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Spring Break in Budapest

by Garett Tree

Parliament Building at Night

 

During my spring break, I visited Budapest, Hungary. While I entered the city with very little knowledge of the history and culture, I left with a great appreciation of this city.

Budapest was under Nazi occupation during the Second World War, but fell to the Soviets after the defeat of Germany. While Budapest does have impressive nightlife, it is truly a city of tremendous beauty and history.

One of the most impressive and emotional monuments is located on the Danube River next to the Parliament building. Along the side of the river stands a number of bronze metal shoes, often filled with flowers and candles. This is called the Shoe Memorial, which commemorates Jewish Hungarians killed by Nazi troops during World War II. Nazi troops would march Jewish citizens down to this river, strip them of their shoes for the leather, and execute them. It is an equally somber and beautiful memorial.

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Shoe Memorial on the Danube River

Next to the Shoe Memorial is the Parliament building. The Parliament building in Hungary is the third largest in the world. It sits directly on the Danube and is easy to pick out of the skyline. It is currently the tallest building in Budapest, as well as the oldest. If possible, I highly recommend vising the building at night. Until midnight, the building is lit up and truly stands out. Visitors can see the Assembly Hall of Magnates as well as the Assembly Hall of Representatives, both of which are extremely ornate. The Holy Crown of Hungary is also on display here, a very important sight for tourists.

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Parliament Building

No blog of mine would be complete without a mention of the beautiful Cathedrals. The first of the two I saw in Budapest was the Matthias Church. It is a massive white cathedral, with a massive white tower to the right of the entrance. The Cathedral, officially called the Church of our Lady, was built during the middle of the 13th century and gets its name from King Matthias Corvinus who reigned from 1458 to 1490. The tower is massive and impressive, but the inside, decorated with beautiful stained glass and Gothic architecture, is worth seeing alone.

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Tiny hole I somehow got through

The other church I saw is Saint Stephen’s Basilica. It is named for the first king of Hungary and was completed in 1905. At 315 feet it stands as tall as the Parliament building. These two buildings are the tallest in Budapest. A large dome sits between two white and gold towers with a beautiful, ornate door underneath. I recommend visiting the top of the tower, which gives you a beautiful panoramic view of Budapest. Hungary’s largest bell, the Szent István bell, sits in the right tower opposite to five smaller bells. Again, the inside boasts beautiful stained glass and gorgeous interior architecture.

One of the more stressful things I did was caving in the Pál-Völgyi Cave System. There are many caves to explore in Hungary, but this cave is the most complicated. You are given a suit to wear with a headlamp, and a tour guide takes you on a 3-hour expedition into the cave. Although I am claustrophobic, I decided that if I was ever going to break this fear, it was during my study abroad trip. It was both a mental and physical challenge, but something I absolutely do not regret and would recommend to anyone. It was a very intense experience, and an extremely fun activity.

After the caving tour, my body was quite sore. It seemed only right to spend the next morning at the famous Budapest baths. The most famous are the Szechenyispa Baths, which sit in the Budapest City Park. The baths are both indoor and outdoor. The outdoor baths are warmer, but there are cooler ones as well. On the inside, there are many smaller baths of different temperatures and ranges. There is also a pretty intense steam room with mint-infused steam which was a very strange experience. However, if you’re feeling sick or your body is sore, it’s always a great idea to heal yourself at the baths.

Szechenyispa Baths budapest hungary baths study abroad

Entrance to the baths

One of the most beautiful experiences I had was taking a boat tour of the Danube at night. There’s not much that can compare to seeing Budapest at night. The bridges and buildings are lit up, almost trying to compete with one another. The tour goes up one side of the Danube and down the other, passing through the main attractions including the Parliament building. At night, the Parliament building stands next to Saint Basil’s Cathedral in terms of beauty and awe. Seeing the city at night is a very different experience than during the day.

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Boat tour at night

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Original noose and platform used by Nazi officers

One of the more educational experiences was the Terror House. The Terror House is a museum that stands next to the city center, called the Octagon. Outside of the museum is a big slab of the Berlin Wall, memorialized to represent the division between east and west and its effect on Hungary. Next to this is a massive wall of thick chains, signifying Stalin’s Iron Curtain and how Hungary fell behind it. The Terror House itself is a museum dedicated to the German and Soviet occupations of Hungary. The building used to be a Nazi interrogation center, and visitors can actually walk into the cells where SS officers held and tortured people. The most dramatic sight for me was the hanging platform, which was used to execute Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. It is a very informative and very moving museum.

Budapest was a fun break from Saint Petersburg. While I was glad to come back to the city I have fallen in love with, I did very much enjoy Budapest. It is an extremely fun city, with plenty of ways to relax and have a fun vacation. If I learned anything on this trip, it’s that there should never be any fear holding you back from your experiences. Be careful wherever you go, but don’t be so afraid of trying something new that you end up avoiding it entirely. Studying abroad is going to change you, but only as far as you let it. You will never regret a new experience, no matter how difficult or challenging it may be.

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