Eastward Bound: Midnight Trains to Budapest

By: Aimelie Moen, BA, 2014-18

Go beyond the West and explore the explosive past of Eastern Europe with a simple change of trains. On a midnight train leaving from Milano Centrale, hop onto a sleeping coach as the train pulls away from the some ancient Roman history and heads into the center of Europe.

The princess city, Vienna, Austria. Artist central with odes to Beethoven, Sisi, Schiele, and Klimt. Remnants of the old empire shining in the Belle Epoque elements sprinkled around the city—gilt doors, swirling sculpted gates, lace curtains hiding mysteries beyond. Imperial Vienna offers a luxurious escape with modern lounges, edgy exhibits in world class museums, and all the international brands. Vienna is posh and, like the Swarovski museum at Kärntner Str. 24, sparkles as a brilliant cut gem. But go in and discover the wearied and war-stained heart of Eastern Europe: Budapest, Hungary.

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The glamour of the imperial city disappears behind as the train chugs forward into the Eastern front. Cities become suburbs, and the structure unravels into tiny villages that dot the hillside until their medieval ruins transform into the glittering lights of the Magyar civilization. Pearl of the Danube, Budapest. Spend your days walking the streets of Pest, on the eastern bank, and discover the little book shops and pastry stores called cukrászda, and try a bite of sweet flódni with some hot coffee. Visit the Centrál Kávéház in District VIII at Károlyi Utca 9 to have a glass of their Árkádia, a bitter coffee with cinnamon, whipped cream, and honey swirled into its strong flavors, paired perfectly with the salted edge of bundás kenyér, the coffee house’s traditional Hungarian egg bread.

With a sweet taste in your mouth, head into the heavy history of the former-Soviet stronghold, whose memories of terrorism perfume this otherwise medieval city. The House of Terror on famous Andrássy Utca showcases the reign of terror the city and country have felt, with scenes of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin parading on the street outside with the former prison proudly standing. This history was not forgotten, and with the remembrance of all those who have lost so much—friends, family, and freedoms—from dictators and hatred, make the best of the freedoms of today in District VII at one of the notorious ruined bars of Budapest.

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The ruined bar of Szimpla Kert erects itself in one of the many dilapidated palaces of Budapest. Its wearied walls somehow stand inspire of generations of war, with glass bottles and broken panes coloring cobbled streets. Where ideals have destroyed past nations, Szimpla takes these broken stones and has crafted a fantastic open area bar and welcomed all with a strong glass of pálinka or a bottle of bikáver—bull’s blood.

After a crisp night out, soak up the heat in the celebrated thermal baths of Hotel Gellért with a view on Buda Hill or the Széchenyi Baths by Heroe’s Square. Turkish spa rituals seep into your skin and all woes from yesterday melt away into the naturally heated waters of the Danube. This spicy pearl has been yours just a week, but the city’s charm is endlessly beguiling and will call you back, always, for just one day more.

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