One of the most interesting and devastating parts of my visit to Budapest was the Museum of Terror. I was debating whether to blog about it or not, but I think it will be good to document my experience and hopefully teach you something about Hungarian history.
The House of Terror is a gorgeous ansturbingly eerie building on Budapest's famous Andrassy Street. It was the headquarters of the secret police during Soviet rule in Hungary. It has since been turned into a museum documenting Hungary's decade of communism.
The museum takes you chronologically through Hungarian history during the 20th century. Hungary had a very high standard of living and a thriving economy until the wars hit. After WWI, Hungary was left with only one third of its original land. This breakup had tremendous economic, political and social effects, so when WWII rolled around, the Soviets promised the Hungarians the return of their land if they agreed to side with them. This led to an 11 year span of a communist government where thousands were killed, jailed or deported, food was scarce, religion was oppressed and people worked menial jobs.
The museum did an excellent job of setting the mood with music that made your skin creep and dimly lit exhibits. The control that the government had over the people was astounding, and to imagine living in such a society was devastating.
In 1956 there was a revolution against the government and the popular Hungarian party regained control and established a democracy.
Today, Hungary remains-still landless-and has made excellent progress moving forward
as a democratic state, but is still marked with many signs of their tragic past. Bullet holes from the wars and Revolution of 1956 lace many of the buildings, the last Soviet police didnt depart the country until the early 90's and the last Hungarian prisoner in Soviet territory wasn't released until the year 2000.
The scariest thought for me is that a society can be running perfectly well, then with the slip of a hand everything can be turned upside down; people are deported, executed, jailed, forced into labor and starving-not something any citizen wanted, but happening merely because of a few corrupt officials. That leaves me with one final question: we go about our everyday lives thinking we have so much freedom and control over what we do, but in all actuality do we, or is our fate in the hands of the government?
I have been having a field day in Budapest! Everything here is very cheap, so I've been eating my way through the city. The dollar slice pizza and falafel sandwiches are my favorites, not to mention the bakeries with pastries and cake slices for 80 cents and one of the highlights of my visit, 70 cent glasses of delicious Hungarian wine. I couldn't be happier.
On Tuesday I went for a walking tour on the Buda side of Budapest. I met an Australian named Andy who has been traveling Europe for four months now. We started talking and really hit it off. Wine tasting in Hungary was something we both really wanted to do, so we asked the guide about some places to check out. She drew a map and informed us that anything with "borozo" in the name was a local wine cellar where we could find some authentic Hungarian wine.
Finding a borozo was a bit of a scavenger hunt, but we finally spotted "borozo" gleaming off of a hanging sign on a side street.
Talk about authentic Hungarian experience, the borozo was full of old men smoking and playing cards. The walls were covered in dark wood paneling with bright green curtain accents and shelves lined with kitchy nicknacks. I felt like I had been deported to a hunting lodge in a desolate town in the Midwest. The only thing that could have made this exclusive dive bar better would have been deer heads mounted on the walls.
Andy and I instantly fell in love with the place and knew we were in for a real treat! We asked the owner if he offered wine tasting and he muttered something in Hungarian and broken English and dipped a ladle into three metal buckets pouring us wines to try.
We settled for a sweet white called Oliver and received two large glasses of the stuff for about $1.50 total. I must say, Oliver was good to us that night, and borozo became one of the highlights of my trip!
The lovely interior of our dive bar
Andy, me & Ollie
I met an American the other day and we were pondering the abstract and totally mature topic of being hungry in Hungary. We started making jokes, and he commented, "In Hungary there are no all you can eat buffets, you would have to leave Hungary" and we carried on with the Hungary jokes for quite awhile, our Hungarian friend staring on, completely unamused. Apparently they're not as in to the hungry jokes as we are.
I must say, as a child my dream was to visit Hungary, Turkey and Greece...just because they had such funny names! Coincidence or not that I've seen all those countries in the past several weeks? Some dreams you never let go...
Enough of my ranting, I have found a temporary home in Budapest! Coming in, I had no idea what to expect and the city is quite larger than I would have imagined, but for some reason it feels really comfortable. I can't put it into words, but I feel at home here and like I really fit in, despite my inability to speak Hungarian.
The streets are wide and lined with old time cafes and coffee shops. The buildings are grand and there are a few nice parks and viewpoints. Something about the city makes me feel like I have stepped back in time into a slow paced world where locals drink wine in the grass and spend afternoons wandering streets lined with tall trees and littered with leaves.
The city is actually divided into two parts by the Danube River-Buda and Pest. I am staying in Pest. I spent my first day on a walking tour of Pest and a boat tour down the Danube. My second day, I visited one of the main attractions in Budapest-the thermal baths. People come from all around the world for the "healing waters."
My day at the baths was an interesting and impressive experience. There is an elaborately designed building with a huge courtyard where the baths are. There are two main outdoor baths with about 12 smaller indoor pools. Each pool contains different minerals recommended to treat various illnesses. I mostly enjoyed jumping in and out of each one, experiencing the different colored water, scents and temperatures.
It was a wonderfully relaxing experience after a few busy days! To top things off, I scored a $5 ticket and spent my evening at the Ballet!
It has been two days now, and I think I know my way around the city pretty well. There are still a few things on my list to do, but mostly I am excited to take things slow, wander the streets and absorb the Hungarian culture. Although there are tons of sites to see, this is really a people city rather than an itinerary city. I plan on doing a little writing, eating some falafel from my favorite hummus bar and seeing where the day takes me.
The Chainbridge-linking Buda and Pest
Castle on Buda side
Part of the city