Budapest. I knew this city was big and all, but I was floored by the rich history and the amount of activities this city offers. By day, there are countless tourist destinations; by night, the city comes alive with a buzzing nightlife. I mean, where do I even begin? I have so much to talk about that I have to separate my blog post in 2. Part one will feature the city and its history, while part two will cover sightseeing, activities, shopping, eating, and nightlife.
The people. To start, here are the amazing people that I traveled with. Without them, this trip would definitely not have been the same. They were all here Friday – Monday, and I stayed until Wednesday so I got to see a bit more of the city.
The name. First, we have to establish an understanding of how Budapest got its name, which also provides a bit of insight into its geography. Budapest consists of a “Buda” side and a “Pest” side, both of which are separated by the Danube River (Buda to the west, Pest to the east). Buda is more picturesque, has many hills, and has more expensive houses/apartments. Pest is where the cafes, restaurants, hostels, shopping, clubs, etc. are, and is also very flat. Both sides have many tourist attractions, though we spent most of our trip on the Pest side.
The goods. Lets start with some random facts/trivia about Budapest. Many of these were a pleasant surprise and really enhanced my admiration for the city.
1. Budapest has the world’s busiest traditional tram line, where tram-cars come once every 2 minutes during peak hours.
2. It has the largest Synagogue in Europe (and 5th largest in the world).
3. Budapest’s parliament building is one of the top 3 largest in Europe.
4. Its subway system is the 4th oldest in the world.
5. Budapest is home to the largest outdoor skating rink in Europe.
6. It has one of the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, in a building built by Gustave Eiffel (you know, the guy who built the Eiffel Tower). Note: I was told that it was ranked as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, but I tried looking for this information online and failed to find sufficient sources to rank it as the most beautiful McDonald’s. However, it is definitely on every top __ list that I have looked at so far.
The history. Chain bridge. I’m not sure if this is urban legend or truth, but this was the supposed reason for building the Chain Bridge, which is one of seven bridges that link Buda and Pest together: a long time ago, there were no bridges that linked Buda and Pest together, and the only time that people could cross the Danube was by boat during summer. The Hungarian King was on the Pest side while his ailing father was on the Buda side. The King had wanted to reach his father, but his father died before the King was able to see him one last time. For that reason, the Hungarian King ordered the Chain Bridge to be built.
The Chain Bridge was destroyed by the Germans in World War II, but was rebuilt thereafter.
Bath houses. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the legendary Hungarian bath houses in Budapest, and you probably asked yourself: “wait, aren’t bath houses Turkish?” Well, yes. Yes they are. The reason why there are Turkish bath houses in Hungary is because the Ottoman Empire once ruled Hungary and installed great big (and awesome) bath houses. When the Ottoman Empire left Hungary, those bath houses remained (and for good reason). Honestly, they’re quite awesome. More on this in Part 2.
Shoe memorial. Let’s just say that the 20th century was no walk in the park for Hungary. First there were the Germans, and then there were the Soviets after that.
Walking along the river, you might pass by the shoe memorial and wonder what all that is about. During World War II, Jewish people were lined up along the river, told to take off their shoes, and then shot into the river. These shoes act as a memorial for them. Note: from my trip to Auschwitz, I learned that 600,000 Hungarian-Jewish people had been killed during the Holocaust.
Double occupation. The House of Terror is a must see for everyone who visits the city. It is a museum that covers the German and Soviet occupation of Hungary in the 20th century (though it mostly focuses on the Soviet occupation). It is a very sobering museum and is a bit painful to go through at times.
And that’s that! With a bit of context established for Budapest (and most of the heavy reading done), I’ll go over the sights, activities, shops, food, and partying in my next post!