Published: October 9th 2007September 22nd 2007
It’s Bi-Polar No Matter What They Say
It may be called Budapest, written only as one word, but it’s actually two cities in one - Buda on one side of the river and Pest on the other. Which is better…well, that’s up to you to decide. It feels to me like Pest is the better place to see and be seen since it is the center of life in Budapest. It just feels like more living actually occurs in Pest.
Buda, on the far side of Danube, has its towering hill, much like Prague’s Wawel Hill. There you can see a recreated royal palace (a historically inaccurate one at that), one of the city’s greatest churches, Matthias Church (presently covered in scaffolding), and some great tourist trap back streets that are cooler from a distance than close up.
On the other hand, Pest rings with genuine life. Throughout Pest you see locals going about their business, shopping for necessities, and just living. Streets that teem with life just happen to coincide with actual sights of interest in areas like Vorosmarty Square and the Great Market Hall. I guess to sum it all up, Pest just feels
more real unlike its tourist fairy land sister Buda. A Unique Brand of Communism
My history education was really lacking when it came to anything that happened post WWII. It seems that our school system just ran out of time when it came to modern history. It was probably more important for us to have a deep knowledge of the founding of the US than it was to know the more recent affairs in world history. When it comes down to it, part of what makes you American is your knowledge of American history, especially its beginning.
Due to this lack of modern history knowledge, I really didn’t have a good foundation for understanding the differences in Communist cultures/countries. I certainly wouldn’t have known about the difference between Soviet Communism, Yugoslavian Communism or Hungarian Communism. Turns out that Tito had his own, non-Soviet views of Communism in Yugoslavia and Hungary had its own brand of Communism as well.
Know as “ghoulash Communism” (fitting, no?), Hungary allowed a little more freedom when it came to commerce. The doors were opened, if just slightly, to capitalism through a bit of trade. This meant that Budapest became
a sort of Communist mega-mall (maybe a slightly extreme analogy). People from other Warsaw Pact countries often came to Budapest with the sole purpose of seeing, feeling and ultimately buying a little piece of the West. From Adidas shoes to western foods, Budapest was a wonderland of the forbidden for people who often had nothing but state made goods.
The siren song of capitalism finally sounded the beginning of communism’s demise when McDonald’s was allowed to open its first store in a communist country. It was right in the middle of, you guessed it, the Pest side of Budapest. This humble little establishment, which barely compares with the huge sparkling McDonald’s in some places today, was swamped with customers from the day its doors opened. People would often line up around the block to get their hands on a McDonald’s hamburger or an order of fries. Obviously the people of Hungary, and the rest of the Communist world, hungered for something that they couldn’t get in their countries the way their countries were set up.
This McDonald’s still exists today and is probably the only McDonald’s that I’ve ever laid eyes on that symbolizes more than just fatty
good tasting food. Walking past its doors you can catch a small piece of the change that electrified eastern Europe during the 80’s and 90’s. McDonald’s, at least this one, symbolizes a little taste of freedom (pun intended). Our Last Touch of Eastern Europe
With a few days to kill in Budapest, we managed to do some of the big touristy sights and managed to get off the beaten track a bit as well. Our first full day was spent mostly in Buda, walking around on the touristy hill above the city. We checked out the Royal Palace, from the outside, and walked around to see the sights. Along with the huge tour groups, we saw Matthias Church, the Vienna Gate (walk straight through and you can march all the way to Vienna - a very long march) and the Fisherman’s Bastion. For the average tourist this area’s a pretty cool one and is definitely worth an afternoon at the minimum.
As I already mentioned above, Pest is where the cooler, in my opinion, sites are located. Unfortunately, the negative part of Pest is that these sights are spread out all over the place. The
only way to get to these sights in a timely fashion is to use the metro system. I generally like to walk around a city when I can but the metro is a must in Budapest.
The cool thing about the metro is that one line, metro line number one, is a sight unto itself. This metro line, which is very close to the surface (so close that you can feel the trains rumble underneath you as you walk around town), was the first metro line on the continent. The stations are small but detailed. I would definitely recommend checking one of them out even if you don’t ride the metro because they are pretty cool.
I spent one afternoon running around town while Kel stayed in our small apartment to get some much needed travel planning done before our trip to Morocco. My first stop was to head out to Pest’s most jam packed tourist sight area, City Park. On the way out to see the park (Budapest’s answer to Central Park in NYC despite not being central), I rode on metro line one and got a chance to check out the old tile stations. From there
I caught in order: Hero’s Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, and Szechenyi Baths. The baths are probably one of the coolest activities in Budapest but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to really take a dip in the thermal pools that are so popular amongst the locals.
After catching the tried and true sights around town I decided to get off the beaten path a little and set out for the National Graveyard. While graveyards are pretty creepy to many people, I find them to be a neat insight into a people and, of course, a great opportunity to take some cool pictures. There are two cool things about Budapest’s biggest graveyard. The first are the old family burial crypts that are incredibly ornate. It seems that Hungarians go into burials in a big way. This graveyard seems to have some of the biggest and most detailed graves I’ve ever seen. The second is the soviet soldier section of the graveyard. Almost all the graves here are for soldiers who died during the liberation of Hungary during WWII. Despite a not so warm view of Communism presently, these soldiers’ graves are still kept in immaculate shape and are well cared for
by the graveyard staff. It’s cool in a way to see the gratitude that obviously is still felt for the people who sacrificed themselves to release Budapest from the grip of the Nazis. Off For More Adventures
Despite the fact that we have grown a bit tired of Eastern European food we were sad to leave Budapest. One more leg of our trip comes to a close as we set out for more adventure. As we bid Eastern Europe goodbye, we set off for Morocco and new and different places. Stay tuned for more blogs!!
We hope everyone back home is doing wonderfully. We miss you!
There are more photos below