Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Budapest is one of my favorite cities in the world, but in many ways is a study in contrasts. The very first thing you will notice is the Danube river flowing right down the middle of the city. In fact Budapest was at one time two cities—Buda and Pest. Way back then it wasn’t so easy to cross a large river, so the two were two very different communities, and remained so until 1872 when they were finally united as one city. By this time, these cities had each existed just across the river from the other for over a thousand years. Still contrasts existed everywhere. Buda was on the hills on one side of the river while Pest occupied the flat land on the other side. One was very poor while the other… well, not so much.
Budapest has seen every kind of government in it’s history from Monarchies to Dictatorships to Democracy. It’s seen more than it’s share of wars and has experienced great riches and great poverty. The latest was after World War II when Hungary was “liberated” by the Soviet Union. A great example is the House of Terror, now a museum, but in WWII was the home of the fascist Arrow Cross Party of Nazi Germany. In the basement of this headquarters building were the torture chambers. When the Soviet Union “liberated” Budapest at the end of WWII, they found the place and decided it was just perfect for their use. So the people of Budapest had simply traded fascism for communism.
We have been traveling to this city for the best part of twenty-five years now and it’s been very interesting watching the city change each time we come back. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the last Soviet troops left Hungary in June of 1991. I clearly remember the years shortly after that when coming to Budapest meant seeing a very gray city. All the building seemed neglected and worn. People didn’t smile much and walked slowly, often bend over and looking at the ground. The clothing was drab and jewelry, if it existed at all, was small and dark.
Over the years we’ve watched this city come back to life. Gradually the color came back. The pace picked up. The backs straightened, the eyes looked up and the smiles returned. Budapest was back! Today the city is vibrant with world-class restaurants, great entertainment, art and music.