Sept 13-17, Budapest
Coming down the Danube a dramatic view of Budapest first unfolds from the Buda looking across the river to Pest and the Parliament buildings.
Crossing the river on one of its six or so bridges I floundered around to find my booked hostel, on the second floor above the very touristy Vaci Usta, but only reveals itself if you happen the know the address, #23
Budapest is one of the city destinations on this trip, perhaps the most important one for me. It comes when I need a bit of a mental and physical break from my cycling, and it is one of those cities that has allure for me. My first morning found me in the National museum, where I hoped to fill in a few gaps in my understanding of Hungarian history. The Magyars, found their way into Europe from middle Asia around the 8th century. Hungary, as a name evolved from the Huns who preceded them but who retreated back into Asia and there is no relationship between the Magyars and the Huns. Magyarorszag is the Hungarian name for their country.
Ethnically the Magyars have created a gap in the Slavic world of Slovakia, The Czech Republic, The Ukraine and others to the north and Bulgaria to the south. Mediterranean Romanians form a rough eastern border. Of course the European diaspora of the last 1000 years has greatly stirred the pot, but these borders are still very important.
It is interesting to me that the Hungarians consider the nation began around 1000 with its conversion to Christianity by its king and patron Saint Stephen (Istvan). The same thing happened in Norway at the same time by its king and patron saint Olav. Something about the time I guess and wonder how prevalent this was around Europe at that time.
The Magyar position in central Europe has continually been under pressure from outside. At one time the Hungarian empire spread much more widely but with pressure back and forth from the Ottomans from the south east, the Hapsburgs from Austria, and Russians from the North West. German settlements were encouraged to help repel these pressures. Hapsburg control in Hungary weakened in 1948 with a rebellion attempt but lead to the Austro-Hungary Empire that lasted until WWI.
The Trianon Treaty in 1920 hit Hungary Hard. Having chosen the wrong side in WWI Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory, ½ of its people and 1/3 of ethnic Hungarians. Hungary resisted getting into WWII for a while but internal factors and the possibility of getting some of its losses back had them again entering the war on the wrong side. Today 10 million Magyar live in Hungary, 5 million outside Hungary.
Budapest today is a wonderful place to walk around, which is largely what I did. Many of its streets are car free and the baroque architecture (for me, anything ornate), mostly from the late 19th century is candy to the eyes. It is very much of a tourist city and so it is hard to pick out who would be local and who not. The modern parliament, most tourist facilities and the tourist centric activity emanate in Pest, the part of the city on the east bank of the Danube. Buda, the more traditional capital is a city of hills. Buda Castle and many of the upscale living quarters are on the west bank. I spent the better part of one day walking those hills, and when I wanted a thermal bath I chose one in Buda.
The Central Market
Beer Can Sculpture
In searching out my next moves I was sent from a bike shop to a specific book store where I found a cycle atlas for Hungary from which I have created my path out of Budapest and out to the eastern part of the country. My main option had been to stay on the Danube following it south into Serbia and onwards. That option is off for now, and hopefully by Sunday night I will be well on my way into the Hungarian Puszta.