Hot Hungarian

10 Aug 2007

There is no food service on eastern european trains. Not even the twelve-hour ones. Short of time because of a tram that never came, we skipped breakfast and did 24 hours with only half a box of crackers and 80 grams of dried ginger. It's not long - humans can live weeks without food - but by the time we pulled in to Budapest Lyn was nauseous. Having slammed an espresso at the station, I experienced very little degradation.

Still, we were desperate for food, and all we could find near the station were proper restaurants. So we went to Burger King, for the first time in five years.

It tasted good.

The Terror House, former headquarters of the secret police, is now an immersive museum. The first thing you see is a grown man cry; the second, a fullsize Soviet T40 tank. Sitting in a 1946 voting booth, holding the blue ballot that didn't make any difference, I thought of Faust. Lyn locked me in a tiny isolation cell and I immediately felt panic rising. It's a sad story: they staged an incredibly brave, country-wide, spontaneous uprising - and they lost. It's not supposed to end like that.

The immersive quality existed at the Labyrinth also. A set of rough caves joined by passages, ten metres under the palace, it's been set up with dim lighting and hidden speakers. In the darkness, with a deep regular thumping coming from somewhere nearby, it was easy to switch the pale green glow of my compass for Sting's warning light. But while I moved slowly, checking the corners, Lyn danced to the beat: I'd presumed that the noise was hostile, while she was at home. It's funny what you bring with you.

More than anything else, the labyrinth is weird - there's a massive sunken head, a wine fountain, a totally dark section. It all added to the sense of exploration, but it left me wanting more. I wanted an oil lamp, a rubber sword, a puzzle to solve, opposition to defeat. I still want Dream Park.

I still want to build it, if that's the only way to make it exist.

The Szecheny Baths are full of hot Hungarians subjecting themselves to water temperatures ranging from 15 degrees to 38. The saunas are at 50-something; since they use infrared lamps, the effect is not unlike going under the griller. The strong currents in the whirlpool pool pulled me around faster than most people; kicking out to avoid a collision, I ended up on top of a kid who was doing an underwater circuit and nearly drowned him.