Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Returning to one of my favorite European cities ... Budapest!

This past weekend, I was able to return to one of my favorite European cities - Budapest, Hungary. Upon arrival on Thursday evening, I was welcomed by the bustle of the historical train station, Keleti Railway Station. The anticipation of revisiting a city I had once spent time in four years ago built as I exited the train station and made my way to the metro. I could not wait to experience this city in a completely new light without parental supervision and as a college student!

Most of my interactions with the Hungarians I met were incredibly positive. When Wyatt, Emielia, and I stood at the top of the escalator at the metro station unsure of where to purchase public transportation tickets, a woman approached us (who clearly knew we were American), and told us where to go in English. After we purchased the tickets, off we went to the hostel.

The hostel we stayed at for the weekend was wonderful, and I highly recommend it to all travelers going to Budapest. It's called Wombats Hostel and it was large, clean, the staff was great, and it's right near the city center. Once we arrived there, we dropped our bags and went in search for food. We ended up at a nice restaurant nearby called Suelto. Post-dinner, we met up with the other Webster students who traveled to Budapest by bus, had a free drink at the hostel bar, and went to sleep.

Friday morning began with a fog-filled free walking tour. We started in Pest and worked our way to Buda. Pest is the more metropolitan side of the Danube, while Buda is home to castles (the Buda Castle), churches (the Matthias Church), and the Buda Hills. Our first stop on the tour was the Tree of Love Locks on Elisabeth Square:

Tree of Love Locks

Then, we proceeded across the Chain Bridge to Buda:

Chain Bridge

We took a short walk around Castle Hill and saw the exterior of the Matthias Church, a nonexistent view of Pest (due to fog), and bought souvenirs. Following the tour, a select few of us went to the Hungarian National Gallery (the national art museum). My favorite exhibit in the museum was on the top floor. It was called 'Shifts. Hungarian Art After 1945.' Here is a link to some of the pieces I saw:

That night, we all went out to a great bar in the Jewish Quarter called Szimpla. It is one of the pioneer ruinpubs in Budapest (an abandoned building turned into a pub). Drinks and shisha were enjoyed by all. The place was very cool and very crowded. Some might say it was infested with hipsters.

Saturday began with a must-see, the Central Market. Paprika and colorful fruits and veggies were around every corner!

The exterior of the Central Market

Colorful fruits

Fresh vegetables

Paprika was everywhere!


The market was very busy on this Saturday morning

The adventure continued after the Central Market when a handful of us trekked out to a suburb of Budapest and went caving! We were glad to discover that this location did not seem touristy since the tour of the cave was given only in Hungarian.

Once arriving back at the hostel around 5 o'clock, I desperately needed some time to myself. As I sat on my bed thinking of what to do with my evening, the memory of going to the Opera House during my last visit came to mind. I remember seeing the opera, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and not only being floored by such an extravagant performance, but also by the immense beauty of the space.

I immediately threw on a dress, my heeled boots, and a scarf and walked quickly over to the Opera House (which was only ten minutes away). I was determined to escape to the darkness of a theatre. Ironically, the performance that night was the ballet, Onegin. Four years ago I witnessed the opera and now I was seeing the ballet! I was able to snag a wonderful seat in the middle of the orchestra with a perfect full view of the stage. I was overjoyed to be in the theatre, as it has been since December since I'd seen a live performance. To add to my great experience, the woman seated next to me turned out to be a set decorator for film in Budapest. She told me about her current project and her past experiences and we ended up exchanging names to find each other on Facebook. The performance was extremely classical, intense, and elegant.

The lobby of the Opera House

More of the lobby

More lobby ceiling

The exterior of the Opera House

The ceiling inside of the theatre

My view of the stage

The box seats

Attending the ballet on Saturday night was just what the doctor ordered.

The final day in Budapest, Sunday, was my favorite. It began with a melange and a croissant. It is custom in Budapest to make the melange with honey, and I fell in love after my first sip. Delicious! It's better than the Wiener Melange ... but shhhh! After planning over breakfast, Emielia and I decided to make our first stop the Dohány Street Synagogue. It was important to me to visit the synagogue while in Budapest. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third largest in the world. I had visited during my previous trip, and it was just as gorgeous and I remembered.

The exterior of the Dohány Street Synagogue

Inside the synagogue

Inside the synagogue

The Ark

There is the holocaust memorial cemetery on the grounds of the synagogue as well, and that was very moving. In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto for the city Jews and served as a shelter for a lot of people. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto due to cold and hunger during the winter of 1944-45 were buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

Weeping willow in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park

Our next stop was the Opera House (in the daylight) and St. Stephen's Basilica.

The Hungarian State Opera House in the daylight

St. Stephen's Basilica

Then, we strolled along the Danube Promenade to The Shoes. The Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial concept by film director Can Togay. The memorial was created by him and sculptor Gyula Pauer on the bank of the Danube. It honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.

A pair of shoes and Buda across the water

Many shoes has flowers draped on them

Candles are lit around the shoes in the evening

I'd been to The Shoes prior and it was still just as eerie to sit with my feet dangling off the edge of the bank among the shoes. I think it is one of the most powerful memorials I've seen.

The day was topped off with a visit to the Hungarian Parliament, a bowl of goulash, one more melange, and a pleasant train ride back to Vienna. Another full weekend in an amazing city.

This coming weekend I am taking two days trips to Innsbruck and Hallstatt in Austria!


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