To sum up Budapest in 1 sentence,
An ever-expanding global city, whose major challenges include rapidly developing infrastructure to accompany their influx of tourists, and maintaining the authenticity of Hungarian culture.
During my time there I heard about opportunities and challenges tourism creates. About how Budapest both needs and isn’t ready to deal with their tourist influx. About how an artist culture and a hipsterization has created some of their biggest attractions (Ruin pubs – Szimpla Kert). Budapest is an old city, that had to be rebuilt after being nearly demolished in World War Two. The Jewish Ghetto is one such example — (The Jewish Ghetto was established by the Nazis and was a walled off section of Budapest and other cities where the Jewish populations were contained.) Today, due to many of the building’s historical significance, they aren’t allowed to be demolished and still stand. This however created some problems as some of the buildings weren’t livable, and the expenses involved with modernizing them in the late ’90s were astronomical. Because of this historical status, however, a particular law allowed them to be open 24/7. This was seen as an opportunity to some aspiring bar owners, Szimpla being the most popular, to take these ruined buildings and leave them ruined, but fix the plumbing, etc and invite artists to transform it entirely. In Szimpla Kert’s experience, it became an artist haven, taking junked tables, chairs, bathtubs, cars, and repurposing them all to suit a massive bar. With incredible art, graffiti, and even sharpies, artists and anyone else can leave their mark on the bar, and with what had originally been a massive eye-sore to the area, became a shining example of Hungarian Ingenuity, and a global attraction.
Because I have a great deal of my own opinions about what I saw and way too much history, I figured it would be smart to include a portion about what I actually did while I was there:
I traveled around the city, ate incredible foods that only a city like Budapest could offer, saw the “Grand Budapest Hotel” from the Wes Anderson movie, and on the day I left, I wandered into an EU rally in the embassy circle. As I sipped coffee in front of the American and French embassies (among many others,) I watched a true Hungarian concert and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I visited Szimpla Kert 4 times, twice in the daytime, where we met one of the founders of Szimpla, and the second to check out the farmers market they hold every Sunday. I took an incredible tour of the Danube river, although just a few weeks after there was a terrible accident with one of these river tour boats crashing into a massive cruise line. The views were spectacular but that crash could have very well been me and my friends. The Jewish quarter had become an incredible area, with a food truck alley, dozens of extremely unique shops and restaurants, and this is likely where my friends and I spent the most of our short time. I really had an incredible experience and would gladly return to Budapest.
A growing hub for education, a refuge for Catholicism, a window to the past (WWII), and an economically bustling country.
My first introduction to Krakow mentioned its legacy of being a major hub in the post-medieval era, the development of one of the oldest and still functioning universities ever — (The new Polish king needed competent advisors so he decided to open a school for them) — and the always there scars of World War Two, particular the Holocaust and the Jewish Ghetto.
During my time experiencing what Krakow had to offer the rest of the world, I found that the city was developing some of the most unique and interesting restaurants and bars that I’ve ever experienced. The Hipsterization that hit Pittsburgh is occurring in the Jewish Ghetto and Krakow’s ancillary areas. Similarly to Pittsburgh, the area around Krakow is heavily industrialized and heavily polluted due to Nowa Huta, an upstart Communism working Utopia about 20-40 minutes outside Krakow. The town of Nowa Huta was built in a semi-renaissance style, which I would absurdly strange. The architects that built it envisioned a collectivist society, housed in a collectivist city, yet drove inspiration from uber-capitalist Paris? I guess it was a warmer visual than other Communist effigies, such as the brutalist radio tower in Budapest. The biggest struggle this “Utopia” faced was suppression of religion, with the government disallowing a church to be constructed within their Utopia. The eventual Pope John Paul II led the negotiations and eventually built the Christ’s Arc church, a church constructed in the Communist brutalist style, but served as a metaphor for Catholicism being the boat that “kept the Polish people afloat during the Communist wave.”
For the Polish people I had met along the way, Poland was seemingly a place of relatively happy people, that extremely closely resembled those that I know here in Pittsburgh. A remarkably different view, compared to what I had envisioned before I left on my trip.
In conclusion of the two countries, what I had envisioned Poland and Hungary to have resembled was what life there might have been in the ’30s. The effects of Communism didn’t set them back to the dark ages like I may have envisioned, but rather it allowed rapid industrialization to occur. Both countries have come out as mirror-flipped images of their European counterparts, albeit with some stronger tendencies to see the government in a guiding and protecting role, as opposed to whatever the rest of the world see it.