So far on our trip through Europe, Marcie and I have found ourselves continually heading underground to explore catacombs, crypts, and cellars. Earlier in our trip we saw thousands of bones in the Paris catacombs and in the crypt beneath Saint Stephens in Vienna.
So, I suppose it’s no surprise that the first thing we stumbled upon in our walk through the castle district of Budapest was an underground labyrinth. Of course, down we went!
It turns out there is a natural cave system beneath the Buda castle hill district that runs for some ten kilometers. The labyrinth that was open to the public was extremely dark and we were more or less the only ones down there (it was an unguided tour). There were no bones, but many interesting remnants of ages gone past. Eventually, we just became so claustrophobic that we scurried out the nearest exit we could find. That, of course, was before we had our fun . . .
The next day we went on a wonderful tour of an underground hospital. It was adjacent to the labyrinth and was built during World War II to treat victims of the siege of Budapest. It was again used during the 1956 revolution and then by the Soviets during the cold war, who modified it to include facilities to deal with a possible nuclear fall-out.
We didn’t get to take any photos of the actual facility . . . but we bought some incredibly cool items in the souvenir shop, which are all authentic and used by the staff of the original hospital: a gas mask, a leather map case, and a glass hypodermic needle (this especially inspired Marcie, as she is a diabetic). We couldn’t believe how inexpensive they were (our breakfast that morning had cost more). In any case, we snapped them up as items of inspiration for both our own projects, and for our creative writing and theater students.
Afterwards, we went to the Spy Museum, which was also underground (though it didn’t have to be). There we saw all kinds of cool James Bond-style gadgets. My favourite was an old book that harbored a hidden transmitter/receiver device.
We thought that would be the end of the underground for us, but we were soon to discover that just about every restaurant on the Buda Castle hill has a cellar that winds into the caves. We ended up having a glass of wine in the deep, deep, deep wine cellar of the Hilton hotel. This was very cozy and romantic, and one of our favourite moments of the trip, since it was such an unexpected find.