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By: Alyssa Barrett
This past week I embarked on weeklong trip to Budapest, Hungary with my Positive Psychology class. It was quite a time to say the least. Between some class-wide food poisoning, an outbreak of the full blown flu, and just traveling with 25 other people, there was never a dull moment.
I think most of our generation perceives Budapest as this hip, “shabby-chic” city inspired by George Ezra’s catchy yet perpetually annoying song of the same moniker. All us 20-somethings can’t help but see it as some ethereal far-away land that only exists in glimpses as Ezra’s Top 40 hit plays away endlessly. But of course, there’s always a little more to the plot, and throughout our six days there, we got the real story.
While Budapest is undoubtedly a city on the rise and absolutely had its enchanting moments (via beautiful monuments, eye-opening museums, and delightfully cheap food), I found the ever-present Soviet influence to be deeply unsettling. Hungary has experienced decades of unrest due to losing much of its Jewish population to the Holocaust and living beneath a communist regime up until the early 90s. It would be easy to visit the city for 48 hours (as most do), notice this influence, and keep right on walking as you go find yourself another $2 beer.
Fortunately, we were there for the full week. Our assumptions quickly ebbed as we heard from a Hungarian economist, spoke with local university students, and attempted to have conversations with people around the city. Between these academic activities, as well as our own excursions throughout various neighborhoods, it didn’t take long for us become thoroughly disillusioned with whatever prior notions we held.
Up front, everyone in Budapest is doing “fine.” Yet, take a closer look and you find a public that is confused by their thoroughly corrupt government, a community predominantly nostalgic for communism, young people deserting the country in droves, and ultimately, a million other numerous complexities that ensure there’s no quick or easy fix. Below is one of the most compelling graphs from our week, which depicts how the vast majority of Hungarian citizens feel worse off without communism (and hold this sentiment strongest of all the Central & Eastern European countries). As an American who’s grown up under the classic dichotomy stating “communism is bad/capitalism is good,” experiencing this alternate view through through the cultural climate of Budapest was engaging, and ultimately challenged us to draw a more complete conclusion about such a complex country.
Though many of our academic talks were a bit heavy, we also had an significant amount of free time throughout the week. On a lighter note, some of my personal highlights included:
The Great Synagogue: The largest synagogue in Europe which included multiple memorials for Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Each leaf of the metal tree below is engraved with a name.
“For Sale Pub,” where the ceiling and walls were covered in notes, the floor was covered in hay, peanuts were shelled onto the ground, and candles were placed on every available surface. In other words, the most hilarious fire hazard I have ever encountered. Legal only because health and safety codes don’t seem to exist in Hungary (top right)
Szimpla Kert: Our class’s favorite ruin pub. Ruin pubs can be found throughout Budapest and all follow the same premise. It’s like a dilapidated-concrete-building meets an open-air-theatre meets your-eccentric-great-aunt’s-annual-garage-sale. Went back here a couple times throughout the week to partake in cheap drinks, funky music, and an overall delightfully laid back atmosphere (top middle, bottom left & right)
Food!!! Traditional Hungarian food can pretty much be summed up as goulash and dumplings (though their dumplings are a little different than ours; see top middle). While our savory eats were pretty great, the sweets were even better. A particular favorite was the chimney (bottom, left), a cinnamon-sugar coated pastry cooked over the fire right before our very eyes. My roommate, Emily, and I made an an effort to split one most days, and it was absolutely wonderful. Another delight was the gelato, or sorbet in this case. Mango, basil-lemon, and raspberry-cherry were some of the best flavors I sampled.
And of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a warm bath with my 25 friends! We spent one of our evenings at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, which were absolutely glorious. After walking a million miles a day, the hot-tub-temperature pools were a relief for our sore feet!
Overall, Budapest was a blast. It was cheap (coming back to Cope was painful), packed with history, and definitely forced us to reconcile some of our previous assumptions about the city all radio stations are obsessed with. It was also 70 degrees and sunny every single day. Nothing like a good dose of vitamin D to raise everyone’s spirits.
Upon returning back to Copenhagen, I was greeted by some beautiful skies which did make the transition to reality a hair easier.
Check out more of Alyssa’s posts here: https://nordictidings.wordpress.com