The chilly weather continues here in Eastern Europe, and days are shorter. In Budapest, just over the time line, the sun sets at 4:30 pm these days. We took a five hour train to Budapest for a week as Eric was giving lectures there at Karoli University. Our train was set to leave at 8 am, and in typical dad fashion, Eric wanted us to be there as early as possible, and contemplated us getting there the night before JUST TO BE SURE.
Train travel, however, is not like plane travel. There’s no indoor comfortable lounges to wait in, just a small heated room if you’re lucky, with cracked plastic chairs. We watched our breath come out in puffs, and I played games of Simon Says with the kids, partly to give them something to do and partly to prevent hypothermia. I was excited to spend time there. I’ve dreamt of going since I was a kid, playing Carmen SanDiego and reading “Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is formally two cities Buda and Pest separated by the Danube River” about a million times. (My other memory from Carmen SanDiego the computer game (not the TV show because of course that is Rockapella) is that Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea.)
Along this trip, my phone died. For a while it could be resuscitated with a series of twisting maneuvers and then by doing a soft reset, which I likened to doing chest compressions and then pulling out the paddles. Sadly, the constant stress of twisting finally resulted in a large diagonal crack along the entire screen. I had to call the code and get a new phone. This meant that our first stop in Budapest was … the mall. I don’t know what it is about our family that we end up at a mall basically everywhere we go. Sigh. Eric and I headed to the mall, leaving the kids to rest at home for an hour. On our way out, we noticed a Lego display and play area on the first floor. Giving each other a glance of sad resignation, we knew we’d have to tell the kids and we’d then be spending more time at the mall. I used to feel bad about having to use travel time for errands like this, but the reality is its stuff that you need to do for life, like getting a winter coat or new underwear (yes, the kids finally needed more) we just happen to have to do it somewhere else!
We thought to beat the chill with a visit to one of Budapest famed hot springs baths. I was picturing something along the lines of Glenwood Springs, though hoping for something that resembled the Japanese onsen, sitting in a pool of hot bubbling water until the icy feeling left me. Instead we found ourselves walking on a mats with ground in dirt, sitting in a huge, slightly lukewarm, outdoor pool so filled with people that it was almost difficult to move around easily. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I was sitting in a sparkling clean onsen, hot springs and plants around me. It didn’t work. There were dry saunas inside, but these were so packed that people were standing in the middle of the floor. There were hotter pools inside, but these did not allow kids under 16, so back to the tepid water it was. Eric tried to go for a swim in one of the larger, colder pools, and shivered for the rest of the night.
The next day, yes, we went back to the mall. We left the kids in the cage of Legos, supervised play area and walked around a bit after which we had to head back home and move to our new place at the University dorms for the rest of our time there.
That evening we went to the Hungarian National Museum, an excellent museum detailing the history of Hungary. I’ll give you the reader’s digest version: Hungary has basically been under the thumb of another Empire for much of its life. It’s had several failed revolutions, crushed by its overlords of either Austria + Russia (1894) or the Soviet Union (1956). Coming from Vienna, home of the Habsburg empire and seeing how history is presented there – with the Empire as a unified state, and with its subjects loyal to the Empress, it’s quite different in Hungary. WWI and II are somewhat glossed over in terms of Hungarian actions, but mostly to say that they got roped into participation because of the Empire, not because Hungarians wanted to.
For those of you that live in Denver, when you drive along Speer Blvd south towards Cherry Creek, look to your right along the way. There’s a memorial there dedicated to the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.
I’ve looked it up before because I was curious, but it hits home here. Hungarians, upset over continued Communist rule and oppression had a student uprising which spread and broke the government. The Soviet Union initially said they would work together to dismantle the system, but just essentially rolled in with tanks and massacred thousands over the course of 2 weeks. Mass arrests and executions followed for months, and the Communist system remained in power until 1989.
The next few days, Eric was teaching so it was just me and the kids traipsing about Budapest. Walking around Budapest, surrounded by things in the Hungarian language we were again mostly illiterate. Hungarian is not Latin or Germanic based, so there’s little word similarities to help along. Fun Fact – The two closest languages to Hungarian are Finnish and Estonian!
Last week, I’d handed the kids a tourist map and guide of Budapest and told them to put together an itinerary. Readers, they did a great job. We started with a walk over the Danube, then up to the Citadel (a fortress built on a high hill after the crushed 1884 rebellion for the Habsburgs to prove their might), walk along to Buda Castle, then back over the Danube. Along the way we found little delights like slides set into the hill, different narrow staircases to climb to visit the Castle, pretending like we were enemy ninja stealthily invading.
We wanted to go to the pinball museum, alas it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we found ourselves at a game pub instead! A wall of board games awaited us, and we spent a few happy hours in competition.
The next day we checked out St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament building. Both are absolutely stunning, and interestingly made as complements to each other. Richly detailed and decorated with carvings and tilework throughout, we just kept looking at the beauty. They are both exactly the same height, as the tallest buildings in Budapest, and are meant to symbolize a balance between religion and governmental thought. In the back room, a sign let us know that the holy hand was available for viewing. Huh? We thought. Off we went to look, and in a glass case is…a mummified hand. Purportedly the “incorruptible” right hand of Stephen himself (first Hungarian king c 1000 AD not of the Bible) was found on his final battlefield and has been preserved. I can’t lie, it felt a bit creepy. Okay, a lot creepy.
On our last full day in Budapest, we awoke to the election news and while it’s no secret that I’m not happy about the result I won’t dwell on it here. Fatigued after waking early for election results, but managed to head to the Hungarian National Gallery for some art and a break from politics for a bit. I found this so interesting because it’s mostly Hungarian artists who we’ve never heard of in the West, but were part of the same artistic movements and created beautiful pieces. Many traveled to Paris and were inspired by Gaugin and Picasso. My favorite was a piece by a Hungarian artist named Jozef Rippl-Ronai, titled “Woman Holding a Bird Cage.”
Another exhibition focused on Hungarian art through time. I skipped the Renaissance galleries, since they usually seem to be of identical pictures of Jesus and Mary with the gilt halo around Jesus’ head (Nothing against them, I just find them repetitive) and headed for the more modern era, starting around 1900. Moving from the impressionist/art nouveau era, through to socialist realism, then to more modern and abstract pieces, you can see the national mood at the time reflected in the art.
Too tired to do much else, we made it to the Flipper Museum, where an entrance fee of about $9 gives you unlimited playtime on rooms of pinball machines and a few video games. We whiled away a few hours playing pinball, and I introduced the kids to Mortal Kombat. Man, that game used to seem so, so violent when I was 11, but playing it now it feels tame given the grainy graphics and the current world of hyperrealistic high def point-and-shoot games. Using the internet as our friend, we looked up special moves, trying to get frozen ice to shoot out of our hands. At some point we sounded like right fools, yelling “Up Up down high punch! No! Up UP DOWN high punch!” over and over then going “oooooooh” when the trick worked!
An early morning train ride back to Timisoara, and we’re back in our little flat here. Guess it’s time for me to head back to the mall, it’s been a few days.