Friday, January 27, 2012

Looking through another lens

Today I had a really good conversation with a Hungarian friend. She was talking about attending the pro-governement rally last weekend (see previous post) and very candidly expressed her frustration with the Western world putting pressure on Hungary about their new constitution. She explained to me that "liberal" has a completely different meaning in Hungary than in the West. In Hungary liberal means people for the old politics - communism and nazism. Wow! That's definitely a different meaning than my Western terminology. As she continued to express her views, I began to understand more and more that Hungary is not a Western country. It looks Western on the outside, with its well-paved roads, big shopping centers, fast food, and white people everywhere. But on the inside, people look through a very different lens than my Western one.

Only 20 years ago Hungary was controlled by Communists from Russia, before that it was the Nazis, before that they lost half their country to political map changes, before that the Hapsburgs, before that the Turks and Mongols and all sorts of invaders. Naturally, this history effects the view of Hungarians. After years of oppression and dictators, they finally get to do what THEY want to do with their country. And they should.

When I moved to Budapest, I expected Hungarians would view the world somewhat similarly to me, especially in comparison to my previous experiences in China and Kenya. I expected big differences in Asia and Africa. But Europe? I've been surprised. In a good way.

From my Western perspective, I disagree with many things in the Hungarian constitution. But when I try to take a look through a Hungarian lens, I understand a bit more why the nation is supporting some of these things. If I were Hungarian, I may have attended the pro-government rally too.

Always willing to learn another person's perspective.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Patriotism in Hungary

On Saturday night I got on the tram, a regular night out with friends, but as I stepped on the tram, there wasn't much room for me. Most of the seats and standing room were filled with elderly people wearing ribbons and holding flags. "Must be people coming from another protest," Will comment. He was right. Budapest holds many more protests than the America I once lived in (pre-Occupy Wall Street) and definitely more than Kenya (post-election violence). I've stumbled upon more than one during a walk through the city in the last six months. Although I wasn't present at the recent pro-government rally in down-town Budapest, I thought this Brit's view of the event was interesting. Check out his blog post: Politics by Candlelight, Budapest Rally.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On the tram

Last night on the tram home from work there was a woman walking down the aisle asking for coins. She had a cup held out in her hand and a sign taped to her chest. I really wondered what the sign said. It was several sentences long, but the only part I could read was "250 Ft". I watched her come toward me, which is common on trams in Budapest. Usually Hungarians mostly ignore people asking for money or they say no as they pass. But that night something was different. Almost every person on that tram dropped coins in the woman's cup as she passed. And I wondered, what did that sign say? What inspired so many people to generously give to this woman? Then I thought, does it really matter what the sign says? Despite knowing the woman's situation or what her sign says or whether anyone else on the tram gives her anything, shouldn't I give anyway?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's funny the things we notice.

In the last few months I've noticed...
My bathtub is so clean.
It doesn't get that grimy ring around it.
In winter
wearing socks
and lots of layers of clothes
keeps your body pretty clean.
And my bathtub too.

All the dirt and grime
that has been impossible to get off my feet
the last three years,
All the dirt and grime,
that would layer on my tub in a week's time,
isn't there anymore.

It will come back again this summer
when I stop wearing socks
and put my sandals on,
but it was something I never would have noticed
if I hadn't spent three years
trying to get the dirt off my feet
and the ring out of my tub.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


A day trip from Budapest is one of the oldest cities in Hungary. People first settled there about 350 B.C. Birth place of King Stephen, the man who founded Hungary. Home of the largest basilica in the country. Religious and political center for centuries. Captured by everyone (Turks, Habsburgs, this king, that king), except the Mongols. Castle built in 1009. The city is rich in history.

We decided to go there after seeing the towering basilica on our way home from Slovakia two weeks ago. It looked so strange from the train seeing this HUGE domed building in the middle of nowhere. After a little research Will found it was Esztergom. So off we went on Saturday with some friends.

One of the wonderful things about Europe is public transportation! We hopped the train for $6 round trip, traveled a little over an hour through small towns and farms to get to this:
A beautiful church. "The St. Peter's Basilica of Hungary." And it does compare to Rome. It's situated on a hill overlooking the Danube. When we arrived in Esztergom, we meandered through the town's streets making our way toward the towering basilica.
It is a quaint town that was quite sleepy on a Saturday. Walking over cobble stone streets, we noticed a narrow alley that went up the hill. We turned onto the street and began walking up. Up stairs. Through doors. Up more stairs. Through some more castle doors.
And we came to the top to see a spectacular view.
At this bend in the Danube River, Hungary sits on one side (left) and Slovakia (right) on the other. A bridge connects two countries with completely different cultures and drastically different languages. It still baffles me that Europe has maintained such distinct cultures and languages in such a small area of the world.

Castle Hill had much to see when we arrived. The castle. The basilica. The view. Some artwork.
But the most interesting to me was the crypt.
We went under the church to the vast crypt. Parts of it were beautiful with high vaulted ceilings and pictures of Pope John Paul II's visit there. Other parts were creepy, dark halls that went to the gated unknown. I got a little freaked out. But it was amazing to see graves that had been there since the 1400's (like the picture above).

A little history. Beautiful church. Some snow. Some sun. A fun day trip in Hungary.
Is this convincing anyone to come to Hungary in 2012?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reasons to Visit Budapest in 2012

2012 is a new year. One that can provide many new adventures and exciting surprises for anyone willing to partake. And what better adventure than.... VISITING BUDAPEST! For anyone considering a trip to Europe, don't miss out on Budapest. Here are some highlights for 2012:

Family and friends, I'll add reason 13: Get a personal tour and free place to stay with Will and Kim. (Actually that's reasons 13 and 14!) How can you NOT take advantage of this opportunity?! :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Things happening in Hungary

Well, it's not about kidnappings or car bombings, but Hungary's news is getting a bit heated lately. A new constitution was put into effect with the start of the new year. Basically it is being called an "unconstitutional constitution", even by the U.S. (Although I think some very right-wing U.S. republicans would support the current Hungarian Prime Minister's views. He's like Rick Santorum on conservative steroids.) The new laws include:

No rights for gay people.
No religions except the 10 or so recognized by the government. That means no Hinduism, Buddhism, or certain Christian denominations.
Government controlled media.
And various other human rights violations (the media says).

In all honesty, I don't understand everything the new laws do or don't allow, but I do know that the U.S. and EU are up in arms about the whole thing. As well as Hungarians, of course. New Years Eve was celebrated by many here with a protest, rather than fire works and champagne. From what I've read, I would protest too. It seems like the current Hungarian leaders want to go back in time 30 years. But some Hungarians do too. It surprises me that in the 21st century there are still people who are so prejudice: anti-semitists, anti-gay, anti-Roma, anti-homeless. Unfortunately, it's true all over the world.

As my husband says, "Don't hate."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Travels of 2012 begin!

After a holiday spent sleeping, eating, and watching movies, we wanted to go SOMEWHERE to get away. We pulled out the travel books and decided on Bratislava, Slovakia.
And new to us.
So off we went for a couple nights...

Bratislava sits on the Danube River between Budapest and Vienna. Just a couple hours on the train from Budapest, we arrived in what was once the capital of Hungary.
In fact, this church, St. Martin's Cathedral, was the location of many kings' crownings for Hungary.
And what European city is not complete without a castle? Bratislava has two!
Sitting above the city's old town is Hrad Castle (pictured above), and Devin Castle (below) is just a 20 minute bus ride from town. (Traveler Tip: to Devin Castle take #29 bus under the New Bridge; get the 1 hour/0,90 Euro pass for one way.)
Devin Castle was my favorite of the two because it is mostly ruins, what is left after Napoleon destroyed it. This castle sits on the fork where the Danube and Morava Rivers meet.

Some other interesting sites of Bratislava included the UFO restaurant standing tall above the New Bridge,
And the narrowest house in Europe, which now houses a fast food restaurant on ground level.
The quaint streets and buildings of Old Town were just as fun to see as the sites of interest.
Bratislava was a great place for a couple nights. It felt more like a small town than a big city after being in Budapest for six months, but it's worth the trip if you're traveling between Vienna and Budapest. I learned a bit more about Hungary, even in Slovakia.

(Traveler Tip: For anyone going to Bratislava, I highly recommend the Hotel Michalska Brana. I don't usually promote businesses, but it was a fabulous find on for a great price. One of the nicest places we've stayed in Europe and superb location in the middle of Old Town.)

Bratislava was a good start to our travels of 2012. Much more to come!

Sunday, January 1, 2012