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I suppose that Budapest is a lot like any other mid-sized European capital that has conserved its heritage and not had a lot of money flowing in during the last century.  Not having been to Paris or London or Vienna I really can't say for certain.  But I did get the impression from the internet that they were all bigger and busier and noisier as well as much more expensive, so Budapest was where I decided to spend my hard-earned dollars.  I was really on the way to Transylvania, but you have to get there from somewhere, because the only planes that land in The Land Beyond The Forest are Whizz Air out of London, which means changing in Heathrow and paying godawful luggage charges.  Turkish Air was not only much cheaper for an American leaving from DC, it was rather nice . . . except for the transfers in Istanbul, which reminded me a great deal of a childhood spent wandering the back alleys of the Far East.  I mean, climbing off the plane by means of an exterior stair backed up on the tarmac is all nice and very 60's retro.  But those overcrowded buses with standing room only bumping from the far end of the runway to the terminal aren't a whole lot different from the military buses running down Route 1 on Okinawa from Naha to Kadena in 1964, which is nothing to do with luggage.

Still, it's all worth it to wake up in Budapest and really KNOW that you are outside the American Pale and halfway into the unknown.

Let me stress that Budapest may be halfway on the other side of the globe and on the boundaries of the dreaded Eastern Europe.  But it is NOT without the amenities.  For instance, our guesthouse came not only with private shower and perfectly functional toilet (and toilet paper), but a well-stocked breakfast buffet AND a house Cat.  Budapest was the only stop during our entire month abroad where I could count on getting my pootie fix (Romania appears to be Dog Country).

Most of all, Budapest was an amazingly friendly city for a place where the local language doesn't even belong to the Indo-European linguistic group.  I had read some stories suggesting a legacy of suspicion and paranoia lingering from the Communist era, but we saw none, either in the city or when we ventured into the countryside.

Budapest from the top of Gellert Hill looking over the Danube
The Basics

Okay, the short version.

Buda-pest began life as the Roman settlement of Aquincum on the bank of the Danube slightly north and west of the modern city.  The location appealed to the Romans not only due to its strategic location controlling northern access to the Pannonian Plain, but its abundance of hot springs, which made it an ideal location for Public Baths.

The Romans left town during the Age of Migrations, when it got far too expensive to maintain a position so far away from home for limited returns.  The Baths however had a major resurgence during the 18th and 19th centuries, becoming very popular with European aristocracy until the World Wars.

Gellert Hill thermal baths, Budapest
View of Fisherman's Bastion from the Royal Palace, Budapest
The Romans left, but the Huns under Attila found Aquincum congenial and built their own capital there.  Attila is still a popular name in Hungary.  Centuries later, the Magyars were the last of the migrating Asiatic horsemen to settle in the final basin of the Eurasian Steppe and establish a homeland.  According to early manuscripts, they also settled in the "town of Attila".

Aquincum however was built on exposed level ground.  Following nasty invasions in the 13th century by the Tatars, Magyar King Bela IV decided to fortify a hill overlooking the Danube.  By the mid 14th century, Buda was a thriving royal city.  Meanwhile, the settlement of Pest on the other side of the Danube also built itself city walls, and became the home of merchants and tradesmen serving the castle.  This pattern continues today, with the grand architecture of the Royal Palace, the State Residence, and many embassies and notables on Castle Hill, while banks, stockbrokers, and international hotels line the Danube on the Pest side.  Aquincum fell into gentile poverty, while a bustling town of Obuda (Old Buda) south of Castle Hill continued to supply common people with quarters for life and commerce.  The two halves of the city are linked by a series of bridges, some of them quite beautiful.

Erzebet Hid (Elizabeth Bridge), Budapest
Liberty Bridge, Budapest
But above all, what I loved about Budapest was the sense of bustle and liveliness without anger, without rudeness, without people being almost intentionally unpleasant out of frustration and unhappiness.  There are problems in Hungary today, without a doubt.  There are unhappy, frustrated and worried people.  But they don't seem to take it out on each other.  Despite being strangers who had managed to learn a total of five words of Magyar, we were received with warm smiles everywhere -- even when we were being patently ignorant and idiotic.
Statue of Liberty, Gellert Hill, Budapest
I think it might help to live in a place where beauty is cherished, and freedom can't be taken for granted.  They have their own Statue of Liberty.  And a Liberty Bridge.  The Magyar word for Liberty/Freedom is Szabadsag (Sah-bahd-shahg). You can tell when a concept is native to a particular culture because the word hasn't been borrowed.  A lot of Hungarian words originate in Turkish, in Latin, or in German.  Freedom isn't one of them.

A proud and magnificent people with a wonderful sense of humor.  An ancient city filled with marvelous architecture and the most gorgeously blue skies I've seen in this lifetime.  Oh, and music, too.  GOOD music, the kind that Mozart and Beethoven wrote.  The Hungarians claim that both of them stole some of their best tunes from Magyar musicians.  Save heaven for somebody who wants it.  When I die, I want to go to Budapest.

Originally posted to cynndara on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 05:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am headed there soon, maybe spring, maybe fall. (5+ / 0-)

    I haven't nailed down the trip as yet.
    Oh...I want to go to Ngala preserve in S. Africa, or maybe Vienna...Heaven is world travelling, isn't it?

  •  I will certainly want to stop there. (6+ / 0-)

    But my final destination must be Firenze.  Ciao.

    "Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be." -Shel Silverstein

    by klnb1019 on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 05:39:15 PM PST

  •  i love budapest (6+ / 0-)

    but hungary has serious problems right now.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 05:43:12 PM PST

    •  I lived and taught in Budapest (11+ / 0-)

      for several years and still have very many personal connections there. The problems are real and deep and maddening. Probably as many as half my former university students (literally some of the best and brightest) have left the country - some, of course, simply for the adventure, some because the financial crisis has hit Hungary particularly hard, but a growing number are leaving because of political discontent and protest. The Orban government is atrocious, and it has simply become too difficult for many Hungarians to watch and live through what he's doing to their beloved country.

      And my baby's my common sense, so don't feed me planned obsolescence.

      by vadasz on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 11:13:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deejay Lyn, mrkvica, ichibon

        While there were kvetches of course, the people I managed to talk to despite the language barrier in Hungary and Romania (we didn't visit a part of Romania that wasn't in Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon) didn't seem much irritated by Orban.  They were much more concerned about Russian money funding political activities in their countries.  I wonder if we're talking self-selected samples here.  Obviously the unhappy people would be more likely to leave and the contented ones to stay.

        We did have to waste an hour filling out miles of paperwork in order to purchase a SIMM card for our emergency phone.  The Vodaphone rep attributed that more to reassertion of old Communist surveillance habits than the current government per se.  We had a pleasant conversation about the excesses of government in general and comparison of ex-Soviet vs Homeland Security states and our passport numbers are on file in Budapest somewhere.  But our passport numbers are on file at a half-dozen different hotels in Transylvania, the Romanian department of transportation (highway sticker), and the Hungarian national police department (driving without the lights on on the highway), so it's not like our visit was exactly secret.

        •  Hey there, (0+ / 0-)

          the people might not be so willing to open up about these things, as they often assume foreigners will have little knowledge about or will be little interested in the problems of their "small country" (I'm generalizing of course). However, the very many massive protests of the past year - against curtailing press freedom, against changing the laws for the supreme court, against the politicization of state arts bodies, against the realignment of student funding - would seem to indicate that discontent spreads far beyond my (admittedly very limited) circle. A few links below regarding different protests and their targets:

          Oct 2011 (anti-gov't)

          Jan 2012 (new constitution)

          Mar 2012 (media freedom)

          Dec 2012 (student fees)

          And my baby's my common sense, so don't feed me planned obsolescence.

          by vadasz on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:21:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Tell us a bit about the native foods (4+ / 0-)

    lodging, and prices...please.  Interesting.

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 05:46:14 PM PST

    •  You can eat and spend (9+ / 0-)

      whatever you like.  We stayed at a panzio, or pension.  It was clean, comfortable, and the owners spoke workable but not extensive English.  It cost us $65/night for a double, which is roughly 150% of an average night in Romanian Transylvania.  But like any pension/guesthouse, it wasn't open all hours and couldn't provide major hotel services.

      There was a local grocery/convenience store around the corner where we found shampoo and snacks.  We each bought a large bottle of water for less than a Euro and then refilled it from the tap in the room when we blew through it.  There was a nice sit-down restaurant three blocks away where we got full Hungarian-style dinners for roughly $10 apiece; we picked up pastries and pizzas at the convenience store for about a dollar, and gyros halfway downtown were about $5.  But you could cross over to Pest-side and spend a hundred dollars for dinner if you wanted to.  Food up on Castle Hill was also rather pricey, the more so as buying a meal was pretty much the only way to get into a restroom.

      The most notable thing about prices was that in both Hungary and Romania, my companion's beer usually cost half the price of my lemonade!

    •  I live here now (9+ / 0-)

      Food is quite a bit heavier than most Americans are used to, but it's delicious.  Most Hungarians don't eat out.  Food is usually cooked at home, and that entails a soup starter, followed by a meat dish (usually pork), and then a dessert.

      You can eat out in any price range. You can usually find a Hungarian buffet where you can get lunch for 1200-1800 forints (about $5.50-$8.25), or you can buy gyros for 600-800 forints ($3-$4).  Go with the gyros. They're really tasty and healthy. I ate those every day for lunch while I was going through the TEFL course at International House in Moscow Square (renamed Széll Kálmán tér)

      There are more McDonald's, Burger Kings and KFCs here than you would ever see in one city in the US, but they are more expensive here than in the US.

      The prices I gave are for places away from the tourist sites. Those will be more expensive.

      Hotels are about the same as anywhere else, although if you are willing to use the fabulous public transportation, you can stay away from the city center and spend a lot less ($50-$60 a night). Hop on the express bus from the 14th district and you're in the city center in 10 minutes.

      Been living here for almost 18 months now and love it.

      •  How's rent? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mrkvica, ichibon

        Seriously, I had no trouble finding an excellent pension in Obuda and we loved it -- it was a quiet tree-lined street with parking, but we only had to walk two blocks to find anything we needed.  But we just didn't have the time or language to investigate how much it would cost to actually live there.

        I'm terribly tempted by a language school that advertises online.  I mean, for an amateur linguist, learning Hungarian is a dream that's been in the bottom of the cupboard since high school.


        •  Rent is actually pretty cheap (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, cynndara, ichibon

          ...if you are living on something other than a Hungarian income.  Hungary is an interesting dichotomy because it has taxes and prices like most other European nations, but a significantly lower income than most other countries in Europe. The average monthly take home pay in Budapest is something like $600-$800, so $400 a month in rent is a big part of the monthly budget.

          $400 a month will get you a decent flat in a decent part of town, but your money will go a lot further in Obuda.

          I am in the process of learning Hungarian (when I have time and make the effort).  For me it hasn't been such a difficult task, but the sentence structure can vary greatly. There is a lot of latitude in how you construct your sentences. And swearing is some of the most inventive you will ever hear.  Good luck with your dream.  I love living here. I have a Hungarian partner, and we just had a baby at the end of August.  We've talked about going back to the US sometime in the near future, but after Sandy Hook, I don't know. I have never felt unsafe here in Budapest, and there have been plenty of times when I've been walking the streets alone in the wee hours of the morning. I walk in Város Liget (City Park) frequently at night and also never had an instance where I felt unsafe. Sure there's crime here, but it's just a much different feeling (although funnily, if you ask most Hungarians, they think it's a very unsafe city).

          When my partner came out to the US two years ago, we lived in Long Beach, California, in a nice little community called Belmont Shores. Quite safe area, but near enough to bad areas that on a couple of occasions there were police helicopters searching our block for someone. My partner thought it was so exciting and she wanted to go outside and see what was going on.  I had to tell her that, no, when this happens, you stay inside and make sure all your doors and windows are locked.

          •  Ummmm (0+ / 0-)

            is Obuda NOT a decent part of town?  We weren't down south in the industrial section.  Abel Jeno Utca off of Villanyi, about a mile to Gellert Hill and the Liberty Bridge.  It looked like one of those downtown areas that was once home to the bourgousie but had fallen on harder times.  We drove through much grittier sections in Pest on the way in from the airport.

    •  It's the land of cakes. Hubby and I went there (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, susakinovember

      in 2010, and to Prague as well. Hubby's a huge foodie and was thoroughly impressed. What charmed me most were the cakes, which reminded me of the cakes my grandmother, whose parents came to the U.S. from Austria, used to bake.

  •  Great diary (15+ / 0-)

    I've been to Budapest several times and I highly recommend it.

    Most everybody speaks English, because nobody else on the planet speaks Hungarian.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 05:57:23 PM PST

    •  Alas. I had relatives who did before they died :( (4+ / 0-)

      and I never picked up ANY of the language. Well, if pressed, my mother might remind me of the one swear word that they used to use. Better than swearing in English around the kids.

      Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 06:11:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  LOL. (6+ / 0-)

        I used to know that Bretagne was the most beautiful language on earth.  Now I'm not 100% certain.  Hungarian MIGHT be second.  I love the sound of it; the texture. It's no wonder that the Magyars won't let it go, impractical as it is to speak a language nobody near you understands.

        Of course, for writing my novels I had to dig up the swear words in both Hungarian and Romanian, as well as some odd bits of Serbian on the side.  The Romanian expletive vocabulary is, ummm, extensive.  I found much less easily accessible in Hungarian, but what I did find was extremely imaginative.  As my apprentice Donal asked his source in Budapest, how on earth does a bad driver come to be a raisin?  After spending a month visiting sheepfarms, I think the answer is something that looks rather like raisins, smells bad when it rains, and is sometimes confused with the brains of idiots.

        •  Yes, I still have a deep aural memory (4+ / 0-)

          of my relatives speaking it. Having lost them so long ago it is very hard for me to retrieve it consciously.
          I really like the sibilance of the language; to my ears it's not harsh or stark the way that German or Russian or Japanese  or English, for that matter, can sound.
          Raisin as an epithet sounds very creative. I'll definitely ask my mother about that.

          Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

          by peregrine kate on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 06:48:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Generally speaking, many speak German as (3+ / 0-)

      well. I can speak a little Hungarian but normally, I got around in German rather than English.

      Get your goddamned guns out of my church. This means you.

      by commonmass on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 07:31:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely true, German is MUCH more useful (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deejay Lyn, susakinovember

        than English in Hungary, but that's true of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, the ex-Yugoslav states,  and even the Baltics.  Outside of Budapest, English is just about useless.  Pecs (pronounced "paych"), one of my all time favorite small Central European towns, would be almost impossible with just English.

        Someone mentioned that food is a bit heavier.  Definitely true, I suppose, but oh how Hungarians know their way around a kitchen!  I love the soups, which are sometimes served in round loaves of bread that have a good, thick crust.  They slice off part of the top, which forms a lid, then remove most of the soft bread inside, and pour in the soup or stew.  Wonderful!  As for the pastries, I've heard it argued that it was the Hungarians who taught the Austrians how to deal with pastry and NOT the other way around...

        One of my all-time favorite restaurants is a place called the Red Devil, which is about a five minute walk from the cathedral atop the hill in Buda.  It's in the street the runs parallel to the square in front of the church.  There's a flagstoned courtyard where most people eat in the summer, while in winter everyone heads to the underground ex-wine cellar..  I'd kill to be there right now, as a matter of fact...

        -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

        by GulfExpat on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:01:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Hungarian Language (7+ / 0-)

      Mindenki beszel magyarul!
      Everybody speaks Hungarian!
      Just not on this planet.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 08:54:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  *majdnem* senki más nem mondja (0+ / 0-)

      ezt a szép nyelvet. ;-))))

  •  How fun, cynndara. You could post one of these (3+ / 0-)

    every week for a year and I'd be happy and grateful. So encouraging to me to go there someday.

    Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 06:11:57 PM PST

  •  I lived in Vienna for nearly five years. (8+ / 0-)

    I visited Budapest frequently (the dining car on the Vindabona used to be superb). I love Vienna dearly--I am in many ways a Viennese soul--and adore Prag. Bratislava and Kosice are great (ah, the hours spent in the Stara Sladovna!) and Warsaw and Kiev and Brest are worth a look too.

    But Budapest is by far my favorite central European city. By a mile. Thanks so much for this diary and the pics, especially.

    Happy holidays to you and boldog új évet--Happy New Year!

    Get your goddamned guns out of my church. This means you.

    by commonmass on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 07:30:22 PM PST

    •  Have you ever taken the Hungarian hydrofoil (0+ / 0-)

      from Wien to Budapest?  My wife and I have done that two or three times.  Best way to go as far as I'm concerned.  It's great fun going through the locks between Wien and Bratislava.  The food's not bad and not overpriced, either, which it probably would be if the Austrians ran it.  

      -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

      by GulfExpat on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:05:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Did you see any cymbaloms while you were there? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    •  One HEARS them. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Get your goddamned guns out of my church. This means you.

      by commonmass on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 10:32:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My father used to make Bohok style cymboloms from (4+ / 0-)

        scratch before his death in 1972.

        He was a mechanical engineer and carburator specialist who worked on the earliest forerunners of throttle body injection for General Motors, but also a musician (basist)

        He even wound the  bass strings on a string winding machine in our basement using special nickel chromium wire that significantly improved the treble timber of all of the base strings.   He could also play the instrument electrified with a mike pickup built inside the sound box.

  •  I would love to go there. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carol in San Antonio

    Budapest was Fort Worth's sister city and our school had an exchange art program with one of theirs, so some of my fb friends are Hungarian and send me tempting pictures. The only Eastern European cities you can get to cheaply from where I live now are Prague (better than Paris for atmosphere) and the Polish cities. I can highly recommend Krakow with a leisurely side trip to Zakopane.
    No hot baths though. I'm dying to go to the baths. Thanks for posting.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:38:18 AM PST

  •  i found a maddening shortage of sidewalk cafes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carol in San Antonio, Deejay Lyn

    in budapest...the bulky architecture was a bit oppressive to me as's also pretty expensive for a tourist

    it wasn't my favorite central/eastern european city, but it's a worthwhile destination - i only spent a few days in the city before decamping to pec - there's a nice town

    Coming Attraction: "Tea Party II - now with more stupid!"

    by memofromturner on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:41:14 AM PST

  •  Budapest is a lovely city (6+ / 0-)

    and my favorite in Central Europe. But it would be a mistake to characterize it as a jewel preserved in amber, whose beauties are there for us because it was passed by in the march of history.

    On the contrary, Budapest was very much affected by the 20th century, and not for the better. The LH and I were there in 1974, and it was shabby and filled with evidence of the violence of World War II, still unrepaired after 30 years. What made it a wonderful place then, though, was the irrepressible Hungarian people, who never let their problems keep them from having a good time, or a good meal.

    Returning now, it's wonderful to see what 25 years of peace and relative prosperity have done. we were there again a couple of years ago, and the city's restored physical beauty is more apparent than ever, while the people seem just as welcoming and life-embracing as they were then.

    I wish I could say the same for Prague, which 40 years ago really was a jewel untouched by war, but with a profoundly (and justifiably) unhappy population. Today it's a tourist trap, its beauty coated with a heavy layer of glitz, but its service industry still as brusque as it was back in the bad old Warsaw Pact days.

    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

    by sidnora on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 03:42:31 AM PST

  •  Thanks for this diary. (2+ / 0-)

    While living in Germany I traveled all over Europe and Budapest is probably my favorite city.
    You are right about the people.  Very warm and open and proud of their heritage.
    My wife and I spend days just walking around checking out the architecture, poking into little shops and cafes.  It was absolutely outstanding.

    I can see Canada from my house. No, really, I can.

    by DuzT on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 04:59:50 AM PST

  •  My son studied in Budapest for a year. We visited (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peregrine kate, Deejay Lyn, mrkvica

    during our Christmas break - my wife and I are both teachers-and we loved it.

    We found it very inexpensive, but our son knew where to take us to eat and we stayed at his flat.

    The Christmas fairs were really great. I would love to go back ruing the summer and take a ride down the Danube.

    You really made it come alive. It's been 5 years now.

  •  But when I go to Budapest, I don't want to die (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deejay Lyn

    Not that I have any reason to fear that, but it was too obvious a play on words to not take the bait and bite.

    I was there over 20 years ago, not long after the wall fell, on a tour of central and eastern Europe that also included East Berlin, Prague and Vienna (and, unintentionally, Bratislava). Really nice city, very friendly, pleasant and easy to walk around (but with an excellent tram system), not expensive (back then). I did all the touristy things, e.g. walk across the Chain Bridge, take the funicular, have goulash in Fisherman's Bastion, buy cheap souvenirs from vendors in a sort of flea market along the Danube near the Chain Bridge.

    It was clearly more economically prosperous than other former Warsaw Pact cities, and most of its beautiful 19th century buildings were intact, with few of those huge ugly grey Soviet era monstrosities visible near the city center. Of course, the highlight was the parliament building, but everything seemed quite nice, reminding me of Paris or Vienna (which of course are also nice).

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 07:08:10 AM PST

  •  Prague is better. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Uncle Cosmo

    The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what's truly important. - Barack Obama

    by helfenburg on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:24:47 AM PST

    •  In most ways, it is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And I say this as someone who spends 10-12 days every year in Praha with friends & have been to Budapest 4 times--both first visited in July 1989, just a couple of months before the wheels started to come off the Warsaw Pact.

      Prague (Praha) has been relatively free of unintentional human-initiated destruction (i.e., war) since the 1620s. Budapest got clobbered in WW2--the Red Army rolled right smartly across the Pannonian plain until it hit the Duna at Pest, when it found the Wehrmacht dug into Varhegy (Castle Hill) on the far bank, & the armies blasted away at each other at point blank range for some weeks. A lot of it got restored just in time to be shot up again in the 1956 uprising. (You can see bullet & shrapnel holes all over the east face of the Castle.)

      Prague has much better beer. (If you want decent beer in Budapest, you buy Czech beer.) Budapest has much better food--Hungarian cuisine is one of the world's most delicious & underappreciated, if you don't mind dying young from all the sour cream & lard. I've never had a bad meal there no matter how cheaply I ate. (Csirke paprikas! Meggesleves! Retes!)

      English seems more widely spoken in Prague than in Budapest, though the proficiency falls off fairly sharply once you leave the standard tourist track. (So do the prices, which is why it's good to know the most important phrase in the Czech language: Jeste jedno pivo prosim!--"Another beer please!") The Hungarians, though, are language whizzes--they have to be, since Magyar is all but impossible for anyone else.

      Praguers have historically been a bit dour, but they're getting friendlier. Hungarians seem a lot more Mediterranean in their interpersonal interactions.

      When I die I don't want to go to Budapest--but wherever I end up, it would be nice to be able to get there for supper at one of the innumerable sidewalk restaurants along Liszt Ferenc ter...

      It's not a "fiscal cliff," it's a Fiscal Bluff--so why don't we call them on it?

      by Uncle Cosmo on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:35:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Prague is not better because Czechs are warm and (0+ / 0-)

        fuzzy.  They are not.

        The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what's truly important. - Barack Obama

        by helfenburg on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:58:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's not what I wrote. (0+ / 0-)

          Try reading my post again. The Czechs are getting better, but they started from pretty far down--the only time in my first 3 visits I saw anyone serving the public actually smile at a customer was in Prague's first McDonald's (& it must have been a trial for the parent company to train them to do it).

          By comparison the Hungarians, in my experience, are a little warmer ("a bit more Mediterranean") than the Czechs. But if I had to characterize them in a phrase it would be "charmingly arrogant."

          Historically, when they ran a bit more than half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were the nastiest bastards on the continent, zealously oppressing the Poles, Romanians, Slovaks & Croats under their rule. The Treaty of Trianon reduced the country in size by 72%, to a minimalist state with Jews as the only substantial ethnic minority. To its credit, the Horthy government resisted Nazi Germany's demands for its Jews until Hitler removed it in early 1945 & the transports started rolling. Now, unfortunately, they seem to have the closest thing to a neo-Nazi government in existence...

          Hungary is the only place I've been in Europe (& I've been most everywhere from Spain to Finland to Ukraine to Greece) where an attempt to speak a few words of their language got me more sneers than smiles. I asked a shopkeeper once why everyone seemed so hostile when I tried. He said, "Listen, you don't learn our language, we learn yours." Part of their arrogance seems to stem from the idea that only Hungarians are intelligent enough to speak Hungarian...& part of their annoyance with foreigners who try to speak it is that they prefer things that way--they don't really want outsiders to understand what they say amongst themselves...

          A number of the top scientists at the Manhattan Project were Hungarians (John von Neumann, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner--all secularized Jews). Rumors circulated that these guys were so brilliant because they were in fact Martians who had learned to imitate human beings perfectly but who occasionally slipped up & spoke their native tongue amongst themselves. They told everyone it was Hungarian, but the language was so impenetrable that it couldn't possibly be from Earth...

          It's not a "fiscal cliff," it's a Fiscal Bluff--so why don't we call them on it?

          by Uncle Cosmo on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 04:47:40 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Very nice to read this, I love the (0+ / 0-)

    idea of traveling and living in different places.  I fear though, that I have no originality since I think Paris is the finest city I've ever visited and the most beautiful.  I dreamed of going to Paris for years and on the plane there the first time I thought to myself," do not get disappointed because it doesn't live up to your dreams".  Useless worry, it exceeded my dreams in beauty, ease of access, friendliness (no shit!) and just sheer presence.  I love many other places but I love Paris best of all the cities.

    "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

    by NearlyNormal on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 12:10:03 PM PST

  •  dying to go (0+ / 0-)

    I have been to London a dozen times, Edinburg, Paris, Rome, Florence, Athens, all along Greek islands and random places in England, Italy and Greece. Budapest is my top on the MUST SEE list. Love reading more about it. I missed out on a trip and I continue to kick myself over that.

  •  Thank You!! (0+ / 0-)

    My grandparents were from Budapest,  and my first name is VERY Hungarian.  I have yet to make a trip to Hungary,  which is a travesty frankly.  I really enjoyed your diary.

  •  I also recommend Budapest highly (0+ / 0-)

    I tell people that it's better than Paris, and they don't believe me. (I WOULD NOT say that it's better than London, but the two places are too different to make meaningful comparisons.) Paris has the Seine, Budapest has the Danube. I went to Hungary's national gallery, and it compares favorably to the Louvre. (The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg is better than both of them. Put that one down as a "don't miss.") Budapest has an opera house more impressive than anything in Paris. Budapest's food is as good, and the wine is almost as good. Budapest's subway is better. Budapest doesn't have Parisians.

    I was there in 1989, and I accidentally picked a good time to be there. This was a few months before the Berlin Wall came down. Hungary was ahead of the other Eastern European countries economically and culturally, but Hungary's economy was in a state of transition. The result was, everything there was incredibly cheap. The best bottle of wine in the grocery store was $1.50, and a gourmet meal (venison) in a restarant with white tablecloths cost $12. A concert at the opera house cost $1.50, and a subway ride cost 50 cents.

  •  I'm sure it's lovely there (0+ / 0-)

    but how is Gentile poverty different?  Is it anything like genteel poverty?

    I'm sorry.  I can't help myself.  

    "Republicans are poor losers and worse winners." - My grandmother, sometime in the early 1960s

    by escapee on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:44:52 PM PST

  •  I know it sounds crazy (0+ / 0-)

    but I just saw some film shot in Turkey and felt powerfully drawn to go there--yeah, I know it seems crazy!

    Do you know anything about Turkey other than that nasty 500-year-long empire and oppression of Eastern Europe thing?

    A thousand Sharkeys are invading a thousand Shires every day across our country.--James Wells

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 08:16:19 PM PST

  •  Hungarians would easily (0+ / 0-)

    make the greatest standup comics in the world if only we spoke Hungarian!

     An informal Hungarian conversation can involve levels of poetic insult and cursing of a kind we just don't have. The levels of vulgarity become endless, you will laugh until you cry.

    Newly and surprisingly centrist? Try for your Blue Dog needs.

    by teloPariah on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:57:22 AM PST

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