I found Ray at the train station in Budapest on Friday afternoon. I had arrived by plane a few hours before.
That night, at the suggestion of Stef in Romania, we went to a fancy restaurant called Gundel. It was a grand room with oil paintings on the walls, a small band with a cimbalom (a Hungarian hammered dulcimer) and a roving violinist, and a menu with high prices. We had a tasting of soups, smoked goose liver, a fish starter, and a plate of duck. The food was fine but the whole thing was a bit kitsch.
Saturday we went to the Hospital In The Rock. Limestone caves were plentiful in the bluffs overlooking the Danube, and as WWII neared, they built a then-modern hospital in the caves. Now it’s a museum with wax figures sitting in for doctors and patients. It is unusual for a military museum to feature so heavily the effects of war on people. The antique medical devices are modeled on over 200 wax moulages representing battles from the siege in 1944 to the latest incarnation as a fallout shelter. The air and water machines still work, as if it could be called back into service at any moment.
After catching a good view of the city from The Fisherman’s Bastion nearby, we walked down to the river and across. There were three huge river cruise ships anchored side by side, which looked like a big hotel. You really can sail from Amsterdam to the Black Sea via the canal connecting the Main to the Danube. Further up the river was Shoes on the Danube, an installation of bronze shoes to commemorate people killed by the fascist Arrow Cross party in 1944-1945. They were instructed to step out of their shoes before being shot into the river. The ideology of the Arrow Cross is resurfacing in modern Hungarian politics, and everywhere.
We determined that we couldn’t get in to see the beautiful Parliament building, and found Kispiac, a delicious bistro across the street from the US embassy.
On Sunday, we walked back across the river, and up to the Citadella, which has perhaps the best view of the city. A shell game was going on, and they weren’t fond of Ray recording it on his phone. From there we visited a Church In The Rock, and the Gellert thermal baths which go up to 40 degrees C, the same 104 degrees our hot tub is at when it works. Next time we go we’ll take sandals and towels.
A girl came into the boys’ locker room with her male friend, at the baths. She was standing right next to us as we got dressed, and I didn’t notice that this was odd for three or four minutes, and neither did anybody else, apparently. They got dressed and undressed. Her boyfriend wrapped a towel around his waist before pulling off his pants. What a wasted opportunity. It was another three or four minutes before a locker room guard showed up and said it was the boys’ locker room and she wasn’t supposed to be there. But nobody shot her out of her shoes. The guard sounded more perfunctory than concerned. Arrow Cross is not the only tendency in modern Hungary.
Maybe her boyfriend was embarrassed at his endowment in one way or another. If you look at the Penis Map of the World, Hungarians have penises that are a full self reported three centimeters longer than their neighbors the Romanians. This is a complete crock. A huge chunk of Romania was Hungary until quite recently, and they have been living so close together for so long that it’s impossible to believe that there are statistically significant differences in any quality but braggadocio.
From the bath we went to the Ludwig museum, which had a big Fluxus exhibit, and then back close to the hotel for dinner at Krak’n Town, a “steampunk brewery”. It was listed as a British place, and indeed served deer pie and British-style sausages that taste a bit grainy. Their beer was good and their decor was great.