Upon arrival, we went through the easiest customs we had ever experienced and were out within two minutes. Our plan was to purchase the Budapest Card first thing: a tourist card that allows free transportation around the city via bus and subway and free or discounted admission to most museums. Patrick spotted the booth immediately and asked if the vendor spoke English. "Of course," was his reply, and he promptly sold us a 72-hour card for our stay in the city at the hefty price of 8000 Forint each (170 Forint=1 dollar).
Underneath Buda castle are six miles of tunnels originally used as a wine cellar. During WWII, the subterranean layer became a bunker and now it is a tourist attraction known as the Labyrinth. We had a blast navigating through the tunnels—especially the "Labyrinth of Courage", a pitch-black section where a rope along the wall is your only guide. Patrick was very excited to have a chance to prove his bravery.
In Pest, we got to see many impressive buildings including Parliament (and the very intimidating guards at its gate), St Stephen Cathedral, and the Great Synagogue: the largest synagogue in
Our experience at the
at right). This museum, dedicated to telling the story of Hungary under Nazi and then Soviet
rule, is actually housed in what used to be the Nazi Party headquarters and then the Communist Party headquarters, during their respective regimes. We heard stories and saw pictures of unimaginable misdeeds that happened in the very building in which we stood. The aura in the building alone was enough to chill one to the bone.
In need of a lifting of spirits we sought out one of the public baths for which Hungary is renowned. As it turns out, Hungary is situated over a number of natural hot springs, including the springs that lie underneath the biggest public bath in Europe, Széchényi Spa. Once at the spa, we rented towels and changed into our bathing suits (Patrick's rented), and walked from pool to pool to test the waters. Outside we found steam rising from the biggest pool into the chilly January night. We hopped in with the teenagers, grandparents, and new moms with babies in tow. If you do anything in Budapest, go to Széchényi Spa.
One of our most surprising cross-cultural interactions came the night of the AFC Championship football game. Patrick had researched sports bars in