Before visiting Budapest, I had no real expectations or idea about what I would see, feel, or do. I did take some time to learn a few bits of the Hungarian language, which allowed me to more easily connect with the locals. Once I opened the dialogue with their native words, they were accommodating and switched to English. The young people spoke nearly perfect English, and I learned about the recent history out of communism. Budapest felt like a very free city, and it wasn’t until my final trek to the bus station that I realized I hadn’t seen a single law enforcement officer or military personnel during my week there. I don’t know what daily life is like as a resident of Budapest, but I do believe that Americans have some growth opportunities to learn from the resourcefulness, creativity, and expression apparent in this city.
A quick view inside Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s most famous romkocsma, or ruin pub. This particular ruin pub was constructed inside a closed factory that was scheduled to be torn down. The owners decided to turn it into somewhat of a community center instead. Now it offers a farmer’s market, a few places to eat and drink, and spaces that Hakim Bey might call, “temporary autonomous zones.” I think these ruin pubs could be positive inspiration for those of in the States who are tired of the empty big box retailer buildings and the unfilled strip malls. Szimpla Kert is filled with post-modern art, permaculture decor, quality food, electronic music, and life.
Szent Istvan Bazilika
St. Stephen was Hungary’s first King, and his right had is supposedly stored and preserved inside the church. I didn’t take the tour, but this is where I arranged to meet a person from Couchsurfing who wanted to show me around the city.
Public Fountain in front of Gellert Thermal Bath
The public water fountain offers anyone the opportunity to fill their bottles with the healing mineral water, famous in Budapest. The waters are said to help with pain relief, stomach and digestive issues, skin problems, and general stress and malaise. I sampled three different thermal baths, which I will write about in another entry. Gellert is located on the Buda side of the city. You can see Liberty Bridge connecting to Pest across the Danube in the background.
The Chain Bridge crosses the Danube River to connect the two cities of Buda and Pest, representing the link between the East and the West. This is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in Budapest, and based on the long line of people walking across, I believe it. This is the Pest-facing view of Gresham Palace.
St. Ivan’s Cave
Also called Gellert Hill Caves, or Gellerthegyi-barlang, St. Ivan’s Cave is named after the monastic hermit who lived there and healed the sick from the mud and the thermal water that flows through the cave system. This cave was then used as a Nazi army hospital during WWII. Under communism, the cave was sealed and the space was closed. It opened again in the late 1980s, and was restored in the early 1990s. Today it is now used again as a sacred space for Catholic monks.
Pedestrian Side Street near Vaci utca
Vaci utca is a huge pedestrian shopping district. It is lined with elegant cafes and upscale shopping. I’m not particularly in the market for Zara or Swarovski, but I walked through to take a look. In my opinion, these streets are much more aesthetically pleasing than the American inner-cities packed with traffic, homelessness, over flowing trash cans, and people plugged into headphones. The district was reminiscent of San Francisco, without the wealth gap and substance abuse.
This is the Central Market Hall. The building had been badly damaged during the World Wars, and was restored in the 1990s. On the basement level is pickled vegetables and fish, on the second or ground level are spices and produce, and on the third level are crafts and eateries. I bought some grapes from a vendor, and the language barrier was a bit challenging. It was also very crowded. I didn’t stay long, but I left with a few bunches of grapes and 500ml of fresh squeezed grapefruit and orange juice.