Insights: news and views from the International Center

International Center

University of Missouri

Prague and Budapest

Filed in Blog, Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain by on March 24, 2014

I have no idea how to begin to describe my visits to Prague and Budapest. Seeing Eastern Europe’s unique culture was absolutely eye-opening.

When we landed in Prague, we were immediately shocked by the complicated language and currency. We exchanged twenties in euros for thousands of Czech koruna… it took some getting used to. We stayed at the perfectly located Old Prague hostel, where we met several other Americans and some French guys next door who ended up coming out with us that night. We ate a little restaurant close to our hostel where we had great traditional Czech goulash soup in a bread bowl. That night we checked out the bars, which were not your average European pubs. The cool thing about both Prague and Budapest is the cities have been built from underground up — beneath the streets are caves that have existed for centuries. What better way to utilize these underground taverns than to provide tunnels to hidden dance floors? There is none.

The next day we got up and set out on a free walking tour, led by a super enthusiastic Czech man named David (Dah-vid). And this is the day I fell in love. Not with our chipper tour guide, with Prague. The city was literally layered with history, with the architecture of each building unique to a different time period. We walked through the cobblestone streets and learned about exactly what happened where we stood — where guards used to stand to monitor the import/export of the market square, where the Jewish ghettos were during World War II, where people used to walk and kids used to play hundreds of years ago — I could just tell it all looked almost exactly the same. And it was beautiful. According to David, every part of Prague had a “legend.” He’d say in his thick accent, “Now if you want, I give you a legend….” And we’d all scoot closer like a bunch of wide-eyed kindergartners. We loved it.

IMG_7158

Looking at the St. Charles Bridge in Prague.

We started out in the beautiful Old Town Square, went in St. James’ Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter and then across St. Charles’ Bridge. The massive pedestrian bridge was awesome and historic, crowded with street performers, artists and vendors. And there were huge religious sculptures carved into its foundation along the way. Of course, each statue came with a legend and some body part we had to rub for good luck or safe travels or to make a wish, which we dutifully did.

From the bridge we went up to the Prague Castle, where we conveniently stumbled upon a special ceremony honoring the Czech Republic’s first president, since that day was his “name’s day” (Thomas). David explained to us that everyone has a “name’s day” and it’s celebrated almost like a birthday. Well, what we found ourselves at was a lot of people in uniforms in a procession up to the statue of Thomas outside the castle, and some serious speeches while someone else was protesting in the background with signs (everything in Czech obviously). After that was the marching and changing of the guards outside the castle gate, which was so legit and so cool (running out of words but that’s exactly what I’m trying to say, so…). Cheery David informed us that he had no idea we’d run into all this, and how lucky are we! So lucky, David, so lucky.

After the tour we grabbed some trdelniks — or, as we called them, cinnamon twisty things — and hot wine. I don’t know why this isn’t a thing in the States. Hot red wine sold on the streets with a hint of apple cider taste… unreal. Then we headed to the famous John Lennon Wall, covered with layers and layers of graffiti, messages and artwork. A guy played Beatles tunes on a guitar while we walked up and down the wall; it was a nice touch. Of course we had to sign it… and as I was going to sign my name, in the “P” of the word PEACE I saw something so small and wonderfully familiar — the Pi Beta Phi letters. I signed Mizzou Pi Beta Phi right next to it. All the way over in the Czech Republic I’m still connected to my sisters. I don’t know if it was that or the hot wine but I couldn’t help feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Mushy? Maybe, but it’s a great feeling and makes me miss all my friends back home.

IMG_7126

Found the Pi Beta Phi letters on the John Lennon Wall in Prague and added my own!

At the restaurant we went to that night, there actually weren’t any tables except for the other half of the one these American girls were using, so they ended up inviting us to sit with them. They were from all over the U.S. but were studying in Prague, and within 10 minutes we figured out about five people we knew in common. I can’t even describe how much smaller the world has gotten since studying abroad; it’s crazy. After that we went out with a friend we knew studying abroad in Prague, many of her friends and other random people from the hostel. There were two guys who we were hanging out with, Chris and Wes, who had been backpacking around Europe for months and were just in Prague for the week, and they were thinking about heading to Budapest the next day. We suggested they stay at the same hostel as us and we talked about how we hoped we’d see them there… more on that later. So we made some friends. Last thing about Prague — Burrito Loco after-hours. Imagine Chipotle but fatter, cheaper and for the first time in months. One word: yes.

The next morning is when we woke up to my friend Charlie’s way-too-calm voice stating, “You guys, it’s 8.” Missed the bus. Oops. I was pretty impressed with our group’s reaction time. We packed up, looked up options, checked out of the hostel, found the train station, walked there, bought tickets, hopped on and took off for Budapest within an hour of waking up. We stayed at Wombats Hostel in Budapest, which was definitely the coolest one I’ve ever stayed at and probably ever will. It was extremely nice with a cool looking lobby and clean, comfortable rooms. We immediately found our other Alicante friends we were planning to meet, so Saturday night we were, as the kids say, rolling deep. And we had a plan — to check out these infamous Budapest bath houses. We went to a bath house party, which we were all extremely skeptical about but somehow not enough to keep us from going. Budapest is known for it’s huge production of naturally heated water, so there are all kinds of baths/spas throughout the city. The bath that we went to was like spring break pool party but European men/laser show edition. It was interesting. Glad we went, but I definitely showered the second I got back to the hostel.

After our stellar experience with David in Prague, we decided to go for a free tour of Budapest. Our tour guide this time was Zsushi, a Hungarian woman who showed us around. Budapest is more recently out of communism and to me it gives it kind of an edge. What you see in Budapest isn’t like peering into the deep history like you would in Rome or parts of Spain, it’s a reflection of post-communistic life and recent turmoil. There were still buildings being reconstructed from after the war, still one government building we passed absolutely covered in bullet holes that was in the middle of being torn down. Now, of course, there’re parts of Budapest that are modern and urbanized, but not all. Even the nightlife reflected it — like the cave bars in Prague, Budapest had “ruins bars,” built inside the ruins of old buildings. Pretty cool if you ask me.

IMG_7290

Our view looking over Buda and Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion at the end of our walking tour.

Our tour headed over the bridge from the Pest side to the Buda side and up to the government buildings and the area that overlooked all of Pest. I didn’t know before that the city was split up into two parts — Buda is hilly, beautiful, and where the rich people live, and Pest is flat, more city-like and where all the fun is. My favorite part was the Fisherman’s Bastion, the castle-like terrace with big towers and a panoramic view of the city. It was like something out of a Disney movie. The tour ended there and we were free to walk around and enjoy the scenery. Right as Zsushi was wrapping up, we heard some familiar voices from behind. And, of course, Wes and Chris from Prague were right there in the middle of Budapest! Like I said, such a small world.

We were with Wes and Chris all that night and ended up spending a lot of time at the hostel meeting people before going out. It’s hilarious how quickly our “group” expands. Suddenly we were leaving the hostel with a ton of Norwegian people and plenty of other new friends as if we’d known them for years. It was great.

The next morning we said adios to our new friends, who are now seriously considering coming to Alicante during their backpacking adventures once they hit Spain. That weekend felt like a lifetime — and it was definitely my favorite trip so far. Eastern Europe was just so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The languages were insane, the architecture was phenomenal and the currency was incomprehensible. We used to joke that euros are like “monopoly money.” Not even close compared to this currency, I came back with literally thousands of Hungarian forint and Czech koruna, which equate to about 10 euros. Imagine what our bills looked like at dinner!

So after all that I had a few days to go to class and catch my breath before heading to Ireland the next weekend. Have I mentioned how much I love studying abroad?

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Lorna says:

    Your photo overlooking Buda and Pest is one of the most breathtaking photos I have seen. Please keep this in mind for the photo contest. What an amazing adventure you are having. Thank you for sharing. Plus, I have a new screen saver from the Fisherman’s Bastion