitsi tied to blossoming trees.

There is a parallel tradition of putting the martenitsi under stones too, and waiting to see what creature is closest to them the next day. There are various interpretations of what they mean, ants and larvae apparently bringing luck, while spiders spell misfortune. Should you leave your martenitsa under a rock on Gellért hill would probably result in a Japanese tourist being closest to it the next day, meaning you’ll turn into a selfie stick in the year to come.

It’s highly likely that martenitsi are so frequent on the hill simply because of those gloriously blossiming trees which punctuate the ascent, but the area is not foreign to folk magic of various kinds, as during the 17th century it was considered to be a favoured location for witch gatherings and dances. And that’s not the only interesting trivia- at various stages through its history, the hill was the home of a Celtic fort and a vineyard too.

Reaching the top can be some sort of an anticlimax- that’s if you’re not a first-time visitor who discovers the views. Otherwise, there’s too many people, and too many of them are instagramming themselves posing like the flame bearing figure to the left of the Statue of Liberty, a Budapest version of holding the Eiffel Tower on the palm of your hand or propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Luckily the hill is vast enough to have many trails going in each direction, so with a bit of orienteering skill, or especially with a bit of lack thereof, you can find peaceful hideouts that are far from the madding crowd, yet close to the view. And perhaps to a probably cherry tree all of your own.


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