Yesterday morning, as I was walking around Budapest with Alex Shaw, the other Whittie on BSM this semester, we discussed which one word we would use to describe the city. We were along the Danube at the time, on the Buda side of the river. Looking out across the water, everything was gray. “Squat,” I said. “Brooding,” was his answer.
His adjective is the right one for the city. As we pass by people, they seem intent and thoughtful, as if they are working on some difficult problem in their heads. The clouds press down on the city—I haven’t seen any of the actual sun in the city yet—and the apartment buildings rise up to meet them, all stone with baroque filigree and large windows. The entire city really seems to brood.
On this, my second full day in Brooding Budapest, I thought that it would be a good time to go through my first impressions of the city.
Here are the top ten:
- It’s so warm! It may be gray, but it is certainly not cold here. At least to me. Yay!
- Building Height. One of the most remarkable things in Budapest is the complete lack of a skyline. It looks flat, simply because nearly every building in the densely populated Pest side of the river, called “City Center,” is between 4 and 8 stories tall. While there are several explanations, one of the primary reasons is that all of the buildings are old and haven’t been demolished. Many of them were built around the year 1896, when the government commissioned the Parliament, museums, and other projects in honor of the 1000th anniversary of the Magyars entering Hungary.
- Ceiling Height. In stark contrast to the height of buildings, the ceilings everywhere are incredibly tall. I noticed this phenomenon when I entered my apartment, where I will be living with Alex, Sam (who goes to Macalester) and another student. This is what I saw:
While we may have a conventional horizontally-compact apartment, we are certainly not struggling for vertical space.
- The Hungarian Uniform. Around the city, it’s easy to pick out the Hungarians, or so I think. They wear black jackets, and black hats and shoes. Except for the young, hip people, who wear sweatpants and white shoes (no pictures because they became elusive once I noticed the trend).
- No smiling. Hungarians rarely smile on the street. As Alex and I were walking, he mentioned something from our student handbook: culturally, smiling openly might be seen as a sign that one is slow. We decided to test this. He tried smiling to an older woman. She looked at him, but gave no response. I smiled politely to a fast-walking businessman, and he scowled back. So hypothesis tested. I might be a little slow.
- Smoking. Everyone smokes. It was so common on the street that I looked up some stats from May of 2016. While the smoking rate has dropped since 2009, apparently 41.7 percent of men and 28.5 percent of women are regular smokers, giving Hungary the dubious honor of having the highest age standardized rate of lung cancer in the world.
- Green Crosses. They stand for pharmacies. I was wondering too.
- Public Transportation: Trams, Busses and Metros, Oh My. I’ve heard that Budapest’s public transportation is good, but this is ridiculous. There is a bus or tram nearly everywhere, and the metro crisscrosses the city.
- Gyros Stands. They’re everywhere, and delicious.
- I’m Here. What? I’m in Budapest! Honestly, it hasn’t fully set in, but it’s been a great experience so far.
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Safe and sound in Budapest,