From the banks of the Danube to the Vltava

It’s a wild moment when you realize you’re eating Mexican food in Budapest with other American students studying abroad in Copenhagen, but that is a moment that captures last week so well. This past week I traveled with my Urban Studies class to Vienna and Budapest, and then went on to Prague for the weekend with friends. We were studying new urban developments in the city as well as the ways in which gentrification was affecting old housing stock, and also had ample free time to explore the cities we were in. I ate so much good food and laughed so much with my classmates that it’s hard to wrap it all up in a single blog post, but I’ll try as best as possible!

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna

Interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest

View from Budapest from the top of the Basilica (can you tell I miss giving tours? 😂)

The bronze shoe memorial for Hungarian Jews killed on the banks of the Danube (left), and the interior of the synagogue at the Budapest Holocaust Memorial (right)

I find that I love visiting sacred spaces and monuments in the cities that I visit. For many European cities, the churches they built throughout history were meant to be as spectacular as possible to show off their wealth and what made that city desirable. The central churches in Vienna and Budapest are both named by St. Stephen, and both were breathtaking. At St. Stephens in Budapest, we were able to climb to the top of the church to get a view of the city from above. Budapest, a city with a rich Jewish history, had multiple synagogues that we had the opportunity to visit. One of our tours brought us around the Great Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue in Europe. We had some time to visit and reflect in the synagogue at the Holocaust memorial to the south of the city, which was a particularly humbling moment. The Holocaust hit Hungary hard due to its substantial Jewish population, due to both the Nazi regime and the anti-Semitic fascist regime in Hungary. It’s a very humbling reminder about our history and to be critical of what’s going on in our politics today.

Vienna streetcar stop (left), sign in first Budapest metro line (top right), modern Budapest metro station (bottom right)

Class bike tour to historic sites in Budapest

My classmates and I were so excited by all of the public transit (yes we’re nerds, deal with it) and took advantage of the transportation pass provided to us by DIS to explore the streetcar and metro systems in Vienna and Budapest. My friends and I debated which streetcar to take at which stop for a bit before finally getting on and having a bit of a wild ride as the streetcar took the corner too quickly. On the trip from our hotel to the other side of the Danube River to visit the historic baths, we took three different metro lines. The first line we took was the first electrified metro line in continental Europe (with the only older line in the world being in London), the second a more Soviet-era line, and the third a very modern line: it was so cool passing through three eras of history in a single trip. Some of my classmates also had the chance to take a bike tour through the city, while the rest of us (including me since I’m too clumsy to ride a bike), documented various sites by foot and metro.

View of the Prague Castle and city from Charles Bridge

The Communist Museum of Prague

Since our program in Budapest ended on Thursday, a few of us decided to go to Prague for the next two days since it wasn’t far from Budapest. We took a bus there and got to check Slovakia off of our country count list since our bus stopped there (and we have a selfie with the snapfilter to prove it) and ended up in Prague at night. Prague is a beautiful city, with lots of small, winding cobblestone steets that seemed to evade my usually strong sense of direction. I am very happy I visited but we were a little too hot and tired after the sheer number of walking tours in the previous two cities to keep up with pushing through the mobs of tourist groups on the tight streets. I lost count of how many tourists were wearing shirts with a large Levi’s logo on them, which is a mystery that remains to be solved even after a few Google searches. One of the highlights of Prague was the local delicacy of trdelnik (chimney cakes) which were dusted with cinnamon sugar and full of either Nutella, ice cream, or fruit. Another highlight was the Communist Museum, which described the communist regime in former Czechoslovakia and the particularly brutal role of the USSR.

Flights were incredibly expensive from Prague back to Copenhagen, so we decided to go for a 15 hour bus ride to take us back home. It was exhausting to say the least, but it gave us some wonderful bonding time waiting for our connection at the Berlin bus stop that I wouldn’t have traded for a full night of sleep.

Grateful to some wonderful friends and classmates along for the ride (ESPECIALLY the 15 hour one)!

It hit me on the train ride from Vienna to Budapest that I was crossing over what used to be the Iron Curtain, and exploring parts of the world that I had only been able to read about before and never imagined I would be able to see at this point in my life. The class related travel was one of the things that really drew me to be a part of DIS, and I’m grateful to have this experience with people who make me laugh until I cry, for conversations with my professor about the West Wing over dinner, and talk about everything and anything and come from all different backgrounds and interests but in some way care about cities and how to make them work better for everyone.

One of the many beautiful views of Budapest: not pictured is all of the laughter and banter going on right behind me between a group of tired but happy classmates 🙂

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