Szeged, Hungary


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We had such a delightful time visiting old friends in Szeged. Nothing beats a personal tour by a local, particularly one flexible enough to detour to the playground. It was so refreshing not to rely on google maps, wikipedia, and the like to see the “top sights” and navigate a new city. We also learned so much more about the history of the city in such a short time.

The “City of Sunshine” did not disappoint. As the third largest city in Hungary, Szeged is a lively city with circular avenues, stately squares, beautiful gardens, and a statue around almost every corner. The city in its current form, is a more modern city, as the majority of the city was destroyed and rebuilt after the Great Flood of 1879. Szeged is located in the southern Hungarian plains, near the border of Serbia and Romania, and occupies both banks of the Tisza River. The terrain is very flat and is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists alike. The University of Szeged is located in the heart of the city and is one of the most prominent universities in Central Europe, attracting students internationally. As a university town, Szeged reaps the benefits of more forward thinking individuals and the liveliness of youth.

We started our morning of sight-seeing at the Gate of Heroes, a World War I memorial built to commemorate the 12000 soldiers killed in Szeged. We then crossed the street to Dóm Square and walked through the National Pantheon. The kids enjoyed running through the halls, stopping to admire the statues of prominent Hungarian figures, including kings, artists, writers, and scientists. Although, there were no “girl heroes” to be seen as our three year old (going on 13 year old) pointed out, we were excited to find a plethora of statues throughout the city depicting women and children.

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The Votive Church and Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the square with a massive presence. After the Great Flood, the Szeged people vowed to build a grand Catholic church to express gratitude for rebuilding their city. The site chosen was the remains of the medieval St. Demeter Church from the 11th century, of which only Dömötör tower still stands. Construction of the church began in 1913, but was interrupted by WWI, and not completed until 1930. If you look closely, you can see a change in the color of the bricks from pre and post-war construction. Lions guard the entrance to the lavish golden dome interior.

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We continued our walk toward the bank of the charming Tisza River, one of the largest tributaries of the Danube River. Although historically, it was all contained within the Austo-Hungarian Empire, it now spans across Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Serbia. A great place to bike, run, or stroll, we enjoyed the tranquil views and admired more interesting statues along the way, like the mayflies “blooming” out of the Tisza river.

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Szechenyi Square, home to city hall, is an impressively large square boasting beautiful gardens, mature trees, and colossal monuments. The kids had a great time running around in the open space, smelling flowers, and flirting with the water fountains. There is a train sightseeing tour that departs in front of city hall, which would make for a fun way to see the city. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it, and instead opted for lunch, as the kids were starting to spiral.

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If you happen to visit Szeged on the first Saturday of the month, take a tour of the water tower in St. Steven’s Square and enjoy the panoramic views. If you miss the day, as we did, you can still take some fun pictures to document your visit in front of the SZEGED word art.

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After lunch, we headed to Karasz Utca, Szeged’s most popular walking street. It is a beautiful setting for a casual stroll. Stop for a coffee or an ice cream and enjoy some people watching on this lovely boulevard.

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Our final stop of the day was the magnificent Szeged Synagogue. We actually had to return the following day to tour the interior, as the synagogue is closed to the public on Saturdays. The Szeged Synagogue is truly a special place and was such a privilege to visit. It is the second largest synagogue in Hungary and the fourth largest in the world. The construction of the new synagogue was completed in 1903 at the peak of Szeged’s reconstruction period. It is absolutely stunning from the outside and the interior is just as breathtaking with a strikingly beautiful stained glass dome. The massive structure was hauntingly quiet, a reminder of the once flourishing Jewish community in Szeged. Each of us placed a stone by the menorah memorial on our way out in remembrance. We then used our visit as a bridge to discuss the importance of kindness, inclusion, and respect with our children.

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Translated from the menorah above
They were killed by hate, their memory is guarded by love.
This lantern guards the memory of those deported from Szeged as Hungarian Jews and could never return.

A trip to Szeged is not complete without a taste of Szeged’s traditional fish soup, or so they say. I played it safe with a salmon filet, but Gabe enjoyed his halászlé reminiscent of his mother’s cooking. We dined with friends at Kiskőrössy Halászcsárda Szeged located on the bank of the Tisza river. A charming Hungarian restaurant with excellent food and service. Call ahead to reserve outdoor seating as this is a popular spot.

alt text alt text If you love architecture, history, or simply sunshine and a more laid back vibe, add Szeged to your travel list. Only a two hour drive from Budapest, Szeged is well worth a visit.

Special thanks to our good friends for opening up their home and sharing the gems of their city!

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