It might have taken me a fair while, but I did actually manage to do some sightseeing in Budapest. I did walk around quite a bit on my first day, just without my camera and not to any actual ‘sights’ – on my relentless costume hunt with a disturbingly mature 17-year-old girl who was travelling around Europe alone.
I saw a few things while on the trams and buses going back and forth with my visa hassles, but it wasn’t until Saturday [I arrived on Monday night…] that I actually visited a museum. I went to the House of Terror, which is a museum located inside a building used during the Second World War and the Communist period to do rather unpleasant things to political enemies, dissidents and just about anyone who managed to irritate the relevant authority. It had been made out to me like it was a torture museum and I guess that’s not a lie, but it wasn’t really what I had anticipated. I thought it would have more equipment and less rooms of pictures. It was yet another depressing anti-Fascism and anti-Communism museum and while it was very well put together and the audioguide was good, it was also quite expensive and I think overpriced.
Plus, I’ve seen so many museums of this type that, while it’s still horrible and I don’t wish to belittle the suffering of the people who went through there, I was at a point where it had almost stopping affecting me. Maybe I’d just been overloaded, or maybe I simply don’t have a soul. [The internet would seem to support the second option given my red hair, but I’m not convinced of the internet’s authority on the matter, given that it also claims that red-heads don’t cast shadows and I certainly do, among a number of other odd ‘facts’]. Clearly I need to stop going to this type of museum for a while. What I did find interesting, and a little unusual, about the House of Terror was that while it had the usual walls of photos of the victims, it also had a wall of framed photos of the ‘victimizers’ with their names and details about them. It was also very interesting to learn about the Hungarian Fascist movement, the Arrow Cross party. I hadn’t heard of them before and while I know that Fascist organisations and political groups wielded power in many European countries, I don’t recall hearing anything about these guys in my history classes. There was a room that held a collection of Arrow Cross party and Nazi uniforms.
A few days later I finally got around to doing the free walking tour of Budapest. It would have to be the single worst free walking tour I’ve done. The guide was irritating, and she spent more time talking about the locations and quality of various public toilets, and then took us to the Hilton to talk about architecture – which she clearly knew nothing about. What she told us was basically, ‘this is expensive pre-Communism architecture. Next door is the kind of Communist era apartment building that most people live in’.
We saw a lot of footpaths, a few dying parks, and St. Stefan’s Basilica which was quite nice.
We crossed the Danube to Buda, walked up a million bloody steps to get to Castle Hill, and ended at the Fisherman’s Bastion. Then she tried to tell us that most people tip ‘around 3000-4000 forints’, which is $15-20. There was more than thirty people in the group, almost all backpackers, and all looking equally unimpressed with her and the tour. Of course I was going to tip, although it was tempting not to, but no – it wasn’t worth more than the cost of a night’s accommodation!
Once the tour ended I spent some time wandering around the Fisherman’s Bastion, which was quite beautiful. I visited St. Mathias cathedral, which was pretty, and had a very colourfully tiled roof that reminded me of Turkish mosaics – not unreasonable given the extent and influence of the Ottoman Empire in earlier times.
I walked back down from Castle Hill via a bunch of little alleys and narrow streets before heading towards the creatively named Chain Bridge to cross back over to Pest. I took some pictures of the Parliament building before crossing back, figuring I’d go and see that another day. I never did. I must be the only tourist who has ever visited Budapest and not bothered to actually go and see Parliament, supposedly one of the biggest governmental buildings in the world. I’m that lazy. It did look quite pretty from a distance although unfortunately the air was hazy and the sky grey, so it wasn’t exactly looking it’s best.
I headed up to Hősők Tere, Heroes’ Square, another day to see the monument and visit the strange castle, park and the baths. The monument was interesting, with a whole bunch of statues of ‘heroes’ from Budapest and Hungary’s past as well as a memorial in the centre. The square was quite large and very empty save a few tourists, and is flanked by a few museums.
The castle in the park was strange, a whole lot of different styles from different periods all cobbled together. It looked as though it was built by a serious yet creative schizophrenic.
There was also a statue of some creepy Sith Lord with a book and a pencil. I’m sure he’s actually yet another historical figure, but it looks like a creepy bad-guy in a hooded robe. As I was leaving I noticed this bright orange truck thing cleaning up what looked like an ice-skating rink in winter.
I only visited the outside of the Széchenyi Baths that day, but the next day – my last in Budapest – I spent the afternoon there, going from pool to pool to sauna to stinking mineral water baths to other unpleasantly sulfur-reeking pools. I ended up back in one of the clean, hot outdoor pools before I had to rush out the door and back to the hostel in order to make myself some sandwiches for dinner and get to the train station to board a train to Ukraine.