As a seasoned traveler, I have visited many places over the years. However, few of them compare to Budapest, Hungary. In the mid-90s, I took a team of college students to Budapest for two weeks. For most of us, it was the first time we had been out of the U.S. The excitement was almost palpable!
Since the cold war had only ended a few years before, entering the airport in Budapest was an unsettling experience; it reminded me of old communist movies with dark rooms, tight spaces, and grey everywhere. However, the people of Budapest were just the opposite. They were extremely friendly and open. Very proud of their country, they willingly showed us around the city.
I couldn’t believe how gorgeous Budapest is! Although many of the buildings were still marked from the war, the architecture was amazing. They also have lovely parks for picnics, biking, and just relaxing. No wonder people call it the Paris of the East.
Additionally, the food was extraordinary! We loved stopping every morning at a local shop to buy breakfast pastries (they were so good that I haven’t liked American bread ever since). Most evenings, we spent at a small Hungarian restaurant close to where we were staying. They served fabulous goulash and other dishes that I can’t pronounce. We couldn’t get enough of the food!
One of my most prominent memories of Budapest centers on a walk from the metro to our hostel. It was probably around 10-11 p.m. and the streets were mostly deserted. If I had been in a large American city, I would have been concerned for our safety. However, I felt SO safe walking through Budapest. I recall thinking, “I’ve never felt this safe before in my life.”
Don’t misunderstand me; every place where I had lived up until that time was relatively safe. However, I rarely FELT safe. It wasn’t until I visited this large city, half way around the world, that I truly felt–deep down in my bones–that I was safe. It was such an astonishing feeling of peace.
Although I haven’t returned to Budapest, I will always remember that trip. If you want to visit a beautiful, old European city at a reasonable price, Budapest is for you! You’ll find friendly people, amazing food, marvelous scenery, and, hopefully, you’ll have a sense of safety and well-being like none you’ve ever experienced before!