Before I decided to travel to Budapest I knew exactly two things about the place. One, they have the market cornered on paprika and two…uh…hmm. Okay, so maybe just the one. The question then: Why go to a place you know nothing about? Hmmm. Good question.
Actually, this booking to Budapest is a new trend—or in trading terms, a reversal of previous trends. Before, when living in the US and planning a trip to Europe I would shoot for long-pined after locations. Dreamed of places. I hit the big spots, long heard of, long imagined locales where I was long on facts and details…
“Okay. We have a week and a half. Let’s fly into Paris and out of London, hit the chunnel in between, knock out two major world centers, feel the tension that stretches over that Channel and get out.”
“Italy. Fly to Rome. Then we have to do Florence and Venice. Fast train in-between. 10 days. Perfect.”
Isn’t that why all the guides have the 3, 5, or 7+ day itineraries. Two days longer in France? Rent a car and check out the castles of Normandy and Burgundy, maybe spend the night in Le Havre. In Italy longer? Check out Cinque Terre for breathtaking views and hikes. And there is a reason for those add ons. Those are heart-stoppingly vivid experiences. Everyone should hit those if they have the time.
But I find now that I am here some of that urgency has evaporated. I am a bit more relaxed with my plans now. I go sort of naively, thinking if I know nothing, I won’t be disappointed. Will I miss stuff? Absolutely. So it goes. There is little research done before, little fore-knowledge. Now the act of travel is an act of discovery. I go to Belgium and while there learn about it. Drink in the experience. And I book tickets to Budapest knowing only about their penchant for paprika.
But now something else…
Here are FIVE little bits of tid I’ve learned thus far:
1. Budapest is a spa town. All over there are thermal baths known for their rejuvenating and restorative properties. Some have been restoring and rejuvenating for centuries.
1a. The process for entering these baths is agonizing. You will need their restorative properties after dealing with the countless numbers of misdirection, dead end tunnels, poor signage and faulty equipment.
1b. It will still be worth it.
1c. Bring flipflops.
2. Modern Budapest is the combination of two historical towns long divided by the mighty Danube River: Buda and Pest.
3. There is a network of underground tunnels below Buda Castle that have served all sorts of purposes throughout history, including smugglers’ den, torture chamber and prison. At one time King Matthias imprisoned Dracula there for (according to the museum’s own signage) anywhere from 10-14 years.
4. Budapest is still trying to come to grips with its past and with Communism specifically. Anecdotally it seems that Hungarians like to surreptitiously nod their head or tip their cap to Russia and Communism for their role in ‘liberating’ the country from Nazis and Facism they kinda don’t want to be their friend anymore. “Yeah, we had fun there for a while, pledged our undying love for each other, but it…uh…I’ve found something else. A representative democracy, and she’s dreamy.”***
4a. Communism has left its mark. You can move all our communist commemorative statues outside Budapest, but you’ll still have to ride in our trams and subways!
5. Lángos. Like all great countries, these folks have their own bit of fried dough, but theirs might be the best. There are a million different options but the favorite has to be this one: Hot out of the grease give it a brush of some garlic juice, top that with some sour cream and then a little soft shredded cheese. Come on!
***Upon further review and study, yeah they definitely don’t want to be their friend anymore. Turns out the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Communist appointees were as bad as Nazis, maybe worse. They arrested, relocated, dislocated, and murdered many a opponent in the years after Hungary’s ‘liberation’. So much so that a student demonstration turned into a bloody Revolution attempt in 1956, which seemed successful for a few hot weeks there, until it was brutally suppressed by mother Russia.
Yeah, so not so happy bedfellows these Hungarians and Communists.