There are loads of things to do in Budapest. Visiting one of the many baths is a popular choice, but when you find yourself in the middle of a summer thunderstorm, exploring the underground cave system created by the hot springs feels a lot more ideal. Talk about seeking cover. The maze below Buda Castle has a long, rich history, tracing back to half a million years ago. The prehistoric caves were linked by passageways during the Middle Ages, utilized by castle dwellers and castle hill residents alike. Treasuries, dungeons, torture chambers, wine cellars - basically anything that can be done with a cold, damp, underground space was done and the labyrinth was expanded over time. By the 1930s, it was large enough to hold 10,000 people. None of this is really acknowledged in the modern touring experience, so I was glad to have read up on it beforehand.
That's the thing about the labyrinth - it's absolutely not what you would expect from one of the '7 Underground Wonders of the World' (according to their tourist brochure and Web Urbanist, who also counted the employee passageways beneath Disney World amongst the wonders). It became a cultural attraction at the end of the Cold War, first housing a wax museum. After renovations in the late 90s, a new angle was taken - to guide people through the concrete labyrinth in order for them to explore the abstract labyrinths of life. I'm paraphrasing. The ideas of time, space, history and evolution are played with in mini art exhibits.
Here, ordinary objects, like swimming goggles and radios, were given the names of mythological figures. A sparse soundtrack of drums and unidentifiable percussive noises echoed throughout. There were 'excavations,' which include a sneakered foot print as well as a fossilized cell phone and lap top. I particularly liked the enormous coca cola bottle imprinted in limestone. It was all presented as fact and there was definitely a mention of extra-terrestrial life. The experience was kooky and quirky, high-minded and hokey all at the same time.
This "Renaissance well" celebrated its use as a wine cellar. It was basically the eternal flame of winos, a fountain that shoots out 'only the highest quality wine' 24/7 (though signs suggested you believe them, but not drink it). You could smell the faint grape rot of years of cellar use. This being the brightest room, it was fun to see the faces of the handful of fellow wanderers. Some were entranced, others bemused, some perplexed, other disappointed. Lacking a sense of humor will thoroughly limit your enjoyment of the labyrinth. A belief in spirits and/or a slight fear of the dark will most definitely enhance it. There's minimal lighting before 8pm and then none at all afterwards. A night time visit requires the use of an oil lantern, which sounds very cool. Amazingly, the museum is open twenty-four hours.,
Traveling in an underground maze is never 'typical,' but I have to say that the Labyrinth of Buda Castle is particularly atypical. Of course, this is only one section of the 10 kilometer long system of underground caves and tunnels. A separate museum, "The Hospital in Rock," shows the area which was turned into an air raid shelter and emergency hospital during WWII. It has been frozen in time as opposed to the consciously timeless Labyrinth exhibit and, as far as I can tell without actually visiting, offers a much more traditional museum experience. You know, if that's your thing.