Last week was DIS’s first study/travel-week, where half of the students get a week off, and the other travel with their core course. I was part of the former group as well as some of my homestay network friends. We decided to spend most of the week off in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
Late last Saturday, we arrived in Budapest and got to our hostel. For about 5 minutes, we were very confused where our hostel was as the building was occupied by a ruin bar that was full of almost 200 people. We found out from the bouncer that the hostel was up a floor.
The next day we started to explore Pest (Budapest is a combination of two older cities: Buda on the west side of the Danube, and Pest on the east).
Travel Tip #2: Look into travel/discount cards from tourist informations
We decided to buy the 48 hour Budapest Card which gave us free public transportation, discounts on many attractions, and free entrance to different museums. We started the day by looking into the major religious buildings present. St. Stephens Basilica is a massive structure in the heart of Pest. Ornate ceilings make the interior sparkle and highlight the architectural features within it.
On our way to the Hungarian National museum, we walked towards the Budapest Opera House, sadly the entire facade was under renovation. 😦
At the Hungarian National Museum it was intriguing to learn about the history of Hungary and Budapest. Most of their history is bloody and about occupation. This is still present in many of their policies and culture as it is a combination of many different nations and regions.
We continued to the Dohány Street Synagogue and went on a guided tour of it. Our tour guide made a clear distinction that he was both Hungarian and Israeli, and to come to terms with his Hungarian side, he stated “Our government made the conscious decision to work with the Nazi’s to deport the jews.” He continued “Once the decision was made not to support the Nazi’s anymore, Hitler could not do anything and the deportations stopped.” In the outside garden, the synagogue had a Holocaust memorial set up with a weeping willow where every leaf had a name engraved on it. Also a memorial to Nicholas Winton, a British humanitarian who rescued almost 700 jews from the holocaust.
In the evening we walked along the banks of the Danube and towards the Parliament building. At night we booked a river cruise that allowed us to see the city lit up at night. It was gorgeous and amazing to see the city in this view.
The next day we went around Buda and starting with the Castle. We learned that the Buda Castle today is the fourth iteration of it; It has blown up twice and burned down once. We found out that in Europe, a lot of museums close on Mondays… We could not go into the museums in the castle. We however spent time walking around the castle district and found the Hospital in the Rock.
In the onset of WWII, the Hungarians cleared out multiple caves underneath the castle and created an entirely underground hospital. It was originally built for 250 patients, however by the end of the war it was holding close to 700. When it was built it housed some of the most advanced technology for the day. It housed a X-ray room, two surgery wards and multiple dormitories. Once the Russians liberated and then further occupied Hungary, the Cold War generated the opportunity for the hospital to become a nuclear bunker. It became one of the most secretive operations for the USSR and was refurbished and expanded to deal with potential nuclear blast victims. Today, however, the bunker is worthless as the nuclear capabilities of many nations exceed the protections offered by the bunker.
One of the highlights our Budapest card gave us was free access to the Saint Luckas Baths. Budapest is known for its thermal baths, and these baths were a great place to relax and enjoy the water. We found that it seemed to be much more of a local place with not that many tourists within it.
To see the sunset, we hiked up to the Citadella which gives a great view of Pest and the residential communities of Buda.
To be continued soon with Vienna.
Pictures from Budapest can be viewed here