Pronounced “Boo-duh-PESH” by Hungarians, this city is a national treasure. “Buda” is separated from “Pest” by the Danube River and linked together with a chain bridge. Architecture here is glorious, with the Parliament Building and Castle Hill singing the city’s praises.
Above: Budapest is divided by the Danube River. The Parliament Building is in the distance.
Prices were a bit of a shock after living on $30 or less per day in most other countries, but after scraping together some forint coins, a visit to “The House of Terror” was possible. This museum tells of Hungary’s strife during Nazi times and the Communist period following. The building casts a chilly feel into the museum because it was once the headquarters of the secret police for the Nazis and the Communist Party.
Above: Budapest’s House of Terror‘s exterior and interior.
Interviews of elderly Hungarians who survived these trying times educate visitors on war history, concentration camp life, and oppression under Communism. A basement, where people were imprisoned, tormented and hung, is open for a eery walk-though while a narrator speaks of his job as a prison worker at that time. The only way to kick the creepy feel of this museum is to step out into the Andrassy Street sun again.
After learning about Hungary’s history, I met with my friend Vera, a Hungarian I’d met nine years earlier while studying at the Goethe Institute in Germany with MLS’ “Project Go.” Not only did she choose an authentic restaurant that pumped out Hungary’s famous goulash and meat pancakes (more like a crepe) but she also enlightened me with her stories of Communist Hungary and the trials her family endured.
Above: Hungarian goulash and a “pancake.”
Vera’s family history was haunted by the Russian army, who rounded up Hungarians to deport to their work camps. Vera’s grandfather, some of his friends and other Hungarian men were swept off the street one day, having been chosen as the next victims of the Russian army. The friends knew Vera’s grandfather’s wife had just given birth to their firstborn and that she needed him to support their family, so they redressed him in pieces of their clothes on the sly and sent him back through the Russian line-up. On his second encounter with the troops, he escaped deportation by telling the Russians that he had syphilis, which he knew petrified them at this time. Vera’s grandfather stayed alive in order to raise his firstborn and two more children, one of which was Vera’s mother.
After the museum and stories of Communism and Nazi times, I decided it was time to see the positive side of Budapest, so I followed my female instincts to the nearest bath called Szechenyi Spa, famous for its medicinal whirlpools and hot springs. These warm water whirl pools are housed in an old neo-Baroque style building and are located in the city park. Although I forgot my bathing suit in the haste, my tank top and shorts didn’t mind the wash. While wading in the whirl pool area, I met some amazing travelers from Vancouver Island who invited me on their booze cruise that night. (I declined- a sure sign I am getting old, or maybe just finding better things to do with my spare time in a foreign country!)
Above: Szechenyi Spa in Budapest
Before departing Budapest, there was one more stop to be made. After 13 countries worth of stamps and some visa stickers, my passport was chuck-full and ready for a visit to the US Embassy, where new pages would be inserted. I thought, “What an amazing feeling it is to be given preferential treatment,” as I read a sign that said the computers were to be used by US residents first and foremost. You may think this is a meager gesture, but discrimination of foreigners is a common occurrence in many countries and I hate to say I have become accustomed to being treated as second class. For example, Japan had signs that forbid white people and those with tattoos in certain stores and spas. Thailand gave free entry into national parks only to their own citizens and India corralled foreigners into separate ticketing lines in order to charge them many times the going rate for entrance fees into famous areas. It was comforting to be in a place, even if it was just an embassy, where I felt at home. Everyone spoke English without the usual sign language frustration and the US flag flew in all of its glory on the corner of the stone, historical building. Service was quick and the process was organized. Ahh…simple pleasures of a traveler.
More photos of Hungary can be seen under the PHOTOS tab at the top of this page.