Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Impressions of Budapest

We spent four days in Budapest, Hungary.  Here are my first and last impressions of the city that straddles the Danube.

First Impression:
Budapest is…not what I was expecting.  And the truth is, I’m not sure what I was expecting.  Budapest is a beautiful European city with culture and history.  I think in my head, I pictured something just a bit more…different.  After having been in Berlin and Prague so far, I feel that Budapest is in some ways a combination of the two.  It has a similar layout to Prague, with the river dividing the city and the castle up on the hill offering superb views of the rooftops.  And in a similar fashion to Berlin, much of the oldest architecture was destroyed in the War and has since been rebuilt in a variety of styles.  So while Prague boasts breathtaking buildings around each corner and some buildings dating back to the 15th century and beyond, St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest was built in 1905 in a style to mirror much older churches. 

I think when I originally thought of Budapest, I pictured a more “eastern” city somehow.  I’m not quite sure what I mean by eastern…mosques and Arabic arches?  Bright colors and sandy streets?  I think I pictured a darker city, too.  Less light gray concrete and more red brick and or stucco?  I just don’t know. 

Budapest has been nice so far.  HOT, and a long way to walk (we haven’t purchased public transportation yet—we’re holding out and saving money—and as a consequence, we probably walked at least 4-6 miles to get to our free tour’s meeting spot, walk the tour, then get ourselves home).  On feet that were already sore and in 35C heat, it makes for a tiring day.  Even though it’s Saturday in a city renowned for its nightlife, I think both Liz and I will be turning in early tonight in order to attack tomorrow with greater verve. 

Lasting impressions:
Budapest is a city that, for me at least, took some time to grow on me.  But thankfully for me, our second day in the city, we took a walking tour with an amazing local guide named Adam.  Adam told us in the beginning of his tour that his goal was to make us fall in love with his city, and…perhaps a bit surprisingly, he actually did.  He filled his tour with stories—oh, the stories I could pass on about the Opera House and the Chain Bridge now—that delighted me and stuck in my memory.  We ended up taking a second tour with him in the afternoon of the same day to see more of the city and learn about the city’s Communist history.  

We filled the next 2 days with a visit to the Central Market Hall, one of the city’s famous thermal baths, spending some time with the Swedish group we’d met in Prague (who met up with us in Budapest on our 3rd day there), and wandering about the city discovering new statues and buildings.  Budapest tucks its treasures around corners.  There’s not an attraction every direction that you look, but there is plenty to see, and enough to fill days. 

At the beginning, I thought four days might be too much in Budapest.  As we left, I found myself thinking that another day or two in the city wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  Budapest has its own special charm, and it stole my heart just as surely as Prague and Berlin did.  

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