Thursday, April 30, 2009


Following suit with our Stanford program's trip to Istanbul in the winter, Budapest grabbed the limelight for the spring quarter.  Thanks to a generous donor, our entire program had a fully funded 3 day trip to the Hungarian capital to gain both cultural and educational experiences.  Leaving early on a Wednesday morning, we arrived in Budapest at noon and immediately made our way to a local university to meet with a professor that briefed us on the political history of both Budapest and Hungary, providing a necessary background for grasping the current political system in place.  While not the most gripping speaker, the historical information provided definitely gave an interesting insight into the political apathy that characterizes the Hungarian population.  Although some speakers differed in opinions throughout the week, political apathy was by far the most prevalent and agreed-upon topic across the board.  After meeting with our first speaker, we took a bus tour of the city that stopped at various location where we could get off and see a few sights.  We first explored the Pest side - Buda and Pest are two cities, one on each side of the river, but combined make up Budapest.  We started at Heroes Square, then made our way to Saint Stephen's Basilica, and eventually crossed the river to Buda where we hiked through the small but cool Citadella castle.  After wrapping up a 3 hour tour of the city, which by no means was the entire city, we had an incredible dinner which included the best mushroom soup I have ever had, an awesome piece of white fish, and some radical chocolate dessert that was almost too much to handle.  Definitely one of the very best meals I have had while in Europe.

On Thursday morning, we woke up entirely too early to commute to another local university to meet with two professors who spoke to us about opinion polls in the country, which for me was very interesting being a sociology major.  Again, political apathy took command of the polls, but many other interesting opinions about education, government, and social class.  After the talk, myself and a few friends explored Budapest a bit by going to the local market where I had an interesting Hungarian pizza for lunch (fried bread like a funnel cake with some weird sauce on top - not good, not bad, but interesting).  After exhausting the market, we trekked across the river to Buda where we hiked up a path for some great views of the city before eventually making our way down the river to our mid-afternoon speaker.  This time we met with an economic expert who spoke about the current effects of the financial crisis, which can especially be seen in Hungary since they are in the EU but not the monetary EU, so they do not have the stabilization of the Euro.  Speaking of money, if I thought Copenhagen was ridiculous, then Budapest was incomprehensible.  Definitely not in terms of exchange rate, because Hungary is relatively cheap for everything, but 1 Euro equalled 290 Forents!  Upon exchanging money, I literally had two 10,000 Forent bills in my wallet.  No idea how to even process this, but felt like I was big time for a while, until a sandwich and soda cost 1600 Forent.  So after listening to how the country was/is effected by the economic crisis, I made my way to an island park in the middle of the Danube where I layed around for a while before making my way to yet another phenomenal dinner.  After dinner that although very good included entirely too much meat, we made our way to a rooftop bar to top off the night.

For our last day in Budapest, we again got up early Friday morning to meet with a EU representative from the foreign ministry.  This was by far the best speaker we met with throughout the week who gave us a great understanding of how Budapest functions internationally within the European Union.  After 2 hours which completely flew by, our other journalists which we were supposed to meet with cancelled so we had the entire day to explore the city.  A group of us took an entirely too long metro to tram to bus trip to the southern part of the city to Monument Park.  The park preserves many of the old communist sculptures and although cool to see larger than life statues, the bus rides there and back were actually way more fun and one of the most hilarious parts of the trip just joking around with the group.  After spending 3 hours total getting there and back and only 30 minutes at the park, we had a guided tour through the Hungarian Parliament which had more gold inside than I have ever seen in my life.  After the tour was over, a group of 5 of us made it to my personal highlight of the trip: Turkish Baths.  In Budapest, there are numerous public baths heated by natural underground hot springs both indoors and outdoors.  The Turkish Baths were enormous and had some incredible Ottoman architecture - while lounging in the pools, I literally felt like I was a king just kicking back for a day of relaxation at my personal palace.  Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it was pretty cool to lay around in the baths.  Wrapping up the trip, we had one last dinner as a group followed by a hilarious Hungarian Elvis impersonator.  Probably more hilarious to see a Hungarian impersonating Elvis rather than him actually being good at what he does, but cheap entertainment none the less.  So that concluded our trip to Budapest.  It was an awesome trip with great scenery and sightseeing plus speakers that were ten times better than the speakers in Istanbul.  Overall, I had a great time and swimming/lounging in the Turkish Baths was by far the highlight of the trip and one of my European highlights as well.  So, until later, that was Budapest.

(My computer is broke right now, so hopefully if it gets fixed I can put pictures up, but for now text will have to suffice.)

No comments:

Post a Comment