I expect sleep to remain elusive for a few more days. It is 3:30 am as I pen these lines after repeatedly dozing for an hour or less at a time. So be it. In trying to synthesize a series of jumbled impressions from the day it is of the flow of history and the people who populated it through these lands and abroad. We often complain about the craziness that we see populating the people of our country but traveling puts you face to face, literally or historically with craziness far more potent than the instability we whine about daily. Given the context of some of the crap going on around the world today, our whining is a little like an adolescent complaining to an octogenarian about acne.
Imagine the sacred serendipity of stopping at one of Budapest’s premier coffee houses, Gerbaud, (map) for lunch and world class pastry and finding ourselves seated next to a couple of friends in their 20’s from Capetown, South Africa. One, works for Red Bull and is travelling for work to the corporate offices in Austria. The other is studying oceanic electrical generation (wave and tidal generation) at university in Sweden. They decided to meet for the weekend in Budapest. This kind of chance encounter is exactly why we travel. We chatted about politics, about South Africa, the experience of going from winter in warm sunny South Africa to winter in cold dark Sweden and found ourselves marveling at how different the lives of these two men is so much different than they might have been not that long ago from our perspective but from before they were born from theirs.
Our tour guide, seeing history through the eyes of a Magyar, the Hungarian people since about the 9th century, was clearly proud of her tenacious people through all the changes over the centuries. The Turks spent time here and left behind the Turkish baths.
The Nazis were here and left behind their own devastation. A small but powerful reminder is an art installation on the Pest side of the Danube known as Shoes on the Danube Bank, which remembers hundreds of people rounded up by the far right wing Arrow Cross party who were in power for a short 5 and a half months at the end of WWII and during that time were able to murder some 10 – 15 thousand people and deport some 80,000 to various concentration camps. This memorial created in 2005 remembers those who were brought to the Danube, ordered to remove their shoes and shot on the banks of the Danube so they would fall into the river and be carried downstream. Perhaps when we whine about our situation we are mindful of how much damage bad actors can cause even when in power for a short while.
The Russians came into Hungary and defeated the Germans only to then impose Soviet rule. You can still see the Hungarians recovering from the years of deterioration during that time. Communism was never an econmic powerhouse where it was imposed and you can still see rebuilding going on throughout the city.
There is great beauty here. Ruby initially was lured to Budapest by the Viking commercials which depicted a cruise down the Danube in front of this incredible building that, as it turns out, is the Parliament building. Apparently it cost as much to build as the entire rest of Budapest combined.
After our circuitous tour of the city we took the option of having the bus drop us off downtown and we strolled along the Danube. It was during our stroll that we met the gentlemen from Cape Town and took in the Shoes along the Danube. We walked about 5 miles through town marveling at beautiful Art Nouveau architecture as well as Soviet style apartment blocks. Finally we arrived back at our hotel and napped (crashed) when we got back to the room.
Dinner would be a relaxing cruise on the Danube with traditional Hungarian fare and taking in the lights of the city.