It is always surprising whenever I realize that we have passed the one-year mark at post. Three countries later and one of the things that never gets old is how time flies, wherever you are.
I’m not going to make excuses about how it took me that long to write more about Hungary and Budapest in particular. I like to think that I have developed a better sense of this city that I am currently calling home.
To start, I thought I would give you an idea of what to expect should you decide to visit. Whether it be a short or a long stay, Budapest and Hungary is definitely a beautiful place. If you ask me, like most European countries, it has its own unique brand of something that makes it its own.
Here in Budapest, the center of the city are the breath-taking sites that surrounds the Danube, on both its side. From the Buda side looking at Pest, is Saint Stephen’s Basilica the country’s grand Parliament Building. After WWI Hungary, with the fall of the Hapsburg empire, lost most of its territory, but the scale of its governing building remained its size with about 600 rooms, and an exterior that matches and clearly surpasses many of its neighboring ones.
Behind this grand structure of power, stretches the flat part of the city and the busy everyday. Along the Grand boulevard is a combination of the old European buildings that serves as the façade of what urban life is here. On the ground floor are the shops for all kinds, convenience stores, barbers, retail, etc. The next few floors serve as apartment homes.
On the hills of Buda is more of the suburban feel of bigger houses with yards and uphill streets, smaller parks, and greenery. But for many, especially for the tourists, the Buda side is where the Royal Palace is, as well the Mathias church, within the old city, with its still cobbled streets. The Castle was commissioned by the said King Matthias, then known for its expansive library, was used by the Ottomans, and was renovated by Empress Maria Theresa years later. The Palace is now the National Museum and Gallery. Looking into the river is the Fisherman’s Bastion, built to commemorate the fishermen who lived, made a living, and protected the area in the old days.
There is definitely a bit of everything European here in Budapest. With the areas of Deak Ferenc Ter are the Paris like shops and the touristy feel of its surrounding sites. Andrassy Avenue was inspired by the streets of Paris, one end is the city park and at the other is the Heroes square. This iconic landmark pays tribute to the seven founding Magyars who first came to the country over a thousand years ago. Rich in culture, the city has its theater, the opera, and of course an enduring and vibrant love for classical music.
When you are done with the sites and the culture, also in the Pest side is the Jewish District, where similar to other European countries tells the story of the city’s contribution to the long and tragic story of its Jewish settlers, and of course, its experience during the Holocaust of WWII. As its main site is the Synagogue, one of three in the city, but notable for its size, second only to the one in Jerusalem. The said district is distinct for its gritty, crumbly feel.
But do not be fooled by this, as today this area is where many of the artisan business and establishments may be found, including a variety of cafes and gastronomic joints, and a popular place to visit are the ruin bars.
In between these two parts of the city, is the mighty Danube, and the seven bridges that is also an important part of the Budapest experience. Three of which is the Margit Bridge that bends in the middle that would bring you to biggest Park in the city that is on actual island, aptly named Margit Island. The Liberty Bridge, with its green but very industrialist all metal and bolts design. On one of its end is the Gellert Hotel, one of the oldest, but most of all home of one the best places to experience the famous thermal baths of the city.
And of course the Chain Bridge also known as the Szechenyi Bridge , after the count who had it made after he failed to cross the Danube in the frost of winter, trying to catch his father in his sick bed, and subsequently its death and funeral.
Over the course of the year, I have developed a small interest in the country’s history, but more specifically is its chapter in its years during the Communist rule. Most of the remnants of this period of the country’s history, has been brought to Museums, and at the Memento Park (a few minutes outside the city center). But the city is still filled with little traces, like carvings on walls, brutalist architectural designed buildings, and in particular the revered 1956 Revolution, of the tragic but heroic revolt of its people during their time as a member of the Soviet block.
As any other person, food for me will always be best from home. But Hungarian food I find is not bad at all. And I am not just talking about the sausages. I am fond of their Goulash, but as a local friend said, Hungarians have a somewhat love for Mayonnaise, which for me is a good thing, such that I find that whenever this condiment is involved here, I discover is always a treat. I can’t explain it, but they do something with it that makes pasta, coleslaw, salads, and sandwiches, extra good.
To be honest, I struggled with the locals the first few months. I found out early on that the Hungarians are mostly a serious bunch, not exactly the type you joke around with in small talk, and initial encounters. This I believe is mainly due to the language. It is the younger generation who speaks English, even then not everyone is the same. But it is important to add that Budapest in my experience so far is a pretty safe city, and its people are helpful, once you ask for it. Once again, finding someone who speaks English may take some time, but a suggestion would be is that you ready your questions with the hotel concierge, or that there are always information desks around the city, especially in the tourist areas.
Even after a year, however, I still struggle to give you what truly makes this city. The language barrier for me is wider and taller than whatever wall you can imagine, as Hungarian, or Magyarol, is one of the most difficult to learn in the world. It took me months to learn to say Thank you, even longer to say Excuse me. I assume that should an Expat like me be able to conquer this hurdle living here, will gain the biggest in into its people and consequently the heart of what makes the country as well.
I haven’t even really scratched the surface of everything I want to share about this city. Someone like me, can’t really do it justice, but here’s to hoping I do a good job in trying.