I found Buda and Pest to be charming. People compared them to Paris, and I see the similarities, but both Hungarian cities are much cleaner and the people seemed kinder. But, as tourists, on a tour, etc, there wasn't a lot of interaction with natives, others than those in the tourist business who are paid to be charming.
The architecture is variable and less early oppressive social realism than in Warsaw. Less bombing, less open areas in need of reconstruction, except on the fringes of the city. There was both classical gothic as well as more ornate later curlique, wedding cake excesses and quite a bit of clean art deco. This variation is in buildings, decoration on buildings and the iron rails that adorn everything. If one has to have iron bars on the windows, the variation and craftsmanship is impressive. I didn't get a lot of pictures of buildings, but Elizabeth did, so I'll have them eventually when I get her terabytes of information.
The public baths here was superb. It was not a tourist place, and I went with another woman on the trip, Janet, and we went very early (7:30). I wish there was something like this within driving distance of where I live... I would certainly join and go once a week. The building was an old 19th century, purpose built with hotel for, one assumes, the wealthy. The ceramic tiles, vaulted, skylight ceilings and general blue and cream color scheme was restful beyond lollygagging around in several temperatures of water. We spent 2.5 hours there but I easily could have spent the whole day with a book.
The only museum we did here was called House of Terror. But it could have been called "Museum of Hungarian History from 1940 through 2000'. Somebody referred to it as strident, and that is precise. There were about 3-4 rooms on the Nazis, and mostly about the Hungarian collaborators. The fact that the while they were essentially horrible people, much was made of the fact they too were killed by Germans. This was followed by many many rooms on the immediate post-1945 history, and how the collaborators who survived just changed their uniforms from Arrowcross to Communist. The truth that there are evil human beings who delight in power over others is a point that has been forcefully over and over in the week of travel we have had.
But the majority of the museum, the stridency of the house is saved for the communists, soviet and otherwise.
[we are passing by the huge depressing soviet /socialist architecture blocks, like Cabrini Green or the miserable towers that were built in US cities. They are being rennovated, but marvelously painted in various color schemes. Some are rainbows, some are, for example, shades of green. Many people live in these blocks, of course many do. They are fucking enormous. No one seems to like them, but they are functional housing units]
There were films of people confronting their jailers, their oppressors, made in what seems to be immediately post-liberation (as they term it). Many of the perpetrators deny anything and everything. One justified, on film, lying because "the other person lied first, so why can't I?"
[just drove by roman remains - some serious archeological sites. They actually seem preserved, and not destroyed, which seems to be much of the fate of this part of the world]
One woman seems demented and smiles like an idiot while other women accuse her of horrible things. This opens other problems. One of the women on the trip is the child of two holocaust survivors. Her father was a dentist, who befriended someone in one of the minor work camps. When the liquidation order came, the friend just opened the gate and told them to leave. They lived in the forests of Poland, outside Krakow for two years, until Russian liberators came. Anyway, she showed me a recent article about how a Nazi guard, with well documented torture and deaths on his hands was acquitted because of dementia. I don't know. I just don't know.
There was much made of the heroic Catholic Church who resisted terror and oppression at every turn, especially in the 1950s Hungarian uprising. My memories of history I learned are of a different church, that turned Jews over to the Nazis. Yet, Budapest's Jewish ghetto was the only one not liquidated, and many Jews did survive WWII, although many here is a relative concept. 400,000 did go to Auschwitz and Birkeneau.
The House of Terror is clearly cathartic for some set of Hungarians. It is relatively new, but much thought went into its construction. I am sure that the generation that grew up under the Soviet regime, that watched family and friends murdered after the uprising, cared passionately that their story not be forgotten That generation is passing from the earth, as are the survivors of the much of mid-20th century atrocity. The young people here are now so thoroughly post-socialist that it has become distant history to them.
We also visited the main synagogue, which is near downtown Pest. It is the second largest in the world (after the Manhattan monstrosity). But it is ornate and looks more like a Catholic cathedral than anything else, which, in fact, was the point when it was built. It has more gold leaf than many other things, the list of which I have forgotten. It is active ,and there is a community of Jews, numbering in the 1000s, and services every Saturday.
What was best about the synagogue, was the courtyard/garden. Raul Wallenberg's grave/tomb is there, weighed down by thousands and thousands of pebbles. Lists of over 100 names of Righteous People are on monuments surrounding his grave (not sure if his body is actually there - I seem to remember that the Soviets murdered him an he was never found). There is a beautiful silver tree sculpture, that is suggestive of an upside down menorah, with the leaves inscribed with the names of Hungarian Jews murdered in the Holocaust.