My day in Budapest was pretty tame. I used the morning and early afternoon to plan the next stages of my trip. I went back to the Basil Ica pancake place where I ate both breakfast and lunch while using their fast free wifi. Seriously, I’m loving these pancakes. I might go back for breakfast tomorrow… Who knows.
I also googled sunburns and saunas. I know that spas are pretty biased, but all the information I could find said that if anything, saunas helped sunburn heal. Something about increased circulation. I don’t know if I buy it, but at least that means it probably didn’t make it worse. It does look better today. I cleverly covered up with a scarf so no one could even see it.
On my way back to the hostel, I passed a flea market with a WWII gas mask in the window. I thought this was curious, so I took a look around inside. It had all of the usual things: costume jewelry, vintage cameras, old clothes, odd trinkets. There were a few folksy things that were quite Hungarian, and since it was in the Jewish district there were a couple old menorahs.
What really stood out to me, though, were the contents of the glass cases in the back.
I found it really unnerving. I just hadn’t been expecting to come across Nazi relics today. I suppose it’s easy to forget that Hungary allied itself with the Germans, but even still: you would never come across anything like that in Germany.
There were similar cases of Soviet artifacts. There were even old USSR passports. Now, Back in the USSR by the Beatles had been my favorite song as a child, so these were slightly tempting. But mostly bizarre.
I wasn’t too worried about spending my day in this way. These plans needed to be made, and most of the things I really wanted to do in Budapest were nighttime activities. First on the list: the labyrinth.
The Buda hills are full of underground tunnels carved out by all the natural springs. I’ve noticed that in my travels, I tend to go to a lot of tunnels. Tunnels and tall things. There are two parts of the caves that are open to visitors. One is a hospital and army bunker–sorry, does that sound familiar to anyone? Dover? Yes? What is it with building hospitals in caves? Since I had already done virtually that exact same thing in my travels, I opted for the labyrinth.
During the day, it’s set up as a sort of geological museum. There are pieces of different types of stone pillars throughout with informational plaques. However, at 6:00, they turn off all the lights and give visitors oil lamps to find their way through.
I was supposed to meet Luke there at 6, but I got a little lost along the way. The walk took me a little longer than I had anticipated, but I didn’t run into any real problems til I got within 50 meters of the place. I wandered around on top of this hill for probably twenty minutes. I started wondering whether this was such a good idea: if I couldn’t even find the labyrinth, what are the odds I’d be able to find my way out of it?
Luke wasn’t at the entrance. I wasn’t sure if he’d made it at all, but I was hoping to run into him once in the caves. It’s kind of a weird experience overall. The space is used as an exhibit for various kinds of stone pieces, and then inexplicably has scenes from an opera represented by wax dolls. It was less of a maze and more of a large loop with tangents, which was reasonable but a little disappointing.
I had gotten past the first few tableaux from the opera and wandered into some darker recesses when I first realized how little light a gas lamp actually gives. It seems really bright, but it only illuminates the next few feet. It’s quite an eerie effect.
This is when Luke recognized me. I was so glad to find him before going any further into the caves, and also so he’d know I didn’t stand him up. I think he waited til about five minutes before I actually arrived.
The caves got spookier but interesting. The opera vignettes stopped with as little reason as they’d begun, and the caves got very spooky. There were a few coffins and tombstones added for effect, but when they emerge from the darkness just a few feet before you it is a little starling. There were a few plaques about the history of the caves. They were once used for prison and torture, and the real Count Dracula was kept there for a few years.
It was just like being in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but we were her two goofy friends that get into trouble and there wasn’t actually a Buffy to save us. I guess I would have had to step up.
Luke and I had dinner at McDonald’s. we were both starving and it was meant to be a quick bite, but it actually turned into quite the long meal. I enjoyed it much more than I would like to admit. It was the most American McDonald’s I’ve had in Europe. The fries were hot, the soda was a decent size… It wasn’t bad. Luke and I had a lot to talk about, both being in a serious relationship with someone in the military.
Eventually, though, we had to move on. We wanted to see the ruin bars tonight. The ruin bars are just what they sound like, and apparently budapest is quite famous for them. They’re primarily located in the Jewish district. It makes sense when you think about it, because after the Jews were deported there would be lots of abandoned buildings. This is also right where I’m staying, which explained why it was so loud at night. Fortunately for me, I come from a large family and I think I may even sleep better with some noise.
We headed for Szimplabar, apparently the most famous of these. It was spectacularly cool. It was enormous. Each room had it’s own bar. The whole place was decorated like a beautifully curated flea market. It was more like a hipster dream houseparty than anything else. I couldn’t get any good pictures because it was so low lit, but the place was so cool. We were mostly there for the atmosphere and so only had one drink apiece, even though they’re so cheap. I had Hungarian palinka. That puts the hair on your chest.
It was an interesting, culturally educational night. I had a great time. When I returned to my hostel, I even had a nice long Skype date with my wonderful Matthew. I have the whole dorm room to myself tonight, and it was a rare opportunity to chat while I’m on the road. It sounds like things are going well for him in school. He’s quite happy. I hope I have another chance to talk to him before I get back to America, but I’ll be home soon.
The sun is already coming up, but this is a good thing. I’m taking an overnight train to krakow tomorrow, and I want to be tired enough to fall asleep.