Budapest and Birthday Celebrations

This was a special day because it was my cousin Katharina’s birthday! We slept in to what was late for us (9am) and headed down to breakfast in the hotel. We made sure to celebrate with hot chocolate and champagne.

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Then we went to the grocery store to buy snacks for our trip to Budapest! We found this cigarette vending machine, which is definitely not something you’ll find in America:

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The train station was very crowded and there were a ton of people going to Budapest as well – mainly backpackers. We were grateful to have taken the time to get seat reservations again because even with those reservations we had issues getting to our seats and had to fight multiple people out of them. If you didn’t have a seat reservation on this train, you were out of luck and had to stand or sit on the floor for hours. No one could walk in the aisles because it was completely full of people and luggage. The reservations we purchased were only $3 a person and absolutely worth it. The train stunk because there were so many sweaty people so close together and it wasn’t particularly comfortable. We met two Italian guys our age who were also doing Interrail and had been traveling for a lot longer than we had. They were very friendly and nice to talk to. They sat on the floor next to us and often had to move into our seat area if people attempted to walk by to get to bathrooms.

 

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So I’ll give you a very brief summary of Budapest and its history. Budapest is an amazing city – the capital and largest city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the EU. The first settlement of the territory was built by Celts before 1 AD. The Ottomans pillaged Buda in 1526 and occupied it in 1541, which lasted for more than 140 years. In 1718, the entire Kingdom oF Hungary was removed from Ottoman Rule. The 19th century was filled with Hungarian struggle for independence and modernization. The city was a twin capital of the Austria-Hungary monarchy, but has occupied both banks of the Danube River since the unification of Buda and Pest in 1873. The proportion of Jews in the city peaked in 1900 – it was often called “Judapest” or the “Jewish Mecca.” In 1918, Austria-Hungary lost the war and collapsed – Hungary declared itself an independent republic, the Republic of Hungary. In 1920, the Treaty of Trianon partitioned the country, causing two-thirds of its territory and nearly two-thirds of its inhabitants to be lost. In 1944, Budapest was partly destroyed by British and American air raids. And in 1945, the city was besieged during the Battle of Budapest. The city was damaged a lot during the war. The Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, managed to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest by giving them Swedish passports and taking them under his consular protection, but still, significant portion of Budapest’s Jewish population died during the German occupation of Hungary. After the liberation of Hungary from Nazi Germany by the Red Army, Soviet military occupation ensued, which only ended in 1989. During that time, Hungary was declared a communist People’s Republic. Today Budapest is the 25th most popular city in the world for tourists to visit. It has one of the largest synagogues in the world, one of the largest Parliament buildings in Europe, and tons of museums. It’s definitely a city worth visiting!

 

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So my first impressions of Budapest – another extremely beautiful city that is clearly so full of history. We had a bit of confusion at first in the train station with trying to convert money and figure out where we needed to go and how to get there, but once that was all settled it was easy to find our way around. We saw some refugees around the station, but nothing like what is occurring there now. We waited for over an hour to get our next train reservations to Ljubljana so we were prepared for our next part of the journey. We used GPS to find our way from the train stop to the Bastion Hotel, which was not too easy to find because the hotel was barely marked and its entrance was on a small side street.

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But the hotel was wonderful and we were really happily surprised.

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We decided to go to a relatively new museum called Hospital in the Rock. So we went down to the station, quickly realizing the city has the biggest escalators ever, but they move so fast!

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We ended up getting off at the wrong station and found ourselves in a major construction zone and unsure of which direction we needed to go. We were thankful to have GPS and definitely needed it because it was about a 20 minute walk. At one point we had to climb up a very steep set of stairs up a mountain, and in the 95 degree temperature, it was not easy. We were stressed for time and had to move fast so we both felt exhausted, hot, sweaty, and out of breath by the time we found the museum – but we found it!

 

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So within this mountain is this amazing museum all about what used to exist inside a natural cave system. During World War II, an air raid emergency hospital was opened within these caves and during the American air raids in 1944, the hospital was used extensively – the 94 beds were constantly filled. Patients were even kept in hallways. The hospital had a very high death rate because the conditions were poor and caused major risk for infection and there were not enough medical supplies. Multiple surgeries would occur in the same room, patient beds were pushed together, and bandages would even be taken off dead bodies and used on living patients. With the end of the war, the hospital was closed in 1945.

And with the Cold War and the Revolution, the hospital was transformed into a nuclear bunker – but it was luckily never needed.

 

 

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No photographs were allowed to be taken inside the museum, but very interesting exhibits were set up with wax figures of the doctors and patients so visitors can get a real idea of what it would have looked like when the hospital was in use. It is definitely a museum I recommend seeing because learning about some history of World War II and what was occurring in a specific place within one city is fascinating. We both learned a ton about Hungarian history and individual stories of survival within horrible conditions.

Here’s our tour group:

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The people running the museum are extremely friendly and helpful, so we asked them for recommendations of where to head for dinner. They told us we definitely should go towards a specific direction and that we’d find something to eat up there or the bus to go back towards our hotel. And were we glad they suggested that! Because as we walked, we stumbled upon some of the best views of our trip!

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And then ran into the Matthias Church, which was originally built in 1015, remodeled in the 14th century, and restored in the 19th century.

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It’s an amazing thing when you travel and stumble upon such beauty unexpectedly. And from there, you can see the castle and the entire city!

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It was truly breathtaking. But we were hungry, so we asked a young couple how to get back to the area where our hotel was, and they were extremely helpful in telling us which bus to take and where to get off and where to go from there. We crossed over Danube River.

 

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And then we couldn’t help but stand in awe looking at what was around us because it was so beautiful:

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Then we continued our search for dinner – (clearly kept getting distracted). We found a pretty touristy area full of restaurants, shops, and interesting statues like this giant one:

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And finally we picked this nice Japanese restaurant for dinner to celebrate Katharina’s birthday and the food was so delicious!

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After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and enjoyed seeing the city at night, which manages to be just as beautiful as it looks in the daylight.

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