There are instances in which the progression of an idea to an action (or in this case, an experience) are not immediately clear; I know that at some point, I said “hey, I’d like to go to Eastern Europe. Budapest is supposedly very nice,” but I don’t really remember when we decided to actually go, nor did I really pay much attention to the travel arrangements, the responsibility for which fell to the Purrito. I do know that I wasn’t, to be honest, particularly enthusiastic about the flight, and that whatever residual enthusiasm I might have had was further dampened by the taxi strike that took place on the day of our departure, which, when combined with a mouvement social on the RER B to CDG, threatened to make the journey to the airport nearly impossible.
We made it to the airport, though, and we’re both glad that we did; our adventure in Budapest proved to be one of the best trips we’ve taken, and it was certainly the best time that we’ve had outside of France.
I did genuinely wonder what the hell we had gotten ourselves into when we landed at the amusingly small and oddly set-up (the gates for certain airlines are literally just warehouses out on the taxi-way, despite the terminal itself being a modern, well-designed specimen), and I had further doubts later that evening as we wandered from our hotel (we stayed on the quieter and much more residential Buda side of the city) and through a large tunnel under Castle Hill. Riding the funicular up the hill was a novel experience, though Fisherman’s Bastion proved to be every bit as contrived as the Purrito’s Rick Steves video had warned us that it would.
In any case, things improved at dinner. Despite a misunderstanding as to whether our waiter’s name was his actual name or a culturally-imperialistic joke (as it turns out, there are people who are actually named Igor), we ate, went to bed, and embarked upon our Eastern European odyssey the next day. While we had been wavering on Monument Park, it would up being the highlight of our trip. Returning to the city, we hit the very strange central market, with all of it’s cabbage-y and sausage-y food, distinct lack of deference to international intellectual property laws (hello counterfeit hard rock, winnie the pooh, lion king, frozen…), and matryoshka-doll chess sets (slight twinge) and followed that up with a run through (and up to the top of) Saint-Istvan’s Basilica. We attempted to hit the Terror House, but it was too late, so we proceeded back over to the Buda side of the city to figure out the food situation. Two Hard Rock shirts and a bottle of local wine later (we’re dispelling any sort of air of sophistication we might have been cultivating, but we keep doing it because it’s funny), and we were ready for bed.
Day two consisted of a visit to The Hospital in the Rock (a WW2 era hospital built in a natural cave system, which was later converted into a non-hardened hospital bunker that had approximately a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving a nuclear attack), the Terror Museum (where one began to understand just how badly the people of Hungary had suffered for nearly a half-century under the boots of first the Nazis and then the Soviets), and a visit to one of Budapest’s best known mineral baths, Széchenyi thermal bath (where the Purrito proved to be a questionable shipper of Geep-containing cargo). Dinner at the best pizza place in Europe (seriously) was at Marxim’s, a communist-decorated dive bar.
Perhaps the most poignant part of our trip came as we were leaving; our 62-year-old taxi driver pointed out, with pride, almost everything of interest that he saw as we made our way to the airport (the medical school, a children’s hospital, the law school…). Doing the mental math, we realized that he had been born only 3 years before the shitshow that was the 1956 revolution and, per our unpleasant education in the Terror House, the stunningly awful aftereffects.
“This country has a lot of problems,” he told us before continuing, now with a hint of defiance in his voice, “but they are our problems.”