Written by: Millie Smith and Jamie Bourgeois
June 20th, 2016
Early Monday morning, we met to take the suburban train to the outskirts of the city. At Békásmegyer, we met Dr. Frank Zsigo, a professor of political science at King Sigismund College. He walked us through the public housing developments on our way to the campus, telling us information about the area and pointing out interesting characteristics of this post-communist neighborhood.
Upon arrival at King Sigismund, we met Dr. Balázs Majtényi, who presented to our group about fundamental law of Hungary, its functions as a republic, and how current events have challenged the structure of governance within the state and European region. We learned from Dr. Majtényi that the refugee crisis is unprecedented in the history of any post-communist state. The crisis combined with a depressed economy and existing ethnic struggle with the Roma population, has caused a great deal of unrest within the Hungarian government and the European Union. In addition, the right-wing government has not helped in finding sustainable solutions to these cultural, economic, and human rights issues.
We expressed our gratitude to Frank and Balázs, departed the college, and once again boarded the suburban train. Another 20 minutes through the Hungarian countryside brought us to Szentendre, a village at the very edge of Budapest. We walked through the cobblestone streets to the Regional Environmental Center (REC), an international organization that seeks to promote sustainability and public participation in environmental decision-making. After a fabulous lunch, we had the pleasure of hearing from several of the project managers on topics that spanned from the REC’s environmental education initiatives, to water resource conservation in the Balkans, to green transportation advocacy, to civil society organizations in Ukraine, to public policy, civic engagement, and even more. We learned about the programs and initiatives taking place in 32 countries in conjunction with local, regional, national, and international government systems. Following the lectures, the group toured the newly-renovated green conference center and concluded the evening with a cookout in the beautiful REC garden. It was a full day, but one that stood out significantly from the rest.
June 21, 2016
Today we packed up our things and prepared to say goodbye Budapest. It was sad to depart so soon and many of us wished that we could continue exploring the city. However, it was time to go and we were looking forward to our adventures in Ostrava, Czech Republic. We arrived at the train station in the early hours of the morning and grabbed a few more pastries (which were heavenly) for the road. The train ride was a daunting six hours so many of us hunkered down and tried to get a few more hours of sleep that we desperately needed. Once in Ostrava, we gathered our things and met in the main terminal of the station. There, Dr. Schenk’s wife was waiting for us with a miniature bus and sandwiches for the ride. From the train station, we went on a personal bus tour given by Radka as we drove through the many streets of Ostrava. The tour started in a central area of Ostrava where the town hall and a college were located. We also traveled towards where the Roma gypsies were located and learned more about their living circumstances. It was a very intriguing and eye-opening portion of the day. Next, the bus took us to a castle that was built in the thirteenth century. Compared to other castles in Europe, this castle was fairly modest in design and size, but still very whimsical. There were many rooms and a few towers that we were able to explore. The castle was also filled with many art installations including wood carvings and paintings. Although most of us enjoyed the castle, a few of us were not thrilled to hear that the grounds were haunted by the ghost of the White Lady. The White Lady was named Hermine in real life and died tragically by drowning while trying to save a child. Overall though, we all enjoyed the castle and loved exploring the grounds. After the castle, we traveled to a suburb of Ostrava. There, we learned about the concrete slab high rises called “panel housing”, how they were built, and the social aspects surrounding them during the communist era.
At this point, most of us were fairly exhausted from traveling so we headed toward our accommodations while in Ostrava. It turns out that we were staying in a chateau built in the 1500s. The chateau was beautifully built inside and out. It had climbing vines along the walls, a beer garden and restaurant on the bottom floor, and uniquely decorated halls and rooms. Once luggage was stored in our rooms, we all met downstairs for dinner at the restaurant. We had many seats reserved for us and very courteous servers that brought beer and wine in record time. The live music that came from outside added to the cozy atmosphere and helped us all relax and enjoy our evening. During the dinner, we also had a special guest of the Schenks join us to talk about his experiences as a child growing up during the fall of communism. After an evening filled with delicious food and drinks, we all retired to our quarters upstairs. Some of us were exhausted from travels and decided to go straight to sleep. Others of us decided to end the day by enjoying a comical, light-hearted movie together. After the movie, we braved the ghosts some swear they saw, and went to sleep ready for our next day in Ostrava.