My feet were cold for my canvas shoes and layers of cotton socks felt porous like a sieve. I had forgotten to pack my cap for the trip, so my ears ached. I brisk walked past the Chain Bridge hurriedly hoping hopelessly that my pace would warm me up. It was not an ideal pre-sunrise walk, yet I had braved the December river breeze and kept walking towards the Shoes by the Danube Bank installation.
The evening before, my stroll from Pest towards the Buda hill had been possible because of the chain bridge, but in 1820, Count István Széchenyi was unable to cross the river to attend his father’s funeral. The Count’s desperation triggered his plan of connecting the two towns with Hungary’s first permanent bridge that opened in 1849. And twenty-four years later, the towns merged to form Budapest.
The bridge is iconic for not only it united east and west but also it cut across the class barrier; everyone including nobility was once charged a toll to use it. So, it was not surprising that numerous anecdotes have sprung up. For instance, the lions of the bridge are said to have no tongue. The architect jumped off the bridge in shame because of the flawed beasts hence becoming the first person to jump from the bridge. Then some say that the tunnel at the end of the bridge in Adam Clarke square which is of the same length as that of the bridge was to house the chain bridge during rains.
The Buda castle stands on the castle hill and can be reached by three options: firstly, like an average tourist who takes a minute and a half long funicular ride, for which, the queueing time for the tickets was longer than the journey itself. Secondly, as an impatient tourist who falls in the tourist trap of the Bangladeshi tour operators and pays 4 Euros for a few minutes of shuttle ride. Thirdly as a regular local, who scaled the slope for free. My choice was obvious.
The uphill pathway was dotted with shortcuts, yet I was nearly breathless at the top of the hill also called Danube terrace; partly because of the trek but mainly for the view from the terrace. The Danube terrace provides a clear view of the river and the Pest: the parliament house, St. Stephen Basilica, and much more. Later in the evening, I visited the Christmas market in St. Stephen Square ( read here- https://biswadarshan.com/2017/01/21/markets-in-budapest/ )
Sun was still below the horizon, when had I reached Shoes by the Danube Bank. The monument had been conceived by a Hungarian Film director, Can Togay. It has plaques in English, Hebrew, and Hungarian.
Sixty pairs of shoes for women, men, and children stood on the edge of the river. It was the same spot where about 3,500 people who were asked to strip before being shot into the river. The carnage did not end with the defeat of the Arrow Cross. When the Soviets took over the city, the red army raped and killed numerous civilians.
Under the crimson sky, the cold rusty iron shoes stared sombrely at the soundless river. Perhaps, it was the stillness that weighed heavy in people’s hearts before death… Months, years, and decades have passed since the world war, yet still many a shoe is left behind in the world, never to be worn!