“It’s beautiful here. They said that of course, that Budapest is beautiful. But it is in fact almost ludicrously beautiful.” -Anthony Bourdain
Hours after parting ways with Ljubljana, I entered a metropolis with nearly ten times more people and far rougher exterior. And unlike Slovenia, Hungary had a sense of patriotism in spades.
Budapest is a city of marvelous contradictions. Boasting the world’s third largest parliament, stunning views of the Danube from Gellert Hill and the breathtaking artwork of St. Stephen’s Basilica.
It is easily one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen.
Yet, amid the selfies and cobblestoned streets there is a grit that belies this majestic exterior. Heavily tattooed arms, seedy corners, and police cars crisscrossing through town also let you know this ain’t Kansas.
It is a place of authenticity, toughness, and originality.
I love it here.
Ofcourse, if you’d been through what Hungary had over the past 400 years you might have a chip on your shoulder too.
Its turbulent history has undoubtedly shaped its modern day temperament, and I would guess its current policies; not the least of which has been its staunch and controversial decision not to accept Syrian refugees.
Clearly, my crash course in Hungarian history, courtesy of a bus tour and late night stroll gave me plenty to consider.
For starters, the world has Hungary to thank for the water carbonator and Rubik’s Cube. Nice to know the source of years of pain attempting to line up 6 faces with 9 same-colored stickers can be attributed to a Hungarian guy.
No hard feelings.
I also discovered Edward Teller, a Hungarian physicist became known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb.”
I was both amazed by Hungary’s rich history and embarrassed by how little I knew. I’d glanced at the cliff notes over the years but my thesis would have undoubtedly been marked, “incomplete.”
There’s far too much to know in too short a time. And isn’t that always the case?
For instance, I didn’t know how the country was liberated in 1686, nor was I aware of the Ottoman-Hungarian Wars.
It had also escaped me that Hungarians, like the Chinese, built a fortification wall to prevent the Mongolians from invading from the east.
There seemed to be as many uprisings and sieges as songs on a jukebox; the major hits being the Hungarian Revolutions of 1848 and 1956, in which the Soviets who’d once stormed down Budapest Streets, were ousted from the city.
And though history is always written by the winners, one couldn’t deny this place had been through the ringer and was still standing.
It is a country of grit and character — two qualities still worth striving for. In an age of conformity and retweets, being yourself is not so much an act of courage as one of revolution.
As the bus crossed the Elizabeth Bridge over the Danube, “Hungarian Rhapsody” played in my ears between the tour guide’s spiel.
How clever, I thought.
Soon after, I took the city by foot trying earnestly too see as much as possible during my all-too-brief stay. I was sad to be leaving but took comfort knowing I could return one day.
I knew this place would still be here.