Archive for Destination Hungary

Szia, Budapest!

All good things must come to an end, but why did Budapest have to end so quickly?  It was time to say our good-byes as we sailed down the Danube with many of the people who had made our trip such a wonderful experience.  Lots of food, lots of sunshine, and lots of smiles (and tears) all around. 

Budapest is a really fun city: beautiful old buildings and modern city life all nestled into one.  But the pictures will never tell the whole story, which is that the Hungarians are incredibly proud of their history.  Having never won a war, having fought for and losing independence over and over again, the scars of Trianon and the Holocaust–these are the sadnesses the Magyars hold close.  If outsiders stereotype Hungarians as pessimistic, it is because they haven’t dug deep enough.  It was the warmth, generosity, and national pride that really shines through. 

One thing is for certain–it is not my teachers I am leaving, but a new family.  Huba, Annamaria, Andrea: thank you!  You are the reason why this experience is indeed life-changing.  By the way, Szia means hello and good-bye, so I will indeed be back.

And now off to the Czech Republic–you have a lot to live up to!

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Trip to the Danube Bend

With just a few days left in Budapest, it was important to visit the Danube Bend just north of the city.  This is where many people escape city life to relax in summer cottages along the riverside.  Fortunately, Annamaria’s father has left her with such a place, so we were able to enjoy a picnic and learned how to make korozott (paprika flavored cheese spread).

Our first destination was Szentendre, an artsy town with lots of artsy shops and narrow streets.  There are some views of the river, but I was too busy seeking shade in alleyways and searching for gelato to find them. 

Then it was off to the Visegrad Royal Palace, which used to be the capital of Hungary long ago.  It was a very interesting exhibit of how kings and queens really did live, from the bedding to the stoves to the stone rooms.  King Matthias used to greet guests at the top of the stairs and jousting tournaments still continue there today.  Ironically, no one knew where it was for years, since it had been buried after an a earthquake.  Then one of the archaeologists–who had been searching for it for years–literally stumbled upon it one drunken night.

For dinner, we went to a Renaissance restuarant and ate like royalty!  I didn’t partake in the venison stew and duck, but I did put on a crown.  The walk by Dracula’s former prison tower was quit eery, much of what we hear of him is legend. 

The Danube Bend was blissful, even if it was another sweltering day.  The best part was walking through the gardens at Annamaria’s house to dip my feet in the Danube.  We got to meet two of her children, rock in the swing, and eat our weight in watermelon.  It felt like the quintessential summer celebration–with a Hungarian twist!  I’ll never forget her or her hospitality.

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Acquincum Ruins

Before there was Budapest, there was Buda and Pest.  And way before that was the Roman town of Acquincum.  I have never been one to be too interested in Roman ruins, so considering the temperature was hovering around 95 degrees with full sun above, it’s amazing I was able to take any pictures at all.  Fortunately there was an air-conditioned museum inside, where of course we weren’t allowed to take pictures.  Still, here is one factual thing for those interested: some of the ruins have been built up a bit to give visitors a better sense of what it looked like.  There’s a red brick line to show the border of what’s original and what’s been added on.

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St. Margaret Island

New York City has Central Park; Budapest has St. Margaret Island.

Being in the city is fun, except when it’s a scorching 100 degrees and there’s nothing but concrete all around.  So I decided to take my own lovely repsite on the island.  Renting a bike for an hour was just a few dollars–I found one with coaster brakes, a bell, and a fender bent about 45 degrees away from the tire.  Sweet!

It’s clear this is a popular date spot, given all the quiet pathways with little benches tucked between trees.  But there’s more to the island’s romance…young and old playing sports, rollerblading, and some very serious joggers.  There are lots of gardens and monuments to admire, plus a stunning view of the Danube and city on both sides.  There’s even ruins and an old nunnery to explore (hence the name).  It was easy to navigate and easy to get lost at the same time…

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Central Kavehaz

Although I have been saving lots of money on dinner by frequenting the falafel house next door (they know me by name!), our visit to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without visiting a coffeehouse.  So a few of us took Rick Steve’s advice and decided to have a three hour meal at one of the nicest and oldest of the coffehouses in Budapest: Central Kavehaz.  It was a very relaxed atmosphere, despite the fancy presentation, and really quite reasonable (by American standards at least).  The best part was hanging out at the dessert counter to personally pick dessert!  In true Hungarian style, it took us three hours to finish, but that could be because it took a full hour to figure out the bill and tips.  Too many cooks…

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Kerepesi Cemetery

In order to be buried at the Kerepesi Cemetery in the middle of Budapest, you would have to qualify as a “famous Hungarian.”  Yet given their habit of explaining everyone as a “world famous Hungarian,” it’s amazing the place isn’t full yet.  Still, you can learn a lot about a place by seeing how their honor and memorialize their dead.  In this case, we found out the origins of all our favorite tram stops.  For instance, “Blaha Lujza Ter,” our home away from home, is named for the famous actress who was so beautiful people fought to drink champagne from her shoe.  Naturally, her site is quite large. 

Interestingly enough, the graves of dictators and tributes to communist leaders remain as part of the grounds.  Their memorials and statues still stand, and in the case of Kadar, are even respected by a few.  The people I’ve met argue that they should be taken down, or placed elsewhere, but at the same time many Hungarians simply accept this part of their past and do not look to hide it.  They are not ashamed to admit that their political past was tainted.  It’s a refreshing sense of honesty, but as an American, I can’t help but to side with those who think such people do not deserve a place of honor.

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Everyday Budapest

So here are the shots that are less about the architecture and more about my feelings at the moment…

Our Fulbright hosts are fantastic people and always go above and beyond to make us happy.  Note the plate of food especially for me, the vegetarian in a world of pork and potatoes.

I feel very independent riding the trams, buses, metro, etc.  Navigating the city isn’t too hard, and this was really a big deal for me since I haven’t ever lived in a city and always rely on others to lead me around.  So to all my friends who went to college/lived in/regularly explore the cities around me, just think back to the first time you managed to get to a store on the other side of town without help.  It’s quite empowering!  We are such a car culture…speaking of which, the Polo pictured is probably one of the fanciest cars I’ve seen here, and very much the standard size.  One would be very out-of-place here in an Accord.

Then there’s Kati: my little Hungarian doll that feels like a friend.  Laugh all you want, but she has been in my purse, ready for all sorts of ridiculous photo opportunities without complaint.  I’ll have lots to show my kindergarteners!

Eating ice cream is something people do here between 9 am and midnight, at least three times a day.  They are serious about their ice cream, but good luck if you want fresh fruit.

Hanging out at the cafes has been lots of fun–good for people watching, or watching people watch the World Cup.  Had I been at home I never would have known who made it to the finals.  Nor would I have been hanging out at a bicycle repair shop/bar while consumed by cigarette smoke.  There are lots of smells in Budapest, so I am convinced people smoke to disguise the rest of them.  Thank goodness for nasal allergy spray.

Reflecting on my time in Hungary isn’t something I want to do right now–I am going to miss it so much!  Here comes to cliche message–we really are more alike than different.  Really.

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Duna TV, Szechenyi Baths

The temperature has been sweltering in Budapest, so it’s only fitting that I returned to the baths to cool off with the locals.  The Turks aren’t generally well regarded here, what with trying to take over the empire and all, but fortunately they did stick around to create all sorts of fabulous bathing areas right in the middle of the city.  Hooray!  These days the baths offer many different pools, all with their own temperature, so you can find one just right for you.  There are indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy, a sauna, steam rooms, mineral baths, and even special cabins for massages and such. 

My favorite part of Szechenyi is the circular area inside one of the outside pools where the jets take you around and around in circles and quite some speed.  It’s a little tricky to get in and out of this circle area because the jets are strong and there are lots of people around, but still, it’s such fun once you get moving along with the current.

We also visited the Duna TV station.  I was on TV!  Okay, so the TV wasn’t broadcasting, but it was still fun to pretend I was an anchorwoman  I looked right at the teleprompter and “UFO’s” on the camera like a pro!  Maybe one day…

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Pecs Sights & Sounds

The weekend was coming to a close when started our tour of Pecs.  We began with walking around the town square, where there was a complete orchestra warming up for their Saturday morning concert.  Why not celebrate Saturday?  After cooling off by the fountain and stopping for iced tea at a sidewalk cafe, we stopped by the old cemetery ruins and finally the Zsolnay ceramics museum.  The beautiful, shiny ceramics were fun to look at, but by that point we were all getting tired and ready to get back “home” to the hotel Ibis in Budapest.  So we boarded the bus an hour early and congratulated ourselves for our shopping restraint!

Well, as you can tell by the pictures, we were about an hour outside of Budapest when our bus broke down.  (Could it have had something to do with the wheat field romp from the day before?)  Nothing like standing by the side of the highway in 100 degree heat!  We took some pictures to amuse ourselves, then got very excited when a road emergency van pulled up.  The kind man put up a few signs and cones telling other motorists to stay away from us, then left.  At least I got a few pictures to use for my classroom project…

About 40 minutes later we make it to the rest stop, fill the radiator for another half hour, and finally limped home, arriving just two hours late.  The green Ibis sign never looked so good!

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The Hungarian Sea…

As a diehard Pisces, I have always been drawn to seaside towns.  Lake Balaton is no exception!  I only wish I had more time to actually swim while I was in Balatonfured, but alas…just an hour to eat a quick lunch by the lake, then a moment to sit and watch the swans and children playing in the fountains.  It really made me miss Watch Hill….I must find a way to go back!

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