From Buda to the Pesht

Trip Start Aug 10, 2010
Trip End Oct 28, 2010

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Flag of Hungary  , Budapest,
Sunday, September 5, 2010

Budapest was on my radar from the beginning of my trip because of the sheer beauty of the city and history that I heard so much about. I took the night train from Belgrade to Budapest and luckily I got a sleeper cabin all to myself. That was the good news, the bad news was that the train arrived at 5 in the morning. Arriving at 5 in the morning at created some issues. For one, my hostel which was supposed to have 24 hour reception, wouldn't answer the buzzer. The second issue was that nothing else around there was open, and I really had to pee. I walked around trying to find the neighborhood trying to find a somewhat inconspicuous spot to relieve myself but had no luck. So I did what I had to do while no one was looking and continued waiting to get into the hostel. Eventually someone walked out of the door (it was in an apartment building) and I walked in. The other problem was there were no numbers on the doors so I didn’t know which unit it was. So after about an hour of waiting downstairs outside, I waited another hour in the lobby. Finally I had enough and I went to the first door on the first floor and tried to open it. I gave it a little push and walah, it opened up and inside looked like a hostel. I figured this has to be it so I made myself at home on the couch in the common area until someone came out, wondering who the hell I was. Luckily I was in the right unit and my bed was prepared for me to take a nap. Later that day I took another free walking tour of the city and we made our way past the enormous St. Stevens church, through the Pesht side of the city and over the chain bridge to the Buda side. One interesting stop along the way was something called the "love lock tree.” The fencing around this tree was covered in pad locks, each with two sets of initials on them. When a couple wants to proclaim their love in Budapest, they write their initials together on a lock, place it here, and throw the key into the river, cementing that their love is forever. Budapest was actually two cities until a few hundred years ago, with Buda being the richer, posh side where the palace of the king and the fortress was. From the top of the hill we had amazing views of the city. We walked around the streets up there and ended the tour with some Hungarian Pastries and wine.

That night, seeing I was tired from all the traveling and walking around, I decided to go and check out one of the thermal spas that everyone was recommending to me. It looked pretty close on the map so I decided to walk…big mistake. After wanting to take it easy that night, I ended up walking for another hour straight to get to the spa. I wanted to catch a bus, but I couldn’t find anywhere to buy a ticket. I finally reached the spa at around 7 pm, which was nice because the first big thermal pool was outside. It was a nice pool, with old style decorations and statues around it, fitting about 100 people in it. After about an hour in the first outdoor pool, I decided to make my way inside to try the other types of pools. Inside there were smaller pools/Jacuzzis with different types of thermal water. Some were hotter; some smelled like sulfur, some made your legs tingle. After a couple of hours I felt a lot better and headed home, this time on the subway (Budapest actually has the first subway ever built on the continent of Europe).

The next day I started off by checking out what was called "The Terror House,” which was a museum that documented the harsh times that people faced under both Nazi and Soviet occupation during the mid 20th century. Our tour guide the day earlier had talked about how Hungary was always on the losing side of every war it ever fought, and that was also the case against the Nazi’s. During that period of WWII, Nazi rule was harsh on everyone, not only the Jews.  Later on, as WWII came down to an end, the Soviets came in to “save” Hungary from Nazi rule. However what they put in place was an even stricter and harsher version of communism. During this period, the people of Hungary lived in constant fear of persecution, where any insubordination or lack of enthusiasm for the government was met with incarceration or death. The museum was very modern and well designed; it was a multimedia feast of the senses.

Later on that day I decided to take another one of the free walking tours, this time one that took you around the Jewish district. Throughout its history, Budapest had always had a pretty big Jewish population. This was evident on the first stop of the tour, the grand synagogue. This synagogue was received its name for a reason, it is the biggest synagogue in all of Europe, and second in the world.  It easily took up one city block and was ornately decorated on the outside as well as the inside. The exterior design was based on whatever information was available on what the great Synagogue that was destroyed in Jerusalem looked like. It was a very special feeling to imagine that this is what that synagogue which only western wall remains might have looked like. Inside the synagogue was just as impressive as the exterior, with a large hall and 3 levels of galleries on either side. The design of the interior was very ornate and similar to what you might see in cathedrals stylistically. This was done purposely because the Jews of that time wanted to fit in with the rest of the community as to not alienate themselves and create further discrimination against them. In the back of the synagogue was a metallic “tree of life.” On each of the metal leaves, the names of families and individuals who lost their lives during the holocaust and soviet rule was written.  There was also a remembrance for all of the individuals who helped the Jews escape and hide during those tumultuous times. Among them was a man who took in over 300 orphaned children and somehow managed to hide them from the Nazis.

Continuing further into the Jewish district, we saw synagogues of different types of Jews, from Chasidic to Orthodox, some more hidden, some more simple. We also checked out many of the older buildings in the area which are now some of the best pubs in the city. What was interesting about these pubs and buildings is that they are declared national monuments, so they cant be destroyed. That means that its too expensive to remodel or fix them. Because of that, people keep them as is and turn them into pubs using existing old buildings and furniture. The result is some really cool pubs with old furniture from the 20s to 50s, in old buildings that have been decorated in a unique way. It was a really cool experience and a great way to end my trip to Budapest.
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