Budapest - There is Hope after Covid!
Updated: Sep 8
The resiliency of the people of Budapest shows us that there is hope in the future.
These days it is hard to imagine how life Is going to be after the pandemic. Many are fearful about the future and others are nostalgic about the past. I am sure that during the Spanish Flu, World Wars 1 and 2, and many other times, peopled feared the future, and were sentimental about the past. Unfortunately, I don't have a magic ball to know how life is going to be in the future, but if we look into Budapest, we know that it can be better than before.
I had the opportunity to visit Budapest, and witnessed a city that has gone through pandemics, wars and civil unrest, and today has a better future than only a few decades ago. A local told me that even with the current political challenges, you just have to look a few years back, and be reminded that Hungarians are resilient.
Budapest - Its History
I do not intend to write in-depth about the history of Budapest (since I am not an expert), but let me share some highlights of its history. The city of Budapest is relatively new, founded in 1873 from the merger of three cities: Buda, Pest, and Obuda. As part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest flourished as a prominent cultural center in Europe. But after those glorious days, Budapest went through many turbulent times. Two World Wars, several Revolutions, foreign interventions, and an oppressing government.
Budapest - Not what I was expecting....it was better!
After a 7-hour train ride from Katowice, Poland, I arrived in Budapest with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. The taxi ride from the train station to the apartment offered a quick perspective of the city. Modern buildings mixed with old ones and many functional and austere buildings using concrete from the period after WW2 when the country had the military presence and influence of the Soviet Union.
The Danube River
The Danube river runs through the City, and even though many say it divides it, respectfully I beg to differ. The Danube does not divide Budapest, it is actually the pretext (and need) to build beautiful bridges such as the Chain Bridge. Its water provides a place where many vessels navigate providing locals and visitors a beautiful perspective of the City.
Believe me, I did my homework (and damage) trying many local dishes. Budapest is a cosmopolitan city, and you can find foods from many different countries, as well as some creative combination or fusion cuisine. I remember a great burger we had with a locally flavored slaw. It was really good! But you have to try some local dishes like the following:
Of course, I had Langos, a fried bread topped with cheese and sour cream that is perfect to eat on the go (and cheap as well). A basic langos with a few ingredients cost between $4 and $5 USD. I wanted to try something basic and ordered one with cheese, sour cream and ham, and a side of beer (go figure...).
BREAD AND PASTRIES
Budapest has some great bakeries and you will find delicious pastries as well as some bread options that provide a good affordable breakfast. Here in the picture you can see a Hel Tejes Kifli, a croissant in the form of a crescent. For $.25 USD you can get one (or two) and with a cup of coffee you are good to go as a power breakfast.
After a couple of hours strolling throughout the touristy Central Market Hall in Budapest, I had to make sure to try some of the famous Goulash (spelled Gulyas in Hungarian). The market was built in the later part of the 19th century, and in the second floor you can find the Fakanal Etterem. The place is kind of a cafeteria where you grab a tray and proceed through a line where you order your food, it is served and handed to you and then you proceed to seat yourself in any available table. I wanted to have a full lunch (I was starving) so opted for the meat Gulyas which is basically a stew. I asked it to be served with a side of fried potatoes, rye bread, and of course a side of beer (I am starting to see a common thread here...). That was a BIG meal but still was interested in the Házias rakott burgonya, a casserole of potatoes. Since it was only $8.30 USD for the casserole dish, I said..what the heck...
My Hygge Moments
The Hygge Foodie is about those places, food and people that make you feel that “your soul puffs“. It is not based on social media reviews, and of course it depends in many things like your mood at the time. Here are some places in Budapest where I just simply enjoyed being there at that time.
The New York Cafe
To my surprise, I had a great experience at a restaurant whose name first did not inspire me. We had reservations for breakfast at the New York Cafe in Budapest. Yes, you are reading it correctly, the name of the place is the New York Cafe. This cafe opened in 1894 and at one point was where intellectuals and artists in Budapest used to congregate. The cafe suffered throughout the years with two wars and at one point it became a sporting-goods store. But thanks to a group of visionaries, the cafe has been remodeled to its original glamour, and it is worth it visiting. Make reservations for their afternoon tea or for breakfast.
The Shoes on the Danube Promenade
This was hard to see, and it is hard to write about as well. The shoes on the Danube Promenade, is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who in the winter of 1944 were shot on the banks of the river by the members of the Arrow Cross Party. Film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer are the creators of this memorial. Members of the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary, took Jewish children, woman and man to the banks of the Danube river and asked them to take off their shoes, since they can be used by soldiers or sold in the market. After they took of their shoes, they were shot so they could fall into the river and their bodies would be carried away.
The memorial consist of 60 pairs of shoes made of cast iron and concrete, remembering the thousands of children, women and men whose "sin" was to be Jewish.
Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, a Hungarian survivor recounted:
“I heard a series of popping sounds. Thinking the Russians had arrived, I slunk to the window. But what I saw was worse than anything I had ever seen before, worse than the most frightening accounts I had ever witnessed. Two Arrow Cross men were standing on the embankment of the river, aiming at and shooting a group of men, women and children into the Danube – one after the other, on their coats the Yellow Star.”
There are many other places worth visiting and eating while in Budapest, but I suggest you walk around and ask locals what and where to go. Maybe try one of the many thermal baths or go to a local restaurant where as a tourist you feel out of place. But just remember to “be there”. Take pictures YOU want to keep. Don’t take pictures thinking of when you share them with your friends or family. I really encourage visiting the world before departing.
Do a Free Walking Tour - this is a must in every City. This will give you a general overview of the City and then you decide where to go back to and spend more time visiting. There are many of this tour companies so just go to TripAdvisor (and if you enjoy the tour, be generous with your tip).
Get Inspiration - Tourism offices or Destination Marketing Organizations curate websites with relevant contact where you can find inspiration before your travel. Check out the official tourism page of Budapest.
Be a local - Ask the bellboy of your hotel or the person fixing your coffee at a coffee shop where do they go to eat. Not where they recommend a tourist to go, but where wound they go. Soon I will write a story about Madrid where I ate one of the best meals ever in a place packed with locals and not a single tourist (except me).