I’m a little more conscious of my mortality than usual these days. Life is way too short to keep putting off till tomorrow what could be done today. I might not have another nine years in the city to dither about doing all the things I said I’d do but have never got around to actually doing. So I decided to take things in hand this summer and address the Top 2 on my list.
The Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múzeum) at Lovas út 4/c in District I opened over in Buda in 2008. Every year since, I’ve promised myself that I’d go see it. It scores a 4.5 on TripAdvisor (2421 reviews) and a 4.7 on Google Reviews (173 reviews). On the Murphy scale it gets a 4.8 for interest but loses points for value in that it’s overpriced and herd-like. It’s 4000 ft for adults for the one-hour tour (about €13/$15). No wandering around on your own. No taking photos. No dithering.
The complex is part of a 10-km stretch of caves in the bowels of Buda Castle Hill. First used as an air raid shelter during WWII, it was then fashioned into a state-of-the-art surgical hospital for 60 patients. For three years after the war it was a vaccine-producing institution. Brought back into service in 1956 during the Revolution, it packed in the wounded to the point that body heat alone raised the average temperature from 15°C to 33°C. During the Cold War it was reconstructed to make a top secret nuclear bunker and from 1962 to 2007 variously served as a stand-by hospital, a nuclear bunker and civil defence forces store. Up until 2004, one family maintained it in secrecy. Mr Mohácsi was responsible for airing the place on daily basis and looking after the electrical and mechanical systems. Every other week, Mrs Mohácsi would clean, sterilise, and change the bed linen. Today, over 200 wax models tell its story. And they’re so lifelike that when I opened a door to find one sitting on the loo, I apologised and blushed, before blushing again when I realised my mistake. A fascinating place.
Next on my list was the Natural History Museum (Magyar Természettudományi Múzeum) at Ludovika tér 2-6 in District VIII. It scores 4 on TripAdvisor (45 reviews) and 4.5 on Google Reviews (75 reviews). On the Murphy scale it gets a 5 for interest and loses no points for anything. Admission is a lot more reasonable at about half the price of the Hospital in the Rock if you go to everything and you can stay till they ask you to leave. Photos are possible with a photo ticket. It’s free on the first Sunday of each month for visitors under 26, and for two adults accompanying a family member under 18. And it’s free to everyone on national holidays (note for your diary: next one is 23 October).
You can visit the dinosaur garden, with its life-sized models of those magnificent beasts. There’s a temporary exhibition on anthropological forensics, explaining how much our bones can tell us about where we come from. I had a great time trying to match my nose and lips with an ancestry. I also got to watch a video on cranial reconstruction. Mind boggling. And there’s not a nerdy scientific bone in my body. Upstairs, there’s a magnificent collection of crystals that would take a couple of hours to do justice to. And everywhere else, there’s stuff – animals, birds, insects – interspersed with interactive puzzles, games, and quizzes. You could spend all day there, quite happily. But careful, unlike most other museums in the city, it’s open on Mondays and closed on Tuesdays. Well worth visiting.
First published in the Budapest Times 2 September 2016