i have adventures (sometimes)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Arms Race; Legs Fail

I started off my day yesterday with a trip to the Central Market Hall for gift shopping.

I am terrible at gift shopping, and so it was overwhelming and upsetting. The thing is, I really do love and care about the people in my life, but I'm bad at remembering what they like (and, importantly, what they hate), and I have no idea how to find the balance between touristy souvenirs and things people might actually want.

I'm forever glad that my Latin friends and I have a tradition of buying one another key rings on our travels. Key rings I can do. It's everything else that's the problem.


So now I've spent all my Forints. On things I hope are not terrible.

Everyone gets scooter sculptures?

Shopping took a lot longer than expected, so I just had time to drop things off at the hostel before joining the communism walking tour. I got lost on the way to the meeting place and nearly gave up, but I'm glad I didn't, because it was excellent. It was less a sightseeing tour than a lecture with a stroll to keep it interesting, which was also great, because by this point of the trip I'm exhausted and my legs don't work.

The tour was really fascinating, particularly because it was so personal - our guide, Anna, was six when communism ended, and her family lived through the communist era. For her and other six-year-olds, the regime change was a disaster, because they'd already been given their blue scarves and were due to be inaugurated into the Little Drummers -  but then communism ended and they had to return the scarves. They were devastated.

One highlight was the controversial new memorial, which is a very melodramatic scary German eagle attacking poor innocent Hungary to commemorate the "victims of the German invasion". Which is problematic, because the Hungarian Nazi Party actually had quite a lot to do with all the people getting deported and killed, something the government has never taken responsibility for.

With protest and unofficial memorial in front. 
Another great one was Liberty Square, where Anna explained the monument arms race that's been taking place between the Russians and the Americans. This is the last communist monument to be put up in Budapest, totally coincidentally standing as a giant middle finger to the US Embassy across the square.

Just hanging out here.
The Americans then totally coincidentally put up a statue of one of their war heroes glaring at it, and, even better-worse, one of Ronald Reagan, positioned so that he's leading the Hungarian Parliament (pictured behind him) towards an American-style democracy, with the Russian monument totally coincidentally standing in his way. To keep things exciting, Hungary is now growing closer to Russia again, so Anna predicts that a statue of Putin will be the next exciting addition.

"Shirtless. Riding a bear."
I missed out on communal dinner at the hostel because it was chicken, which made me a bit sad, but I had some perfectly nice noodles at a perfectly nice noodle bar in the Jewish Quarter, which meant that I also got to listen to a jazzy/rap God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (in March?) and what I swear was a club remix of the Muppets theme song.

I thought I should probably put my 24-hour travel pass to use and take the midnight train going aaaaaanyyyyyywheeere (only it was 8pm, the tram, and it was going along the river), but then I remembered the sunk cost fallacy, and decided that being cold and tired in the dark to try and justify having bought the ticket was pointless, so I went back to the hostel instead.

And that, kids, is the thrilling tale of how educational podcasts helped me make marginally better decisions.

Today, I was determined to make the most of my last full day in Budapest, so I set out early (without even having any chocolate cereal. Srs bsns) and finally visited the Basilica. The inside looked just like the inside of a big church. It was decorative.

Like so much else in the city, it's been blown up and renovated a whole bunch over the years, which probably says something about the reconstructed nature of history and memory and things? (You get the gist.)

I also saw the Holy Right, which is the right hand of St Stephen. Apparently when they dug him up, he was all skeletonised except one magic mummified hand. So now there is this sad grey lump in this kitschy box. And you have to pay to make the lights come on in the box.

It's in there. I promise.
So at least I could tick that off, thrilling though it wasn't.

I was too early to climb the tower, and I really like walking tours probably too much, so I joined the Jewish District tour, led by the very energetic Zoltan. It was another great tour, and I saw a whole lot of stuff I'd missed in all my wandering back and forth through the district.

The Great Synagogue.
The Tree of Life, commemorating the Hungarian victims of the Holocaust.
The old Ghetto wall. Or rather, the rebuilt version, because construction workers accidentally knocked down the first one.
Murals! The local government is sponsoring them to liven up the place.
Another mural.
Despite staying at such a nice and friendly hostel, I've had a lonely few days. Everyone seems very nice, but they do most of their socialising after 10pm, when I am fast asleep. So today it was nice to get chatting to some fellow tour walkers. Meredith is from New York and her great grandfather's cousin literally invented baseball. Wikipedia says it's a myth, but I'm not listening. Lisa is from Melbourne and, as far as I know, none of her ancestors invented any well-known sports. But probably nor did mine, so we have that in common.

I tried to pick the one where my face looked least scary, but it turns out this is just my face.
We walked together to collect Meredith's camera from the repair place on the Buda side, and then they decided to climb Gellert Hill. Having already done that and being in possession of legs that would not allow me to do that again, I headed back into town.

You look nice again today, Budapest.
I made it back in time to climb the Basilica tower before it closed, so I paid my 500HUF and wound my way up the 302 stairs to the top. As it has every day of my visit so far, Budapest was just showing off.

In a delightful coincidence, I also met the first other South African I've seen all trip. 96 metres above Budapest. Because of course.

Sane is from Durban and studying in Europe, and wants me to say hi to South Africa when I get back.
Now I'm back at the hostel with my sore feet, because I have nowhere else to put them. It's my last night here, so I feel like I should do something. Ideally something in line with Budapest's incredible hipness (drinking craft beer in a ruin pub? pedalling a beer bike? growing a top knot?), but it's hard to do most of those things without having to (a) stand on my feet and (b) keep my eyes open for at least a little while. Which is a pretty big obstacle.

As you may have picked up, I'm tired. Really really tired. I'm not exactly in the best state for lengthy travels. But at the same time, I'm sad to be going home. I don't feel particularly good at real life, and going back to having actual responsibilities (and an actual grown-up job!) is pretty terrifying. Plus, Budapest is super great.

So for now, I'm just going to sit here on this sofa and try not to think about real life until Thursday. Instead I plan to concentrate really hard on growing this top knot. I'll let you know how it goes.


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