“It’s the Paris of the…” How many of the world’s cities describe themselves in comparison to Paris. You hear it all the time. The love for Paris, the city itself as opposed to some Parisians, seems to be a universal feeling. After all, it’s not like you’re going to hear that so-and-so city is “the Athens of…” (Yeah, there I go, dissing on Athens again). There’s Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America; Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East. Heck, even Philadelphia modeled the Parkway after the Champs Elysée.
Which brings me to Budapest, the Paris of Eastern Europe.
Budapest is a beautiful, fascinating city that is still emerging from the grip of the iron curtain. Amid many beautiful structures are dilapidated buildings badly in need of renovation and some that really need a good scrubbing.
In a country that has consistently chosen the wrong side of history when it comes to geopolitical divisions and actual wars still has an undercurrent of post-communism skepticism. But you will also find many friendly people glad to not have to be watching over their shoulder. With an election two months away, politics is on the minds of many who hope that things will continue to improve. This is not the strongest economy, for sure. Of the former eastern-bloc cities I’ve visited (Prague, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Bratislava), I’d have to put Prague at the front of the list as to the cities that, at least on the surface, have made the most progress in the post-communist era.
One thing in common is that the former Jewish Quarters have become the most lively areas. After the Jews were moved to the ghettos and the areas were neglected during communist rule, these areas are not being renovated by artists and hipsters. One of the unique features of Budapest are the “ruin pubs.” These pubs were opened in abandoned tenements that no one claimed. Many are huge and filled with flea market items, tables and chairs, and cheap drinks. The oldest is Szimpla Kert, and is a must-visit.