We spent nearly four days exploring this stunning, bustling city straddling the majestic Danube river last week. I’m still combing through photos and trying to come up with the right words to describe my impressions of Budapest, but I’ll start with this:
- Budapest is big. It is one of the largest cities in the European Union with a population of 3.3 million (more than five times the size of Washington, D.C.).
- Budapest is divided. The city is comprised of “Buda”–the hilly city on the west side of the Danube including its castle and medieval town–and “Pest”–the newer city on the east side of the river including its Parliament.
- Budapest is young. Well, its democracy is young considering that the Soviets occupied Hungary until as recently as 1991. Before that it was the Nazis and before that Austria. In the centuries preceding it was also occupied by the Hapsburgs, Ottoman Turks and Romans. Budapest’s modern identity is just 25 years old.
After learning more about the city’s very dark history in its Terror Háza Museum, Budapest appeared even brighter and more remarkable to me. It feels surreal that this vibrant city was behind the Iron Curtain of communism within my lifetime, but vestiges of that former world still linger in Budapest’s architecture, 1950’s era metro system and economy. Throughout the city we saw construction plans publicized for restoring the city’s parks and public spaces to what it was like before World War II. That was more than 70 years ago! Generations ago! It is heartbreaking to think that only now the citizens are free to pursue public projects that express their Hungarian identity. I found Budapest’s fierce optimism incredibly moving.
I’ll share more on what we did in Budapest in my next post…but for now, a few links:
- 36 Hours in Budapest
- A rip in the Iron Curtain: The Hungarian Revolution
- The appalling and beguiling history of Budapest’s Margaret Island