I woke up early our second day in Budapest and took some time to myself to visit the Dohány Synagogue. It is the second largest in the world, after one in New York. It managed to survive the war and then in the 1950s locals worked hard to restore it to its original condition. It was visually stunning and imposing in the way where I wasn’t sure if I was being encouraged to fear or to love God. I went on a quick guided tour of the facilities and noticed that there was a plaque and collection bin for the Hungarian March of the Living, which is the program I went on in high school to the concentration camps.
In the rest of the space there is a graveyard for the unnamed Hungarian Jews who’s bodies were recovered, but never their identitied. There is also a number of memorials for righteous gentiles, and specifically Raoul Wallenberg.
There was a large metal weeping willow and each leaf has the name and details of a Hungarian Jew who died. The center of the memorial is supposed to look like an inverted menorah.
In a drastic change of pace we went to the largest cathedral in Budapest, which also has a beautiful view over the city. The cathedral was just as ornate and intimidating as the synagogue but in a different way. Also this cathedral is famous for one of their reliquaries, which I have always found an odd practice. Reliquaries are basically the remains or body parts from major religious figures that are preserved in some sort of highly decorated object, that can then be worshipped. This was the hand of a saint, in a miniature gold church. You can pay two euro to have it light up, so you can better see the details of his hand. There was a crowd of tourists paying their respects to the hand, and it all seemed a bit like a circus act
The cathedral and the synagogue sum up my aversion to organized religion. I am fond of the tradition and community, but I am wary of the conformity, forced morality, and pomp and circumstance.
We then climbed about three hundred steps to the roof of the church to look out over the city. It was incredibly windy, to the point I had to lean into the wind to try not to blow away
We then took the train to the outskirts of town to go to the Széchenyi baths. I don’t have any pictures, since a camera and baths seemed like a poor combination. It was around $6 for all day access to the baths and a locker. There is an indoor and outdoor complex of around thirty thermal baths. It was incredibly relaxing and after walking fifteen miles a day it did wonders for my joint pain. Its definitely something I would do on a regular basis if living in Budapest. I also decided to splurge and get an hour long massage, which was a whopping $35.
After lounging in the baths for two hours I went to a small room where there was a hulking blonde Hungarian woman. She did not talk the entire time, except when I asked her to work a little harder on my back, she took this suggestion very seriously and dug her whole body weight into me. It was painful but awesome. Sometimes I don’t realize how much pain I am in on a daily basis, until I do something to address or remedy it. My back was a connect-the-dots of a series of knots. Then at the end of the massage she commanded “Sit up. I crack you now.” This was new. She wrapped her arms around me in a number of different ways and then cracked and stretched my different joints. I was completely at her mercy and I think I was two inches taller by the end of it all.
During our remaining time in Budapest we visited the Applied Arts museum, which was beautiful, but not really my cup of tea. We went to Heroes Square at dusk. It is one of the more impressive historical monuments I have ever seen which manages to chronological highlight historical heroes from the inception of Hungary until the late 19th century.
We also did a lot of walking, just trying to get to know the city. Then on the final day we spent the morning at Parlament, which outshines any of our buildings in DC. I mean c’mon this is where their sessions convene.
After parlament we made the long journey to the airport. One final fun fact I learned in in Hungary, outside of the discussion rooms in parlament there are cigar holders in a row. The MPs used to leave there cigars, while they went to debate new laws and they said it was a worthwhile session if when they returned there were only ashes left.