Goodbye Budapest!



This trip has been a memorable time for us. Although Hungary is not a destination that comes to mind when thinking of Europe, it exceeded expectations and charmed us with its unique culture.

Culture, history, architecture, and lots more made the trip a great learning experience as well as a bonding experience.

YMGE immersed us into the world of European governance and the changing political landscape in the 21st century. Kalliope and Zoltán introduced us to the fascinating history and culture of Hungary and its capital, Budapest. The Butterfly Home and the Corinthia, as well as the Hungarians we have met, treated us with their generous hospitality. Overall, every minute of the trip was well spent and we are all waiting for to go back!


Final Day: Awards, Castle Hill, and Christmas Market



YMGE closing ceremonies were held first thing in the morning and delegates were recognized and awarded for exceptional performance while acting as politicians and policy-makers. Mia Wright (’17), as the French Minister of Environment, and Jonathan Tennies (’18), the Finnish Minister of Energy, were recognized and won awards.

We took a trip to Heroes’ Square, where Hungary’s historical figures are honored.

Very close to the Square is Budapest’s Széchenyi thermal baths. Hungary was first introduced to bath and spa culture when the Ottoman Turks conquered the area. Luckily, for Budapest, natural heated spring water was plentiful and provided the spas and baths with pools.

The gang returned to Castle Hill where we visited on Day 1 and took the funicular railway up to the Buda Castle. The former home of the monarchs is an art and history museum today. We saw art forms from the different centuries of Hungarian history, from medieval reliefs and Renaissance-era stills to 19th century impressionism and modern-day photography.

The day concluded with a scenic ride on the Budapest Eye ferris wheel and the Christmas Market. The whole city of Budapest had begun to decorate the streets with lights and small shops and stalls were set up. Accordingly, we went shopping for souvenirs and ate traditional street food — a great way to conclude our trip!

Day 4 – 6: Budapest Culture and YMGE

Days 4 through 6 are the days we participated in Yale Model Government Europe (YMGE) at the Corinthia Hotel. These three days will be condensed into one post.

11/26: National Museum and YMGE at the Corinthia

A short walk from the Butterfly Home is the Hungarian National Museum. All of Hungary’s history is under one roof, pre-history to post-soviet. Unfortunately, after a confrontation with museum staff, I learned that photos were prohibited without permits so photos in this post are limited. But nevertheless, we learned a lot more on the origins of the Magyars from the Russian Steppes, the 1956 revolt, as well as other important aspects of Hungarian history.

After moving to the Corinthia, Budapest’s premier hotel, we had opening ceremonies and started YMGE committee sessions. The roles the Pace delegation represented included Spain in NATO, EU Ministers, and MPs of the British Houses.

We also enjoyed a varied and eclectic dinner non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the New York Cafe, “the most beautiful cafe in the world,” a late 19th-century literary gathering spot with a mixture of lavish classical, baroque, and rococo decorations.

11/27: Parliament and more YMGE

YMGE committees did not begin until noon so we took this opportunity to visit the Hungarian Parliament Building. The structure is the tallest in the city of Budapest and features prominent neoGothic styling. Not only does its grandiose interior serve the purpose as the legislative hub for Hungary’s unicameral parliament, but also it houses the Crown of Saint Stephen with its a distinctively bent cross  from the founding of Hungary more than a millenium ago.

YMGE committees sessions followed soon after, and delegates passed resolutions and directives as they faced a simulated crisis scenario.

Dinner was eaten at a hip, reinvigorated cluster of eateries, known as “ruin pubs.” They are part of a revitalization of Budapest’s aging structures.

11/28: Last Sessions at YMGE, Budapest Festival Orchestra

YMGE committees made their final resolutions and directives and had accomplished a good deal of work. Research and preparation had given the Pace delegations a glimpse into the international politics and issues of today and the complexities of legislative debate and procedure. One of the best parts of YMGE was that many Pace delegates were able to make friends from Europe and around the world.

Aftr the last session concluded, the Pace delegates attended a concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra who performed Baroque music by 17th-century composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.




Day 3: Jewish Budapest


We met Zoltán today to explore the Jewish quarter of Budapest. The Jews have been in Budapest for most of its history and have shaped the city in terms of culture and its identity.

Zoltan started with introducing us to former Jewish living quarters in an area characterized by courtyard houses, closed blocks of houses which open to courtyards, gardens, and communal space such as the shared well.  These neighborhoods and ghettos were a glimpse into the intimate communities of Jews who live in these conditions.

We visited a full spectrum of synagogues. We first entered an empty Conservative synagogue in a neglected state but which still reveals the structure of worship and the preservation efforts of the community.  Then we visited an Orthodox synagogue, recently restored and ornately decorated with traditional symbolism and, unlike the first, fully furnished in traditional fashion with the bema in the center.   We then visited the Synagogue on Dohany Street, the largest Synagogue in Europe,  which is Reformed. It’s interior layout was different from the more Conservative and Orthodox structures, and the structure resembled a Catholic church (its architect was Catholic).  The two most famous names connected with the Synagogue are Theodore Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat whose courage and audacity saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jewish lives.

The neglect and the physical destruction of Jewish life reflected increasing Hungarian anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s, with the rebuilt wall of the Jewish Ghetto a reminder of the 1940s  collaboration with the Germans in enforcing anti-Jewish laws,  then the extermination, and finally of Hungary by Nazi Germany.

We took time to remember the lives lost in the Holocaust at the Holocaust Memorial Center, with its chronology “from deprivation of rights to destruction” of  Hungarian Jews, who may have faced the harshest treatment during Germany’s rule. Hungary was infamously known for “eagerly” sending Jewish, Gypsy, and homosexual Hungarians to concentration camps and was even told by German authorities to “slow down.”

The day came to a close with the Hungarian State Opera where we watched Madame Butterfly. This was the first opera for many of us and despite using questionable and stereotypical depictions, the opera was still entertaining.


Day 2: Communism in Budapest (and more…)


As we finished our breakfast, a tall man with a beard walked in and introduced himself as Zoltán. He was a native of Budapest, like Kalliope, and lived through communism in Hungary. He described himself as “too old to lie,” referring to his non-sugar-coated tours, free of scripted and glorified “facts” (he willingly criticized the current government).

We spent the first part of the day in Memento Park, located just outside of the city. The outdoor museum housed many Soviet relics that once studded the city of Budapest. The first statue (or part of a statue) was the remnants of a Stalin monument. Hungarians, during the Revolution of 1956, attempted to topple the statue in defiance of the communist rule. Many of the statues, plaques, and pieces of art reflected the Soviet propaganda: uniformity, glorification of the proletariat, and a constant war mentality.

Then back in the city, we saw the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial for Jewish Hungarians executed at the bank of the Danube and pushed into the water by the Hungarian Arrow Cross.

Next was the Parliament Building, the third most largest Parliament building in the world. There, Zoltán pointed out the flag of Transylvania, land that once belonged to Hungary and is today a sore point in Hungarian politics because of extreme nationalist pressure to recover the lost territories.  We then toured the Liberty Square area,  which included a nuclear shelter, the American embassy, and Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings. Also at Liberty Square was a controversial World War II memorial seen by critics as an attempt to absolve Hungary of responsibility for collaboration with Nazi Germany and erected in 2014 by Orban’s government.

After a very satisfying lunch, we then proceeded to Saint Stephen’s Basilica, named for Hungary’s first king who converted Hungary to Christianity.

We then ended the day with an elegant dinner accompanied by live gypsy music at a traditional Hungarian restaurant .