October 22,2011 Budapest, Hungary
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I woke exactly 5 minutes before the alarm would ring. I turned it off and went back to sleep.
Woke up for the second time just to realize that Annika had already woken up. “Stand up. We should go”, she pleaded.
As I awoke for the third time I realized it was very late. I needed to take a bath and help Annika pack all our things. We had intention to leave Budapest for the second time (the first time we tried to leave 4 out of our 6 tires were flat). My heart was not ready to leave this city. Something told me the city was about to give me another great surprise. Half an hour later my hunch would prove me right once again.
I saw him for the first time. He was working in the kitchen area on his computer; quiet, meticulous and concentrated. Soon after realizing I had entered the room with an air of mystery that surrounded him in his bulky black winter jacket he said “Don’t go today. If you stay I will show you the true face of Budapest”. It was him The Boss, the head of the hostel team, his name a secret. All our things packed, the ideal weather for bike riding and our plan to go in our heads all the sudden didn’t really matter. We both looked at our eyes and knew what was about to come. “Yes”, we both answered at the same time, “we will stay”. “Go to the Terror House Museum and then work your way towards the Heroes Square, in the Andrassy Ave. I will meet you here at 5:45 pm and then we will continue your travesy through the elegant Buda and the spirited Pest.”, he stated. We grabbed the keys to the door, the city map and we were ready to leave. “Oh one last thing just piss before you take a walk around the city”, he suggested.”There are very few public toillets in the city”.
We left the hostel.
Annika came back to the hostel for her wallet.
I came back to the hostel for toilette paper for our runny noses.
“Are you kidding me?” The Boss laughed as we both got in for the third time to get our sweaters.
After some intense discussion on whether or not we should take more toilette we finally left the building.
We both entered the Terror House Museum, the former Arrow Cross Party (Nazi supported Hungarian Party) and Communist Police AVH headquarters loyal to the abobinal Stalin regime. The museum exhibits the atrocities that took place in this house during this two dark periods of hungarina history. The main motif is to conmemorate the victims and to encourage future generations to avoid at all costs that things like this ever happen again in the world. The museum also ilustrates the failed but courageous attempt in 1956 to regain independence from the regime a couple of months after Stalin’s death on March 5th the same day of my birthday.
Sad and feeling very empathic towards our Hungarian brothers for all they had to go through to earn their autonomy from a dictatorial system, we left the museum. “What kind of blind heartless monsters were the people that let all this happen” I wondered. With my question unaswered and a strange emptiness in my stomach we walked towards the Opera metro station, the oldest and vintage decorated station in the city.
Realizing that my funny stomach feeling was nothing more than hunger we stopped at the group of foods stands that were by the train station. To fill our sadness we decided to eat LANGOS a fried dough hungarian speciality topped with cheese and sour cream. We also shared a bowl of gulash soup. Our sadness slowly became to pass in a delicious catarsis.
We arrived at the hostel were The Boss was already wainting for us. He looked at us with a smile as if he already knew what we had experienced in the Terror Museum. With all of this in a strange understandment he said, “Follow me we are going to see another face of Budapest.”
Annika, The Boss and I hopped on his auto van where he started bombarding us with historical facts about the city. So many I couldn’t keep up with him. Except but one that really caught my attention. Very near to the Heroes Square at the birth of the Andrassy Ave there is a castle (Now the Agricultural Museum of Budapest) that is the exact replica of Count Dracula’s in Transylvania. The Boss suspects that it had to do with the fact that Dracula was a spy working on some sort of conspiracy to help Romania get independence from the Kingdom of Hungary. He then talked to us about his life in Pest, the part of the city east of the river, and seemed to know everything about the most important neighborhoods. “When you buy your food shop at TESCO is cheaper there,” he suggested. He then added “Most young people live in Pest. Ninety percent of the nightlife takes places here. Buda on the other hand is beautiful to see but boring to live in.” We later learned that Buda made up for the Citadelle and the Castle part, while Pest was filled with young student life and office working lifeforce a perfect combination if you want to eat and drink good and cheap.
Inside the car while the night was slowly falling on our heads. The Boss was eager to teach us more about the city. “Did you know that the water system her in Budapest is very elaborate and unique because of it’s complex water caves?” he remarked with his chest up as we rode on the streets of Pest. “You should take a bath on the public pools filled with medicinal thermal water. They are increadibly cheap and an absolutely amazing way to stay healthy during the winter.” he closed.
We then crossed the emblematic Chains Bridge to enter Buda. “To your right you will see the wonderful Parliament, a neo-gothic construction that represents all that we had fought for”. I then understood why he wanted us to go first to the Terror House Museum. The Parliament represented the liberty gained from two regimes that forgot the importance of the peoples voice in the governing of a country. It all made sense now. I could then see the inner beauty of this already beautiful building that can be seen from almost everywhere along the Danube River.
We arrived to the climatic point of the visit. The romantic view point from the Citadell. The Citadelle, like many other old European buildings, was a former Nazi fortress during WWII and it is now a museum and an elegant restaurant that overlooks the city. “Here is the perfect place to take your girlfriend to drink a bottle of amazingly good quality Hungarian wine and stare at the stars while the city lights iluminate her excited eyes”, he claimed. “I think here is the best place to experience Budapest in all it’s might” The Boss closed. We stood there for several minutes. First in quiteness then in tranquility and finally in peace. For a moment I watched how The Boss looked at his city as if it was the first time he had seen it. I felt very happy to be there. I gave Annika a kiss and hoped that she was enjoying the time here as much as me.
We then bought a bottle of Hungarian white wine that The Boss proponed and opened it in the car. “Is it legal to drink on the streets?”, I asked. “Well only if you are a true cowboy you can”, The Boss replied. As the driver and a waterpolo sports man he did not drink a zip. We returned to Pest and he drove us straight down to the Palace District where he left us on his favorite Pub. “Eat and drink here you will have an amazing time”, he added with a voice of mischief.
Drunk and hungry Annika and I ordered one Budapest burger together and one liter of their local beer each. Till today I still cannot pronounce the name of the beer but I am almost sure it starts with K. We drank and talked just enough to stay wide awake and laughing.
Talking funny but with a smile in our faces we decided to take the 45 minute walk back home, because we couldn’t find the bus terminal that would have taken us home. Walking in the night and watching how the nighlife aroused between the younger crowed of the city, we realized we were not the crazy same old party youngsters that we used to be.
Tired, happy and in love with each other in this romantic city, we finally arrived at the hostel. We then lied in our bunker beds and dreamed about citylights that filled our traveler spirits curiosty to it’s fullest.
Dedicated to The Boss and Anna. Thanks for your hospitality at Lowcostel.