For Pumpkin and I, this year has been the year of returns. Long before we met, we were both eager explorers, continually yearning for new experiences but reaching quite contrasting destinations in the process. Pumpkin’s voyages comprised of multiple, long-haul, solo travel experiences, involving hikes in the Himalayas, sky dives in Australia, bungee jumps in Zambia and a limitless sense of adventure.
My journeys were a little less life-threatening in nature, more weighted towards cultural city breaks in Europe, palm fringed beaches in Mauritius, and tuk tuk tours in Thailand. Many a long afternoon in the dating stage of our relationship would be spent listening to each other’s travel tales and wondering where we could discover together.
We soon learned the world is an enormous place and whilst he still hasn’t been to Rome or Barcelona and I still haven’t been to Cambodia or Namibia, we have endeavoured to spend the last few years pursuing new destinations together. We got soaked at the Iguazu Falls in Brazil, gazed in adoration at the orangutans in Borneo, snorkelled with sea turtles in Barbados and shoals of colourful fish in the Maldives.
We slept in a tea factory in Sri Lanka and marvelled at geysers in Iceland but in the last year, we have found ourselves returning to countries that at least one of us has already visited, with the goal of experiencing it entirely differently with our spouse in tow.
For Pumpkin, that was a revisit to Japan and for me, it meant accompanying him to one of my favourite European cities – Budapest. Nearly a decade had gone by since I travelled there and I was excited to see how the Hungarian capital had changed, to retrace my steps through the key tourist attractions and discover some newer, more quirky experiences on this second visit.
Fortunately, Budapest has no shortage of historical intrigue even for the return visitor and aside from the key sights I had seen last time, this year, I found myself visiting 3 of Budapest’s best museums and parks and some of the quirky and most unique museums that we had seen anywhere in the world.
Budapest’s Best Museums
The Pinball Museum
When most people seek out cultural exploits in European cities, they look for historical sites, art galleries and establishments devoted to the performing arts. When Pumpkin seeks out cultural exploits, we end up playing arcade games at the Flipper Pinball Museum. 😀
And so, in the spirit of embracing each other’s interests, we spare a half day in Budapest to take a little detour from our sightseeing route and head towards this basement museum, filled with retro pinball machines from the past, all cluttered together in a dark space, filled with the nostalgic neon lights of an era gone by.
Whilst a few historical anecdotes can be spotted here and there, this is really more of an arcade than museum but once you pay for the entry ticket for the pinball museum, you are free to play on as many of the machines as you like and for as long as you like so in that respect, you could consider it to be one of the best value arcades around.
Somehow, rather like riding a bike, playing pinball is a skill that managed to escape me during my childhood so after a couple of practice sessions with Pumpkin showing me the ropes, we soon found ourselves engrossed in our own pinball wars and it was surprisingly easy to while away a couple of hours harnessing our competitive spirits and remembering how the youths of yesteryear had fun in the pre iMac era.
The Hospital in the Rock Museum
A little more educational was the Hospital in the Rock Museum on the Buda side of Budapest – a museum I would highly recommend to those spending a day visiting Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion or Matthias Church.
Now, I’m not usually one to mix business with pleasure but the inner medic in me was too curious to miss this museum, which has been designed as a replica, filled with waxwork models to mimic as closely as possible the real, functioning, Budapest Hospital that once operated (mind the pun) in this underground bunker during World War Two time in Budapest and again during the Hungarian Revolution.
The Hospital in the Rock have done a fantastic job of recreating the scenes from inside an operating theatre and giving a glimpse into the drugs and medicines that were given at the time.
Pumpkin and I found ourselves chuckling at how unrecognisable the intravenous drip set ups and syringes were compared to anything we are even remotely familiar with nowadays. Here in western world medicine, we often take it for granted that commodities such as syringes are disposable, forgetting that this was not the case back then (and in many parts of the world, still isn’t.)
Most poignantly, one of the small number of babies, who was born in this hospital back then, was invited to return decades later as a guest of honour for the launch of the new museum. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside the museum itself, only at the entrance, and you can only visit the museum as part of a guided tour but in a way, I think that simply enhances the sense of mystery conjured up by entering this underground former space of healing, filled with the echos and banter of compassionate nurses and dextrous surgeons.
This was a hospital in a cavern so if you feel uneasy about the prospect of being underground or walking single-file in walkways, it probably isn’t the museum for you.
If you are only spending a long weekend in Budapest, no one would blame you for choosing to spend it in the city itself rather than heading out towards the suburbs. But one of the exceptions that I would urge you to consider is a visit to the Memento Park, sometimes known as Statue Park, slightly further out from the centre of the city.
This was one of the sights that did make it into both of my visits but last time round, my friend and I went independently with no guide taking the bus there, as compared to this visit, when Pumpkin and I booked a guided tour to try and understand more about the history of the statues.
Only 20 minutes or so away from the centre of Budapest by car, this open air park is an understated environment that collectively displays many of the old statues and relics from Budapest’s Communist era, sculptures that once stood in the centre of the city and now serve as a perpetual reminder of the turbulent history that Hungary has survived.
The park was formally opened in 1993, just four years after the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary. A half day is more than enough to enjoy the Memento Park but having done it both ways, I would suggest booking a guided tour as we gleaned insights this year that I had been completely unaware of when I explored it independently.
We aren’t typically museum frequenters when we travel but we do have a penchant for exploring the weird, wonderful and curious and if that includes museums, so be it. In the last twelve months or so, we have had no regrets about spending our leave exploring a chocolate museum, a railway museum and a Viking museum.
Over in Budapest, with a light-hearted, playful afternoon at the pinball museum balancing out the gravitas of political and historical significance at the Memento Statue Park and the sheer bizarre scenario of our own working lives once being lived out in a bunker underneath the soil at the Hospital in the Rock, we would highly recommend a visit to these attractions if you are heading to Budapest, perhaps the last two more than the pinball museum if you are tight on time but whatever floats your boat. 🙂
Have you visited Budapest? Are there any other museums you would add to this list?