Why Go To The End Of The World, When You Can Go To Kőbánya

Kőbánya has always been mysterious to me, exotic and perhaps also slightly scary, exiled at the fringes of my Budapest existence, a land of imaginary brigands and flesh and bone people frozen into exasperated waiting on the platforms of minor stations my train hurtles through on its way home. Kőbánya-Alsó, Kőbánya-Felső, Kőbánya-Kispest. I know this last one better, this is where the 200E has its terminus, before the introduction of the centre to the airport 100E shuttle, the 200E was the last piece in a puzzle connecting me to great adventures, the landscape on its route a side note before the real story began. Kőbányai is also a less than charming beer, its gaudy red and blue packaging bringing terrifying flashbacks of suburban pubs with only one beer on tap and ensuing headaches and weltschmerz.

It was therefore with certain concern that I checked the public transportation map to see what measures needed to be taken to reach Ihász street, where the Budapest Waterworks were allowing visitors into the Kőbánya cistern, the oldest still functioning structure of its kind in the city, for one day only. (Should they do it again, the answer is easy: simply take bus 85 from Örs Vezér tér to the conveniently named Ihász street stop.) The cistern was built by Italian masons in the early 1870s, and its two 11.000 m³ pools are still working their magic today. I will quietly mention that when I first saw the event’s advertisement, I immediately thought of Istanbul’s fascinating Basilica Cisterns. And while age and proportions do need to be kept in mind, it’s still very satisfying to see that when humans put their mind to something, they can create beautiful and functional things which last for generations. Alternatively, they get all giggly when they make rabbit shapes on the walls of the beautiful and functional thing, but such is our existence, made of so many lights and so many shadows.

The beautiful and functional thing was also unexpectedly popular, so after having queued ourselves pink in the mild autumn sun, we decided it was time to eat something. The knee-jerk reaction was to scuttle back to Örs Vezér tér and the familiar coziness of the IKEA restaurant, when, having just missed the 85, we saw an intriguing building looming on the horizon. Upon approaching it we discovered that it is the Csősztorony (Park-keepers Tower), dating back to 1844, when this area was still a lush vineyard- returning to the above mentioned fickleness of human nature, these vineyards were often raided for their yield, and the park-keepers needed an elevated spot to be on the lookout for possible pilferers. Unfortunately, the vineyards did not survive the 1875 phylloxera blight, so the tower lost its original purpose, but remained proudly standing for a century and a half and even made it to Kőbánya’s coat of arms. One of Budapest’s original neighbourhoods, it got to be the city’s 10th district, but remained an outlying one until the creation of Greater Budapest in 1950, when territorial regrouping meant that the city’s geometrical centre became Kőbánya’s Csajkovszkij park.

Useful and exciting as this information was, it did not appease our hunger, for that we relied on the services of the Csősztorony Bisztró, which is currently encircling the tower and using its lower floor as one of its rooms. Teeming with locals, it seemed like the right choice to make, though it’s definitely one of those establishments which survives because it’s loved by regulars who accept all its quirks. The order, food included, had to be placed at the bar, where a solitary gentleman moving at a leisurely pace was responsible for everything from making coffees to dispensing the ice cream scoops. An eternity later our dishes were whisked to our table, and while I was delighted with my rosemary chicken and jacket potatoes, the blog’s industrious co-photographer, already indisposed by a spot of a hangover, was somewhat unhappy with the overgrilled state of his ćevapi. This being said, there is an undeniable suburban charm to the place and in all honesty, there is nothing wrong with relaxing a little longer in the golden Indian summer sun of a September afternoon. (The place is also ideal for plane spotting- I am aware that locals might find the proximity of Forever Ferihegy airport unnerving, especially given the recent spike in air traffic, but I just love to stare at the bellies of the big metal birds as they take off.)

It was the light of the setting sun that drew our attention to the green area nearby- right across from the Csősztorony, the Óhegy park comes equipped with playgrounds, sports facilities, dog friendly spaces and a 1.4 kilometre rekortan running track. The orange glow of the sunset was in fact so stunning, that I suddenly forgot my fear of Kőbánya, and decided that this area in particular is frankly not bad at all. You obviously won’t see me moving in through, I’m just too staunchly downtown for that, but I might just pop in for a rosemary chicken and who knows, maybe even for an adventurous run.

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