On day one I took a hop on hop off bus tour. Budapest is big, and I thought it would give me an overall picture of the layout of the city.  Taking the green route, the bus drove down a street next to the Castle and stopped at the Funicular railway, which does run up the side of the cliff. I decided to stay on the bus as there was a long queue. The bus chuggedup a hill. At the top passengers were told to get off as there was “Eine pause.” for 20 minutes. As it was a clear day I had abreath taking view of Budapest with the Danube running through the centre. At times like these I wished I had a camera with a zoom lens to capture the moment.  The bus which had brought me up had disappeared. A large crowd gathered waving their tickets and becoming increasingly annoyed as no buses arrived. Eventually over an hour later one appeared and I climbed on.

The bus went past the Castle gardens and out of the corner of my eye I saw two huge statues of soldiers and a poster with the dates 1914-1918 on it and the words exhibition.  I asked the guide, and she shrugged and said she didn’t know. 

The exhibition is about WW1 and told from the Hungarian point of view which was interesting. Before the Great War, Hungary was part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire and ruled by Emperor Franz Josef. The Hungarians wanted independence and all through Franz Josef’s long reign, he never resolved the ‘Hungarian problem’. It helped that his wife Empress Sisi loved Hungary and its people, and they adored her. They still speak of her with affection. Sisi has a statue, a bridge and many roads named after her in the city.

There were quotes written all over the walls by Thomas Mann, George Orwell and soldiers writing letters home. This corridor led to a room which had a dreadful smell coming from it.

‘The smell of rotting bodies, human waste, mud and cordite never leaves you.”

I looked down and saw two trenches filled with mud. I admit I didn’t look too closely, but this was where the smell was coming from. The museum had managed to create an olfactory experience for the visitor. Another corridor resembled a trench, dark, thick mud coating the walls, ropes hanging down, with the sounds of screaming and guns roaring.

Black and white movies played showing the horror of trench warfare. One showed soldiers climbing out of the trenches, running into cannon fire and blown up. 

Half way through I watched a movie by a Hungarian director about the War with English subtitles. Apparently, England wanted to declare war on Germany because she was jealous of Germany’s powerful position in Europe. It didn’t mention that England had tried successfully for years to negotiate a limitation of German naval ships with Kaiser Wilhelm, but as I said this is from the Hungarian point of view. The spark that lit the flame which began WW1 was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. He despised the Hungarians who didn’t much care for him and Hungary didn’t mourn for him.

After WWI Hungary lost 67% of its land, 43% of the agriculture, 60% of its population, 83% of its iron production and 99% of its gold and silver mines.

Now you’d hope lessons would be learnt. Sadly not.  Hungary with its neighbours, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined Hitler’s Axis powers. The Hungarians fought against the Soviets and invaded Yugoslavia. In 1944 Hungary could see the writing on the wall, and attempted to engage in armistice negotiations with the Allies. Hitler found out and German forces occupied Hungary. This was when the genocide of the Hungarian Jews began.In July 1944 the bombing of Budapest began by the Allies. All the bridges were destroyed and most of the city. InDecember 1944 the siege of Budapest started when Soviet soldiers surrounded it. Budapest finally surrendered in February 1945.

I’ve been on a Communist tour, which consisted of sitting in two expresso bars and chatting to the guide for three hours. Milkos shared his experiences under Socialist rule, it wasn’t called Communism in Hungary. Compared to other countries under the Warsaw Pact, life in the 1980’s appears less strict. Although you could only travel to the West once in every three years, and the cost was astronomical. There was only one brand available in shops. Why did you need a choice? If you couldn’t produce your ID, then you were arrested and spent the night in prison. Milkos kept disappearing, I thought to have a smoke but then I realised. At the last stop he asked me to buy a drink. He downed a triple vodka in one! He said goodbye and staggered out of the café. I went into an antique shop, the two guys who served customers were so drunk, they could barely stand. On the streets I’ve seen many people who are homeless and very drunk. Apparently, the government doesn’t see it as a big problem….

More next time on folk dancing, a Communist park and must see sights!

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