Monday, July 9, 2007

More About Budapest

Yesterday was the 650th anniversary of Karluv Moct (or Charles’ Bridge). All of us were really excited (how often do you see a 650th anniversary?), but we were kind of dissapointed. Although it was a huge festival and the bridge was completely packed, we didn’t really understand exactly what was going on. Today at 5:31 am was supposed to be the important time with fireworks etc, but we didn’t make it that long. We did see a bunch of horses though and a woman that was dressed like Xena warrior princess yelled something in Czech about how we needed to move and punched Robbie in the chest, but besides that, it was just too crowded. It seemed that everyone in Prague was in the city; it took a half hour to get across the bridge. So, instead of boring you about specifics on the bridge, I’ll tell another tale from our weekend trip to Budapest.
We decided we don’t like Budapest as much as we like Prague. The city is beautiful, but it is too spread out. Prague is great and big and it is very compact. We never take the metro. In Budapest, we would walk for an hour to find our next destination, and it got quite tiring. Nevertheless, we did see some beautiful and interesting things.
The Parliament in Budapest is amazing. It is probably one of the coolest structures I have ever seen in my life; we didn’t go inside, but the exterior was fulfilling enough. Gothic spires just amaze me and the color of the building is really unique.
We also visited, as mentioned before, St. Stephen’s Basilica. It not only had a great view, but also had an amazing interior. Everything was vaulted inside and there was a lot of gold and marble. The marble seemed to not be true marble; perhaps it was a marble coating over some other sort of material. Otherwise, this would have been a pretty pricey building to construct.
Of course, regardless of what the exact materials were, the Basilica had to have been a very expensive project. Although it was beautiful, and the great works of art inside and construction made one think of heaven, at the same time it made me a little upset. The amount of money that was needed could have helped those who were in true need; those who needed food and shelter or medical attention. I could imagine living in the 19th century and living on the streets when this huge building is being erected to spread the ideas of Christianity. It’s quite a dilemma; the beauty of the church and its spiritual benefits on one side against the material needs of the disinherited. Personally, I think the money could have been better used by helping those in need, but I understand the need to create such places of worship.
That’s enough criticism of the Catholic church for now... one of the most interesting aspects of the Basilica was its relic, which was the mummified hand of the first king of Hungary. It is so interesting to think that there is so much value and spiritual significance in the hand of a man that has been dead for almost a millennium.
As I’ve said before, Budapest is made out of Buda and Pest. On the Pest side, we visited a public garden that had a beautiful castle and some random modern art pillars. It was weird to look at an impressive structure and twenty feet away, some ugly 80's style artsy pillar thingies. We weren’t quite sure what they were, but they were awfully fun to climb.

There was also a carnival and a zoo, but since we have visited the zoo in Prague already and I still kind of feel sick from that carousel back at the shopping mall, we decided against it. There was also a beautiful spa in the public garden that is world renowned. It has huge ceilings and indoor and outdoor medicinal spas that are supposed to be great for your body. Unfortunately, we decided to go to a cheaper spa.
The spa we went to, Lukas, was on the Buda side. It was pretty close to our hostel, and at 1500 Florin, it was only about 8 bucks. We should have splurged at the nicer one. By far, we were the youngest people at the spa; it should have been called Geriatric Spa and Grill. Everyone seemed to be in their 60s and 70s. I didn’t mind, but it felt like we were out of place, and we seemed to be the only foreigners. Rather than a place to relax, it was the place to meet for the gray-haired Hungarians. It was definitely a unique experience to be surrounded by octogenarians in their speedos...
Speedos are very interesting. Obviously, they haven’t caught on much in the states, but they are the norm here in Europe. Social constructs in both regions have changed the idea of what is acceptable and what is not. Here, it is no surprise that a woman in her 90's can wear a two-piece or maybe even just a bottom. Swim trunks seem out of place with the men. Public nudity is also much more prevalent in Europe than in the United States. It makes you wonder why there are such huge differences and especially how breasts became so sexualized in the US. When men are allowed to walk around bare-chested, why do woman have to cover up even when going for a swim? Social constructs seemed to have grown to restrict the way people behave. It seems odd that they are so different between two parts of the “western” world. Both nations are predominately Christian, so it doesn’t follow that it has strong religious ties. I wonder if it is a result of advertising. Breasts are now used to sell things, and have become associated with sex. Eventually, this has resulted in covering up one’s body when it doesn’t naturally seem necessary. Wow, that was off topic, but back to social constructs. Body hair also seems to be something that was created in our heads as bad. It is 100% natural. And most women in Europe do shave their legs. But where does this come from? When was it decided that having smooth legs were beautiful? The way that society shapes mind-sets fascinates me, and I would love to know when the construct that body hair is unpleasant was created.
Traveling through Budapest was the first time I was in a foreign country without knowing a single word of the foreign language. I tried to learn a couple of phrases, but the language was too difficult, and I couldn’t even figure out how to pronounce thank-you. It is hard to be in a country and not have the ability to verbalize how you feel. Luckily, lots of things can be accomplished without words. It can be quite amusing to watch someone try to order food or buy something by pointing, grunting, shrugging, nodding, and smiling. It’s a lot of work, but most of these things are cross-cultural and can be used universally. Of course, this is not completely true; in some cultures, pointing can be quite rude, and I know in Bulgaria when you shake your head ‘no’ it means ‘yes’ and vice-versa. Luckily, this was not the case in Budapest and we were able to eat without offending people. However, we did discover one interesting difference in the counting system. When holding up 2 fingers, like if you wanted to waters or something, you are supposed to use your thumb as finger number one. Holding up your “peace” fingers is an insult in Hungary. So don’t wish Hungarians peace with your fingers. Instead, try to say this mouthful:
Öt török öt görögöt dögönyöz örökös örömök között.
“Five Turks are massaging [or beating up] five Greeks amid everlasting delights.”

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