I’ve been able to get out of the city a couple times so far, once on a class field trip and another on a short day trip just north of Budapest. When leaving Budapest, there’s a fairly clear and immediate infrastructural drop off. The road quality declines, the buildings become noticeably shabbier: it just appears as a country in which wealth is strongly centralized. We took the suburban train on the day trip, only at the border of Budapest proper the train tracks were under maintenance, which necessitated transferring to a replacement bus.
Szentendre was the closer of the two destinations, accessible by the aforementioned suburban train/replacement bus. It’s only about 20 km north of Budapest, but the opposite side of Budapest from where I live in southeast Pest, so it still took about 90 minutes to go door-to-door. It basically felt like the Hungarian version of the Black Hills, one of those inexplicable tourist destinations that arose in response to nothing more than geographic proximity. As such, it is overrun with tourists with little to do except walk from tiny kitschy jewelry shop to tiny overpriced knife shop. Also, our waitress was essentially Ursula from Mad About You.
The main theoretical attraction of Szentendre, beyond its location convenient to Budapest on the Danube, is that it is the historical center of the Serb minority in Budapest. As such, there are lots of Orthodox churches around the city. Besides the legacy of religious buildings, though, the Serb influence did not feel considerable.
Eger, our full class field trip destination, is outside of the Budapest metro area bubble, a couple hours east and slightly north in Northern Hungary. Eger falls in the foothills between the Great Hungarian Plain and the Mátra Mountains. Though “mountains” is a pretty strong term, since the highest point is less than 3000 feet.
Given that physical geography, it’s unsurprising that Eger is the core of Hungarian wine country. Eger is also historically significant for several sieges – the most important of which in 1552 essentially stopped the Ottoman advance in Europe and serves as a major Hungarian national sociohistorical touchstone. Eger was ultimately occupied in 1596 by the Ottomans and as such has the northernmost Turkish minaret in the world.
The main reason the town survived and the siege unsuccessful was due to the Castle of Eger, which was built in the 13th Century after the Mongol invasions destroyed the nearby castle at Várhegy. (Hegy means hill in Hungarian, one of the few things I’ve been able to retain thus far). It’s partially ruined because the Austrians blew part of it up in 1701 – I’m not sure if it’s as bad a circumstance as when the Venetians blew up the Parthenon because it was storing gunpowder inexplicably, but either way, it similarly exists today in only partial form.
Castle aside, Eger felt like a fairly typical smaller central European city, albeit one with a slight Turkish influence owing to its occupation from 1596 to 1687. I would guess that without the cultural significance that the battle in 1552 retroactively acquired as a symbol of Hungarian resistance to outside oppression, Eger would be rather more limited as a tourist destination itself as well.
Just as both a method for you and I to both know what’s coming, the following posts are in the theoretical pipeline, some suggested at other people’s urging:
- Legacy of Communism
- Retroactive post from my week in Vienna this past summer if I have a few weeks with little happening
I am entirely open to topic suggestions, so if there’s something that you might be curious about, please let me know and I’ll see if I can write anything coherent and possibly remotely interesting about it.