Did I mention how awesome my hostel in Budapest was?
I stayed at Friends Hostel & Apartments. This hostel is literally two minutes walk away from Oktogon station on the Metro, it’s within easy walking distance to most of the places you’d want to go, it’s literally five minutes away from the best vegan burger place ever, and it’s also five minutes away from Haus of Terror.
I stayed in the six-bed female dorm and it came with sofas, a chandelier, mirrors, comfortable beds, a kitchen (although the microwave did not work), and it’s close to loads of shops and takeaways. This was one of the nicest rooms I have ever stayed in and it only came to £5 a night!
On the day after the castle, I went to Kerepsi Cemetery. It is a huge, oppressive place filled with both huge monumental mausoleums and tiny little graves, graves with huge statues and graves which are so faded you can’t even read who was buried there, and graves dating from the 1700s to 2013. There were meant to be graves from the 1600s onwards but I could not find them.
It’s always weird to visit cemeteries and see how differently some dead people are treated to others. In this cemetery, there are actually graves which are sort of center stage and they are surrounded by these other graves which almost makes it look like the smaller, less noticeable graves are there to serve the big main grave in the afterlife.
It was interesting, but to tell the truth the place started to give me an existential crisis and then I managed to get lost and it was getting dark so there was a fairly real moment when I thought I might actually be stuck with the ghosts all night, but I eventually followed some living (I think) people to safety.
As luck would have it I actually passed Keleti train station on the way to the cemetery and so I went in after to buy a ticket to Romania. I was really lucky actually because it turned out the tickets to Brasov were on offer and there were about 5 left for 5200 HUF (around £17). I was going to get a bus there but that was actually the cheapest offer I could see so even though I had wanted to go to Cluj I bought my ticket to Brasov instead and then headed to a nearby ruin bar.
I’m not really in the habit of going to bars alone (drinking alone is a totally different matter, but going to a bar alone can make you feel creepy and/or sad) and ended up drinking an ‘American Beauty’ craft beer and doing some ghostwriting work in the middle of the bar. It didn’t really look like it was actually in a ruin but the décor was pretty interesting.
The next day I walked along Andrassy Ut to Hosok Tere and caught a glimpse of the famous Szechenyi bath house. I was planning on going to the baths that day but I’d somehow forgotten bikini bottoms at home (home as in London) and literally, no shops seemed to be selling them so I gave up and went to the ‘House of Terror’ instead.
I actually got into the House of Terror for free for being under 26 and because it was the first Sunday of the month. They did have English information sheets in most of the rooms but basically, everything else was in Hungarian so it was a little confusing at times, but it still gives you an insight into Nazism and Communism as experienced by Hungary.
The Haus of Terror building is actually the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross party and they even show you the prison cells below at the end of the exhibit.
House of Terror has a London Dungeon’s style vibe complete with scary music, but unlike the London Dungeon’s obvious editing of history (Sweeney Todd wasn’t real people), the scary thing about House of Terror is that it’s all true.
This ‘museum’ was really interesting because it uses a mix of propaganda from the time, information sheets, artifacts and testimonies to give you a fully formed idea of what actually happened.
They used pictures as testimonies of real people in a similar way to the Holocaust Memorial to show you that these were real people and real events, not just statistics in your history book. They also display black and white photographs of the victims on the outside of the museum to give a human face to these events.
It’s easy to be desensitised to these things. Things like people being locked up for years, tortured and beheaded, overworked, given impossible quotas, not even being told that their husbands had died until months later… all this stuff was happening in Europe after WWII, yet even though I studied history for five years (2 years at college and 3 years at university) I was pretty much ignorant of Hungary’s history until I actually went there.
Communism in Hungary seems to have been particularly brutal compared to some other countries, and it was interesting to see because when you come from a country which wasn’t formerly communist you are not always exposed to how communist regimes operated outside of Russia, China and North Korea.
Pretty much every country I visited in Eastern Europe suffered under a dictatorship n the 20th Century, and yet somehow I don’t think I’d ever actually thought about it before.
One of the main reasons I think people should travel is because when we are in our own countries we forget that there is a huge world out there and, contrary to what we may start to believe when we don’t go out of our country, the world doesn’t actually revolve around us and our experience is not everyone elses experience.
I found a wonderfully cheap and tasty Turkish vegan burger/food place just five minutes away from Friends hostel in Octagon. I don’t know what they make the burgers out if but it is really tasty and there was not a single carrot in sight! They add loads of vegetables so you feel extra healthy and it’s only 600 HUF!
The next day I was determined to go to a thermal bath before leaving Budapest and my train wasn’t till 7:10 pm so I checked out of the hostel and headed to The West End shopping center that I had visited on my first day. There I didn’t have much luck at first and the only bikini bottoms I could find were 4200 HUF (pretty much the same as the entrance ticket to the baths) but eventually, I found some along with some flip flops so I was good to go.
I had been planning to go to the cheapest possible baths but realistically I had no idea where they were and not all that much time so I just went back to Szechenyi. The ticket only costs about £13 and you do kind of have to do it.
The thermal baths are pretty amazing. It’s November and you can see loads of people in swimming costumes in the water outside and so when you first dip your toes in you think it must be freezing and these people are nuts but it’s actually warm. You wouldn’t think it would be possible let alone pleasant to wear a bikini and go into an outdoor pool in November, but it it’s pretty amazing.
One thing you have to remember is that the water is, or at least seemed to be, chlorinated. It kinda had to be because of all the people but it’s not exactly the beautiful cleansing experience you may have been imagining. It’s not 100% natural water.
Never the less it is still pretty amazing just to be in an outdoor pool in November and it is warmer than anything you’ll find indoors. There is one warm pool, a swimming pool and a hot pool outside and the best one is the hot one.
The inside area is pretty huge as well. There are loads of different sizes pools, saunas, and steam rooms. I’d never been in a steam room before but it was definitely the best bit if the baths for me.
It is literally impossible not to be relaxed in the steam room, although a number of people who kept coming in and out and leaving the door open kind of took away from the experience a bit. But still, the music, the lights, and the steam was brilliant. I think I went into the steam room about 5 different times in total and if I’m ever rich enough one day I am definitely buying one for my house.
The saunas were also pretty impressive and it’s amazing because when you walk outside after (you have to walk across the outdoor pool area to get back to the changing rooms) it is freezing but you still feel warm and relaxed. I was a little nervous for my overnight train to Romania, but the thermal baths definitely helped me get into the right state of mind.