On the Road (day twenty)

June 14, 2008

By hammersmith

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.


Mary Beth Hutchinson (’07):

After an early morning stop at an internet cafe, Amy, Bobby and I make our way towards Parliament and our meeting with the Committee of Foreign Affairs. As we approach the building it becomes clear that barring one of us suddenly becoming a hero of the Hungarian nation, we are getting nowhere near Parliament. As we find out later, this day marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Imre Nagy, a leading figure in the ‘56 revolution. A huge commemoration surrounds the entrance to the building. Don’t you just hate when the remembrance of a figure beloved by millions delays your vacation plans? When the event ends and the VIPs filter out from behind the barricades and into waiting cars, our group can finally make it’s way into the building.

Point of Architecture: the Hungarian parliament building is strikingly beautiful. If you have never seen it, do a quick Google image search. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See what I mean? Where our capitol reaches back to Greece and Rome for rising columns and smooth marble, the Hungarians took the jutting spears and dizzying decoration of Gothic Europe. The inside proves just as stunning. Every surface is rich and plush in dusty jewel tones and gilding. After walking up a set of stairs that makes me feel like I need to be dressed in ball gown or better just to climb them, we come to the rotunda under the main dome. While the stained glass and dome are beautiful, the main attraction is undoubtedly the Crown of St. Stephen. Given to the Hungarian monarchy after its conversion to Christianity, it… well, crowns hundreds of crests across Hungary and Transylvania. It is so prevalent in that region, in fact, that I really could not tell you of any Romanian symbols I saw while there. Everything is painted, carved, or enameled with the Hungarian crest topped by the crown of St. Stephen. It is the ultimate symbol of Hungary. And there it is sitting on a velvet pillow.

Walking through the rest of Parliament, we pass a set of statues. The guide explains that every occupation in Hungary was represented with a statue and thus every citizen had representation in Parliament. I am sure they would have appreciated actual representation, but hey, you’ll take what you can get.

Eventually we make it to our meeting with the Committee of Foreign Affairs. The discussion ranges from energy security, to Hungarians abroad, to an absolutely humiliating tape where the government admitted that it had lied during the election. The discussion covers too much ground to be completely recounted here.

After a minor incident involving a large number of tourists walking unescorted through a major building of state, we return to the IIE office for a final reflection session on the trip. Afterward, Arielle, Ellen, Agi, and I walk through Budapest trawling for cookbooks and Hungarian music.

After a quick trip back to the hotel to change, we all head to the last dinner of the trip. Champagne glasses are raised and thanks said to IIE, speakers, Michael, Agi, and chaperones alike. The chaperones hand out awards of their own creation to students based on their own observations during the trip. The awards range from Narcolepsy Award to Unwilling Accomplice Award. Soon after, we fill our plates with Hungarian specialties and eat dinner. As dinner winds down, we finalize plans to spend one last night out in Budapest. Bobby turns twenty at midnight (give or take a time zone) and a group of us are resolved to celebrate. Three establishments, a soccer game, half a dozen hours, and the last of our forint later, the five of us left standing (Liz, Justin, Amy, myself, and, of course, Bobby) walk back to the hotel to snatch a few hours sleep before the flight back home.

Photo courtesy Mary Beth Hutchinson