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Published: April 6th 2015
The Chain Bridge and Parliament
We are approaching our time to move on and again leave our newly adopted home behind. It is always an exciting time getting ready to get on the road again, but also a bit of a sad time as it seems we have just gotten used to being here.
For most of the last 4 years, this has been how our life has been. We have spent a month or two in many great places around the globe. After our first couple of weeks of busily getting used to our new surroundings, learning our way around and visiting most of the main tourist sights, we normally have a bit of a down time trying to figure out how we will fill the last two weeks of our month-long visit. It is in these last two weeks when we really find out what a city is about. Forced to look a bit deeper to keep occupied, we begin to observe real life in our new city. We begin to learn the history of the country and start to understand why people do things and not just see what they are doing.
We didn’t always travel like
this. There was a time when we travelled to see how much we could see, as quickly as we could see it. We passed through countries just long enough to get the general feel of a place, see a couple of highlights and put it in the “pinned” column of the global country list. We enjoyed ourselves and with busy jobs and family commitments, we didn’t really have any other options.
We cherry picked the best places. We saw Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Potala Palace in Tibet. We floated on the Ganges, Nile, Mekong, Amazon and Mississippi. We rode on balloons, camels, elephants, trains, buses, boats and tuk-tuks. We tried barbecue in Memphis, fresh fish in Vietnam, crickets in Mexico and Guinea Pig in Peru.
Having an opportunity to stay a little longer is definitely not always as exciting or fast-paced, but if a city is as interesting as Budapest has been then it can be much more rewarding. Budapest and Hungary as a whole have a long history filled with interesting periods. The royal times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the difficult times
of revolution under communist rule or the changes that have happened since capitalism took hold after 1989 are all interesting and not too hard too hard to explore with a little effort.
We began our second two weeks with a great tour focused on Budapest during the times of Communism. After Russia chased the Germans from Hungary near the end of World War II in 1945, Hungary elected leaders with direct ties to Moscow. Life was hard and luxuries were few. Freedom was limited and few people felt safe saying what they thought for fear of retribution. When Stalin died in Russia a climate developed that pointed to possible changes. Led by students, protests began in 1956. Violence broke out and the citizens of Budapest fought back. The Russians left briefly, but returned with tanks and a vengeance a short time later. It became clear to everyone that a different version of Communism was necessary in Hungary, the so called “happy Communism” or “Goulash Communism”.
On our tour we saw buildings built during this period. The difference between the austere facades of the communist era buildings and others was vast and showed the starkness
of the times. Bullet holes can still be found in many of the buildings in downtown from the days of the revolution. While most statues and monuments installed during these times were later removed, with a closer look you can still see some remnants of these times. The tour was immensely fascinating. We don’t take many guided tours, but were so glad we had this time.
We took another trip to the outskirts of Budapest to visit the Ecseri flea market, a kind of open air antique market. The market became well-known to Western tourists who visited after the fall of communism and wanted to purchase souvenirs of the communist times. Some mementos are still available now but we found that the most interesting part of the day was the ability to view the suburb areas of Budapest which are so different from the central downtown area.
The modern city of Budapest was formed by joining the cities of Buda, Pest and oft forgotten Obuda. Obuda is just north of Buda and is easily reached by commuter rail. Obuda was the original area inhabited by ancient Romans when they occupied the area. They built
palaces, temples and baths and ruins can still be seen of this era. The small Fo Ter (city square) has many original buildings from the 17th
century that have been restored and show architectural details from the era. With a little imagination the cobblestone streets, sharp roofs and “eyebrow” dormers on the roofs created a vision of how life must have been during these times.
Another day we took the same commuter rail further north to the town of Szentendre (St. Andrew in English). This is a cute town in the so-called Danube Bend area that has been vastly restored and is full of restaurants, museums and souvenir shops. We enjoyed a day walking along the river and strolling the alleyways and church squares that surround the main square in town. The town is heavily visited by bus tour groups and it was kind of interesting to view the groups which seemed to arrive on schedule every 30 minutes or so. In between groups the shopkeepers came out to socialize with each other or have a smoke before the next group arrived. We felt we were getting a bit of a behind-the-scenes tour at times. While the
town is very touristy, the buildings are well restored and gave an opportunity to view life from another era.
Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a period of time in the 1800’s. The emperor Franz Josef was married to Queen Elizabeth (known as Sisi to her family). Sisi developed a kinship to the Hungarian people and in return they adored her. She spent much of her time in a castle outside of Budapest in the city of Godollo. The train took us through the suburbs of Budapest and eventually through wooded areas and farm fields until we reached Godollo. The castle was easy to find and we spent an enjoyable day touring the house and grounds to learn more about the empire.
The castle fell into disrepair during after World War II and the Soviet era, but is in the process of being rebuilt. The main house consisting of the separate king and queens wings have been fully restored and give an example of the luxury they lived in.
The modern era of Budapest is seen everywhere in Budapest. Classic structures are being rebuilt or repurposed. Theatres and restaurants
are everywhere. Modern subways and roads are complete and more are being built. Perhaps we found the future best displayed in a few of the so-called Ruin Bars of Budapest. These bars consist of old buildings that have been converted by young artists into modern centers of entertainment. Bands play from multiple stages in art filled areas. Multiple bars serve food and drinks to the mostly young crowd who socialize in them. They are unique and very popular. We heard many languages being spoken and it showed us that young Hungarians are anxious to create their own destiny in a country which has so much of a rich history.
We have enjoyed our last two weeks here. We are very happy that we have had a chance to look a little deeper in to this interesting area of the world. We were not sure what we would think of Budapest and our first trip to Eastern Europe, but our month here has been enjoyable and highly recommendable. We are eager to see more and look forward to our early journey to the train station tomorrow morning.
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