Posts Tagged With: Communism

Budapest’s Memento Park

Budapest continues to impress.  As we mentioned before, we wish we could spend more time here, realizing we cannot possible see and do everything on our list.  During our last full day with our friends, Gina and Tom, we managed to balance seeing some interesting sights with spending quality time together.  It was a really great day!

We began our morning by heading to Memento Park, the new home to communist-era statues which formerly filled the streets and city center of Budapest.  When the iron curtain fell, so did the many of the monuments which had been erected by the former dictatorship.  Great debate ensued among the people of the city about whether they should destroy these reminders of their terrorized history, or if they should use them as memorials of an important piece of their past.  They decided on the latter and created Memento Park.  Originally, we thought this would be a sort of “statue graveyard” for these communist era relics.  On the contrary, great thought and consideration was put into the design and organization of this museum.  I call it a museum, because that is a much more accurate term than park for this collection of sculptures.  Our tour guide led us between the statues, discussing their historic significance and their importance in perpetuating communist ideology.  Along with the standard statues of Lenin and Marx are the bronzed boots of Joseph Stalin.  His mammoth likeness was actually torn down by the people during the 1956 revolution against the Soviets.  Stalin’s statue was cut at the knees and torn into bits by the people.  All that remained on the pedestal were his boots, and although the revolution failed, the rest of his body was never replaced.  One statue we found particularly captivating was that of the “Liberating Soviet Soldier.” It stood atop a 7 meter high platform on a hill which overlooks the city.  Its mammoth size is intimidating, especially imagining it in its original environment.  This was also knocked down in the 1956 revolution, but unlike Stalin, this statue was quickly replaced with an exact replica in 1958.  After all, the city could not be left without the protection of this Soviet soldier!

The guided tour fascinated each of us and we left with a much greater understanding of Hungarian history and the nuances of life under a communist regime.  The museum also had an indoor photography exhibit chronicling the rise, reign and fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe.  This part of the museum featured training tapes of the secret police.  More than 100 training and feature films were produced between 1958 and 1988 which trained secret police in state defense methods.  In 2004, these tapes were edited into short documentaries showing the methods used to spy on “traitors”, and their recruitment methods.  I was particularly surprised to learn how many agents of the secret police were forced or blackmailed into service.  I could have easily sat and watched these films all day.  They offer insight into a part of history which was historically a great mystery.

When we finished with the museum, we headed back toward the city center. (The museum sits in the outskirts of the city to discourage lingering hostile sentiment and any temptation to vandalize the statues.)  While we searched for a certain Thai restaurant for lunch, we discovered Great Market, Budapest’s largest market selling all kinds of gourmet foods from meat to paprika to honey and everything in between.  They also had a huge selection of palinka, the potent drink we sampled earlier in the week.  No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t convince Gina to invest in a bottle.  We didn’t even know this market existed before accidentally discovering it.  We window-shopped the wares for a while before heading down the Vaci u., the pedestrian shopping street which leads the way back to our hotel.  As with all big cities, wading through the cheap touristy souvenirs to find something of value is challenging.  We came up mostly empty handed, though there is a pottery shop I may head back to tomorrow.

Since it is our last night in Budapest together, we decided to get a delicious and traditional dinner at a nice restaurant.  Our hotel concierge recommended Rezkakas, a fine dining Hungarian restaurant not far from or hotel.  The combination of hearty food, Hungarian wine and wonderful friends made for a perfect evening.  Gina and Phil both started with a small bowl of goulash.  After all, what’s a trip to Hungary without goulash?  We discovered that contrary to the heavy, noodle-centric stew some of us are used to, goulash more closely resembles a beef vegetable soup and is suitable as an appetizer.  The entrees did not disappoint and we even had room for a little dessert!  After dinner we headed back to the hotel where we shared drinks, laughs and plans for our next international adventure together.  We are so pleased that Gina and Tom were able to come to Budapest, and we all agree we could not have chosen a better city for traveling together.

Now, Phil and I are back to being a twosome again, but not for long.  After one more day in Budapest and another day of travel, we will meet up with our friend, Jack, in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  We are looking forward to seeing him and hearing about the adventures he’s been having in Turkey.  Until then, we spend will spend our last day in Budapest doing nothing.  Or everything.  Whatever we want!

–Brooke

All that remains of Stalin’s statue–his boots.

Gina and Tom with Krtek, the European answer to Mickey Mouse.

Statue of liberating Soviet soldier shaking hands with a Hungarian man . Locals say the  Hungarian is using two hands so he doesn’t get his watch stolen.

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Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eastern Europe, Eating, Exploring, Friends, Hungary, Museums, Surprises, Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exploring Hanoi

Hanoi StreetsOne of the things we are finding most wonderful about visiting Vietnam is how incredibly affordable everything is.  Seriously, if you are looking to take an interesting and exciting vacation, this just may be the place to go.  It has history, culture, shopping, beaches, and a whole lot to just observe and digest.

Because it is so affordable here, we are able to stay in a wonderful hotel for a reasonable price.  The Hanoi Moment Hotel, a boutique hotel in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, prides itself on customer service.  They arranged for our taxi from the airport so we wouldn’t get scammed and when we pulled up out front, the doorman ran to get our bags and carry them inside.  We were ushered in, presented with fresh mango juice and asked to sit on the couches while they checked us in.  Soon, the very smiley and friendly Jimmy sat down with us to review the amenities of the hotel and room.  When we looked up, our bags had already been taken to our room and Jimmy was escorting into the elevator and upstairs.  As he opened the door, Jimmy informed us that he turned the air conditioning 30 minutes prior to our arrival so our room would be cool for us.  A welcome tray of fruit sat on the bed and along with a complimentary bottle of wine.  The room also has free water, robes, slippers and a WiFi connected laptop plugged in.  It is really beautiful.

Welcome to Hanoi MomentThese things helped Hanoi Moment Hotel to make a great first impression, however it is everything else that has really made us fall in love.  There is a travel desk downstairs run by the very knowledgeable Ching.  She is always eager to help and has been very patient with our many questions.  She took care of booking a tour of Halong Bay which we will embark on tomorrow and also helped book tickets to a theater event.  The best part is the awesome restaurant suggestions.  They are really looking out for us.  They even gave us a list of cab companies we could trust so we wouldn’t fall prey to the scams which are so common.  We originally only booked two nights here, but we like it so much we are staying for a third.  And the most amazing part is how affordable the hotel is.  This wonderful stay is only costing $67 USD per night, including taxes.  Amazing.

Central Hanoi

It isn’t just the hotel that is affordable.  We can’t believe how little things cost here.  We first had to get used to doing the conversion from Vietnamese Dong to the US Dollar.  Twenty-one thousand dong equals one dollar.  Which means that 2,000,000 Dong equals $100. So, it is a little strange to buy two bottles of water and see the price ring up as 28,000.  But, when we stop to think about it, we realize that is less than 2 bucks.  That’s a great deal for two bottles of water!  In addition, the local food we’ve eaten has not only been inexpensive (totaling about 15 bucks for a full dinner with two beers), but it has been delicious.  The staff  have guided us to outstanding places locals choose to eat and we look forward to trying more adventurous dishes.

Temple of LiteratureAside from our interacting with the locals at restaurants and bars, we actually found ourselves engaging in some more typical tourist activities today.  The first place we visited was the Temple of Literature, essentially an academic hall of fame for scholars of Confucius.  This complex looks like a temple, but is not dedicated to religious study. Instead, it honors the teachings of Confucius which are basically focused on how to become the best person you can be (really, how to be a gentleman but I’m trying to be PC).  They have stone stelae with names of doctors who have passed the 82 Confucian exams and some of these date back to the 1400’s.  I’m glad we visited, but overall it was a bit underwhelming.  Perhaps a guide would have been helpful and we maybe could have appreciated it more.

After the Temple of Literature, we went to the Vietnam Military History Museum.  This was easily the most interesting and unsettling thing we saw today.  Of course, we all know the history the US has with Vietnam and I was really interested to visit this museum to see a new perspective.  I didn’t anticipate how upsetting it would be.  Outside the museum they have aircraft which have been captured from the French and the US, and in the center of all of these is a huge sculpture formed from wreckage of downed aircraft.  Looking at this gigantic pile of crumpled metal which had been shot down, thinking about the pilots of these aircraft and reading the plaques which brag about how many planes were brought down made me feel kind of sick.

French and US aircraft

Throughout the whole museum we got a sense of boasting about winning battles, downing aircraft and defeating the enemy.  In one exhibit, they even had the uniform of Lt. Everett Alvarez on display.  He was the first American pilot prisoner of war and one of the longest POWs in American history, having been held for over 8 years.  Seeing his uniform on display like a trophy was surreal.  I’m not sure if I’m describing this right, but the whole museum focused on triumph and victory, nothing about any casualties suffered by the Vietnamese.  They call the Fall of Saigon the Liberation.  They called the Saigon Government the Puppet Government.  The whole thing was so one-sided and filled with propaganda.  Of course, it constantly reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell, a book I love and know well from having taught it for 6 years.  It may sound strange, but we could really feel the Communism in this museum. Perhaps it was the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin across the street.  The whole thing was really interesting.At a square in Hanoi

Phil and I wondered, are American war museums like this?  I realize the closest I’ve come to one is the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but I remember that as being more a display of artifacts, not celebrations of killing.  I can imagine how visiting this museum could be very difficult, especially for members of my parents’ generation.  I’m glad we went, but our response to the exhibits has made us reconsider if we should to go the Hanoi Hilton Museum, the infamous jail where US prisoners of war were held, most notably John McCain.

Our visit to the museum today and our response to those exhibits illustrate for me the reasons why it is important to travel.  Seeing other perspectives, analyzing how information is presented and considering if that is reflected in one’s own culture broadens your horizons and makes you think about things in new ways.  I think that is one of the most valuable things that will come out of this trip.  We can’t wait to continue our journey and explore more of Vietnam.

-Brooke

The waiter had to show Brooke how to eat her Vietnamese pancake with shrimp and bean sprouts. Wrap it in rice paper and dip it in delicious sauce. Yum!

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Exploring, Finances, Hotels, Reflections, Surprises, Temples, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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