The route I had decided on to get to Romania couldn’t be booked online and thus I made my way to Budapest’s Keleti pu train station. While nowhere nearly as chaotic as India, the lack of English signage made it a supreme challenge to figure out where to buy tickets. Eventually I found myself in a waiting room filled with young backpackers. I looked over their gear and sensed that very little had changed since 1973 when I was one of them. In those days there weren’t frameless backpacks, but otherwise the trend continues… The attendant who arranged my ticket had the same thin hair and big bust that I do. I sensed that I am very much in my genetic homeland.
After swiping my credit card for $40 for a 15-hour journey, I headed to the Batthyany ter train station and purchased tickets for Szentendre to visit Skansen, an open-air living history museum. I bought a liver-filled pastry to eat on the trip (okay, but not my favorite flavor) and took a seat for what would be an hour-long train ride. At one point everyone got off the train and I figured we were there. I wandered around an open-air fruit and veggie market and then eventually began to ask about busses to Skansen. I was directed here and there and then eventually found out I had gotten off the train too soon. Back on the train, I arrived in the artsy town of Szentendre and looked over cute shops, pretty gardens and eventually queried about the bus to Skansen. Apparently it was right next to the train station. Oh well. While waiting for the bus to come, I chatted up a Czek guy from Prague who unlike most Hungarians spoke perfect English. He contends that the people of Budapest are very provincial—rarely travel out of their country…their biggest destination is Sturovo, a nearby beach town on the edge of the Danube.
Eventually the Skansen-bound bus arrived and I handed over my 200 flt ($1) ticket. About 20 minutes later we walked through a parking lot and into the complex. It’s a bit like a living history museum with buildings depicting rural Hungarian village life. The attendants dress in village frocks of years gone by, but act more like docents than rural residents. The buildings depict many times and contexts. There was a little farm with precocious goats, a bunch of chickens and some horses and pigs. And then there were furnished cottages from different time periods including the mid-late 19th century. I surmised that my great-grandparents might have lived in homes like these. My heart pounded just a little, sensing that I was getting closer to my roots!
Skansen also contained an extensive exhibit on peoples who were relocated following WWII. German families were forced to give up their homes and move to Hungary with little more than a suitcase worth of things. The ethno-cultural relocation campaign, no doubt part of Germany’s post-war reparation was depicted as a challenging and pivotal event in many people’s lives. Under my breath, all I could do was mutter, “well at least they lived and had the chance to marry and raise children of their own.” I do wonder had there not been a holocaust, what portion of today’s world would in fact be Jewish.
Upon my return to Budapest , I stepped outside the bus terminal and gazed across at the magnificent Parliament Building. The plaza nearby was filled with young Western Europeans who had spent the week attending a huge (200,000 person) music and arts festival. Part of me had wanted to check it out…and the rest of me had my own agenda for how to spend my 3 ½ days in Budapest.