Budapest 2008

I mentioned at the end of my EuroTrip 2007 series that although I missed out on most of my planned Eastern European itinerary in the summer of 2008 due to deciding to apply to Master’s programmes in London, I did manage to visit Budapest and Krakow. I didn’t keep a journal this time around, so although there were plenty of memorable events, I might have them out of order since the chronology is a bit harder to keep straight without daily journal entries to guide me. I flew directly from London to Budapest, and I remember getting money out of a cash point at the airport and being fascinated by forints, as it was my first travel outside the EuroZone in Europe, apart from Britain (the first time I went backpacking, I took some traveller’s cheques, as advised by most travel guides at the time, only to realise that almost no one used them anymore. This time, I got smart and got a debit card for cash withdrawals, even though I’m sure the fees were astronomical).

I was staying in a hostel called Carpe Noctem (which looks like it’s still around), which I initially really liked because it was run by a bunch of chill British people and had a comfy couch and little library in the reception area where you could curl up with a book. However, I had an incident fairly early on in my trip when I was hanging out on my bed in the co-ed dorms reading a book during the day, and some guy from California came in and started talking to me. He was kind of creeping me out, but we were alone in the room so I was trying to be friendly so he didn’t turn all angry and rapey (because this is the kind of shit women have to do), but it didn’t really work, because he suddenly walked over, scooped me up onto his lap, and started trying to slobber all over my neck. I had to physically fight my way out of his arms and push him off of me, and as I left the room, he made some creepy comment about catching me that night. Now, I don’t remember why I didn’t report this to the people who ran the hostel, or if I did and they didn’t do anything about it, but regardless, I now had to spend a night in a room with this guy, and I was absolutely terrified (I don’t know why I didn’t just change hostels, but my mind worked in weird ways back then). So I befriended this British guy in the bed next to mine, and begged him to keep an eye out for me in the night in case anything happened. I ended up going to a bar with this British guy and a few other people from the hostel until late (I remember he kept talking about how much he loved British milk, and how much better it was than milk anywhere else, and I don’t even like milk, so I wasn’t disagreeing with him, but he still wouldn’t shut up about it), even though I was quite tired and I just wanted to go to bed, since I was trying to avoid creepy guy. I stayed up late the next night too, and ended up getting sucked into reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, since it was one of the books on the shelf in the reading nook, which led to me becoming obsessed with Murakami for a number of years afterwards (which probably made me insufferable to the people around me). Fortunately, California creeper left after the first couple of nights, and I was able to avoid seeing him again by staying up late enough that he was asleep by the time I went to bed, and getting up early and staying out of the room during the day, but I really should not have had to deprive myself of sleep because of that jerk.

Fortunately, after Cali creeper left, he was replaced by a nice Welsh guy named Jamie and his friend (maybe girlfriend?) Cassie, and I spent a fair bit of time hanging out with them. We went to the House of Terror together, which is a museum about the horrors of communism in Hungary (I don’t remember much about it, other than it being really depressing), and to Body Worlds, which happened to be in Budapest at the time, and ate a lot of Wok to Walk, which Jamie, a fellow vegetarian, was obsessed with (they just did takeaway stir fries, hence the name. I think there’s a few in London). They were both there to attend Sziget, which I had never heard of, not being much for music festivals. However, after listening to them rave about it, I decided to give it a go, and bought a day pass for a random day, since I had no idea who was playing.

Sziget takes place on an island in the middle of the Danube, and I got a tram there with a couple of people who worked at the hostel who were also going (I became MSN Messenger friends with the guy, and he sent me increasingly pervy messages that I eventually stopped responding to for a year or so after). As soon as I got there, I realised had made a huge mistake. I had only been to one festival before, which was a punk festival that took place in the basement of a Unitarian church in Philly, and that was ok because you could stay in a hotel and just wander around the city if you didn’t like the bands playing that day, but Sziget was the full muddy fields festival experience, and I was so not into it. Also, the headliner that day was REM, who I loathe, and before them were bunch of crappy NuMetal bands, including the singer from System of a Down, and it was not my scene at all. Still, I tried to make the best of it, and split a bucket of Jagerbomb with the woman from the hostel, which was fortunately pretty weak, so I didn’t have a repeat of my usual Jager experiences (like in Munich), and found a tent of obscure ska bands that were at least playing a type of music I liked, even though I didn’t know any of the songs. I was starving, and the only vegetarian option seemed to be langos, which they were selling at a load of stands (basically a savoury elephant ear), but they were all topped with sour cream, which makes me gag, and I was worried my attempts to tell them I didn’t want it would be lost in translation. So, I was thrilled when I found a kurtoskalacs stand instead, which was frankly the highlight of the whole day (if you haven’t had one, it’s basically like a sugared cinnamon roll-esque bread that’s cooked slowly on a spit so all the sugar caramelises on the outside. So delicious). I haven’t been to a festival since, though I have eaten kurtoskalacs every chance I’ve gotten!

I also went to the castle in Buda one day by myself, and I seem to remember it taking hours to walk there from where I was staying in Pest, so that I’d pretty much lost the will to live by the time I arrived. I mainly wanted to see the labyrinth, but it was not where my map indicated it should be at all, and whilst I was looking for it, some obnoxious American tourists started making fun of me. I don’t know if they thought I couldn’t understand English, or if they just didn’t care, but I wasn’t bold enough at that stage in my life to tell them where to stick it, so I just gave up on the labyrinth and wandered away from them so I didn’t have to listen to their jerkishness. I do remember the castle being fairly empty apart from them, though, which was definitely different from when I was in Budapest a couple of years ago and it was absolutely heaving.

I’m sure I must have done more, but that’s really all I remember from that particular trip. On a positive note, I did stay friends with Jamie for a number of years afterwards (we’re still Facebook friends, but he moved to Sweden a few years ago, and I’d kind of fallen out of touch with him a while before that) – he stayed with me once when he was visiting London, and we shamelessly cheated on a pub quiz and won a bottle of wine, which was a blast, and though he and Cassie weren’t together for long after that trip (actually, I was never totally clear on whether they were dating, or just friends. It may have been the latter), I did meet up with her once shortly after moving to London to see a Jack the Ripper exhibition at Museum of Docklands, which was also really fun. On the whole though, I enjoyed Budapest much more when I went with Marcus in 2018, since I didn’t have to deal with any creepy guys, and we ate a lot more cake! I’ll talk about Krakow next week.

The Rest of Budapest

Relative to most of my trips, I didn’t actually visit all that many museums on this Budapest jaunt – in large part because we arrived on a Sunday evening when everything was shut, and were there over a Monday which is the museum closing day in Budapest, which only left us only Tuesday, and Wednesday morning for museums – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy. On the contrary, my feet were still aching days later from all the walking we did (and from uncomfortable shoes, because I always pick form over function). So this post will cover the rest of the things we did, with of course plenty of photos (courtesy of Marcus).


The first (and probably best) thing we saw in Budapest was Kerepesi Cemetery, a huge and absolutely gorgeous cemetery in Pest. There are quite a few famous people buried here (famous primarily in Hungary I guess, because we hadn’t heard of them) including their first prime minister, poets, artists, and all the rest.
The cemetery was taken over by the Soviets in the 1940s, who did their best to destroy it (even building a rubber factory on part of the cemetery), but happily, most of the cemetery lives on. I think even the Communists were won over in the end, as there is a pretty cool monument for the Labour movement here, and a bunch of graves that certainly look communist, as they’re all nondescript black markers with stars on them.
Actually, I wanted to come here because there is a museum in the cemetery about Hungarian funerary practices which sounded AMAZING, but when we got here the whole thing was closed for renovation, with no mention of this on the only website in English I could find (it said it was being “partially renewed” which made it sound like at least some of it was open), which was obviously super irritating, but walking around the cemetery totally made up for it, because it is the best. My favourite marker was Ady’s (he was a poet) because dude is giving MAXIMUM sass, but I also like the guy with the rams. (When I die, I want a statue of myself on my grave looking as sassy as Ady does. This should preferably be sculpted well before I die, so I can make sure it is sassy enough (and enjoy it in life).)
They also have a big funeral coach (the largest in Hungary) and many many other cool things. I highly recommend visiting – it’s free and you can’t really go wrong (unless the museum is shut without warning, but hey, you can still enjoy the cemetery).
We also went to Buda Castle (as you do), which is totally fine and worth seeing (especially if you just wander around the outside for free, and don’t actually pay to go in anything), but I’m sure other people have covered it well so I don’t need to (I regret not seeing the very cheesy looking labyrinth, but it was expensive), other than showing you some photos.
I was scared of mask guy outside the souvenir shop, because I was half-convinced a real person was inside who would jump at me when I approached, but I think it was all fake (if it was my shop, I would of course hide in there and scare people).  Buda Castle also has some excellent hooded crows (and apparently fancy-cakes, which I am sad to have not tried, though I ate plenty of cake on this trip nonetheless).
We visited the outside of the Parliament building to take some photos and ended up wandering into the Lapidarium (this was our first experience with lapidariums (lapidari?), and I was attempting to use my extremely limited knowledge of Latin to guess what was inside. Jewels? Rabbits? Sadly, no. Old statues). The gargoyles were pretty great though. There was another museum about Parliament which appeared to be free, but given how boring I found the European Parliament museum (sorry Parlamentarium, you tried your best, but it’s true), I decided to skip it, since I know even less about Hungarian Parliament than I do about the European one (which Britain shouldn’t be leaving).
Hungary is of course known for its cake shops, and though I’m not the biggest fan of Central (Eastern? Still not sure!) European cakes (they tend to be real dry), even bad cake is still cake, so I couldn’t resist. It didn’t hurt (or maybe I mean help) that our hotel had a cake section at the breakfast buffet, including my favourite “bland cake” (I think it was hazelnut, but it was hard to tell. Still, I really liked the texture, so I just spread it with Nutella and ate it that way, No wonder I gained two pounds on this trip!) and an orange cake that wasn’t half bad.  We also visited the Central Market to pick up some paprika (it’s what you do), because surprisingly, the paprika in the market is cheaper than supermarket paprika, and found these badass witch pickles (too bad I hate pickles), but also cake. I was a big fan of the Pyramis, which was just layers of yellow cake and a chocolate moussey icing covered in chocolate, but it looked hella fancy, tasted good, and only cost like 80p. Considering a similar cake would cost at least £4 or £5 in London, I think that was a damn good deal (and ate Pyramis more than once).
Food-wise, most of the vegetarian options seem to be fried, which is admittedly a guilty pleasure in moderation (my stomach can’t handle too much fried these days!). There actually are veggie establishments with healthier options, but I indulged in fried cheese and chips (I love the whole fried Emmenthal dipped in cranberry jam thing that is big in Central Europe), falafel and hummus (not Hungarian, but still, fried), and these giant potato pancakes from the Spring Market that were topped with more cheese than even I could finish (so amazing though. We also tried Langos at the market, which is fried bread topped with cheese, and I was not such a fan. The bread was sweet like an elephant ear, and would have been a hell of a lot better with cinnamon sugar than cheese!). Kurtoskalacs (chimney cake) are also a must, and there were enough stalls throughout the city to fill all my kurtoskalacs needs (cheap too! Way cheaper than Prague).  My favourite food is one I didn’t try, but was advertised at the Spring Market, as seen below (if anyone can tell me what Clod with Two Kind of Cummins is, I’d love to know. I debated going up and asking what kinds of cummins were available, just to find out what it meant, but it felt a bit jerkish, since I’m sure if I tried to translate English into Hungarian, it would come out even worse).
Budapest is a town of statues, and there are so many amazing ones, from derpy lions, to famous Hungarians, to good old Bela Lugosi at Vajdahunyad Castle. The one I was most excited to see, however, was Columbo and Dog, which was a good half an hour out of our way, but so worth it! We also saw Reagan (meh), Imre Nagy (he was prime minister of Hungary, and was executed by the Soviets) on a bridge, a fat policeman, and so many more, but Columbo was definitely the highlight (I’m still not exactly sure why Columbo is in Budapest, but I’m not complaining).
Transport-wise, Budapest is pretty easy to get around. They have the third oldest Metro system in the world (after London and Liverpool) and trams and buses (the trams are the most fun, as is Metro Line 1, which is the oldest and still has really old-fashioned trains (probably not the original ones, but I felt Michael Portillo-esque riding them, which may not be a good thing…at least I didn’t try to make awkward conversation with strangers!)), and I loved how they tell you when a train is expected in 30 second intervals. There’s nowhere to hide with 30 second intervals, unlike in London where a Tube minute can sometimes last like four actual minutes. Actually, the whole system was pleasant to use as people are very polite and stand well to the side to let everyone off the train before boarding, except for the escalators which seemed way faster and scarier than normal escalators, and I was nervous the whole time I was riding them. We got 72 hour transport passes (which were only like £10) and we used them a lot, because Budapest is pretty big.
I wasn’t always the biggest fan of the museums in Budapest, but there’s still a lot to like about this city, not least the architecture and cake. I enjoyed it much more on this visit than on my earlier one, probably because I wasn’t staying in a hostel with a sexual harasser, or getting talked into tagging along to a festival I had no interest in. I think 72 hours was probably the perfect amount of time here, as my feet couldn’t have taken much more. Definitely make sure you see Kerepesi Cemetery if you ever find yourself here, and take some time to check out all the statues in the city. And eat some cake!

Budapest: Vajdahunyad Castle and the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture

Here’s a tale of two attractions. There’s not really anything to not like about Vajdahunyad Castle (just look at it!), but the Hungarian Agriculture Museum is a different story (in other words, “it was the best of times, it was the…blurst of times?! You stupid monkey!”).  Actually, blurst (or worst) is a bit of an exaggeration (I’m just trying to carry on with the Dahl’s Chickens/Simpsons theme), but it wasn’t great.


Vadjahunyad Castle has a pretty interesting history. It was originally built in 1896 for a Millennium Exhibition in Budapest (I’ve no idea why they were having a Millennium celebration then, but whatever) and proved super popular, but was constructed from temporary materials that eventually began to fall apart, so in 1899 the original architect (Ignac Alpar) was called upon to rebuild a castle that would last, and indeed, it’s still there today, in the middle of a big park. It was designed to showcase a number of different architectural styles, hence its somewhat eclectic appearance, and is totally free to visit, though you are apparently unable to go inside most of it (I’m not sure whether there actually is much inside, other than the museum). There are a number of amazing statues scattered around the castle, but the main reason I wanted to go was the bust of Bela Lugosi, which is hidden around the back.


This was all just as amazing as I was hoping, and I had a grand time wandering around and having my picture taken with everything, even though sometimes I had to dodge other tourists to do so (Bela was all mine though – he was hidden away at the back of the castle, and I don’t think most people even knew who he was). So of course, I had to check out the Agricultural Museum, which has been based in the castle as long as the castle was here (they moved it out during reconstruction, but put it back in again after reconstruction was finished), especially because it is billed as Europe’s largest agricultural museum, and I tend to be a sucker for superlatives.


Admission was 1200 HUF (about £3.50) which wasn’t too bad, but no one really gave us any information when we came in, and much like the Hungarian National Museum, it was in a massive, beautiful  and confusing building, so it wasn’t immediately apparent where we were supposed to start (even the map by the stairs wasn’t super helpful). I spotted some mannequins off to our left as we entered, and because there were about a hundred schoolchildren having lunch outside the museum who I imagined would be re-entering at some point in the not too distant future and I wanted to make sure we could photograph the mannequins uninterrupted, we headed there first (on the plus side, this was the only museum we visited in Budapest that didn’t charge us extra to take photos).


I believe it was the “History of Hungarian Agriculture” gallery, and there was indeed a lot of history covered in the signage, with English translations provided, but just like at the Hungarian National Museum, it was not engagingly presented, and was just too damn much to read.  So I did skip quite a lot of it, but some of what I did read was interesting, like the information about types of crops they grew (there was a nice display of wheat. Apparently Hungary grew some award-winning wheat) and the domestication of farm animals (though come to think of it, I guess that was actually part of the exhibit entitled “Domesticating the Animals”), particularly the display case full of weird bare-necked chickens that were popular in Hungary. The mannequins were somewhat disappointing though, since they didn’t even have proper faces (I like a mannequin with some character).


After this, we tentatively headed upstairs (it wasn’t entirely clear whether we were meant to, but the guard saw us hesitating and made a “go on” gesture) and saw an exhibition about horses, which was fine. I’m not interested in horse racing, but I liked all the fake horses you could pose with (I didn’t risk sitting on the saddle, because it said there was a 30kg weight limit, but I totally wanted to).


There was another exhibition upstairs, which apparently held all the treasures of the collection, so of course I wanted to see that, but it turns out there was a separate admission fee (I’m not sure what it is, because no one mentioned it to us at the front desk, and I didn’t see any signs) so we couldn’t. I did use the nearby toilet though, free of charge, because the guard couldn’t stop me doing that (I honestly don’t think he even cared, but at the time I had the attitude of “well screw you, I’ll use this nearby fancy-looking toilet then.” It actually wasn’t that fancy, but it was clean, and free public toilets in Budapest seem to be pretty much nonexistent, so use them when you see them).


We then headed back downstairs, and checked out another small gallery on animals (maybe that was “Domesticating the Animals?”) and then looked around for the rest of the museum, but all we saw was another small gallery at the back, which by this point was full of all the schoolchildren that had been outside and had a teacher standing guard outside the door, so we felt weird about entering. Since we couldn’t see where any other parts of the museum would be, other than in the back gallery, we just left, but it felt rather small for the largest agricultural museum in Europe, since it seemed like the agricultural section at the delightful Technical Museum of Slovenia was larger than this museum. Well, we later popped our heads into the museum shop (which had a separate entrance) and got a view through the back window of a bunch of cases of taxidermied birds in what was evidently a gallery we’d completely missed, so obviously the museum did carry on for quite a while! I’m not even sure what exhibits we didn’t see, because the website says there are nine at the museum, and even if there was more than the “History of Hungarian Agriculture” in the one gallery, I reckon we still missed at least four exhibits, including the whole amazing sounding Gothic wing!


I’m pretty disappointed we didn’t get to see the whole museum and experience the full joys of the largest agricultural museum in Europe, but I doubt if they would have let us back in, and by the time we discovered the missing museum sections, we needed to head back to the city centre to grab some lunch before our flight home. But definitely do a better job of poking around if you’re in there than we did, because it is clearly hiding a number of secret galleries somewhere! I can only give it 2.5/5 based on what we saw, but maybe better things await the persistent. The castle is awesome though – at least go check out the courtyard, even if you skip the museum!


Budapest: The Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum)

I always like to visit some sort of national history museum when I’m in a different country so I can learn more about the place, and Hungary was no exception, particularly because I don’t really know much about its history (my knowledge of most of Eastern European history (or Central European? Never quite sure what the boundaries are because they seem based more on culture than geography) is patchy at best, to be honest). And the Hungarian National Museum was housed in a very impressive building, as you can probably see (if you ignore all the construction work), so I was keen to explore.


Admission is 1600 HUF for the permanent exhibitions (about £4.50), and there is an extra charge for the temporary exhibition, which we decided not to see on this occasion even though it did look quite interesting (it was about the journey of a “fallen girl” in mid-20th century Hungarian society), because I was worried not everything would be in English, and also, frankly, my feet hurt, and I could only take so much museuming that day. We also had to pay extra, once again, for a photo pass (it was 500 or 600 HUF) and Marcus had to put his backpack in the cloakroom immediately after arriving, but at least that was free (and near the toilets, which you know is always a concern of mine).


We started with the lapidarium (having only familiarised ourselves with the term the previous day at the Parliament building, which you’ll see in a later post. Not because it’s a Hungarian word (it was obviously Latin), it just wasn’t really a term we’d seen used before). And boy, was it sure lapidary. It was a bunch of Roman ruins, which normally I am not really into, and this was no exception, though I did enjoy pointing out how most of the beardy guys carved in stone looked a bit like Marcus.


We then headed up to the first floor to explore Hungarian history, starting with the Middle Ages. As you can see, the journey up the stairs was spectacular, so I was a little disappointed that the exhibits didn’t quite live up to that level of grandeur. There were English translations on most things, but some of the signs were so old that half the letters had fallen off, which was obviously not ideal, and some of the translations were a bit…patchy anyway, so it was hard to tell exactly what they were trying to communicate in some of the rooms. Also, the presentation was very dry, with no interactivity at all, and considering I was already quite tired and reaching the end of my tether (we’d already been to the Semmelweiss Museum and Buda Castle that day, and stopped at the Central Market, so I was justifiably tired, especially because I also wear not very comfortable shoes), I just couldn’t summon up much of an interest.


I will give them credit where credit’s due and say they had some great paintings of people with amazing eyebrows (no wonder the clerk at our hotel asked if I was Hungarian!) and a really interesting banner showing the execution of three men who participated in a rebellion (the fourth had a ransom paid for his life, and I think may have possibly later ruled Hungary, though the museum didn’t explain whether it was the same person, or a descendant with the same name). There was also a painting of Suleiman the Magnificent just casually slung in here that I swear is really famous, and the label didn’t say it was a facsimile, so I assume it was the original?


The second section upstairs was the history of Hungary from 1703 (after the Ottomans were expelled) until 1990, which is presumably the last time the museum was updated (or just the end of communism, but I could totally believe that most of the displays were almost 30 years old). This was more interesting to me because I understand more about this time period – and I’m always happy to look at dirndl-style national costumes or old communist art (probably shouldn’t have posed with the statue of Stalin, considering what a monster the man was (though he was disturbingly hot when he was young), but I couldn’t help myself. I have some kind of sick compulsion to be photographed with statues).


My favourite part was actually the Liszt room, not because I’m a particular fan of Liszt (even though he does look like a vampire, and is even featured in my Vampire Tarot deck (not just because of his looks – I think he composed something vaguely vampiric)), but because it was air-conditioned and had a real comfy bench on which I was quite prepared to settle down and listen to recordings of some of his compositions, until a couple walked in and started ostentatiously trying to read the sign behind my head, so I had to get up.


When we headed back downstairs, it became obvious that we’d gone around the museum in the wrong direction, because we spotted a prehistory gallery down there. It’s a shame I’m not more interested in prehistory, because this gallery had been updated relatively recently, and had some interactive things and a much more appealing appearance than upstairs. By this point, I was pretty much done though, so we rushed through pretty quickly (I tried to use the bow and arrow interactive to see what kind of animal my strength would kill (bit grim I know) but I couldn’t figure out how to pull back the bow and the guy working there said something to me in Hungarian, and I was worried he was telling me I was going to break it, so I just left).


We somehow missed seeing the Coronation Mantle, which is apparently a pretty big deal, but I honestly didn’t see another gallery we could have gone into, so I’m not sure where it was (this would be a recurring problem at Hungarian museums). I think the building is stunning, and the collection has a lot of potential, it just hasn’t been fully utilised. The amazing (and free!) Swedish History Museum has become my gold standard for this sort of thing, and the Hungarian National Museum fell well short of this ideal. With more interactivity, and some updated signage (at least the updated signage!) I think it could be a pretty great experience, because clearly Hungary has an interesting past (I mean c’mon, Ottoman occupation? Transylvania? Communism? This stuff is interesting!), but the way it’s presented is not engaging. 2.5/5.

Budapest: The Semmelweiss Museum

I recently had to switch two of my working days around, which created a surprise five day weekend (without having to take time off!), and to make the most of it, I decided to try to book a trip. All the last minute deals appeared to be for places like Brussels and Frankfurt (nothing against either place, but I’ve already been to Brussels a few times, and Frankfurt seems like more of a business destination), so when I saw a deal for three nights in Budapest, I scooped it up. I had actually been to Budapest once before, about ten years ago, but that trip was just a series of misfortunes that meant I didn’t end up seeing very much, so I was happy to go back and explore more in depth.
Actually, I wanted to go to Budapest for three main reasons: 1) To eat lots of kurtoskalacs, aka chimney cake, which I dearly love, but resent being asked to pay a fiver for at Christmas markets in the UK; 2) Visit the Columbo statue, because I have been weirdly into Columbo the last few months (probably because it’s on pretty much all day Sunday, and Sunday tends to be my chilling and TV watching day, so I’ve caught a lot simply because there was nothing else on, and got hooked); and 3) Visit the Semmelweiss Museum. This post will of course be about the last of those three ambitions, though you’ll hear more about the other two in a later post.
I’ve always felt bad for Ignaz Semmelweiss – any way you look at it, the man got a raw deal. He accidentally stumbled onto germ theory when he noticed that a colleague who died from sepsis after cutting himself during a dissection had the same symptoms as the women who died from puerperal fever (without directly understanding why – he thought “cadaverous material” was the problem, and I mean, it was, but not for the reasons he thought), which allowed him to dramatically slash the mortality rate in his maternity ward (by 90%, though the hospital he worked at had two maternity wards: one for training doctors and one for training midwives, and the midwives’ ward had much lower mortality rates all along, because midwives didn’t dissect cadavers) when he started forcing his medical students to wash their hands in chlorinated water. He then published his findings, and instead of the medical community viewing them as revolutionary or at least intriguing, they instead accused him of fabricating results (Pasteur and Lister eventually confirmed his findings, but too late to have done Semmelweiss any good).  Semmelweiss was eventually committed to an insane asylum due to what may have been early onset dementia or depression, though the antagonism of his fellow doctors probably didn’t help his mental state, and he died only a fortnight after being committed as a result of being beaten by the guards (it actually is quite a tragic story). Therefore, I was excited to see his museum, hoping he would finally get the more exalted treatment he deserved (and of course, I was hoping to see some grisly medical stuff too).
Unfortunately, I would wind up somewhat disappointed on both counts. We managed to find the museum without too much trouble (it’s on the Buda side of the river, near a tram stop) located on the first floor of a building looking out on a rather lovely courtyard. Admission is 1000 HUF (just under £3), plus an extra 600 forints for a photo pass, which I always find a bit ridiculous in this day and age, but I suppose they have to make money somehow. I was a little worried that nothing would be in English, but most (probably 80%) of the signs had an English translation, although they did tend to be more concise than the Hungarian version.
The first room held the bulk of the grisly stuff, as it were (not much, and not that grisly). There was a re-creation of a shrunken head made from goatskin, a mummified foot or two, and a couple of skulls. There were also some small grotesques, and that rather adorable little anatomical model, but most of it was just medical instruments – a theme that would continue throughout the museum.
The second room held a re-creation of Semmelweiss’s parlour, complete with his original furniture and rug, and some of his original books (and apparently some books given to the Hungarian prime minister by George Bush Sr. during his presidency, though they quite clearly weren’t Semmelweiss’s books, since Osler’s Modern Medicine wasn’t published until 1892 (and those copies appear to be an even later edition), and Semmelweiss died in 1865). If I understood the signs correctly (some of them were a little confusing), Semmelweiss lived in this building at one point in time, and I wish more of his house had been preserved. There was also a re-creation of an old pharmacy that appeared to have some staff in white coats working in it, but it was roped off whilst we were there so I’m not sure if they do some sort of living history interaction with visitors or not (though if it was in Hungarian, it wouldn’t have done us much good in the first place).
The third room (I was pleased to see there even was a third room, because the museum looked like it was only two rooms from the entrance) had more cool things (and some fairly inexplicable ones like this opium pillow (he has an actual butt hole, and I don’t know why)) like some incredibly detailed wax models of organs (they were beautiful, in a kind of disgusting way, but I had read before visiting that the museum was meant to have an excellent wax anatomical model collection, which had me picturing Anatomical Venuses (you know, those comely women who just happen to have all their guts exposed) rather than organs by themselves).
The final gallery (more of a long hallway) was my least favourite, as much of it wasn’t in English, and it was largely just medical instruments and other random bits and bobs. I was disappointed how barely any of the museum actually seemed to be about Semmelweiss – unless I missed something that was only in Hungarian, there was only his room, and one small case of his possessions (including a copy of his skull, which is admittedly cool, though as you can see, the terse label provided no reason why it was there), and that was it. There was barely even any discussion of his accomplishments, so if you didn’t know about what he had achieved before going in to the museum, you sure wouldn’t coming out either.
We were headed out the door when we saw a poster that mentioned a temporary exhibition on vaccines, which appeared to be in a room on the ground floor. When we tried to go in, a man came out and stopped us, so we showed him our tickets, which led to a heated discussion in Hungarian between him and another woman who worked there about whether or not we had the right to see the exhibition (honestly, we didn’t care that much, we just didn’t think it would be an issue in the first place, as it didn’t mention anywhere that it cost extra). They eventually decided we could go in, which I was grateful for because that’s where the toilets were, but I don’t know what the official policy is (I don’t think even they know what the official policy is, frankly) so if you visit the museum, you may not be able to do the same.  You wouldn’t be missing much anyway. It felt like a travelling exhibition that had been translated into Hungarian, and contained fairly basic information about Jenner, Salk, Koch, and others that anyone with an interest in the history of medicine would already know about, and no major artefacts of note other than some rad old posters urging Hungarians to be vaccinated (the maternity chair shown below is from the permanent collections). We kind of rushed through because we felt like we were creating a disturbance by even being there.
So sadly, the Semmelweiss Museum will not be going on my list of must-see medical museums, but I’m glad we checked it out whilst we were there so at least now I know (I realise that these photos are making it look like they had lots of amazing stuff there, but that is because I’m just showing you the highlights, and not the rows and rows of scalpels and surgical scissors and things. Endless medical instruments may be of interest if you’re actually a doctor or surgeon, but I want stuff in jars)! I think it is worth seeing if you’re already in Budapest and like medical history, but it’s certainly not a destination museum. It probably is better if you just think of it as a general medical museum, because it is the lack of information about Semmelweiss in a museum bearing his name that really disappoints. He deserves better, and I really wish they would have provided some more biographical information, at least about his medical career (actually, the whole museum needed more information – the labels were not descriptive at all, and were sometimes just downright confusing!). 3/5.