Hungarians Love to Cheer

FINA, the (somewhat unpopular*) world governing body for aquatic sports, held its World Championships in Budapest throughout the month of July. While you could watch high diving with a view of Parliament or see synchronized swimming in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, I just wanted to see the best swimmers in the world compete. Fortunately, that elite group includes several current and former members of the UMBC swimming team. Thus, I had the chance to eat lunch at possibly the slowest restaurant in the world (Hungarian food service can be pretty bad) with my old coach, Chad, and Egyptian swimmers Hania and Mohamed.

Watching the swimming itself was a fun and economical (a ticket for preliminaries cost around $2) way to spend a day. ‘Quiet, Please’ (in large lettered Hungarian) would flash on the scoreboard for the start whenever a Hungarian swam since the local fans were so outspoken. At finals, the excitement during some of the closest races was evident in the full-throated roar emitted by the entire crowd. I even ran into one of my old coaches from Philadelphia.

Budapest itself is a beautiful city. I was able to enjoy Buda Castle and a nice view with my Uncle Bob and Aunt Susi since they just happened to pass through the city on a cruise the day I arrived. There’s plenty to do that doesn’t require catching up with family, though. I was impressed with the museum in the House of Terror (the former Hungarian secret police headquarters) and Andrássy Avenue is a wide, leafy boulevard perfect for a casual stroll. The Hospital in the Rock was also fascinating to walk through since its use as an atomic bomb shelter would be impermissible today (bombs have become much stronger). It was sobering to see maps of several major cities matched against current weapons, especially when I saw that my house would be destroyed if even a small weapon targeted the military base in my suburb.

*FINA has a penchant for, among other things, hosting open water swimming events in conditions hotter than is allowed in their regulations and for imposing such high infrastructure requirements for hosting large events that few countries bid to be hosts.


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