Sadly, we only visited your flagship city, Budapest. We’ve heard for years about how incredible and reasonable Budapest is and it did not disappoint. Two cities – Buda and Pest (pronounced “Pesht”) – come together along Europe’s beautiful Danube. We stayed on the Pest side along Andrassy Street, which is the Hungarian Champs Elysee. Some refer to Budapest as the Paris of the Baltics and we can see why. Your beautiful architecture can stand side by side with all of Europe. Stunning churches, synagogues and palaces are all within eyesight. Unfortunately, and beyond my immediate comprehension, it has been so difficult for you to keep up with your maintenance obligations and disrepair, neglect and vandalism were as frequently noticed as the distinct details that make so many of your buildings beautiful. The construction cranes of Munich and Berlin were notably absent.
What might be worth exploring further is how cities like Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava grow in this new economy driven by the quality of place and technology. It seems on the surface that these three cities should be Central European and global leaders in something, yet they all seem to struggle outside of tourism. My hometown of Oklahoma City, like these three, is a challenger city. Oklahoma City is not widely touted as one of the great American cities (yet) but it has potential because of a variety of natural resources, friendly people and an underdog spirit which speeds up economic and social growth. We certainly felt the energy of a bright future in Budapest. However, on a tour, we were told of so many of your socio-economic challenges, like “we (Hungary) always seem to choose the wrong allies in times of change.” We also learned your country of 10 million people has lost 10 percent of its population in the past decade, partially due to the ease of travel and access to education for citizens of the European Union. In the U.S. we hear a lot about the Brit’s troubles with the E.U., but here in Hungary, we saw real-life examples of unintended consequences. The talented and educated are leaving and that is a major issue. These problems are hard for me to understand since you have so much going for you – natural beauty, centrally located, low cost of living and labor. Certainly the government could be blamed but where is the private sector leadership? Your situation reeks of the need for strong leaders and capital investment. Capital flows to where rules are clear and regulations are reasonable. This isn’t rocket science.
Perhaps a few things to share on the lighter side of things:
- We loved your soups, breads and goulash. I did not realize that paprika was so versatile.
- It was so very hot in Budapest during our stay. Next time, we will come when the weather is a bit milder.
- The baths at Szechenyi were crowded and similar to Encore Beach Club at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Turns out it was copied.
We enjoyed our time in Budapest and we hope to return sometime in the future. As we have traveled through Rome, Milan, Geneva, Munich, Berlin and Athens, it occurs to me that those cities will be just fine. For Budapest, I am cheering for you. Your future isn’t as clear to me. Will you be world class or just the best city in Hungary? How can we help?
Viszontlátásra (“good-bye” in Hungarian),