by | Oct 19, 2021 | Place Going & Thing Doing | 0 comments

I sat on the banks of the Danube River and thought about my life. I remembered hearing about the Danube River and learning a song about it in my Junior High School German class and now here I was feeling the breeze off its flowing water. It was evening, and I watched the light fade. I pondered how fortunate I am to have grown up in the military and traveled the world, how much I appreciate my family and my dad. I gave thanks for my work, my experiences, and the countless blessings I have including the ability to walk, climb stairs, and breathe freely again after recently recovering from COVID-19. I was still a bit weak, even after 3 months, but my lungs were working again and the ability to draw breath again seemed especially sweet. I sat and gave deep gratitude for so many things in life that I usually take for granted. I had heard of the twin cities of Buda and Pest united across the river to form Budapest, and now I was finally here.

I happened to be sitting in front of the most heart-wrenching memorial I’ve ever unexpectedly come across: Shoes on the Danube. It’s 60 pairs of cast iron shoes in various old styles and sizes. I hadn’t heard of it before, so I Googled it and my heart filled with sadness and anger. During World War II 3,500 people (800 of them were Jewish) were lined up along the banks of the river here, ordered to remove their shoes, and executed. 3,500 people stood here looking at their city, their river, and their loved ones for the last time until their bodies fell to the river, washed away like trash. I cried. There’s nothing I can do about it now, of course, except appreciate this moment and let it shape me and resolve to be a better person–more loving, tolerant of other cultures and other people as a force against hatred and evil.

That was my first evening in Budapest, and the rest of my two weeks there did not disappoint. It was late March 2021 and the Corona Virus was just beginning to sweep across Europe. Had I not already been in Europe at the time, I would not have been able to have these amazing experiences–at least not with so much freedom from crowds and quiet time to absorb and appreciate it. There were hardly any people out and about, so I had the city basically to myself. I walked a lot. My legs began to strengthen again and I am so grateful for the time I had to explore as I healed; it gave me a reason to put one foot in front of the other, to climb the steps and move forward with life.

My favorite moment came unexpectedly on the Buda Castle grounds. There were maybe 5 other people around that day; it felt deserted. The buildings themselves were closed, but I was free to wander the grounds. So wander I did. As I came around a corner and looked down the path, the sun came into alignment with a stained glass window at the top of a tower and began to sparkle brilliantly. I was all alone with history radiating through the cobblestone corridor, the smell of it surrounding me and inviting me to appreciate it. It seemed like a private gift from the universe, a special moment for me that I will remember for the rest of my life. I touched the chilly, rough stone of the castle wall and stood there for a while just soaking in the waves of memories from countless other travelers over hundreds of years, enjoying this private audience with history.

I wandered all over the city, finding myself drawn time and again to Fishermans Bastion, hiking Buda Hill to sit amongst its trees and look down across the river to Pest, appreciating random statues and being so grateful to be able to breathe and be here. I would love to return some day because the museums and many restaurants were closed; there’s so much I didn’t get to experience because of the COVID restrictions but I’m grateful for the time I had. I am a better person because of Budapest.


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