Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Budapest, Hungary

And on with our winter travels. From Zdiar we took a train across Slovakia to be able to see some of the countryside. Unfortunately, it was one of the older trains and there seemed to be little or no heat. After six hours we were a bit frozen, especially poor Cheryl who was nursing a cold.

We ended up in the capitol of Bratislava in the southwest corner of the country, and then caught a train to Budapest—luckily a shorter and much warmer ride. Spent the next three days wandering around the beautiful city of Budapest.  Divided between the flat “pest” side and the hilly “buda” side (they were once two different cities) by the Danube River, Budapest is a wonderful city to explore on foot. Every street corner seemed to bring new architectural wonders and the bridges spanning the river gave us some great views of both sides. The weather continued on with its lousy winter weather cycle, but it cleared somewhat on the last day. 

A couple of the highlights of the city for me: The Baths: Budapest is situated over deep underground hot springs, and they have provided the city with hot mineral baths throughout its history. A day at the baths is a fine thing—we chose the old bathhouse in the central park of the city frequented by the locals. Fifteen dollars got us a day long pass to hang out in one of the three outdoor pools or many indoor pools, sauna, etc. Extra money gives you massages, pedicures, various therapies, any spa activity you can think of. But we were content with the pools and spent all of our time in the outdoor pools, going from the slightly cooler one with the very fun whirlpools and the hotter pool where one just floated in the water ad soaked up all that warmth. And indeed it was the local hang out—we saw men standing chest deep in the water engrossed in a chess game set up on the pool’s edge and many families.  And it also seems to be a good place to meet people. I got to talking with one woman around my age from Ireland who had come to Budapest to have dental work done, apparently being of much higher quality than in Ireland.  We had quite the discussion about periodontal disease, implants versus dentures, new state of the art dentures (she thought mine looked great), etc., etc. 
When we finally dragged ourselves out of the baths, I was feeling pretty good in both body and spirit.

House of Terror: This museum, housed in the building that was first the Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi occupation and then the headquarters of the secret police during the communist years, is the most powerful museum I think I have ever been to. Though it wasn’t created for tourists, and few of the signs are in English, there is enough English in the exhibits to understand what they are about and you almost really don’t need it, as you are carried along by the multimedia presentations in every room. Many of the videos of survivors telling their stories were subtitled in English, plus there were English handouts in each room. Perhaps most haunting was the slow descent by elevator to the basement level where the cells and executions were located, watching as you go down to a video of a former guard describing how executions were administered. The final room of the exhibit is a “victimizer” hall, with small photos from that era of many of the administrators of punishment, many of whom are still alive.
I wish I had come to the museum with more energy to stay longer, but I was glad I had made an effort to experience what I did, as this is part of the history of the people in this part of the world.

Holocaust memorial along the banks of the Danube River where Jews were shot and thrown into the river.

House of Terror museum, former home of Gestapo and communist secret police.

The Baths--one of the outside pools.

Inside of an old synagogue.

Looking across the Danube to church high on Buda side.

Looking across Danube to the Pest side.

House of Parliamet on Pest side.

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