“If you come from Paris to Budapest, you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest, you think you are in Paris.”
It’s been 85 days since I left the USA, and the exhaustion is starting to set in in the form of sickness. However, surprisingly I am in no way ready to come home. The fact that this adventure is almost over has really started to set in during the last few days in Budapest. I am not ready to be in one place again, even though I know I realistically can’t continue to be a nomad forever.
As I write this, I am on a bus from Budapest to Bratislava feeling a bit light-headed from the variety of Hungarian cold and flu medicines I am currently taking to ward off my stuffy nose, cough, and slight fever. The last few days in Budapest have been both fun and relaxing. On my first night, I discovered Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River (Budapest consists of 2 cities which used to be separate cities–Buda to the west of the Danube and Pest to the east of the Danube).
Margaret Island is the perfect place to relax, with a walking path, beer gardens, and a beautiful lighted fountain that performs to music. It even performed to George Ezra’s song Budapest (thanks Nat for introducing me to this song before I left to come here!)
My first morning in Budapest, I set off to explore after doing some laundry. I came across a memorial to the Hungarian Holocaust victims that included an active protest area in front. Of course, I had to know what the protest was about, and I soon learned it had to do with what many Hungarians view as the government’s attempt to rewrite the history of WW2. The memorial portrays Germany as a relentless invader and Hungary as a victim of violent imperialism. The protesters argue that the Hungarian government at the time willingly participated in becoming part of the Third Reich and volunteered to participate in the Holocaust. The protests highlight the stories of Hungarian Jews who lost their lives at the hands of their own government, and also calls for the government to remove this dishonest memorial. If the concerns raised by the protesters are in fact valid, this is quite alarming. One thing I really admired about Berlin was the city’s humility, introspection, and apologetic spirit about the evil atrocities that took place there during the rise and reign of Hitler, and the city’s commitment to equality and ensuring these past sins are not repeated. However, if a nation chooses to disregard and withhold any sort of acknowledgement or apology for past harms, that nation is not only dishonest with itself and others but runs the risk of repeating those evils. Time will tell what happens to this memorial and if there will ever be some kind of apology from the Hungarian government.
On a lighter note, my visit to Budapest was full of relaxation, including a boat cruise down the Danube (where I met some great girls from Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.), a pub crawl (where I met some new USA friends!), visits to a couple of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars,” and several hours at 2 of the city’s famous thermal baths–Szechenyi and Rudas. When the Ottoman Empire invaded the city back in the 16th century, they brought with them the concept of the Turkish bath. Both baths I visited consisted of indoor and outdoor pools at various temperatures designed to promote health and relaxation, as well as several saunas. My favorite bath was Szechenyi, which has been open since 1913 and is absolutely beautiful. It also had a whirlpool in one of its outdoor pools, which was like a small, fast-paced lazy river! It was so fun to get carried along in this, and also quite relaxing! I also enjoyed Rudas, which was smaller and newer but was located just off the Danube and had a rooftop thermal pool that overlooked the city skyline.
While most of the modern shopping and restaurants are on the Pest side (and this is also where I stayed in 2 different hostels), the Buda side is home to many of the historic sites. I spent the entire third day in the city exploring the Buda side. I started with a visit to the Cave Church, which is exactly what it sounds like–a church carved into a cave in the side of the mountain. The church was closed down under communist rule but reopened its doors in 1989.
I then climbed up Gellert Hill (it was very steep and a good workout!) to see the Citadella, which was used by the Soviets to quell the 1956 Hungarian uprising and is now the home to the Liberty Statue. There are some stunning views of the city from here! I then walked up the Danube to visit Matthias church, which was originally constructed in 1015, reconstructed in the 14th century, and served as the city’s main mosque during Turkish rule.
I was in Budapest for 5 days, which was ideal as I still got to see a good bit of the city while also taking time to rest and attempt to recover from being sick. Also, Budapest was very, very cheap–by far the cheapest city I’ve visited in Europe. Hungary uses the Hungarian Forint, and about 280 forints equals 1 US dollar. It was hard to spend even more than 10 US dollars post-conversion on food and drinks at any meal. I am not complaining at all!
Just 3 cities left until I return to NYC…Bratislava, Vienna, and London. I definitely have mixed feelings and am half-tempted to book a ticket back to Asia or Africa instead of starting law school! But, duty calls…