Whew. As I type, Richie’s parents are on a plane back to the US, effectively ending our six-week whirlwind of visitors. Richie and I have a week to recover, then we’re off to Dubai for a week. Life is definitely never dull here 🙂
After we returned from Munich and Oktoberfest, my sister and brother-in-law did a bit of traveling through Austria, then arrived in Budapest for a quick stay. We hit up a lot of the same sights as previous guests have, so I won’t bore you with the details of that, but one thing we did that was different was the baths! The weather has turned colder here in Budapest, and while I’ve been to the baths in the summery weather (mostly lounging by the outdoor pools with a book), I hadn’t yet ventured over to them in the chilly air.
Hands down, this is my new favorite thing to do in Budapest. First of all – the people-watching. Oh my goodness, the people-watching. From the middle-aged men in Speedos, alternating between posing in the sun and playing chess, to the PDA that is like a can’t-tear-my-eyes-away-trainwreck, to the elderly water aerobics class taking place in the pool next to us, the people-watching at the various pools is just not to be missed. Plus, a steaming 38˚ bath (that’s Celcius, not Fahrenheit), when the air around you is about 8˚, feels glorious.
After Jen and Steven left, our good friend Aaron arrived, just in time for Richie’s actual 30th birthday! Our friends Sophie and Reiner went above and beyond to give Aaron a great welcome, and Richie a great birthday, complete with party hats (and a crown for Richie), the Slovakian equivalent of moonshine, and a trip to the ruin pubs.
For those who haven’t experienced them, the ruin pubs of Budapest are a must-do experience. Essentially, an old building that should probably have been condemned has been mostly gutted, leaving the facade, some bathrooms, and a bar. Each one has its own little charm, like Szimpla’s old Trabant car turned into a seating area.
On the same day that Aaron departed our fair city, Richie’s parents arrived. I think Lexie and Winston were in a constant state of euphoria with the number of visitors we had – you would think we never paid them any attention with how excited they were to see Richie’s parents! We once again toured the typical spots, but there were two unique things we did with Richie’s folks.
First, on the day of their arrival, Hungary was celebrating their national holiday for the 1956 Revolution. Hungary was liberated from the Nazis by the Soviets towards the end of WWII; however, it didn’t take long for the Soviets to begin doing much of the same treatment of the Hungarian people that the Nazis had done. In 1956, a series of peaceful student protests turned into a revolution in the streets, with Hungarian citizens trying to take back their government from the Soviet rulers that had been installed. The revolution was successful for a brief period of time, until the Soviet rulers in Russia decided to send in reinforcements (lots of tanks and soldiers). Once the Russian tanks arrived, so many people were killed in the streets that the revolution could not continue. Many buildings still bear the scars of the revolution – many of the flats we looked at, including the one we now live in, have bullet holes in the interior courtyards from neighbors firing on each other across the halls.
Apparently this revolution was not allowed to be spoken of while the Soviets were still in control; only when the communists were finally forced out of Hungary in 1989 could the 1956 revolution be mentioned in public. Since then, on October 23rd, a remembrance celebration has been held. This year was the 56th anniversary, so there was quite a celebration in the streets. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, spoke at a ceremony in front of the Parliament, and so we went there with Richie’s parents to view the speech. Obviously it was in Hungarian… so we understood nothing but a few numbers and the words “east”, “west”, “communist”, and “Soviet”, but it was a cool experience nonetheless!
Our second unique experience was the Hospital in the Rock. This is a military hospital that was built during WWII and used primarily during 1944-45, when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary. It was closed after the war, but reopened during the 1956 Revolution, and in the 60s a nuclear bunker was added. As nuclear technology has advanced since then, it’s no longer considered a safe haven in the event of nuclear attack, but it is still regularly prepped (and workers are trained) to use it in the event of other attacks. It now houses a museum with pretty elaborate (and grotesque) wax figures demonstrating the uses of various rooms, complete with the original medical equipment and supplies. Hungary doesn’t seem to be struck with the same lawsuit-phobia as the US is, because one room we were able to tour was the central command that houses the controls for the ventilation system and the water pressure system. In the US, that room would be behind a rope at the very least (but probably behind some sort of secured entry door) and we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the machines themselves. Here in Hungary, the tour guide announced that the equipment is still working today to control the ventilation and the water pressure, and that if we touched anything we might accidentally cut off all the air to the museum, and then led us all directly into the room. That simple announcement was enough to keep anyone from touching anything. I have no doubt that in the US, if we were allowed into a room like that, someone would flip a switch just to see what would happen – or at least take a goofy picture pretending to do so 🙂
I’ve already rambled much more than I intended to… so my next post will be all about our trip to the birthplace of Mozart – Salzburg, Austria! Get ready for nerdy composer facts and photos of snow that will make you Texans start dreaming of a white Christmas…