Day 17 & 18: Budapest, Hungary

Once again I fell behind on this blog between Poland and Croatia where I currently am. Past hostels have had free internet, while some recent one have had computers that I believe are still running on Windows 95. Internet cafes in europe are expensive at times but in reality I just haven’t had that much spare time.

Budapest was a big change from our time in Poland. While Poland felt Eastern at times the cities and culture was still fairly Western, in the sense that Poland was very similar to Germany etc. Budapest is truly the first city with an underlying Eastern pulse. The people, the language, the archictecture and of course the food. Goulash and Doner all over the city. Budapest was also the city where we met up with our third party, Sam Kang. Sam is from L.A. and also studied with me in Salamanca. His Korean background makes him stand out a bit in Europe. Even with my “rugged” facial hair (still haven’t shaved and boy do I look creepy) I no longer have any shot of masking my American tourist status since our trio now stands out more than ever. Recently a group of Balkan tourists actually wanted to take a picture with Sam in front of a fountain.

Sam’s Easyjet flight arrived a bit late so we our first night in Budapest was spent mainly walking around. We walked down the the Danube river to check out the city scape. What a stunning view it is. Budapest reminds me a lot of Prague in the sense that there are two cities (in this case Buda and Pest) divided by a major river. The most prominent structure (seen in the photo above) is the Parliament house which we mistankened for a cathedral when we first caught a glimpse of it. Absolutely stunning to look at, especially at night.

One bizarre side story regarding our hostel stay in Budapest. While waiting for Sam to arrive we started talking to these two American girls staying in our dorm. They were both recent graduates taking a break before grad/med school. ONe told me she was from southern Pennsylvania. My knowledge of PA geography consists of Philly, Pittsburgh and Hanover, a small town where my cousin currently lives with his family (it is also where they make UTZ chips. mmmm). I mentioned Hanover and sure enough the girl was born and raised there. I mentioned Sheppard Mansion, the bed and breakfast that my cousin’s wife owns and operates. She replies, “oh yeah, I used to babysit the owner’s kid.” So this random girl I met in a random small hostel in Budapest, Hungary not only knows my cousin but has babysat for Dawson, my second cousin I suppose. Small world huh.

Back to Budapest. The next day we checked out more of the city, climbed to the Citadel, an old army base high above the city in the hills (great view), and visited Budapest castle. The majority of Hungarians live in Budapest and after talking extensively with Joe, the owner of Caterina Hostel, Hungarians are very proud of their heritage and have strong feelings about the loss of territory and land after the fall of the austrian-Hungarian empire post WWI and later post WWII. For example, Trannsylvania, the patch of beautiful countryside in Western Romania (famous as being the setting for Bram Stroker’s Dracula) was originally part of Hungary and that a large population of people living in Romania are Hungarians who refuse to call themselves Romanians. Interesting background info. Joe was very nice and was eager to tell me more about his culture and past (his hostel was really his apartment). I was eager to listen and learned that Hungarians, like many other Eastern Europeans, are extremely hospitable and friendly people.

We also visited The House of Terror, a museum dedicated to Socialism, Nazism and the Gulags of WWII and the Iron Curtain. The museum was extremely modern but and very interesting. Depressing, absolutely. Fascinating, for sure. THe one thing most of these countries have in common is a devastating past. Due to large Roma populations and a large Jewish population as well, Hungary lost a lot during WWII.

Our next stop is Zagreb, Croatia. I will try to update that as soon as possible. Until then, keep on keeping on.