Budapest: Looking Past the Sights to See the People

In March 2010, I embarked on a two-week trip through Central Europe. To date, it is one of my most memorable trips. This post is a part of a series of posts from that backpacking trip through Central Europe

Of all the places I’ve travelled to in Europe, Hungary has left the biggest impression on me. I could use this post to tell you about the grand St. Stephen’s basilica, the enchanting Chain Bridge, the relaxing baths, but you can find all that on any tourist website.

Instead, I want to tell you about the people.

While France, Italy, and Spain receive much praise from tourists, Central European countries are often overlooked. I’m ashamed to admit I knew little of Hungary before my visit. I didn’t even know where Hungarians came from.

“Mongolia”, the owner of the hostel where I was staying educated me on my second day in the city; he quickly became my first friend there. Born on horses, Hungarians are traditionally known to be relentless and skilled fighters who mastered infamous archery techniques on horseback.

“My country used to be much bigger” my friend mourned one night over dinner, not knowing that he was echoing the exact words my tour guide had said earlier that day. Hungarians can recount their country’s history with passion and precision, including the powerful days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the dark periods of the Nazi and Soviet occupations.

At first glance, Hungarians appear to be closed and very private individuals; their stern faces seem to show the suppression of the previous Soviet rule. Although the last Soviet soldier left about two decades ago, the country is still recovering from the whiplash of the Communist government. Walking around Pest area, across the water from the Buda castle, I saw numerous beautiful apartments up for sale; their neo-Renaissance facades damaged from years of abandonment. The country has had a difficult past; its present shows both signs of uncertainty and recovery.

Having learned about the history of Hungary from locals, I was particularly sensitive to life in Budapest during my sightseeing. Museums were time capsules of pain and suffering; churches became memorials of monarchy and tradition. I’m very thankful to have befriended locals here, for no other accounts of Hungarian history would have been quite as intimate as the ones I received.I also learned that while Hungarians seem reserved on the outside, if you are lucky enough to form a friendship with any of them, they will open their homes and hearts to you with smiles bright enough to warm a cold Hungarian winter day.

On my second day there, it snowed in Budapest, which I thought was very fitting weather since I wanted to see how locals saw Hungary.

Locals lined up outside the Mayor’s office on Monday morning to meet Tarlós István, the current city mayor.An entertainer and his eagle, by the Buda castle. 

People leaving St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica

Watching a baker make Hungarian pastries. He invited me inside and let me watch while he explained how the bread was made. 

Inside the Jewish synagogue.

People enjoying their evening in an outdoor sauna at the Széchenyi Bath. 

Budapest sights, lit up at night.

I’ll leave you with this photo of the Chain Bridge at night. Have you ever been to Budapest? If so, I’d love to know what you thought about the city. And if not, I hope this post peaks your interest in visiting Hungary.

Next stop: Vienna.


19 responses to “Budapest: Looking Past the Sights to See the People

  1. Amazing photos, amazing travel!!
    Are you a world traveler in search of….? This is why I love wordpress. Getting a glimpse on other people’s adventure, and people like you, who love to share on those experiences.
    I am a fan of your travel and work!

    • Hi Sheryll, I guess I’m a traveler in search of memorable people and unforgettable stories. And if I can find myself while doing that, it would be all the better.
      Thanks for stopping by. =)

  2. Amazing Pictures and great description.
    Must have been a stupendous experience.

    I love your concept and clicks… they speak so much 🙂

  3. How I envy thee!!
    To have the opportunity to travel all over the world and to have the skill to capture it all so beautifully in your camera!
    Girl, you’ve got it all 🙂
    Keep posting. I’m getting addicted to the world from your view 🙂

  4. Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for the comment–I’m amazed at your travels, and hope I could one day rise to that level.
    Dubai is really quite safe. It’s hard for western women to overcome the fear of the middle east, though, and I was even admittedly nervous taking the train just one stop down to one of the malls in my area by myself for the first time. I would say, take the opportunity if you have it to come here. It’s all so tourist friendly, and traveling around is quite easy, as taxis are cheap and the metro goes right through the hot spots. The fear becomes less as you realize that there really isn’t anyone out to hurt you here. It’s quite the oasis amongst the uprising of the other countries in the region.
    Happy travels!

  5. Pingback: Prague, Like a Picturesque Dream « Just-In-Time·

  6. Pingback: 2011: My Year in Travel Photography « Just-In-Time·

  7. I love your pictures!!! I grew up in Budapest, but I haven’t been home in over 3 years now… I miss my hometown a lot, and your gorgeous pictures (and great narrative) took me back for a few minutes. Thank you. 🙂

  8. You know, I don’t read unknown people’s blogs, because the reason I read weblogs is that I want to know about the people I love and miss though we not necessarily have the time to write to one another emails every day. One of your pictures, though, caught my eye. Calm. Serene. I clicked nonetheless.

    It’s St. Stephen’s Basilica from the inside. I didn’t recognize it when I first saw it and clicked. I happen to live in the Czech Republic for the past 1.5 years, but Budapest is where I am from. …I miss it very much. Though I cried my eyes out, I wanted to thank you: It was, on the one hand, a great and surprising experience to find how I’m even drawn to my country on a subconscious or perhaps some supernatural way, and on the other, a visual treat – your pictures take me back, put me right on the streets of the areas I miss so incredibly much.

    Thank you.

  9. I always read the posts of people like you, who visit Hungary, because it is VERY interesting to see my city and people with a ‘stranger’s eyes’, through someone who doesn’t live here and can be objective.
    And you are not an ordinary tourist, that IS for sure. 🙂

    A bit sad that the the locals’ low spirit was so obvious for you. Hungarians weeping while celebrate – we tend to be always brooding on something. I really don’t know why.

  10. I’m so happy I stumbled upon your site. Your pictures are beautiful. I especially love the 4th one on this page.
    I was in Budapest last week, and your pictures help me see how different it would look in the winter. Just beautiful!

  11. Hi Tracy, I found a beautiful image of the interior of the Jewish Museum in Budapest while searching for Jewish synagogues on the Internet. I am hoping to use it in Jewish Scene Magazine in a travel article with your permission. thank you, susan

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