On my second day in Budapest I slept in a little to enjoy the air conditioning, then I got up and went to the House of Terror. I had wanted to go to the House of Terror back in February but I just didn’t get the time. Outside of the museum, there is a piece of the original Berlin Wall and a monument commemorating the Iron Curtain. The architects who redid the building to be a museum purposefully made the exterior look imposing in order to not only serve as a museum but also as a sort of monument along Andrassy Boulevard. The House of Terror is a museum which tells the story of the Hungarians under 2 different terror regimes; first the Nazis and then the communists. Hungary really did have the worst of luck during the 20th century.
The House of Terror has an impressive amount of live footage from the Nazi and Communist occupation; as well as videos of people alive at the time telling their stories. Thousands of Hungarians were tortured and murdered during this dark period in Hungarian history. Fear dominated the population. I think that when we learn about concentration camps and persecution in school, we often focus solely on Germany and Poland. Many other countries like Hungary suffered greatly as well. The museum was sobering; it was necessary. I definitely learned a lot about Hungarian history in the past 100 years.
After visiting the museum, I had a pounding headache because a) it was warm in there and b) trying to read while having loud ominous music or live footage playing in every room requires a lot of concentration. I walked 5 minutes down Andrassy Avenue and then I smelt the scent of fresh bread being baked at Subway and decided to succumb to my American ways and go to Subway for lunch. I think i have done a remarkably good job of just eating local food, so this was just a slight moment of weakness. My next stop was the basilica. I went inside the basilica the last time, but I didn’t get a chance to go up to the observation tower so thats where I headed. I had thought that you had to climb stairs all the way up, but since Budapest’s main Catholic building is fairly new, it was possible to take an elevator most of the way. It was like an oven around the dome, so I didn’t stay up there too long. Heat radiated from above, below, and the roof of the dome itself. The observation deck did afford a great view over the entire city.
Once I came down from the top of the church, I went to check out the interior of the Opera House. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the whole interior because guided tours were only available at 3 or 4 and I had somewhere else to be. Instead after getting a good look at the lobby and entrance area, I stopped by Costa Coffee for a cold strawberry lemonade. Then I headed to the train station parking lot to meet up at 3 30 for a Caving tour I had signed up for. Once again, I had heard about the opportunity to go caving a little outside of Budapest the last time I was there so I was really excited to see what it was all about. I was imaging large underground caves with just a few narrow spaces to get on all fours to get through. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
When I say that I had bruises all over my body the next day I make no jokes. My knees and my elbows are especially injured. They are blue and purple all around. I also have bruises on my arms, my stomach, and my hips. Unknowingly, I had signed myself up for 3 and a half in the depths of the earth and somehow managed to get myself into the craziest most hard core group of them all. Caving does not mean a nice little jaunt through a spacious underground cavern. Caving means you suck it in for all you’re worth and attempt to maneuver yourself through crawl spaces intended for toddlers. You practice doing the worm while feeling like a worm and praying for deliverance. You have to wear a full body suit to prevent cuts (unfortunately the padding is limited) and a helmet to protect your head plus a headlight like you are a miner or something. Forget being claustrophobic, it was downright terrifying. Thankfully I had some really nice guys in my group who were willing to help me out or else I don’t know if I would have made it out alive. I became a sort of team mascot and each time we went through a new passageway everyone would laugh at my comments and my facial reactions. What they don’t know is that I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was wondering why there were so many more guys than girls going on the Caving tour and I instantly realized why. It is hard work! And not for the dainty. I have a layer of dirt and grime still stuck under my fingernails and it took a lot of shampoo and conditioner to get the grit out of my hair. I can not think of how to make you understand how small these crawl spaces under the earth were. You really just had to be there. For a clue, you can look at some of the pictures I took. The passageways had names like Sandwich (you are the meat) and birth canal (because you have to push, push, push) The guide adapts the level of difficulty in the caves to the ability of the group. My group was loving it – the guys were all like this is awesome. I just shut my brain down and tried not to think. We were the first of 3 groups into the labyrinth and the last group out because we went through every hard passageway. We even got to sign a book hidden down in the caves since we made it through the hardest ways. In order to get through a few of the crawl spaces I had to have one guy pull me up or forward while another gave me a foothold to push off from behind. Several times my hips got stuck and I thought I’d be trapped down there overnight. Even now, I am surprised that I survived. The first thing I did when I got out was to go to the bar. I probably will never go caving again, it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. That said, I’m glad I roughed it out and made it through. I got some great pictures and memories and some nice new friends. I went out to dinner with 3 of them back in Budapest once we finally made it back into the city around 10. I was starved. Then we went to the bar in Elizabeth Square which is underneath a small pool of water for a beer since it was raining. The rain didn’t let up so I trudged back to my hostel and straight to the shower. What a day.