We had six days between our two HomeExchanges in Vienna so decided that we would go to Budapest. Why not? It would complete the three city tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest for us in 2017.
I must say that I went into Budapest with my eyes wide open and my mind blank. I had no preconceived ideas and had done almost no studying of what we could expect. We watched the usual Rick Steves' show and both said that he certainly wasn't very excited about the city and had we watched it before we made our plans, we might have just stayed in Vienna.
What luck that we didn't . We would have missed a wonderful city and its people. We would have missed a wonderfully imperfect adventure.
Our first impression: We took a walk towards the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world. On our walk, Budapest revealed a side that was dirty and gritty and exciting. We felt we were in a place where we needed to have our street smarts about us and didn't want to be out after dark. We had already been warned that taxi drivers try to rip you off, so had decided we would walk whenever we could. Our initial impression was that it felt like an Eastern Bloc country.
It was easy to compare Budapest to Berlin and Prague since we had been in both cities recently. Communism in Hungary ended in 1989, but it feels like it was much more recent. The Czech Republic is more modern and has a higher GDP by far. Comparing Prague and Budapest, it feels like time stopped in Budapest in the 1980s and Prague moved forward.
We spent two weeks in Berlin in October and came away with an overwhelming impression of a city that is modern, forward thinking, clean, has wonderful mass transportation and has moved into the 21st Century with nothing holding her back. Trying to compare Berlin and Budapest is like. . .well, you just can't really. They are day and night, black and white, orange and apple.
On our second day in Budapest we started the day with school children singing Christmas Carols in 4 languages. Children & Carols are the surest way to put me in the Christmas spirit. From the Carols, we went out into the city and started exploring. Walking in any major city is the best way to get to know it. You can see it, smell it, feel it and taste it.
By midday, we had seen some of the iconic sights of Budapest and were walking around with big smiles on our faces. When we stopped for lunch, we had a young waiter who was eager to please and help us with our menus. The food was poor, but the service was memorable because of the great conversation with him. He wants to leave Hungary. The system is corrupt. It is better in "other" countries and the people in power are only abusing the power they have. Probably a good description of the government here and the rest of the world.
I was not prepared for the beauty of this city. The architecture is beyond my wildest dreams. It is a fairy tale city of castles, churches, synagogues, and the beautiful Parliament building. I didn't know what to expect and I got more than I ever imagined.
What I notice most of all is the wonderful imperfections that are Budapest. It is bright, gaudy, seedy and beautiful all in one package.
It is Christmas trees that are not the matchy-matchy, theme oriented Christmas decorations we have come to know, but multi-colored lights, tree decorations that don't match and garland put on the trees with absolutely no symmetry. The trees look like they looked when we were young and decorated our trees with meaningful ornaments.
It is the waitress in a cafe, who tries to greet us in English, but because her grasp of the language is imperfect she greets us with, "Have a nice day"! We will. We did.
It is the staff at our hotel who seem to have nothing much to do after the early morning breakfast, yet still manage to keep up appearances in a decidedly imperfect and empty dining room at night.
It is the woman taking tickets for the tour of the Parliament building who snarled at us because we were in line at 12:45 and our tickets weren't until 1:00. Our imperfect timing ruined her perfect planning.
It is the broken faucet and ancient plumbing in the ladies bathroom in the train station that is offset by motivational quotes stuck on the wall and a heart-shaped mirror that somehow seemed like they were trying to make a very imperfect place - well, perfect.
So as our trip comes to an end and we head back to Vienna, we know we want to come back here. My new assignment is to look for a HomeExchange here.
Perhaps we will find a perfectly imperfect home and a perfectly wonderful family that would like to exchange homes with this imperfect couple from perfect Naples, Florida.