Someone had the temperature in the train compartment turned up really high when I got on. It might have been the two young women travelling together and getting around in their underwear. The one I could see from my bunk had big flashy earrings and butterfly tattoos. She showed me showed me two little girls’ dresses in fuchsia and red with fluffy underskirts and fabric flowers. She and her friend watched YouTube music videos and chatted with the fellow in our compartment whose English was good. He and a few others had set up an architecture firm but have diversified into designing and making furniture while they build up a name for themselves. I slept through Austria to awake in Eastern Europe. The sun softly lit fields of snow outside of Budapest, but once we hit town there was no snow to be seen. I was surprised but not disappointed. Coming out of the snow to colours in Switzerland, even of deciduous trees and tired green fields, had been good to my eyes.
With four whole days in Budapest, I didn’t do much the first day. My still valid Edinburgh student card got me a monthly student pass for all public transport in the city for a grand total of AU$7. I’d also decided that I would fly home from Istanbul instead of pushing myself all the way to Tehran, which meant I didn’t need to run around here getting photos with a headscarf and finding the Iranian embassy to get my visa. Instead, I walked along beside the Danube to get a feel for the place. The river is wide and crossed by several bridges. There was a fair bit of haze and from the higher point of one of the bridges I could smell smoke. Parliament house is ornate, Buda Palace and various other buildings and monuments sit across the river. Casts of shoes beside the river in front of parliament house are a memorial to those shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militia. I didn’t know who they were until the next morning at the House of Terror.
The Terror House Museum is in a building that was used first by the Nazi-like Arrow Cross Party who had control of the Hungarian government following the German invasion of Hungary in 1944 until the Soviet forces took Budapest in 1945. Communist forces subsequently used the building. It was a pretty full on experience including interviews with survivors of the terror perpetuated by both regimes. A Soviet tank sits in a pool of oil at the centre of the building and the walls of the last room are covered with named photos of accused perpetrators, many still alive, with the implication that they haven’t been tried. A museum staff member leant against a blank spot and stared at the wall of photos opposite, tapping his fingernails against the wall. It all made me more appreciative of how recently communism ended here. Some criticisms have been made of the museum, but the fact that it can even exist speaks for how much more freedom there is here now. I’m not sure such a museum exists in Russia. It also included how after the end of World War Two, ethnic Germans were forced out of Hungary and transported to Germany, I’m not sure whether east or west. It made it seem as if actions taken after the end of the war somehow mirrored some of those committed during the war.
A speckle of snow fell as I made my way from the House of Terror to the Museum of Ethnography. I saw street signs that are in the same style as in photos of Budapest in the House of Terror after Soviet destruction of the city to end the revolution of 1956. I looked around at the streets and buildings. The buildings are something of a cross between Paris and St Petersburg. The same, almost pastel, colours as St Petersburg, lots of biscuit crumb icing on the facades, but not as large and imposing. Window in the wall shops and men and women in fur hats. A woman with shoes that looked like they had a dead furry animal strapped around each ankle. I wondered at how much these streets had seen in the last century. Rebuilt only to be destroyed and rebuilt again. And of course, the experiences of thousands of people.
The Museum of Ethnography had exhibitions of rural Jewish Hungarian culture and the trades of Romani and other minority groups. The Jewish one added another layer to the House of Terror, while non-Jewish minority groups were particularly absent from the House of Terror. Whole villages that had been almost or completely Jewish because of the way they were historically granted permission to settle, sent to Auschwitz. One village only had one man return. The minority trades exhibition told how people who travelled to sell their wares or services were needed but looked down on. To the extent that Romani women who went door to door selling the wooden troughs the men made were seen as beggars. The exchange made greatly undervalued the work to make and sell the troughs. This resulted in Romani people internalising two things, that they were begging and that their work was not valuable. In the permanent folksy exhibition, the troughs were clearly a part of everyday life, used for kneading bread, as beds for babies and so on.
For something a bit lighter I went to the Roman ruins the next day. They didn’t do much for me. I think it’s all just too long ago and maybe I don’t know enough about it all, but I didn’t feel much connection to it. I did like that some of the buildings had had underfloor heating and seeing reconstructed tiles that were used for heating. I also liked the reproduction on a wall inside of a Roman map of the empire and being able to trace some of my journey on it.
It was too late after the ruins to go to the caves as I had planned, so I went up to Castle Hill and ended up in the National Art Gallery. Much of it was closed off for the day, but I was happy to see the post-1945 rooms. The pieces that were labelled as being in a surnaturalism style were particularly cool. A combination of naturalistic type detail with colours or compositions that made them surreal. There was also a great view over the city, its river and bridges.
One last day for Budapest and I went to the caves and in keeping with the theme, the baths. The caves are right under the buildings. Formed by thermal water coming up in faults in the limestone they weren’t discovered until major earth works of quarrying and building activity created entrances in the early twentieth century. The first ones had more of the forms created by the upwelling hot water, the second ones more of the effects of water dripping down through. Not quite as stunning as the first caves I saw in Chillagoe, but still worth a visit. The main difference was probably how the first cave has had access paths carved through the rock. Rather than spoiling it, this allows you to see cross sections through some parts that you wouldn’t otherwise. There are fewer bats hibernating there this year than normal, another indication that this winter is warmer than usual across large areas of Europe.
From ancient effects of thermal water, to bathing in the water itself. The baths in City Park had indoor rooms, but it had started to snow again that afternoon so I choose to stay in the outside pools to bask in the experience of swimming at night as the snow fell. The first pool was only just warm enough at 34 degrees, so I eventually braved the freezing cold and ran over to the 38 degree one. Beautiful. Low lighting, people chatting, warm water and snow falling like the inverse of bubbles.
I was planning to find somewhere to have a good dinner before my train left, but the park was just too pretty in its fresh icing of snow under city light pollution so I wandered around taking photos instead. Bread and cheese will do when there is such to be seen. A perfect end to my slower days in Budapest.