The long day began early in the morning as all of the scholars lethargically boarded the bus at 4:00 A.M. to depart Cluj-Napoca and head towards Budapest. The endless drive was very quiet as we all took the opportunity to catch up on the desirable sleep we all needed. At the Romanian-Hungarian border, we waited for what seemed like 45 minutes for our passports to be cleared and many even had trouble staying awake for the few minutes the border patrol had boarded our bus. When we finally arrived in Budapest, we quickly unloaded everything from the bus into the Radio Inn and then sadly said goodbye to our Hungarian bus driver János. He was extremely popular with our group because of his amazing ability to maneuver the bus on gravel, windy roads and through narrow village streets. Although his English was only a little better than our Hungarian, we were able to communicate with him through Agi or through simple interactions for all of the trip. He became a very close friend of our class.
Following our goodbye to János, we were given approximately two hours of free time before our next activity. Many used the time to sleep in a comfortable bed and the others all went to take another look at the city that had grown on us and that we all had come to miss in our excursions through Transylvania. My group went to enjoy considerable portions of gelato that quickly woke a lot of us up from our bus daze. Around 1:30 P.M. we all met back up at the Radio Inn and prepared for our next activity.
Our visit to the Budapest zoo in City Park was completely different from any visit to a zoo that we could imagine. We were greeted at the gates by Dr. Miklós Persányi, Director General of the Budapest Zoo. Dr. Persányi was Hungarian Minister of Environment and Water for over 4 years, he was a committee member on countless conservational groups for animals, and also worked in the U.N. on a panel that worked to battle Global Warming. Among his many other positions, he was Director General of the Budapest Zoo prior to his post in the Hungarian government and later retained that post after his departure from the government. It is a position that he insisted had always been his childhood dream. At the beginning of this private tour, he provided us with a brief history of this historic zoo. The zoo was built in 1866, making it one of the oldest zoos in the world, and the city later expanded around it, placing the zoo in a very central and celebrated area of Budapest. Interestingly, it is Hungary’s number one tourist attraction with over 1,000,000 people visiting the facility each year. The goals of the zoo that Dr. Persányi listed prior to our tour were education in coexisting with wildlife in a city, conservation with over 60 endangered species tended to in the zoo, and research with one success being the breeding of the first and second artificially inseminated endangered white rhinos in the world.
Dr. Persányi took us through a large portion of the zoo where we saw animals ranging from penguins to a town (with structures and all) consisting of guinea pigs. Following a short walk, we sat down and we were treated to gelato as we asked Dr. Persányi many questions ranging from the zoo to his background to his experience dealing in international affairs at the U.N. One of the unique exhibit at this zoo was devoted to animal rescue in the city of Budapest. The exhibit consisted of informative posters that were aimed towards Budapest residents on how to coexist with the animals, mostly birds, that have also called Budapest home for many years. We also were able to witness the rehabilitation of many harmed animals that had been rescued from within the city. Some of the more interesting animals we saw included the Blue-Crowned Pigeons and the Persian Leopard. After almost three hours of touring the zoo grounds and seeing the fascinating collection of animals, we thanked Dr. Persányi and got ready to go to dinner.
For dinner we had a bean soup and pancakes. Following this, a large amount of the group had purchased tickets to one of the final concerts at the Franz Liszt Academy Concert Hall. Over the next few years, the hall and entire building will be renovated and therefore the Academy’s classes are being temporarily transported to an area outside the main city. The concert was the MÁV Symphonic Orchestra with Jen? Jandó (piano) and conducted by Ervin Lukécs. The two pieces being performed were Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. It was very interesting to go to this concert as I have many recordings of Jen? Jandó and he is also pertinent to our Hungarian Talent theme. Jen? Jandó was born and raised in Pécs, Hungary. Mr. Jandó also is a product of the Franz Liszt Academy so it was a memorable concert for all involved. The only issue with the concert was finding our seats. A few of us had sat on the wrong side of the hall because of confusion over the Hungarian words for right and left. We were only able to correct ourselves once a Hungarian man redirected us to the right seats. Coupled with the beauty of the hall from a visual standpoint, the music was also excellent and mind-numbing. Following the concert, a few of us were brought back to shake hands with the Ervin Lukécs. The classical concert experience is very different than in the United States. The reception given to the performers is much more thunderous and the demographics of the audience included a very diverse range of ages. The audience was mostly all Hungarian, however, and I felt like we all had a true Eastern European concert experience. After all of this, we headed back to the Radio Inn to prepare and rest for a very long day on Saturday.