Blessed in Budapest

If ever there was a country where the refugees had really shaken things up, that would be Hungary. It’s no secret that their prime minister is more than unhappy with the current “forced quota” of refugees they must accept. The time of my visit must’ve been at the height of their rebellion because I came from Vienna, where the refugees were welcomed with open arms, to Budapest, where the only way to get in was by bus because all the trains were cancelled. It was a hectic time to say the least. Many people who already had purchased train tickets in advance were S.O.L. and had to shell out additional funds for bus tickets as well. No word yet on whether they were going to be refunded for that train. Yes, it seems that Hungary was doing all it could to close its borders on the refugees. I couldn’t understand why at first, but once I arrived,  I was enlightened by a young Hungarian couple I met in Copenhagen.

The whole gang! Áron taking the selfie, then Ken, me, Ellen, and Lilla.
The whole gang! Áron taking the selfie, then Ken, me, Ellen, and Lilla. And that guy waving in the background…

Lilla and Áron were some of my roommates back in Copenhagen. When I told them the itinerary of my trip, they made sure to extend a Facebook friend request so I could meet up with them in Budapest. And that’s exactly what I did.

We made plans to meet up on the first night, which turned out to be quite a busy time. During check-in at my hostel I met Ellen and Ken, traveling friends from Australia. We are all hungry so we decided take the hostel’s recommendation and go to this little bar called Kiado. It also happened to be the closest place. It was absolutely amazing and super underrated (also ridiculously cheap!). Traditional Hungarian food, pub food, international food; all for the right price and huge portion size. I could’ve eaten there every day but my waistline would not allow it!

After dinner, I invited Ken and Ellen to join me, Lilla, and Áron. They were so excited to meet local people, probably because finding an actual Hungarian in Budapest is like finding a needle in a haystack. Literally everyone is Australian!

The crew on the Liberty Bridge, minus me because someone had to take the picture
The crew on the Liberty Bridge, minus me because someone had to take the picture

So we all meet up, under the impression of just grabbing drinks at a bar. But when we arrived, Lilla gave us two options; we could go to a bar, or we could buy some bottles of wine and beer and take to the streets (or the bridge, was more like). It was kind of a no-brainer, once we all established that what we were about to do wasn’t illegal. Though, once we got there we felt ridiculous for even questioning it because it was just a sea of students, beers in hand. It was almost hard for us to find a place to sit. After getting over the logistics of hopping on to, and sitting, on the bridge we were finally able to take in our surroundings; and it was magical. Sitting on the Danube, drinking a radler, and enjoying some of the best company travel could find. And the setting could not have been more beautiful. Budapest was already one of my favorite places, and I had only been there for 6 hours.

View from the bridge
View from the bridge with the Liberation Monument in the top left corner.

With pending curiosity from the day’s events, I asked Lilla what was going on with the refugees; why was it so hostile in Hungary? And she explained to us how Hungary had began, and how they had fought for all their rights and freedoms, and how important this history and their culture is to them. She went on to explain that as a smaller country (less than 10 million), Hungary could very easily be dynamically changed by an additional population from a nation with very hard-and-fast culture. And this is the problem for Hungary. Unlike it’s more densely populated neighbors (like Romania), it is small; Rightfully, they fear that an influx of foreign refugees will threaten the culture that they fought so hard to obtain. How do you incorporate people so different into a union of nations that have already established a homogenous way of life? Welcome to the current state of affairs in Europe.

And after we had all finished our drinks and deep conversations, Ellen and Ken decided to head back to the hostel and settle into their rooms. But I was’t tired at all. How could I be? I was in Budapest, on the bridge (literally on the bridge) and hearing all about Budapest from its locals. Terrific night, and I wasn’t ready to let it end there.

Liberation Monument
Liberation Monument

Lilla and Áron suggested we go on a little walk up to the citadel, the highest point of downtown Budapest with a fortress, liberation monument and great views! It only took me 6 hours in Budapest to see the city from the best possible vantage point. It was so gorgeous! the 20 minute hike up Gellért Hill is more than worth it. Day or night, it’s a great place to see the city.

View from Gellért Hill
View from Gellért Hill to the left of Budapest

As we headed back down the hill towards the bridge, Áron and Lilla asked me a few questions about my culture. It was all pretty harmless until I was asked the question that every American democrat fears: “Donald Trump is really running for president?”. Heavy sigh… “Yes, unfortunately that is true.” This spurred further conversation about the way the American government functions (or at least is supposed to function). Similar to the way that I knew nothing about the way their political system worked, they were equally perplexed by the inner operation of mine. So, given what I knew about the checks and balance system we love so much, I filled them in. And there we were, three people from two different backgrounds explaining ourselves to each other. Words cannot really describe the way that felt, but “enlightening” comes pretty close.

View to the right of the Danube where all the theaters are.
View to the right of Budapest, where all the theaters are.

As I continued to illustrate my picture of the United States, Lilla asked me another question, translating for Áron: what do you think when people say Americans are stupid? I laughed because I was already made very aware of this stereotype. Too many times, I would meet people and within the first few minutes people would find out my nationality and say, “Oh, an American.” with a bit of an eye roll and dismissive tone. And I was never offended by this. I get it. We, as Americans, sometimes do stupid things. I mean, we’re famous for our second amendment, often loud, obnoxious behavior, and we have been known to use donuts as buns for burgers. So, yeah, sometimes we are a little, I’d say, ignorant. Therefore, in response to her question, I agreed. Yes, looking at all of us as a whole, we can be a bit of an eye-sore. But, looking at one as an individual should warrant a completely new process of evaluation. I explained that even if we may have that reputation, I would hate for someone to meet me, find out I’m American, and immediately treat me as though I haven’t got a brain in my head. Just as I’m sure that the Hungarian people would want to be thought of as unsympathetic or mean, based solely on their reaction to the refugees. They were satisfied with this answer and passionately agreed that people should not be evaluated individually by the actions of their greater nation. And with that, the issue was resolved. Nobody was offended or discriminated against. No one felt that they had been called out or needed to prove themselves. It was just an honest conversation; an exchange of questions and answers.

It was one if the most beneficial and humanizing moments I had had thus far, and one of the reasons I wanted to take this trip.  I wanted to learn about countries other than my own and be removed from my safe haven of privilege and mistaken superiority.  You come to an appreciation that is much more valuable than any material souvenir you can buy. You are what is often referred to as “open minded” and it’s awesome!

Lilla, me, and Áron. My favorite Hungarians.
Lilla, me, and Áron. My favorite Hungarians.

I can’t thank Lilla and Áron enough for their kind offer to entertain me and my last minute guests. It was one of my favorite nights on this trip. But of course, all good things must come to an end and all tired travelers must sleep sometime, so I took to the streets and headed back to the hostel; my mind full of curiosities.

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