I’m sorry, but I simply had a hard time finding an apt title for this one. Oh, you want to know the other candidates? Well, the essence of what I’m going for today is:
- What Is Super Interesting About Budapest That I Simply Did Not Know Before Researching It On The Flight Over
- What You Will Hopefully Also Find Fascinating About Budapest
- Budapest Has Been Bombed/Attacked Too Many Times
So, it’s indeed confirmed that I just don’t know how to name blogs.
Regardless, in the spirit of sharing (with any Joe who will listen) the most interesting pieces of history or trivia that illuminates a new place for me, or recounting the best waiter I’ve met or island wine I’ve tried, here’s the first in a series of emails about my recent vacation to Eastern Europe/Central Europe/The Balkans/Land of the Magyars.
I’ll admit that I knew little before booking the flight to Budapest… or, really, before getting on said flight. So, just in case you are in the same boat, whether you intend to ship off to Hungary in the near future or not, below are some of my favorite findings from the research I did both in books and on foot. While I’ll admit that I didn’t fall head over heels for the city, it has so many interesting layers that I’m sure future visits would only entice me further.
So, again, poor-but-apt title for the following:
WHAT IS SUPER INTERESTING ABOUT BUDAPEST… THAT I DIDN’T KNOW BEFORE GOING, AND THAT PERHAPS YOU DON’T KNOW TOO
- Budapest consists of Buda and Pest. I’m sure you travel pros learned this when you were 3 years old, but I somehow missed that memo. It’s like learning that on one side of the Thames is Lon, and on the other is Don. Buda is the side of the river with a castle atop a hill – really quite pretty. Some charming older buildings really set off the look. Pest is the hip side with the cool kids and eateries and the music that blasts until the hour at which I wake up.
- Hungarian is an obscenely hard language. Evidently, these Magyars (read: Hungarian people) pride themselves on being not far behind Arabic and Japanese as hardest to pick up. Real words in their language, I swear: “elkelkáposztásítottalanítottítok” and “fiaiéi.” Fantastic. I learned “Hi” (“Szia”) and “Thank you” (“Köszönöm”).
- The city’s architecture is quite new compared to what I’m used to in European capitals. Why? They have troubled relations with people who decide to take over. The first big blow was, oh, 150 years of war with the Ottomans, from 1526-1699, during which the Turks got disgruntled and tore down most of the neat Roman ruins. Next, the Habsburgs took over. Things were all right for a couple hundred years, until the locals had a tiff with the Habsburgs in the mid-1800s. The Austrians decided to let the Hungarians be a little independent for a year. But unfortunately the Magyars took it a smidgen too far, formed an army, and the Austrians retaliated by destroying the adorable medieval buildings all up on Buda hill. Then there was the incident with, you know, Hitler. Poor partnership, people. They decided it was a good move to take sides with the Nazis, and then promptly regretted it. However, Hitler caught wind of a potential new agreement between the Hungarians and the Allies, and decided to strike back. The punishment? He bombed Buda Castle, the Ministry of Defense (still just a yard of rocks with some flags in front of it), and all their bridges. And, on a terrible note (complete understatement), Hitler deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews thereafter, mostly to Auschwitz. And please excuse my brief recap of the history. I can’t begin to even pretend to capture it all, so just remember that these are the points that stood out to me, and I’m sure the interesting complexities of what I left out are endless.
- On the bright side, other conquerers left slightly more positive marks. My favorite? The Turks, with their bath houses full of old men playing chess.
- Whether the tough linguistic situation influences this or not, the Hungarians are known for their PATRIOTIC SORROW. Yikes. (By the way, not helped by the chill and rain of early September – arguably still summer.) On a more serious note, their suicide rate has been the highest in the world for most of the last century, at 32 suicides per 100,000 annually (about three times higher than that of the United States).
- Finally, to send on a properly happy note, Hungarians make some great wine! Namely, dessert wines, and some funky grapes that produce a wine that we’re really not used to tasting in the States. Part of the reason we’re especially not used to it is that, until quite recently, Hungarian wine didn’t make it over the pond at all. Even now, there are just a few distributors, and mainly just concentrated in – you probably guessed it – New York and SF. Definitely not nationwide. Some grapes to look out for: Furnint (or Tokaj Aszús) – the sweet stuff!; Chard (from the region of Eger); Bikauer or Kekfrankos (Eger) – this is the stuff that’s rather different for our palate; Cab franc (Villany); Kakorka – a light red; Pinot noir (from Eger). Some noted wine makers: Demeter, Takler, Gruf Buttler, Sebestyén, Fran Volgli, Seepsy-Istvenn. Valuable vocab: eder = sweet, száraz (accent) = dry.
As you can see, a city – and country, though I can hardly speak to that – with many layers. Peel back a couple more, and I just might become a convert.