“ City: Budapest / Country: Hungary „
When we booked a trip to Budapest at the end of June, I wasn't planning to do too much on the day we arrived. I'd been horribly busy at work and I wasn't looking to race around like a headless chicken. Instead I thought we'd pace ourselves, take it easy, mooch around the hotel and then potter off for a beer (maybe two) and some dinner. I'd barely been in the mood for the trip at all and I'd not done much preparation beyond buying a guidebook and flicking idly through it. I wasn't terribly inspired, but then as we sat in the minibus taking us to the hotel we drove past a spectacular building and when we got to the hotel, I hunted it down in the guidebook and found it was the Museum of Applied Arts. I idly sauntered over the website to find out the opening hours and then realised that fate had dealt us a golden opportunity. We had arrived on a very special day - or perhaps I should say a very special night.
~Who are we to argue with fate?~
On the 'Night of Museums' - the 22nd of June this year - museums all across Hungary throw open their doors until the early hours of the morning and museum goers can race around as many of the participating museums as they - and their energy levels can manage. The event marks the longest day and if that day runs until 2.30 am, you can fairly say it's really very long. Once you've paid the single fixed price there's nothing but your stamina to limit you. I knew that even though there was a lot to be said for the 'beer and a nap' approach, when fate finds you in Budapest on the 'Night of Museums', no excuses are allowed. It's time to get your lazy butt in gear and go see some museums. We'd had a very early start, the temperature was in the high 30s, humidity was shocking and we were set to take the 'Night of Museums' and shake it by the jugular.
'Night of the Museums' has been running for 11 years in Budapest and nationally for 9 years. In total there are more than 300 museums throughout Hungary including more than a hundred in the capital city. What's not to love? Similar schemes operate in many different countries but generally with different dates but it's well worth finding out if you can visit a city during its museum night.
~Trying to figure it out~
My husband went off on a fact finding expedition to quiz our ultra-friendly hotel receptionist about where we could buy the armbands that are needed to access the museums. He probably got fabulously clear instructions that somehow got a bit garbled on the way back to the room. We found Budapest wonderful but frequently baffling. He knew which Metro stop we needed for the first museum and had the number of the Metro line and the name of the 'end of the line' station.
We set off at around five o'clock, heading to Deak Ter, the nearest Metro station on the line to the Museum of Applied Art. We bumbled around in a cloud of confusion trying to figure out where to buy the tickets, eventually getting some advice from one of the many eager young folk desperately trying to sell tickets for one of the many Hop On Hop Off bus tours. He confirmed that the 'Night of Museums' arm bands would probably be available inside the Metro station and sure enough, once we got underground, we spotted the logo of the event at the ticket booth and joined the queue to buy our armbands.
We paid 1500 HUF (around £4.50) per person for our armbands. For children whose parents are happy to let them stay up late in the interests of cultural immersion, the bands (in a different colour) are a mere 600 HUF although I wonder how many youngsters will think it's great fun to be dragged around a load of museums late at night. At the same time we bought two Metro tickets for 300 HUF each, opting for the cheap 'no more than 3 stops' version. Rather pointlessly, the ticket seller gave us a leaflet about the museum bus services which was entirely in Hungarian and completely baffling. When we got home and I reread the website details, I realised that the 'museum bus service' which was included in the armband price seemed to actually mean that we could use the regular buses. This might have been a bargain if we'd had a clue where to find them or where they were going. Instead we resorted to the oldest form of transport and walked everywhere.
~Applying ourselves to Applied Arts~
We were a bit early arriving at the Museum of Applied Arts and were there about half an hour before the start time but we were still allowed in. I assume it was to mark the special event that local food and drink businesses had set up stalls in the foyer selling a wide range of tasty goodies. In the main atrium with its fabulous glass roof, a dozen or so craft stalls had been set up with people selling all sorts of odd things and at one end, a small stage was set up for a rather strange fashion show which involved lots of skinny and very serious looking women prancing around doing strange things with plastic bags. We weren't sure if the museum had restricted access to some of its displays in order to keep the crowds under control, but we happily spent about an hour wandering around, having something to eat and knocking back the first of our many bottles of water to counteract the shocking weather.
~A Quick Introduction to Hungarian History~
With map in hand, we then set off to our second museum - the Hungarian National Museum which was about ten minutes away. We took a strategic diversion for a cold beer in a pavement café and then hit the museum. There are many museums in Budapest with quite similar sounding names but the Hungarian National Museum (or Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum) is the one which presents the history of the country in chronological order. It's worth being aware that knowing what your target museum is called in English won't help you much on the streets of Budapest where everything is signed only in Hungarian.
The Hungarian National Museum had a special programme of events for the 'Night of Museums', some of which were of no use to us (talks in Hungarian) but we hang around to watch some rather strange belly dancing by a troupe of ladies with reassuringly substantial bellies and a man who made Louie Spence look macho.
We had another cold drink and a long look at the guidebook to choose our third museum and set off for a long hot walk to the rather dramatic sounding 'House of Terror' or Terror Haza on Andrassy Street. Carefully following the map, we wove through the backstreets of Budapest before erupting onto the city's most fashionable street. The House of Terror is one of the city's most popular museums, located as it is in the ex-headquarters of both the Arrow Cross party (the local Nazis) and the communists who followed (or as someone described them 'our liberators who forgot to go home for over 50 years).
Once we got there, the museum was really heaving with visitors and was a bit of an ordeal to get round with so many people and such hot and humid conditions. We shuffled through the museum, jam-packed and sweaty. We considered going back later in the week when it was less crowded but somehow there were so many other things to do that we didn't return.
~Throwing in the Towel~
Three museums were enough and we decided to call it a night just after 10.30 pm. Had the weather been cooler or we'd had a good night's sleep before, or even if we'd had a bit longer to figure out what we really wanted to see, I think we'd have managed a couple more but we'd still had great value and a lot of fun by taking part in the event.
The entrance fees for the three museums we'd visited would have cost us around 5000 HUF if visited individually so our 1500 HUF armbands were a bit of a bargain. If you can't stand crowds and like to take your time and see things really thoroughly, then it's probably not the best way to spend an evening but if you're willing to take on some rather energetic museum-bashing and are thinking about visiting Budapest in June, it would be well worth checking ahead to see if you can take advantage of the Night of Museums.