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Blown Away by Budapest, Hungary: A Visit to Eastern Europe

April 22, 2020
by CEA MOJO
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No place I have visited before made my jaw drop quite like Budapest did. It provides visitors with views unlike any other, with architecture and art to dazzle the eyes, and with culture that is genuinely tangible.

In this post, I will outline my favorite sites in the gorgeous city. Frankly, I could fill multiple blogs with the food I ate, the drinks I drank, and the interesting people I met, but for now, this will have to do. Another time, perhaps, I will share the story of accidentally angering dozens of Welsh soccer fans in a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. But, for now, enjoy my attempts at describing a rather indescribable city.

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 My brothers enjoying the Budapest Eye, located on the Erzsebet Square
  

I traveled to Budapest following my semester in Seville, Spain. My family was visiting, and we all were eager to explore Eastern Europe. My mom and I are history buffs, and all of us enjoy meandering through narrow city streets, exploring and enjoying the cuisine of whatever place we are visiting. It is important to note that we are all avid walkers, so while we walked almost everywhere we went in Budapest, keep in mind that if you would rather taxi or utilize the metro, those are certainly available as well.

Perhaps the most popular stop in Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building (pictured at the top of this blog). Built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is the current location of the Hungarian national government. It is huge, it is gorgeous, and it is absolutely a must-see. My family and I were unsure if the outside or the inside was more impressive; regardless, we were starstruck. It is imperative that I note: if you wish to see the inside of this gorgeous structure, GET YOUR TICKETS ONLINE, AND EARLY. Similar to the U.S. Capitol, the only way to see the interior is through a guided tour. My mom, trip planner extraordinaire, went online to purchase them a month in advance. Even by that time, all the English-speaking tours were sold out. So, order the tickets months in advance, if you can, otherwise you will be like us, deeply confused on an Italian-speaking tour. Regardless of language capabilities, however, simply seeing the beautiful structure was absolutely worth it. 

Near the Parliament, there is a heart-wrenching memorial to victims of the Holocaust in Hungary. The Shoes on the Danube Bank represent the Jewish individuals who were murdered by the fascist government during World War II. Erected in 2005 by sculptor Gyula Pauer, it illustrates the importance of remembering the horrors of history and honoring the victims of genocide. The memorial is simple, stark and striking. It reminds viewers to honor the lives taken in the name of injustice, intolerance and hate.  

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Across the river from Parliament is the iconic Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle. As we were meandering around Budapest on a stifling June day, we were grateful for the gelato stands and water fountains near the premises. After enjoying our treats, we climbed the steps of the Bastion to get an excellent view of the city. In addition, we entered the Matthias Church (part of the Buda Castle complex), famous for its colorful roof and ornate interior. Like many European religious structures, one can only enter if their skirts, shorts or dresses are modest and their shoulders are covered. The various buildings in this area each have fascinating histories, and combine Neoclassical, Gothic Revival, and Romanesque Revival architecture in a uniquely exquisite manner. 

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 The Matthias Church and a statue celebrating St. Stephen 

 

My personal favorite part of Budapest was the Dohány Street Synagogue. The building is gorgeous, inside and out, with art and architecture that rivals most other European buildings I saw. The gardens are full of spectacular sculptures that depict various aspects of Jewish faith and the resilience demonstrated before, during and after the Holocaust. During World War II and the fascist control of Hungary, part of the courtyard was included in the segregated ghetto for the Budapest Jews. Countless people were left to die here, and the bodies were often placed on the Synagogue’s courtyard stones. The Budapest Jewish community memorializes the victims while urging visitors not to forget the history. Like the Shoes on the Danube Bank, it is heartbreaking, but imperative to see. Follow the same rules as the Matthias Church when it comes to dress. In addition, men will be asked to adorn a Yakama when entering the synagogue. They are kindly provided free of charge by the Dohány Street staff.

And finally, one cannot discuss tourism in Budapest without highlighting the baths. With the plethora of thermal springs under the city, Budapest has taken advantage of the naturally warm water to construct relaxing, spa-like structures and pools. My family and I opted for the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, the largest thermal bath in Europe, which utilizes two separate hot springs. Its doors opened in 1913, and the options of indoor and outdoor pools have been enticing locals and tourists alike for over a century.

As a clean freak, I was pleasantly greeted by the orderly locker rooms with individual changing stalls that can be rented and locked. We brought our own towels, but those can be rented as well. Once entering the spa, the options for activities were extensive. One can relax with a cocktail at the bar, swim laps, or simply enjoy the gorgeous architecture and water features from a lounge chair. Furthermore, the Széchenyi baths are conducive to all types of weather, as each pool is kept at a different temperature. As I have mentioned, our days meandering around Budapest were very warm, and as the heat and I are not the best of friends, I mainly enjoyed the refreshing, coolest pool. None of the areas were too crowded, and the entire facility was clean, welcoming, and relaxing.

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I have unbelievably fond memories of my time in Budapest, as does my family. It was the perfect city to experience history while slowly soaking up the magic of Hungary. To anyone considering studying abroad with CEA, or to anyone considering an affordable weekend trip in Europe, please place Budapest on your radar. You will not be disappointed.

Lily Anderson is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the Spring 2019 semester. She is currently a student at the University of Alabama. 


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