We’ve now had to survive the overnight train on two separate occasions, from Prague to Budapest and from Budapest to Krakow. Both times were quite exhausting and cramped but transported us to a new city with new things to experience and learn. Now that we have been in Poland for a few days, it is important to reflect on our brief stay in Hungary.
The housing situation in Budapest was extremely different from in Prague. Rather than being located in the central square of the city and circling outwards, we were located towards the outskirts and had to strike in to find our experiences. This resulted in a higher reliance on public transit and less familiarity with the area. This was balanced by the hotel being significantly nicer, however, as the rooms were less cramped, the beds were more comfortable, and there was a nice courtyard in which a few of us had a potluck on one of the last nights. This was made possible by the wealth of markets and grocers nearby, which made up for the further distance to the more expensive restaurants.
Similar to Prague, the highlights of Budapest for me were the museums we went to. I thought that the Communism Museum would be nearly impossible to match, but the House of Terror was incredible to walk through. Covering similar ideas, it was able to translate the true emotional impact and scale of the atrocities to a greater degree, despite very little of the information being presented in English. This was due to the sharp visuals and intense settings. The most notable of these were the opening room and the basement of the museum. In the opening room, there was a tank located in front of black and white head-shots of thousands of victims. It quickly set the tone of death and destruction delivered to Hungary by both the Nazis and Communists. After traveling through a good portion of the building, we arrived at an elevator to the basement. As soon as the elevator started its slow descent, a video describing execution by hanging began to play on the walls around us. As the video ended, the doors opened to a dark room of stone with a gate on the opposite end next to an information sheet in English.
We had entered a prison. The information sheet told us that it was less about storage and more about torture, with descriptions of some of the kinds of cells people would be stored in. Following the reading, on the other side of the gate there were examples of some of these cells, from the “foxhole” where people were forced to crouch in darkness to the “wet room” where they were kept in a level of standing water. It all came to a head when the end of the hallway had a small room off to the side by the exit. Walking into this room, you are greeted with the gallows, the culmination of everything before it.
Budapest was not all darkness and terror, though, and nothing can show that better than our final free day. After exploring the bustling central market and having an exceptional lunch, a few of us went on our own to the Pinball Museum near our hotel. Inside there are dozens of pinball machines and various other classics from arcades. For only 2000 forints, roughly 7 US Dollars, we were given access to all of these machines and allowed to play for as long as we wanted. It was a fun way to say goodbye to the second week of a still-fantastic study abroad.