In Hungary, March 15th is not just the Ides of March. It is a national holiday commemorating the start of the (unsuccessful) 1848 Revolution against Austrian rule.
We decided to go to spend the first day of our break in Budapest because I’d stumbled on a deal on a five star hotel in the castle district that we couldn’t resist.
We had no itinerary beyond checking into the hotel Wednesday evening and checking out early Friday morning. Sometimes just going with the flow while traveling results in the richest experiences. When I’m not intent on getting somewhere or seeing something, I find that I’ve already arrived and that there are interesting things all around me.
Maybe that’s true about life in general.
Unfortunately, Wednesday night I was struck by the worst migraine I’ve ever experienced. And I had no painkillers. And all the pharmacies were closed when we got to Budapest. And the hotel’s first aid kits didn’t contain any medicine. It was my own fault for not buying medicine before we left, but I laid awake wishing that I was anywhere in the U.S.–where hotels have vending machines with aspirin–instead of a European capitol city. After a miserable night, the headache faded to a dull throb. Jesse and I watched some Tom and Jerry in Hungarian and then ventured out to enjoy a beautiful spring morning. I once again appreciated how very lucky I am to be in Europe.
The hill was bustling with activity. Vendors were selling a mixture of handmade goods and cheesy tourist items. A lady offered me and Jesse red, white, and green ribbon pins for the holiday. We bought two. It was a good way to blend in with the crowd.
Children ran around gaily, many sporting construction paper hats and waving Hungarian flags they’d colored themselves. They were often accompanied by dogs who seemed to enjoy the holiday and the weather as much as the humans.
Although I expected all the museums to be closed, the National Gallery (containing exclusively Hungarian art) was actually open for free. I can never pass up a free museum, so Jesse and I perused all four floors.
We went to the Pest side of the Danube for lunch at an Indian restaurant. After lunch, I convinced Jesse to get off the metro at Parliament. We emerged from the metro station to find thousands of people gathered to listen to a speech.
I guessed that the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was speaking. (I couldn’t actually see any of the people gathered on the stage.) We mingled with the crowd. People cheered a few times, but the overall tone was fairly subdued. After the prime minister finished speaking, everybody sang a song. I understood that it was about Kossuth Lajos, a hero of the 1848 revolution.
Orbán is a controversial figure in Europe right now. Last year his political party pushed through a new constitution that the E.U. feels threatens democratic principals. Orbán’s government is mad at the E.U. for trying to push Hungary around. I guess many Hungarians are questioning Hungary’s E.U. membership. The salaries in Hungary are dramatically lower than in western Europe, and people feel as if Hungary is exploited. It’s a complicated situation, and there won’t be a resolution any time soon.
Given this political climate, I was fascinated to be among the 100,000 people gathered to hear the speech, even if I didn’t understand a word that was said. After the rally was over, Jesse and I literally went with the flow and walked across the iconic Chain Bridge surrounded by people waving Hungarian flags.
I guess the best way to experience a national holiday is in the capitol!