Budapest is quite the amazing city. After being on the coast for two weeks, it has been a complete sensory overload. The sights, the sounds and the smells intoxicate you. We are not on vacation in Budapest. In fact, we are busier here than we our in our busy lives back in the States. Honestly, I spent the majority of yesterday in an overtired daze and cannot recall a lot of what we saw and did. I do know that we spent the day wandering through the Pest side of Budapest.
The Pest side is very lively and full of so many things to see and do. We spent the day wandering through the city and followed a couple of walks in my favorite Rick Steves’ book (I have decided that I want this man’s job. Rick Steves, if you read this, contact me, I’d love to work for you!). Michal’s favorite part of the day was stopping for coffee and cakes at a communist-era coffee bar with standing tables only. Somehow the city has preserved this site. Walking inside was like stepping back in time 30 years ago.
An interesting fact about Pest is that the majority of the buildings there are less than 200 years old. Budapest is also a bit of rebellious city and it was home to the first McDonald’s behind the Iron Curtain. Rumor has it during communist times, the lines to get into McDonald’s were pretty long.
My favorite find yesterday was the Parisi Udvar Gallery which used to house elegant stores. It is an architecturally beautiful building that for the most part stands abandoned today. I personally think it would be worth reviving and turning it into some sort of farmer’s market.
Today, we started off our day at the House of Terror. No, it’s not a Halloween museum. It is actually in a lavish old building on one of the most beautiful streets in Budapest. The history that happened here is sickening, appalling and makes you question humanity. This building was witness to two shameful and tragic periods of Hungary’s 20th century history.
In 1944, this house served as the headquarters for Hungarian Nazis. In 1945 and 1946, the notorious communist terror organizations, the AVO and the AVH used this house as their residence. Hungary’s history is devastating. Very similar to Polish history, Hungary was attacked by the Nazis and then by the Red Army. This is referred to as a “Double Occupation”. Needless to say hundreds of thousands of people brutally lost their lives and their loved ones for absolutely no reason.
While the museum was emotionally exhausting, I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Budapest. Visiting here provided me with a vast amount of knowledge of Hungarian history and gave me a newfound sense of respect for the history of this country and the resiliency of the people. It also made me appreciate the fact that I was born in America and have never, ever felt unsafe in my own country and never been deprived of basic human rights just because of where I was born.
There were times in this museum that I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to leave. Other times, such as walking past the hanging gallows, I could not help by cry for the injustices, for the lost lives, for the senseless acts committed by other human beings. I was so emotionally exhausted after this museum that I have no idea how I am going to handle Auschwitz in a couple of weeks. For more information on the House of Terror and Budapest’s history, read Rick Steves’ summary on it: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/east/terror.htm.
Needless to say, Michal and I left the House of Terror feeling quite depressed. After spending some time processing what we saw and learned, we decided that we needed to find something care-free and fun to do. We headed to City Park to check out a replica of a Transylvanian castle that was built in 1896 to celebrate Hungary’s 1,000 birthday. The castle was quite impressive.
From the castle we headed to Széchenyi Baths. Széchenyi Baths are known for being the largest medical thermal baths in Europe. The water is supplied by two thermal springs. I was personally anxious about this experience because I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be my favorite part of Budapest so far.
We started out in 3 outdoor swimming pools in various temperatures. In one pool, there were three sections; the middle one being a whirlpool that pulled you around and around if you just let yourself go. We then wandered into a beautiful Baroque style building filled with twelve thermal baths (pools) ranging in various temperatures. Some of the baths were medicinal and said to be good for your body. While relaxing in the hot water, I enjoyed looking up at the beautifully decorated Baroque style domes.
While wandering from bath to bath (everyone wears bathing suites) there were saunas of varying temperatures and steam rooms that you could enjoy as well. My favorite was an aroma therapy sauna. Michal and I spent over 3 hours relaxing in the baths and enjoying the steam rooms and saunas. It was a heavenly experience and much needed after traveling for over two weeks.
We ended this evening indulging in more food than I have ever eaten. Part of my meal consisted of Hungarian goulash. It is actually a delicious and spicy soup, not a stew. It was served in a small kettle over a flame. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me to take a picture. Now I am relaxing drinking a glass of the famous Tokaji wine. I wish we had this in the states because it is very delicious (it would be perfect for a First Friday celebration!)!
Tomorrow is our last full day in Budapest. We have lots we want to do and hope we can get up early enough to do as much as possible. I thought 4 days in Budapest would be enough, but I was wrong. We need several weeks here to really explore and get to do everything we want to.
After Budapest, Michal and I had a couple of different options on where we could go. Life got in the way and I sort of forget to plan that portion of our trip. As of this morning, we do have a destination in mind and have rented an apartment to stay in. Any guesses on where we might be off to on Tuesday? Leave a comment if you think you know the answer and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right 🙂