Friday, September 5, 2008

Budapest, part 1

I've been trying to gather my thoughts about our recent trip to Budapest for a few days now. Some cities are very central, easy to know, and give you one simple image. Par example, Munich: giant heart-shaped cookies that look like Cuckoo clocks.

But both Berlin and Budapest are large, decentralized towns in the midst of reconstruction. In Berlin, this is obvious enough as a city that was divided for 28 years. But Budapest is more complex. The excellent "House of Terror" museum explains the "double-occupation" of Hungary, first by the Nazis and secondly by the Soviets. While ideologically different, these two regimes both terrorized and abducted Hungarians, while simultaneously stomping out Hungary's unique history and culture. The city's decaying architecture is shocking after Western Europe's splendor and complete transformation into tourist central.

But Budapest is coming back. Half the city is under restoration. We navigated the torn-up roads to connect our sight-seeing dots. While Budapest is not the newest, trendiest destination (I'm looking at you, Krakow) there is still a dearth of pre-trip information. Our Rough Guide was at least two years out of date. But, perhaps it is good for me to release my death grip on the guide book and be a bit more spontaneous.

The second obstacle of the trip was language. Hungarian is considered by many to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. It was nerve-wracking only knowing how to say "thank you" and "do you speak English/German?" but luckily nearly everyone we ran into spoke English, including McDonald's employees. (I'll explain that one later)

My primary impression of Hungary is that it is an earthy place. We didn't see sun on our 7 hour train ride until we crossed the Hungarian border. Then we were no longer amidst manicured wind-turbine strewn Austrian plains, but in golden waist-high grain fields. There German/Austrian sense of control clearly has not been exported. Budapest is a dirty place as well (though I suppose after Germany's crazy littering policies, most countries are) But even in the heart of this large city it is still easy to find a picnic place to enjoy their special red wine, "Bull's Blood."

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