Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Budapest: a hunger for hungary

For Easter, I met my friend Christy in Budapest for, what I expected to be, a weekend of lounging in thermal pools playing chess with old Hungarian men and eating strudel in the sun. At the last minute my friend Charlotte joined our trip (immediately upping our street cred by surviving an attempted mugging on day one. Win) and together we discovered the sad truths that 
1. Fat Hungarian men in thermal baths are less than enthusiastic about allowing new folk into their chess games
2. Strudels were mostly full of cherries, and I do not care for cherry strudel

3. Budapest had a bizarrely cold Easter... 
That aside, Budapest was awesome. As well as the goulash, the thermal springs and the Danube; the trip took a decidedly educational direction, with communism, Hungarian nazis and the history of Christianity(??), being a lot more prevelant than strudel. Weird.

my only solace was that they also ignored the fat sunburnt man lurking around too.

cherries. gah!

When in the 'pest...

1. Christy and I started our newfound obsession with Hungarian history at the House of Terror, which is, without doubt the most amazingly curated museum/memorial I have ever been to (and believe you me, I've seen some war museums...) this was beyond. Beyond. Each room had coordinated lighting, music, heating, and complex layouts to represent every stage of hungary's nazi and then communist past (they really got messed around a lot...)
The only issue was that very little was actually in English, and as a result we perhaps didn't get the entiiiire story (one of the rooms was made up of thousands of waxy bricks, forming a maze through which victims of the Arrow Cross Army were shown... at the time Christy and I discussed the meaning for these waxy bricks... when i wikipedia-ed it later, it turns out they were actually pig fat bricks to depict the harsh times of the 1950s... aha.) 
Apparently there was an audio guide in English which we could have bought.
Next time.

This room exposed all the ex-secret police baddies who are still at large. It was full of  secret spy 'findings' . It was very 1984-esque.
The maze of pig fat bricks... which now makes a lot more sense. aha.

2. At university, I majored in 'International Business Economics' which, one would assume, would give me some level of understanding foreign currency... It appears Hungarian money rendered my degree a sham. Being with christy, who kept attempting to convert the money into Norwegian kroner, did not help my cause... To this day, I still have very limited understanding of how much a Hungarian forint is worth... but i'm pretty sure the wine was cheap.
i think.

3. When Charlotte arrived, I dragged them to the Communist Statue Memorial Park, (yep, I'm full of fun ideas for the kids) where propaganda statues from Hungarian communism go to die. and those Soviets really knew how to make a statue.

I've never been more excited for anything than the communist hero statue park. We had a guide. In English. (Who says we're slow learners...!?) She was amazing and told us stories about her grandma and, strangely, made lots of communist jokes. I was the teacher's pet and answered all her questions right... Then I wanted to slide down the statue of the soviet worker and when I came back, christy was her favourite- having spent my play time discussing the future of ex-soviet states with her.
Suck up.

Stalin's boots. The rest of him - all 9m of bronze stalin - was pulled apart in the revolution. woah.

The game that lost me the guide's affection. worth.it.

4. After the experience that was Moroccan hammams last month, it was quite nice to head to a country where people wear swimsuits and don't shave themselves when you're standing near them (yes. Marrakech, you really opened my eyes)... The thermal baths in Budapest were a gorgeous maze of indoor and outdoor pools, ranging in temperatures from 20-39 degrees as well as being a bizarre range of colours and smells. At one point, while immersed in a strange greenish pool with the word 'medecene' above it, we talked about what we were lounging around in. True to form for us in Hungary, we had no idea and promptly forgot about it and started talking about christy's iron deficiency and communism vs nazism. Yep. 

We played in whirlpools, got massages by silent Hungarian warriors who seemed over-keen on my shins and tried tragically to get invited to play chess with fat, brown Hungarian men. Those men were serious. They had their own waterproof boards and they meant business. But frankly, everyone in Hungary means business it seems. The trains appear to work on 'get on the train in 5seconds or we.will.destroy.you' mentality. They're cut throat. A bell rings, the doors open. The doors shut almost immediately and the train speeds off. Insanity. Likewise, the elevators, taxi driving and the general attitude of people on the street... Business. 


next time, chess-playing men... next time.

5. Christy has decided he suffers from Vertigo. Yes. He also self diagnosed himself on day one as iron deficient... Which was no doubt a ploy to eat enormous amounts of meat. and hungary is happy to serve meat. At a shop that had a sign stating 'rooster testicle stew' christy ate breakfast 3 times. No judgement... He's got an iron deficiency.

Charlotte, a vegetarian (and thereby suspicious to the Hungarians...) ate a lot of cheese. 

Well played Budapest (until i see my credit card statement perhaps? who knows!)

St Stephen's Basilica, which contains St.Stephens severed right hand. in a glass box. yes. 
Yep, that's a bathtub. 
So much rooster testicle stew makes a boy bored.

12 years of Catholic school made Christy not want to visit churches. He waited outside.

Buda on the left, Pest on the right.

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