I ended the last post with the end of my old world experience of Europe and the beginning of a trip through WWII history. Many of those stories are too long to put into a blog post, but suffice to say there are places and stories I am glad to have experienced yet wholeheartedly hate.
We began during our second day with The House of Horror; which is such on several different levels. Primarily the house is called so because of the tortures that happened regularly there. Also because of the type of people who ran the place. In hindsight I think it is appropriately called so because it looks like any other house on the street, except terrible things went on inside. It truly is a horror that such terror took place under cover of a neighborhood home.
One thing I came to understand more clearly was the lack of time between the Hitler and Stalin. Hungary, who; as our guide had joked earlier, was not good at picking sides, had tried to back out of their alliance with Germany once they realized the extent of what was happening. The Nazis promptly occupied Hungary and deported over 100,000 Jews who, up until then, had been protected by the Hungarian Government. It was the Soviet army who came and freed Hungary. I cannot describe the feeling you get, knowing how history goes and how the Soviets would bring worse times than WWII, yet aware that at the time these people did not. To watch footage of the Hungarian people rejoicing over their freedom and having parades for the red army is incredible in a horrible sort of way.
I told you to remember my first trek through the city. Through this experience we learned why our first experience of Budapest was so sketchy. See, the part of town we walked through, a large portion of the Pest side of the river, is the Jewish quarter. WWII wasn’t that long ago (Communism thrived in my parent’s lifetime!); The re-building of a country after countless tragedies takes time, and we saw that very personally through what we perceived as a poverty area in Hungary.
I didn’t take pictures of the cells and torture instruments in the house. Afterwards we felt rather silent and unrelatedley starving. We began a hunt for dinner, preferably local. We decided on this place where we could not read anything off the menu and none of the workers spoke English. It was a sort of assembly-line meal and so we found ourselves pointing to food and putting together a tray with things we weren’t quite sure what they were. It was very cheap; only 7,000 ft. 😀 It was a delicious meal and as we sat at the booth in the window on the second floor, we had fun guessing what we were eating.
Later that night we walked around and explored a few alleyways filled with restaurants and bars- a very popular style of nightlife in Europe. January isn’t the warmest time to travel, but all the patio bars and restaurants still have ways of warming their space and making the atmosphere fun.
The next day we walked down historic Andrassy Avenue towards Heroes Square. This is a main road through Pest lined with huge trees and running towards a square that had many protests, rallies, and celebrations take place. This is another time where I’m simply incapable of comprehending the depth of history in a city so old as to boast in famous Kings and Queens. Apparently Hungary was once the home to nomadic tribes who banded with the Huns (thus Un-garia). St. Stephen was a King who invited missionaries to come into his country and evangelize them because he saw that non-Christians weren’t surviving to well in the world at the time and he saw it as a strategic measure to keep his people thriving longer. haha.
We carried on with some old Roman Bath houses as our destination. However we got stopped along the way by 2 castles and an Ice Skating rink. Being in another country can seem unreal in so many ways, and it’s only in the moments of shared life such as skating that truly make the world smaller and the experience more personal. For almost an hour we watched people skate against the backdrop of a stunning castle, as American pop music played over the loudspeakers.
We wondered why so many were out on a Monday morning and watched intently 2 adults practicing figure skating in an inclosed area. We decided to be like these two old ladies who were still skating at an age when you would expect them to be stuck indoors immobile. It was one of those times where words are inadequate because the feeling is inexpressible and the experience inexplicable. The word I use for this day was joy: because I couldn’t help but smile in awe and happiness that the world was so beautiful and the people all the same.
The Roman Baths were a hilarious experience. We decided somewhat spontaneously to go swimming, and while we didn’t take our cameras with us I can tell you that it is like being in a giant mansion full of different pools. In January the the outdoor pool water temperature gives off steam enough to make small clouds as it contrasts with the cold air everywhere else. We froze running to and from the building to the outdoor pools, and then we laughed as we sat immersed in the warm water watching steam going up around us and realizing we were swimming outside during the winter in Budapest. That’s a sentence you don’t say everyday!
The day ended with a trek to a random street vendor recommended by a local for dinner. Not a place either of us would have ever picked out as a dinner stop, the old man running it handmade our Lángos: a fried bread with sour cream, garlic, and cheese. When I asked how to say “Thank you” in Hungarian he became very friendly and taught me several other words that I’ve completely forgotten now. People really like when you attempt to learn their culture and not force them to learn yours, I’ve found. As a matter of fact, I’d begun to look up commonly used phrases while en rout: We had quickly felt the strangeness of not even being able to say “Thank you” to anyone- or even “yes” or “no.”
Our time in Budapest was over- 3 days was a perfect relaxing time in a new city and we were content to be moving on. We ran to the river to take some night photos and then travelled back through the Jewish quarters and caught our night train to Kraków. (Did I mention that train was $25?) Budapest was one of my favorite places so far in Europe.