A Troubled Past, A Bright Future: Budapest

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My last stop of the journey.  I was in Budapest from April 3rd to the 7th and could have stayed had I had my suitcases.  My first thought upon arriving was, that it looked like a dirty Vienna; It’s hard for any city to match its beauty and cleanliness. However, Budapest is so much more than what you can see; it’s like an onion, each corner, each monument, each layer reveals something new and interesting about the city and its tumultuous past.  This combined with an amazing night life, makes Budapest a truly remarkable city.

There’s a lot to see in Budapest during the day and during the night.  This will be about my day experiences and another one will follow about my night ones.   I arrived  to Budapest via train from Vienna.  I then made my way to the hostel via metro and tram.  I stayed at a hostel called Carpe Noctem Vitae and the first thing they did was sit me down and ask me  what I wanted to see, if I knew where anything was, gave me recommendations and show me where things were.  This was really awesome and I’ve never had a hostel do anything like that.  They told me my best option at that time (late afternoon) was to walk to Heroes Square and wander around the park; so that is what I did.

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Heroes Square is located at the end of the world famous Andrassy Avenue and at the beginning of city park.  Andrassy Avenue, like Heroes Square is a World Heritage Site.  It was built in 1885 and is lined with eclectic Neo-Renaissance palaces and houses.  It was considered to be a masterpiece of public planning and public transport was prohibited to preserve its character; this gave birth to the idea of the first ever subway line in Continental Europe, it opened in 1896.  The stations and the cars have transcended time and are they same as they were when it
first opened.  They are incredibly beautiful stations.Buda1 Stepping out of them is like stepping into the past.

Heroe’s square commemorates the thousandth year anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895.  At the center of the square is the Millennium Monument (erected in the 1930s) topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel.  Around the base of the monument are statues honoring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes and behind the monument is a massive semi circular colonnade with statues of famous men who madetheir mark on Hungarian history.  It’s a powerful sight to behold.

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Szechenyi Bath

After this I walked around the park and saw the Szechenyi Bath, well the outside.  The next day I will go in them for a party.  The Szechenyi Bath is the largest thermal bath in Europe.   On top of being the biggest, aesthetically it is one of the most beautiful.  Budapest is home to many baths because thermal springs that run under the city. After this, I walked around Vajdahunyad Castle, which is also located in the park.  The Castle isn’t a real castle.  It was built, like Heroe’s square for the Millennium Exhibition.  The castle copies several features of landmark  Buda4buildings from different parts of the Kingdom of Hungary and displays different architectural styles; Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance.  It was originally temporary and made of wood and cardboard, but because it was so popular with the citizens, it was rebuilt from stone and brick from 1904 to 1908.  Like Kruezenstein Castle, it is a beautiful fake castle.  After some walking, I then took the metro to the Hungarian Parliament building.  It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen.  To make it even better, the sky was splashed with red, orange and yellow hues and the moon, which was full was rising just behind it.  Unfortunately, they are putting in a subway line, so you have to stand behind a fence and can’t see the Danube river.  Later that night I did a ruin bar pub crawl.

Second day in the city

With difficulty I woke up early after a crazy night to go on a walking tour of the city.  It started at 10:30 am.  It started at St. Stephens Basilica.  The Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Hungary, with the other being the Hungarian Parliament building.  They are the same height at 96m to represent equality between church and state.

Something I learned, Budapest is actually two cities divided. Buda7 Buda is the left side of the city and is the old town.  Here, Castle Hill is located along with many Roman ruins; Pest is the newer other side of the city.  For most of history the two sides were divided and never actually one.  It wasn’t until a bridge was built in 1849, funded by Count Szechenyi, did the two sides become connected.  Even then it took about another 30 years for the city to become unified.

The tour lasted a little over three hours and for once, it was a beautiful day.  We walked and stopped at places on the Pest side and then made our way to Castle Hill.  It’s kind of a misleading name because there’s not actually a castle on the hill.  There is a church called Mathias Church and the famous Fisherman’s Bastion and some other buildings.  Mathias Church is not monumental, but it is extremely beautiful.  It is built in the Gothic style in white stone, which contrasts amazingly with its beautifully decorated diamond shaped roof tiles in a range of colors.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a large white tower and terrace complex in front of the church and looks over the Pest side of the city.  It was completed in 1905 and gets its name from the fish market that used to be held there.  The tower section looks like a sand castle. Something else I learned was that you should touch all the statues in Budapest.  Each one has some certain charm or magical powers that you will get if you rub them.  For example, If you rub the policeman’s belly (pictured above) you will have good luck and if you rub his mustache you will make great love.  So touch them all.

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Mathias Church

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McDonalds

At the start of the tour I became friends with a kid named Brad who was also doing the tour.  He happened to also be staying at the same hostel as me.  After the tour was finished, we wandered around Castle Hill and walked through the Buda side of the city.  We ate lunch at a typical Hungarian place recommended by the guide.  We both had really good beef goulash with Hungarian pasta, which is awesome.  It’s like rice, but not.  After lunch, we stopped at Gyungati Station, a large wrought iron and glass train station built in the 19th century by Eiffel Company of Paris.  The building is surprisingly home to what is dubbed as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world.  Afterwards we made our way to the Terror Museum.

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The Terror Museum or “House of Terror” was witness to and part of two shameful and tragic Periods during Hungary’s 20th century history.  In 1944, during the gruesome domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the building was known as the “House of Loyalty” and was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis.  Then between 1945 and 1956, the communist terror organizations, the AVO and its successor took residence there.  The basement of the building was a prison and was the scene of torture and death of thousands of people.  The cellars remain; which makes it very unsettling to walk through; there was a room no bigger than a person; a padded room whose pads were faded and worn; solitary confinement, which was only big enough to kneel in and a room with some type of torture stand still in it.  It’s was a very uncomfortable somber feeling walking through that basement.  Overall, the museum was really well done and informative.  It commemorates the victims of terror, it also a memento, reminding us of the dreadful acts of terrorist dictatorships.  Somehow, after that experience, I took a short, but well needed nap in the hostel and went out later that night to a party in Szechenyi Bath.

Third day in the City

After another crazy night out, I got up, this time not too early, had Mexican food with my friend Robbie (he was staying in my dorm) and then we met Brad for the Communist walking tour at 2:30. Different than the tour I did on the second day, this one focused on….. Budapest’s communist history.  Now, I don’t really remember too much from the tour because there was so much information.   One thing I learned was that if you walk across the bridge statue by the Parliament building, you become a new person.  I attempted this and to this day I am still feeling the effects of my new found persona.

Buda10In a square known as Freedom square you will find the juxtaposition of buildings unlike anywhere in the world.  For one, the square is called Freedom Square; and in this square is one of the few remaining Soviet monuments; an obelisk crowned with a five pointed Communist star and on the base a crest showing the Soviet hammer and sickle.  It represents the soldiers in the Red Army who died from 1944-45 during the liberation of Budapest.  As you may guess, most Hungarians aren’t fond of the monument and want it torn down, but the government won’t do it.  Just last year, Putin visited the monument and placed wreaths at the base to commemorate the fallen soldiers.   Secondly, there is another statue on the other side of the park that is suppose to commemorate the victims of Nazi occupation; it was put up in the cover of darkness by the government.  The statue is of the Archangel Gabriel, an elongated figure with wings standing in front of a classical colonnade with some columns broken.  It is equally as despised as the communist statue and the people also want it removed.  The reason for this is because the government views itself as a victim during that time, while others believe they were a willing collaborator.  Finally, to tie Freedom Square together, right behind the communist statue is the US Embassy and for some reason a statue of Ronald Reagan.  After visiting Freedom Square on the tour, we stopped at the shoes monument.  It is located in front of the Parliament building next to the river.  It is a memorial to the Jews during WW2, who shot into the river.  The reason for shoes is because shoes were a commodity during the war, so they were forced to take them off before being murdered.    Each statue, is a copy of a pair from someone who was killed.  Simple, but extremely moving.  It is one of the most powerful memorials I have seen.

After the tour, I walked around the city with Brad (the kid I might the day before) and some other people I met.  We had intended to go to the top of the Basilica, but it was closed.  We wandered around and found some Easter markets.  Stopped at the Buda13Synagogue with intent to go inside, but it was also closed (due to Passover).  It is the largest one in Europe and one of the largest in the world.  Fun fact! I saw  both the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest synagogue in Europe, which is located in the town of Pilsen, Czech Republic.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t go into either one of them.  We then stumbled upon this really cool covered food truck area where we had a beer.  Later that night we went out to one of the ruin pubs.

Last day in the city

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On my last day I did some fun activities.  I should mention that my flight was a 6 am the next morning.  Robbie and I started the day by going to the only other communist statue in the city.  It is atop the hill in Buda.  In our condition, it was a struggle to get there, but we were well rewarded with amazing views of the city.  The reason why it’s still there and tolerated is because the people decided they liked the statue and had the flag with the communist star, which was in the women’s hands replaced with a feather; it’s now called the freedom statue.  After this, Robbie went back to the hostel to nap and I went to the Rudas Bath.  It One of the oldest in Hungary, it was built in 1550 during the time of Ottoman rule.  The main feature is an octagonal pool covered with a Turkish dome.  It featured smaller pools with various tempartures as well as a sauna of differing heat and steam rooms. It was extremely relaxing and I could Buda15have stayed there all day, if I weren’t hungover. I was dying of heat and dehydrating after about an hour and a half.  I also had to get back to the hostel by 6 because I was doing a beer bike with Robbie and some other people.

A beer bike, is a bike that can hold up to 14 people and a lot of beer.  We had 10 people and 40 liters of beer to drink in a magnificent and 2 hour tour around Budapest.  It was incredibly fun and I met some really cool people.  It finished at 8 and afterwards we went back to the hostel and met up with the hostel because they were going to an open mic night.  Robbie was pumped because he was going to preform.  We went to the bar, drank and I listened to others preform.  Robbie was amazing, the best one there and there were some good people.  Because my flight was at 6 am, I decided to not sleep and stay out until 3:30, which is when I left to go back to the hostel;  packed my things and take a 4 am taxi to the airport.  Coincidentally, one of the guys in my dorm, was taking the same flight back to Mardrid as me, so we shared a cab together.  Exhausted and drunk I boarded the plane; ending an amazing Semana Santa in Austria and Hungary.

Added Bonus: The pronunciation of Pest is like “pesht”, so Budapest is actually pronounced like “Budapesht.”  It blew my mind when I first heard it.

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