I woke up confused in Hungary. What time was it? What day was it? What the hell country was I in? I finally pieced it together. I was in Budapest. As far as the time, that was another matter. We weren’t aware that daylight savings had taken place, so the watch said one thing, the computer another and the clocks in the hotel did not agree. It’s a good thing that we didn’t have a train to catch, only time to kill before we could check into our apartment. We strolled over to the enormous park that houses several museums, some baths, an amusement park, a zoo, a flea market, and various other diverting activities. My favorite thing that I saw in the flea market was a collection of Harry Potter books poised right beneath some hard core porn DVD’s so that the illustrated Harry was looking directly up at a woman doing things that I’m sure Dumbledore wouldn’t approve of him seeing.
What I love about Hungary is that it is so delightfully weird. We stumbled across a festival celebrating The Revolution of 1956. Since we knew nothing about The Revolution of 1956, it was a bit confusing. The area was fenced off, but there was no entry fee. A sign posted at the gate, the only one translated into English, warned that you entered the area at your own risk as if perhaps another revolution could break out at any minute. The small area was filled with 1950’s era tanks, trucks, and buses. There were several exhibits in Hungarian that we had to bypass, but we did watch with relish the lackluster reenactment of the revolution where people dressed like extras from Les Mis tentatively shuffled to victory. Well, not victory exactly since the revolution was eventually crushed, but victory for the moment. The best and weirdest part was the woman gaily dressed in a winter coat, scarf, and a jaunty beret with a pom-pon, standing in the back of an old military truck singing Hungarian songs from the 1950’s in a sultry voice while a two-piece band listlessly accompanied her from a stage draped with the Hungarian flag.
When we were finally able to check into our apartment, we found the floor still drying and the furniture being moved back into place. The owner apologized explaining that the previous occupant had been there for 8 days and they “had a lot of cleaning to do.” This comment did not alert our suspicions until 1) we saw from the guest book that the previous occupant was a single guy 2) the search history on the computer showed several searches for strip clubs and Hungarian prostitutes, and 3) I found on the floor next to the bed the instructions for how to put on a Vulcan condom properly. I don’t know if the broken toilet seat was directly related or simply coincidence. But it was a great apartment other than that. All new (well, slightly broken in) and right in the middle of downtown for only $45 per night.
We amused ourselves by going up to the citadel on our second day. From the park perched on on the hill topped by the fortress, you can see the entire city. Taken as a whole, I think Budapest is the prettiest city I’ve been to. People always make such a fuss about Prague, but I think Budapest is worth 10 Pragues, personally. You could spend days in Budapest just looking at the architecture of everyday buildings like apartments and post offices let alone the palaces, fortresses and parks. And the charm of Budapest isn’t just confined to one small downtown area. Its beauty extends throughout the city.
On our third day we went up to the Castle Hill area which is something that we had been looking forward to ever since we decided to come to Budapest. Yes, Castle Hill has stunning views, awe-inspiring churches, eye-popping architecture, blah, blah, blah. What we were really looking forward to was The House of Hungarian Wines. I had found out about this little gem last year when I was in the city. For about $20 you and your glass are let loose in a cave with around 500 different wines all there for you to pour for yourself. However many and however much you want (although the rules expressly say that you are not to get too intoxicated). It is a concept so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes. Where else can you learn about all of the Hungarian wine regions while getting schnockered? I told tales of it to Adam as if it was Shangri-la or El Dorado, so he was probably more excited than I was to experience this wonder. We climbed up the hill bypassing the museums, churches, and cafes, and finally we stood in front of The House of Hungarian Wines. We went for the door handle. It was locked. We searched for a sign with opening hours. We thought we must be early. Instead we found a notice posted on the door that informed us that The House of Hungarian Wines was moving to another location that was to be determined. We looked at each other and then back at the notice, mouths agape. I thought of Clark Griswold driving all the way across the country only to find Wally World closed. This was our Wally World. Sadly, there was no one around to take hostage with a BB gun. We walked numbly into the square. We ate lunch without really tasting it. I tried to cheer us up a bit by leading us to Matthias Church which is a quite unusual church on the inside. Probably inspired by is past heritage as a mosque, the interior is washed in splendid earth tones with swaths of cobalt and deep red. However, this only led to another disappointment when I saw that although we had paid the full admission price, due to restoration work, the entire upper part of the church was closed. This is the best part of the church. Not only is there a wonderful view of the whole church from up there, but that is also where they keep all of the saints’ relics—fingers, hands, feet, all encapsulated in ornate golden showcases. I love relics because they are so deliciously gruesome. How great is it that people not only keep, but worship, someone’s big toe? I think that I would like my fibula to be kept for this purpose. (My longing for relics was later appeased at St. Stephen’s Church where his right hand is prominently on display).
Of course I was probably one of the only tourists that knew about this admission price jiggery-pokery (my new favorite word, thank you Richard Fortey), since I had just been there. So we left even more dejected and wandered aimlessly around, unmotivated to do anything else lest we be disappointed a third time. What finally saved our day was my discovery of a taqueria that was very close to our apartment. We had not had anything even resembling Mexican food since we left. Why? Because there are no Mexican people in the South Pacific or Europe. It is actually quite eerie. So the result is that even if there are places that claim to be Mexican restaurants (and there aren’t many), they usually don’t even come close to Taco Bell, let alone authentic Mexican food. For crap’s sake, the Brits call burritos BUR-AYE-TOES. But this place looked like it was at least up to the standard of say, Baja Fresh, and at this point we were ready to take what we could get. We ordered three different types of tacos and two different burritos. They were all fairly good. Not like a taco stand on a corner downtown outside of the Supermercado, but they were satisfying. We went back the next night too. Who knows when we’ll see anything resembling a taqueria again?
After 5 nights in Budapest it was time to board an early morning train to Brasov. 12 hours later we arrived in a city that neither of us knew squat about.