Having lived in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for almost 20 years, I understood the value of getting out of what I called the “Beltway Bubble.” (For those not familiar with DC, there’s a major highway called the “beltway” that encircles the main metro area.)
Getting out of the bubble just means taking a break from your everyday life, changing life’s pace, and having a different experience. I believe the bubble concept can apply to all cities, and maybe even to wherever one lives. And for all of its positives, it can apply to Budapest as well.
About 19 km north of Budapest and just a 40 minute suburban train ride from Batthyány tér (a central Buda location), you’ll find Szentendre. This charming Balkan artist community has a population of approximately 26,000 and a long history. First home to Celts and then Romans, Szentendre, as it exists today, was developed by Serbians and other Balkan peoples fleeing from Turks in the 14th and 17th centuries.
Because it’s considered a major tourist attraction, some people might question my bubble bursting assertion. But stick with me. I’ve been there three times now and wouldn’t hesitate to return for a half or full day get away.
When arriving by the suburban railway—otherwise known as the Hév—you must venture through an underpass toward the center of town. As you ascend the stairway, you’re greeted by a perplexing sculpture. Actually, I’m not sure if “greeted” is the best word—you can decide. The sculpture is one of many modern art installations in a small park, and it seems at odds with the charming town. Regardless, it’s a not-so-subtle sign that you’re entering an artist community.
There’s definitely a tourist route through the town, but one needn’t venture far off the main drag to leave the groups behind. The windy cobblestone streets lead you through a maze, yet it’s hard to get lost. Eventually, it seems like you always return to Fő tér, the main square with a monument topped with a cross erected in 1763 to give thanks for surviving the plague.
For some reason, the guidebooks all talk about Szentendre’s seven churches. My favorite is the Belgrade Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. I’ve never actually been inside, but the building itself is adorned with small skulls and cross bones. There’s something ironic about that on a church. There’s a pouty sculpture greeting people at the front entrance that always makes me smile. More irony.
For such a small town, the museums are aplenty. For those interested in something different, there’s the Mikro Art Museum, where you view the art via a microscope. For the kid in you, there’s the Szamos Marzipan Museum, where they make everything imaginable—including Mickey Mouse—out of the candy paste. There’s even a National Wine Museum in the cellar of the Labirintus Restaurant. I didn’t officially visit the museum, but I did venture into the cellar by invitation of my server who was showing me some fantastic bottle recommendations.
There are many other museums, but at this point, the only one I’ve visited is the Kovács Margit Museum. I read positive reviews about it before my first trip to Szentendre, so when Áine and I went there, we decided to visit the museum. It was a delight! The museum isn’t big, but it is well organized, grouping her work chronologically and thematically. It offers background information in Hungarian and English. Margit Kovács is a Hungarian ceramic artist. Her work focuses on folk and religious art. There’s a room where you can touch some of her displayed works on a smaller scale. I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much I took my parents when they visited me. My mom takes pottery classes, and I knew she’d love the museum too.
My favorite sculptures are a series of women (nuns?) mourning. You can see a picture of Mourning II (my favorite) and Mourning I (my runner up) on her website’s gallery. She captures anguish in a powerful way. In fact, a scaled down version of her Mourning II sculpture was one of the touchable statues. My hands were itching to feel the sculptures, and I couldn’t believe my luck that my favorite sculpture was available to touch.
Szentendre is considered a tourist attraction because it appeals for a reason—for a lot of reasons. It’s a lovely place to visit and a great place to burst the Budapest bubble.