Chain Bridge, Budapest

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Return

(Yaawwwnnnn....) Oh, hello. Good morning. Jo reggelt kivanok. It's so nice to see you again. I feel like we haven't spoken in ages. I'm on the home stretch for my semester with BSM and the finish line is in sight. The coursework has become harder and the weather has become nicer, which has lead to some inconsistent study habits to say the least. I've also been travelling a lot. Last time I checked in with y'all I was about to head to Krakow, Poland. I made it there and back with a detour at Auschwitz. I can write a whole essay just on that trip alone, but I'll jot down some thoughts now and save the exposition for later. Two weekends after that I rented a car with eight other people and drove to Croatia, stopping at the beautiful Plitvice Lakes and ancient Split on the Adriatic Coast. In between these trips out of town, I explored Budapest some more as well. On May 1 a May Day carnival was held in Varosliget (City Park). Last week I finally visited the famous Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. Two days later my roommate Andy and I rented bicycles and went statue hunting around Budapest to collect pictures for my Hungarian class project.

I've uploaded nearly 1000 pictures to my online Picasa album as evidence of these escapades. You can always view my entire photo library from time in Europe by clicking on the permanent link on the top right hand corner of this web page, or for convenience you can also click right here. Here are a few of the highlights from the past month:

Thousands of Polish law enforcement officers line the streets of Krakow in preparation for the funeral of a civic leader killed in the tragic plane crash two weeks prior.

At the loading dock inside Birkenau, where 1.1 million Jews and Poles were killed. 400,000 Hungarian Jews died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust, the most Jews from any single country killed there. Most people were unloaded from the trains where I am standing.

Getting a picture with the conductors of the train right before we left from Krakow to Budapest.

Karl Marx greeting people near the literature tables for the local communist party on May Day in Varosliget

 One of the many waterfalls of crystal clear water at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

A view of Diocletian's Palace in the historic old town of Split, Croatia. We had just finished swimming in the Adriatic Sea, pictured in the background.

Inside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. It is the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe. As you can see, it has three tiers of seating.

Hanging out with Attila Joszef, the most famous Hungarian 20th Century poet. This statue is directly south of the national parliament on the Danube in Budapest. 

Already reminiscing, my trip to Krakow almost didn't happen. I had been taking my time finishing my homework and nearly flaked out on my buddy Dan to go visit Krakow and Auschwitz. I asked my roommates in passing if they wanted to go also, and they immediately jumped on the adventure. Their enthusiasm and Dan's encouragement got me back on the wagon and onto the train headed for Krakow. 

The four of us were in a 6-person couchette. There were two other people with us, filling up the tiny sleeper compartment. One was an American girl, a student at Smith College who was studying abroad learning computer science in Paris. She was on her spring break and was traveling across Central Europe. The other guy was a Hungarian in his late 20's, traveling in a triangle from Krakow to Ukraine and back to Hungary. He was a transport engineer working for BKV, the Budapest public transit company. He told me that the 4,6 tram line that runs around the big körut, the tram that I take at least once a day, has the highest traffic of any tram line in the world, and it even has more traffic than Budapest's Metro line 1, which is the second oldest in the world. 

This was my second time to Krakow and Auschwitz. (For reference, the Auschwitz death camps are located in the Polish town of Osweichem, which is an hour's bus ride east of Krakow.) My first trip was with the March of the Living back in April 2006, four years ago to the month. On this trip I saw many of the same sights. We strolled through Kazimierz, the medieval Jewish quarter of Krakow, and visited Auschwitz. By chance, the four of us walked the 3 kilometers from Auschwitz I to the larger Auschwitz II - Birkenau. I had made the same journey four years ago on Holocaust Remembrance Day with ten thousand other Jewish high schoolers from around the world. This time it was just the four of us. For me visiting Poland for the second time was much different from the first, particularly since I had been living in Central Europe for four months before this recent trip. The most lasting thought I had from the first trip was that I could never live in Poland, ever, and I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to live there. I had thought that living in Poland must be like living in a graveyard. Unclean and unholy. Many of my friends on the March of the Living felt the same way. 

Now that I have lived in Budapest, Krakow seemed really cool. I really liked the medieval architecture and the hip vibe that the city had. It was similar to Budapest, but much older and less urban. As I we drank coffee in an outdoor cafe in a small park on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I remembered my aversion to Poland from four years ago. I felt very hypocritical. Hungary experienced nearly as much death and destruction as Poland, and Budapest was nearly flattened during the war. In fact, Hungary was notorious for allowing the fascist Arrow Cross party to deport Jews to their deaths at an alarming rate, quicker than the Germans were doing in other countries. The exhibit at the Auschwitz Museum dedicated to the destruction of Hungarian Jewry was titled "A People Betrayed." The city of Budapest itself is covered with Holocaust memorials, remembering the victims of the Arrow Cross. Does that same gut reflex I had four years ago in Poland apply to my time in Budapest today? Not really. What does that mean? I don't know.

Okay. Must go to sleep. Will try to update more on the Krakow trip, as well as Croatia, and statue hunting in Budapest, and my inevitable trip to the Dohany Synagogue. Wish me luck on finals.

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