Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Ben Sanchez (’09)
Boldog születésnapot! As a child, I hated having a summer birthday since it meant I never could celebrate with my peers at school. The advantage, though, was having the privilege of celebrating my nineteenth birthday in Hungary. (The opening is Hungarian for Happy Birthday, if you hadn’t already guessed).
The day began as most seem to begin: an extension of the night before. I had returned with part of the group to a place called Szimpla in the central part of Budapest. Szimpla is essentially a huge courtyard with has been converted into a social gathering. I really enjoyed Szimpla because it reminded me of a place that used to exist in Phoenix called The Monastery.
In fact, I have repeatedly been surprised at how many times I’ve been reminded of home in a place halfway around the world. I’m not saying I miss home, but there just seem to be a lot of things that people like and enjoy all around the world regardless of place and culture. Anyways, after spending a while at Szimpla, I continued with about half the group to a dance club on the banks of the Danube to continue the celebration. When the sun started to peek over the horizon we decided it was time we return to the hotel to get a couple hours of sleep before the next days activities.
Most days two hours of sleep leads to a rough morning. Luckily, we visited the Széchenyi Medicinal Thermal baths today. The Széchenyi baths were in the city park just north of our hotel and we met as a group at the entrance at nine. We first had a presentation from Ádám Ruszinkó, who worked with the Hungarian Office of Tourism and specialized in thermal-bath tourism. He described the prevalence of baths across the country and the culture associated with them. I was surprised at how integrated into their culture thermal baths are. There is a widespread belief in Hungary that thermal bathing is a major contributor to overall health and as such, many of the bath’s services can be charged to an insurance company or prescribed by a medical doctor.
After the discussion on baths, we received a tour of the building and saw three large pools as well as 35 different thermal baths that had varying temperatures and mineral contents. We quickly moved to the baths when our tour ended. We tried pretty much all of the saunas and mineral baths as well as all of the pools in our two hours at the baths. It was extremely relaxing after a very late night. The baths were quite busy with mostly Hungarians, which reinforced what Mr. Ruszinkó had told us about how culturally important the baths were.
We began our journey to the last town we would visit in Hungary before Romania after a great morning. While the baths were relaxing, I was still really tired and slept the entire trip from Budapest to Szeged. We arrived in Szeged just before 6 pm and met our guide Panka. She gave us an informal tour of the city as we walked to the restaurant for our group dinner. Szeged, like Budapest, is a city on a river (but it sits on the Tisza rather the Danube). The city has a history of being flooded by a river and we could tell why: as we crossed the bridge over the river we saw that the rain from the last few days had caused the river to flood over a street that ran next to the river. The city has built defenses, so no actual buildings are damaged, but it was still interesting to see just the top few inches of a traffic sign.
We had dinner near the main pedestrian area of the city and the chaperones kindly surprised me with a cake at the end of dinner. While I was surprised by the cake, I was even more surprised that the entire group had at some point in the day learned how to sing Happy Birthday in Hungarian. I barely have time to sleep, but they have time to learn a song in Hungarian.
All in all, it was a great birthday. I didn’t spend it with my family or at home, but I enjoyed every minute of and have enjoyed the opportunity to spend it with my Scholars class, whom I seem to get closer with every day.