The Blue Danube

I know the classical piece “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II backward and forward. However, when I arrived in Budapest and saw the famous river for the first time, it was anything but the blue hue I dreamt about.

Budapest never came to mind as a place I imagined myself visiting, let alone living in to study abroad for five weeks. When I thought about traveling around the world, big cities such as London, Paris or Rome filled my brain. I envisioned myself walking down the Champs-Elysees, not gliding across the Danube river. My sister, who traveled here last summer for a week, told me that Budapest was the most beautiful city she ever visited, and that I wouldn’t be disappointed with what the Hungarian capital offered.

I felt like I went through the motions of traveling from Prague to Budapest. Our time in Hungary began by sitting in a broken-down, stale-air train for nine hours with limited sandwich options from a food cart staffed by an angry attendant. I crawled out of our train cabin, dragging a 50 pound suitcase behind me.

To say that my new travel friends and I felt exhausted was an understatement. We climbed aboard an air-conditioned bus (thank goodness) and made our way to our new home of five weeks.

Riding through the city, I felt hesitant. I didn’t know what this country would present me. Would it show me beautiful 19th century architecture and stunning views? Would Budapest defy my doubts and surprise me with the best time of my life? The only way I could find the answers was to experience the city for myself.

Tram No. 2

It wasn’t until we traveled in the yellow and white tram on the No. 2 route, known as one of the most beautiful and scenic routes in all of the world, that I forgot all my worries and doubts. The sights of the Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and the seemingly blueish-gray Danube river made me wonder why I ever questioned studying in Budapest.

Sitting in my velvet-covered seat, with a light summer breeze coming through an open window beside me as I took pictures with my Canon T6i, I finally felt content about my decision to study abroad in this beautiful city.

However, I didn’t feel at home in Budapest until the last stop on our short ride from Corvinus University, our educational abode for the “study” portion of our study abroad program. Just five stops away, right alongside the Danube River, proudly stands the Hungarian Parliament Building. Built in the 19th century, the white stone and burgundy dome welcomed me graciously.

Careful carvings embellished the structure with coats of arms and historical figures of Hungary’s past. Waving in the slight wind from a metal pole hung the Hungarian flag, with three horizontal stripes of red, white and green. At 96 meters and towering spires adorning it, the building forced my gaze toward the sky, causing me to squint my eyes and smile at the strength and magnificence of its construction.

Belonging

If the splendor of Parliament wasn’t enough, a string quartet prepared to play a small concert for visitors at the base of the building. Rows of white plastic chairs awaited those who wanted to hear the group of two violins, a viola and a cello play music to accompany the sights.

Courtney, Olivia and I sat in the first row, right in front of the music group. Because I’ve played the violin since I was 10, I couldn’t hide my excitement or my ear-to-ear grin. But after sitting patiently and anxiously for about half an hour, our anticipation turned to impatience, and we sadly walked back to our tram stop while the artists took their break.

We ended up back in the Parliament Square, and the quartet finally stopped stringing us along. I raced back to the white plastic chairs, eager to hear something I recognized. The group then played “Hungarian Dances” by Johannes Brahms and I took a moment to close my eyes.

Visions of a different time filled my imagination, as the square suddenly filled with people dressed in morning coats, white gloves and Victorian-age gowns. Couples waltzed to the music as they floated together on the cobblestone pavement. Even though this image only graced my mind, I knew then Budapest instantly became my new home. I belong now.  

It’s funny how hearing one piece of music can transport you back to a time you have never lived. I have never waltzed in a lace dress with a dashing man wearing a black satin coat and crisp gloves, but somehow feeling the history of Budapest made me feel at home.

Maybe it was hearing the bow glide along the violin’s four strings, a feeling very familiar to me, that changed my attitude about my new home. Perhaps it was the company of my adventure-hungry friends who helped me feel comfortable in this far-off place.

Whatever it was, I’m grateful for it. Budapest now has my heart forever. I’m settled into a city I never imagined myself visiting.