We certainly enjoyed our week in Budapest, which included a full day trip to Bratislava in Slovakia. Although the weather didn’t always cooperate, we managed to adjust our schedules to account for the rain and definitely made the most of our time. Budapest is a beautiful city in Hungary with a lot of wonderful architecture and unique features that can be found throughout the old town areas. Sitting on the shore of the Danube River, it has been flooded and rebuilt over time, but there are many buildings that are centuries old and represent many different architectural styles. We found the historic districts to be extremely walkable, but there is an excellent public transportation system, at least within the city itself.
After traveling 20 hours, including layovers, and arriving early on a Sunday morning, we got settled into our hotel and headed out to get acquainted to the area. Unfortunately, after asking the concierge for directions, we misunderstood which way to go. When we reached the main street, one of the ringed streets that circle the city and denote historical borders of the city throughout its history, we turned the wrong direction and headed away from the river and the Inner City district. Since we thought that we were heading the right direction, we were surprised to see that the buildings were not historic and beautiful, but rather very utilitarian as one would expect from a country that was occupied by the Soviet Union. When we reached the main train station, we were pretty confident that we’d gone the wrong way. We managed to find a good restaurant for lunch and then walked back towards our hotel and to our intended destination.
The city is broken up into several districts and there are certain ones that must be on your list to see during your time in Budapest. Without a doubt the Castle District with the Royal Palace should be high on your list of places to visit. It is important to understand that Budapest is actually made up of two regions that are separated by the Danube. The side with the Castle District resides in Buda and the Parliament and Inner City are in Pest. They were distinct cities until the Chain Bridge was built and the cities were combined to make the single city of Budapest. There are important sights to see on both sides of the river, so we crossed the bridges several times during our stay.
To understand the culture of Hungary, it is important to understand its history, which hasn’t always been pleasant. They have been conquered many times and also chose to side with Germany in both World Wars, which didn’t work out well for them. They also used to be one of the largest and most powerful countries in Europe and their borders and influence have been drastically reduced after the losses in the World Wars. They were also absorbed by the Soviet Union after the war, which was another tragic period in their history. There is definitely a sense of pride and optimism with their inclusion in the EU, but they don’t shy away from their history, including the role that the holocaust played within the country.
All in all, our initial impression of Budapest is that of a historic city with a complex history and culture. From the Hungarians initial migration from Asia to the Carpathian region, their ability to withstand multiple occupations, and the decisions that led them to be on the wrong side of history, there is much more to understand than just the typical palaces, castles, and cathedrals that dominate most visits to cities in Europe. In some ways, the fact that it rained a couple of days during our trip added to our impression of the city and its somewhat dark history. We look forward to providing details about each of the important sites to visit over the coming weeks.