For my last full day in Budapest, I wanted to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue— I've never been to a synagogue, and this happens to be the world's second largest. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I was surprised and delighted by the Moorish architectural influences, as I've always been a fan. The building is simply spectacular— the warm light inside, bouncing off pinkish tiles, is out of this world. Once I spied the unusual chandeliers— which for some reason reminded me of some sort of sea creature or sea plant, I was disappointed they weren't illuminated. How those arches would have looked if they were lit!
In the garden behind the synagogue stood a single, beautiful weeping willow of metal, made by Imre Varga. The leaves were inscribed with the names of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. I was filled with a terrible feeling I cannot describe, a dreadful silence, as every leaf I touched represented someone lost in an unimaginable way.
When I was thirteen and living in Belgium, my history teacher took us on a class field trip to the ruins of a concentration camp called Breendonk. It's not something I enjoy discussing or remembering, but I remember being filled with dread as our school bus approached the austere building. I kept thinking about how that road and that fence, and those darkly stained wooden posts that I saw with my eyes were also seen by thousands of other eyes, wide with fear, questioning, uncertainty hanging overhead like some incredible weight. People unaware or perhaps knowing, that their lives would be lived out in the worst way between those walls.
When we were taken inside the prisoners' rooms, the musty smell of the decaying wooden bunks and the claustrophobic stacking of beds like shelves was overwhelming— who lived here, who died here— they all had names, favourite things, memories, families, loves and losses. I had never before or since, been brought to tears by a building.
Beside the Dohány Street Synagogue, is a small museum of Jewish culture with some lovely pieces of art and beautiful old prayer books— many other things too, but these things in particularly caught my eye. For some reason I didn't photograph any of the books, and I am really wishing I had.
Since Mirco had only a few hours before he had to head to the airport, we decided beers were in order, and since I needed to pick up some last minute souvenirs, we revisited the Great Market Hall, Nagycsarnok. Tempting waves of food smells wafted by us and became too intense to ignore— and what goes better with beer than a juicy, spicy sausage?
As you can see below, I was handed a sausage in its own paper plate with a pool of spicy mustard (which was oh-so delicious), and a slice of white bread on a napkin. Hmm... instinct was telling me to roll the sausage up in the bread, but common sense told me that if it was meant to be eaten that way, it would be in a bun. I watched the old man next to me as he very dignified, cut a bite of sausage with his knife and fork, dipped it in the mustard, chewed it thoughtfully, then tore off a piece of bread and ate it alone. I did the same.
Back at the hostel, I bumped into Nancy and Molly after saying goodbye to Mirco, my dear Associate Adventurist. Nancy had found a new restaurant to try, and we decided to kidnap one of the hostel's staff members, Andras, along with two new guests one of whom, Ben, is an Iron Man competitor! How on earth— and why— a person would put themselves through a 3.86 km swim, followed by a 180.25 km bike race, topped off with a marathon, is beyond me. It's simply amazing. I won't even run to catch a bus.
We set off for M Restaurant, one of the coolest places I have eaten recently— the walls were pasted with brown packing paper with lamps, shelves and curtains drawn on. The food had a delicious home-cooked comfort feel, perfectly matched with a glass of wine and long conversation. It was a wonderful end to an incredible adventure.
On the walk back to the hostel, I passed through the city's many metro stations. I watched people hurrying about to who knows where, and I had that feeling so familiar to travellers, the feeling of not wanting to go home. I love Budapest. The layers of history, the friendliness of its people— the waffleman. Budapest, I'll be back.