Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Osijek, Croatia. 7-8 June 2010

On the morning of the 7th I took a train over the border to a Croatian town called Osijek, off the beaten path but nonetheless interesting and full of history. In 1991, the Yugoslav-Serb forces surrounded the town and put it under a nine-month seige, and the town remained in the front lines throughout the war. You can still see evidence of this in the multiple shell and bullet holes in buildings throughout the city.

I went down a side street because I saw this beautiful building from afar. Upon closer inspection, it was covered in shell and bullet holes.

A kid, Ivan, gave us a tour of the town. He was 11 when the war began, and is one of the few people who are more than happy to talk about it and have moderate views. Later that night we talked after everyone else had gone to bed and he said that at the time, he was really nationalistic, really angry because all he knew was his life was being turned upside-down and his dad had to go to the trenches. But now he recongnizes that the war was more in shades of gray, that both (in fact, all, international forces included) were party to atrocities. He thought that communication between ethnicities would go a long way toward peaceful coexistance. He told me an example of this, how throughout Croatia they use these 'Hepo' cubes to help light fires. Everyone pronounces it like you probably just read it, kind of like 'hippo.' But these cubes are made in Serbia, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Read in Cyrillic, it's pronounced 'Nero,' like the emperor. But no one in Croatia had ever talked to a Serb or even realized it was in a different alphabet. His friends are still amazed when he corrects their pronounciation. He says it's like an epiphany.

The next day my fellow travelers took a canoe (sp?) trip. It was a bit expensive and not really my cup of tea, so I stayed back and wandered around town for a few hours. I started off in the daily Central Market, a huge farmers market with fresh produce and some clothes. Then I wandered around, through the underground mall and all around town. I did a bit of shopping-clothes are much cheaper here- and then managed to get myself lost for a good hour and a half in this tiny town. Go figure.

Welcome to Budapest! 4-6 June 2010

I arrived somewhat late to my hotel in Budapest after dealing with lost luggage and navigating stand-still traffic for a few hours. Despite the complications, I didn't really care. I was just happy to be there! Budapest was a beautiful city, and I booked my first night there at the Marriott, overlooking the Danube with a great view across the river. I walked around for a few hours that evening, crossing the Chain Bridge, walking past the Parliament Building, and eventually found my way to St. Stephen's Basilica.

Outside the Basilica was a rally marking the 90th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, which divided Hungary into a smaller state following the end of WWI. I was first a bit nervous because there were a disproportionate amount of white, mustachioed, camo-wearing men than I'm used to. But since it was part of a mass going on in the Basilica, I'm pretty sure it was legit.

The next day, I grabbed an amazing hotel breakfast on the patio overlooking the river, then transferred to my cheaper hotel... sad!! I then went to the House of Terror, located on 62 Andrassy Avenue, and the former headquarters of both the Nazi and Communist regimes. Today it is a museum and monument to the victims of both regimes. The basement, used in the past as a prison, torture chamber, and execution hall, was also open to visitors.

Wall of Victims, House of Terror

I then continued down Andrassy and ran into a street festival full of different foods, wines, beers, crafts, and art projects. It was a really interesting way for me to see a lot of Hungarian culture all at once, and culture packaged for Hungarian consumption, not for foreigners. I saved all the climbing for my last day in Budapest. I crossed over to Buda on the opposite side of the river and climbed up Castle Hill, a really old part of town complete with tiny, cobble-stoned streets.
View of Pest from Castle Hill

I spent a few hours there, then went back for a proper visit to St. Stephen's and visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, the oldest in Europe.