After some breakfast, we were Pest-Bound. Brodie, being the best Catholic ever, decided to spend the first leg of her morning attending a Hungarian mass in St. Stephens Cathedral. That left another group, composed of Rossene, Grace, and Bec to wander the city together. There had been a guided walking tour scheduled as an optional activity, but all of us were kind of done with walking tours at this point, so we opted out and ventured out on our own.
Our first sop was the banks of the Danube, which we meandered along, passing by beautiful buildings and cafes as we did. We soon approached the city’s Holocaust memorial, which was composed of a series of copper shoes fixed to the ground at the banks of the river. This was to memorialize the early execution of Budapest’s Jews, whom were lined up on the edge of the river before being shot, their bodies dumped into the river after. This was a really moving tribute, considering the horror of that event. Of course, the backdrop of that memorial was the serene Danube and the decorated hills of Buda, so it was morbid and beautiful all at once.
We then decided to stroll inward, beyond the river, in the direction of the House of Terror. In doing so, we passed by the Parliament building, and darted through some side streets before reentering the main streets of Budapest. The whole city was fairly quiet in terms of tourism, which was a nice change of pace from most of the other cities we’d visited. Also, there were dogs everywhere. Outside, inside, in the parks, on the streets, people brought their dogs all over. Also, I’ve never seen a more overwhelming population of dachshunds. I’m telling you people, I belong here. Whilst waiting for Brodie to arrive, we headed into a little café for a coffee and bathroom break. The people were nice, the iced coffee was great, and also, dogs were allowed, so I was happy as hell.
Our next stop, kind of a somber one, was the House of Terror, which once served as the seat of the Arrow Cross government, a division of the Nazi government, during World War II. Following their removal from power, it then was a part of the Soviet-held Communist government during the Cold War. It now serves as a museum to educate the masses of the terror and oppression carried out by both of these groups during their reigns. I can honestly say that I think this is my favorite museum I have ever been to. The way it was organized was incredibly well thought-out. Each room was carefully designed to set a scene, from the decorations, to the videos playing, to the music that played. For instance, there was one room, a long, narrow room, with screens on each side that all told personal stories about deportation. At one point, the videos stopped and were replaced by videos of countryside rushing by, to simulate one’s place on a train. Another room was covered in legal print and boxes to simulate the trials of those who have conspired against the government. A much more morbid but moving room just had a video playing of river water accompanied by the sound of a gunshot and a loud splash to describe the scene at the Danube and the execution of the Jews. That one got to me. But it was an incredible museum.
It was also incredibly enlightening and emotional. It’s always so upsetting when you see early footage of these regimes entering the countries they occupied, and they’re always greeted by parades and smiling faces cheering them on. I’ve studied a lot about the Holocaust, so when it came to the Nazi stuff, it seemed very familiar. As for the Soviet regime, I know less about it in general. It was really crazy how much horror they imposed upon their people. Anyone with a shred of suspicion could have been arrested, tortured, and/or executed for going against the government. The building that housed the museum had once been where they held political prisoners who were to be tortured for information and executed. We saw the torture rooms, holding cells, and gallows where they were hung. I’ve never been so emotionally struck than when I was walking down in the dungeon where the prison cells were located. It was literally a dark, stone dungeon that had framed photos of the prisoners who’d stayed in those cells. There was also a “solitary confinement” cell, which was basically a low, stone room that was black. Literally black. You couldn’t see the opposite wall, just an open hole. It was nauseatingly terrifying. They don’t call it the House of Terror for no reason. The tour ended with a memorial to those political prisoners who died there, in which there were rows of thin, iron crosses lit by small lightbulbs. It was, again, beautiful and morbid.
Feeling emotionally drained and exhausted, we were ready for a lunch stop. The five of us took a stroll in the direction of the Szechenyi (there’s that Hungarian language again!) Thermal Baths, which we knew was going to be our next (and potentially most anticipated) stop. On the way we passed a classy-looking restaurant in Hero’s Square, so we decided to eat there. For lunch I got an open-faced roast beef sandwich, which was delicious. Again, we had an adorable Hungarian waiter who smiled when we told him “thank you” in his language, despite the fact that he spoke decent English. Oh, Hungary.
Next we were off to the famous Szechenyi baths. “What are these,” you ask? Well. The city has mineral hot springs under it. And so, they treat the water and pump it into these bath houses. There are many baths inside, however, the nice ones are out in the sunshine, surrounded by beautiful bright yellow walls. Guys, it was a fancy swimming pool and I loved every minute of being there. I love pools. Always have. And this one was just super gorgeous. We got some beers and had a sip before wading in the temperate water, relaxing all the stresses of our fast-paced tour away. Especially considering it had taken us like a half an hour to find out where to rent a towel. They were in a damn creepy towel dungeon. But whatever, by the time we were outside in the blue water with the cloudless sky, there were no worries in the world.
We spent a solid three hours at the baths before it was time to carry on. Our next destination would be to souvenir shop, as well as grab a bite to eat. Brodie, Bec, Rossene and I decided to take the Metro to ease our aching feet. This was a process, considering we’d gone down one side of the metro that didn’t have any ticket salesman, so we had to hop back over to the other side, buy a ticket, then go back, only to have realized that we needed to take the train that was on the other side. We were lucky it was a short walk.
We popped off the train on the other side and found some little souvenir markets. I bought a puzzle box that you basically have to slide around a bunch of times to get it to open. I’m terrible at getting it on the first try.
After some brief meandering, it was time for food. After stopping by a couple of places to see what they had to offer, we found a place that served langos, a Hungarian specialty. The wait staff was really nice there, so we were happy with the restaurant choice before the food even came. The chairs also had zebra blankets on them, which was interesting. We started off with some piña coladas, which we’d been craving. Then we got our langos. “What is langos,” you ask? Well, take a doughy, bready pizza. Top it with cheese, onions, bacon, and sour cream. Bake. Devour. Be happy. You will never go hungry in Hungary.
We swung by a couple more souvenir shops and I grabbed some post cards. As the sun was setting, we headed back in the direction of the coach. As we drove back to our suburban hotel, we passed by the Danube at night, once again lit up like a dream.
Of all the cities we’ve visited, Budapest is everything I’d wanted it to be. There’s much to see and do, but it’s not just packed with tourists. The people were nice, welcoming, and bonus, they mostly spoke English. The food is drool-worthy. And of course, it’s decorated like the gem its Austrian overlords wanted it to be. I will be back, Budapest. It’s only a matter of time.