I am finishing up my weekend in Budapest with an intensified interest in the countries of Eastern Europe, especially post-Communist states. I have always been a fan of European history and the influence of the Soviet Union, but after visiting Hungary and spending the weekend in Budapest I have a better understanding of the lasting affects that political systems have on how cultures develop. There were many interesting things about visiting Budapest, but I only want to touch on the few that I don’t think many people know about or wouldn’t expect.
Budapest is actually two areas separated by the Danube river, Buda and Pest – united into one city that we all know, Budapest. Many of the people I met this weekend were totally unaware of this truth, and were confused by the basic question about restaurants and nightlife activities “is it in Buda, or Pest?” The river is not too large, and people move between the two sides all the time. However, there are distinct differences between the two areas. Buda is built into the hill, with Buda Castle overlooking the river alongside Fisherman’s Bastion. Castle Hill is an area on the Buda side that boasts ruins of historical castles, marvelous statues, and outstanding views of Pest below. Pest, however, was where we spent most of our weekend. We stayed in the Jewish quarter, which is known as the hub of culture and nightlife activity. Pest also has Parliament Square, most of the major hotels, the National Museum, and many other tourist attractions like popular shopping streets and the famous Andrassy Avenue. I enjoyed being so close to all of the action with the opportunity to visit the Buda side with ease.
The legacy of communism is still quite clear, even in the currency. Budapest uses the Hungarian Forint, but most places also accept Euros. It’s commonly known that countries that accept more than one currency are in some economic distress, desperate for any transfer of goods and services. You can see how the city is still growing in the wake of breaking from communism in 1990, with an exchange rate favorable to foreigners. Moreover, the buildings themselves represent an interesting mix of history and attempts at modernization. The architecture itself is quite stunning, as every street corner seems to hold an impressive castle-like structure, although most times it’s been converted to apartments or commercial space. However, many of the buildings are decrepit and falling apart, with chipped paint and missing tiles, broken windows and broken staircases. Even walking down Andrassy Avenue it was clear that the once shining mansions were not in good condition, and an ominous feel hung over the city.
Hungary is defined by it’s history. Everywhere you turn there is a tribute to history, with plaques and statues present on every street. Budapest has had a very unique history, with several tales of invasion, foreign domination, cultural development, economic change. The city has seen several revolutions, and Hungarians are quick to recognize how these events have shaped it’s identity as a city today. Unlike other European cities I’ve visited, there seems to be very little modernization, and the emphasis on historical landmarks was a little surprising. As a history buff I thoroughly enjoyed it, although in reflection I’m intrigued by the discrepancy between remembering history and moving into the future.
Budapest is a must see city. Beyond the reputation of an amazing drinking culture and wild nightlife, Budapest demonstrates the stark contrast between Europe and America in terms of historical developments. Doing the stereotypical attractions like visiting Buda castle and visiting the thermal baths was interesting, but it was just walking around the different areas of the city that struck me most. The differences between our Air BnB in the Jewish quarter and the hostel I stayed in just by the Erzsébet bridge were striking, and definitely strengthened my views on the city as a whole.
Now, enjoy some pictures from the different sights of the city 🙂