Buda, Pest

April 3, 2008

After a stunningly unproductive two-week Spring break (much Warcraft III was played), I did manage to get out of the country once to visit Budapest. The city is great, it’s amazing how many beautiful buildings they managed to pack into a small area. The language barrier is of course an issue in Hungary; I got by well enough. The alternative, knowing Hungarian, would have been better, but my lifetime is finite. The couchsurfing community made the trip again, proving that they are the place to go when you’re looking for what to do in a foreign land.

The Kempinski Hotel, where I stayed, was nicer than any hotel I’ve ever stayed at, and probably nicer than any hotel I will stay at in the future. This was made possible through my sister’s tireless work as an event planner, in the course of which she receives vouchers for various free services. It’s basically the same situation faced by legal assistants at law firms, the economics of which I found quite interesting. Regardless, I enjoyed my stay at the hotel immensely, and even made use of their Asian-themed spa. You know you’re not in America anymore where you’re sitting in the sauna, naked and hot.

I visited just a few things in my time there. The Buda castle, as I mentioned, was awesome. It seemed somehow like a playground for grown-ups, a winding complex with massive staircases, turrets, and a great view of the city from high above everything. I also made a trip to the Museum of Terror, which is dedicated to describing the practices of the Nazi-allied Arrow Cross Party during WWII and the communists in the period thereafter. The building itself was a former detention center for both the Arrow Cross Party and the communists, which certainly adds to the impact of the building. One particularly powerful image for me was the footage of a rally for Hitler in Hungary, with thousands of people saluting him. I continue not to understand how any of it was possible.

The description of the Gulag camps was also very interesting, and something I didn’t know much about before. About 300,000 Hungarians were sent to Russia for these camps, in the following order: people who were former political leaders and other ideologically dangerous individuals; people who had German-sounding last names; random people to fill the rest of the quota. I had heard about Stalin’s quotas before, but I never thought about how they must work in practice.

My only complaint about the museum is, as someone wrote on an entire page of the museum’s comment book, that they need to “faire des traduciones en autres langues!” There’s a lot of Hungarian in the museum, a bit of English, but not much, and no other languages. I would have felt much better informed if I could have gotten some explanations in English. Of course I could have bought the audio guide for 1300 HUF (5 euro), but I don’t have that kind of money lying around.

The night life was good. I didn’t actually stay with a couchsurfer, but I did attend the couchsurfing events held in clubs around Budapest. Much fun was had.

Though going to bookstores where 99% of the books are totally incomprehensible to me can be awkward, I did manage to visit a few and pick up two copies of The Little Prince in Hungarian (A Kis Herceg), one new and one used. I bought and paid for the new one first, then found the used one, and couldn’t bring myself to try returning the new one.

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