The Secret Hospital in the Rock.
Without the obvious signs the hospital/bunker could, even today, be kept a secret and, in the past, meticulous measures were taken to keep the complex medical facility hidden under the Buda Castle Hill. Built during WWII, a 6 mile stretch of interconnected caves and tunnels came into its own when Budapest was under siege in 1945 and then during the 1956 Revolution to treat wounded civilians and soldiers. Between 1958 and 1962 it was expanded to withstand chemical and nuclear attacks. Originally only meant for 60 patients at the worst of the bombing and fighting held up to 690 patients with only 30 medical staff in attendance. This museum is very well done, sometimes gruesome but stories of heroics, kindness, commitment and extreme conditions will stay with me for a very long time.
Palvolgyi Barling – Long Walk Through Caves
This will be a rather long entry as I don’t want to leave out a thing and it starts with the boys heading off to do their own thing leaving me to my own devices. I am responsible just for me and it is strangely liberating. I catch a tram then wait quite a while for the bus that will take me to the caves. Unfortunately the bus driver knows no English and only points up the hill so I am not overly confident but reasonably sure I am on the right bus and then we just sit in the bus for another 10 minutes before we are finally on the way – not to worry I’m sure I have plenty of time. When I get off there is no big cave sign or anything but there is a car parked with a man inside like he is waiting – maybe they pick you up I’m thinking but he doesn’t know any English. I walk a little way up the road and decide I must be too far up so I turn around and there is now another man standing near the car – came out of nowhere I swear. I walk closer and he says where are you going? – perfect English so I explain and he tells me to head back down the hill. I start to jog as it is after 3pm by now and I have to be there by 3:30pm. I come across another side street with strange signs and a jogger asks if I’m ok and after explaining he tells me I am heading in the right direction so off I go with him speeding past. Rather puffed by now I still keep jogging when a police car pulls up beside me and says jump in I’ll take you – it is the man that appeared from nowhere so I hop in and he speeds very quickly around the last few bends. I thank him profusely and then he turns a wags his finger at me telling me not to get in cars with strangers. It leaves me wondering what was going on up there at the bus stop – some sort of ‘sting’ and did I get in the way? – ok maybe not but it was a little out of the ordinary.
I run to the caves and luckily for me there are 3 groups getting ready to go – I haven’t missed out after all – not sure to be elated or disappointed.
I get allotted to the last group and Sam, a young woman from London, is the one that brings us altogether asking everyone where they are from and sharing a few laughs, especially when we get in our overalls and helmets. We are a team they say and although a little nervously excited we set off following our guide chatting away. Meeting another group just finishing looking exhausted and not terribly happy we ask how it was and one replies – we survived! (A little more nervous now.)
We reach a rock with a steel door and as we enter the door is slammed shut echoing around the small cave entrance – no going back now. The next 3 hours are spent climbing down a 10 foot ladder, crawling through small spaces, twisting and turning while using your arms to squeeze yourself through tunnels, sliding on your bum down narrow shafts, climbing up walls with slippery footholds, using you back and legs to shimmey up a sheer walls and listening to stories and facts on caving – sometimes it is hard to tell fact from fiction but it is all exhilarating. ‘The team’ help and encourage each other all the way, joking around and often putting out a helping hand to pull you up over a difficult hurdle. Our guide is strong and at times some of us have to stand on his leg to reach the next level of footholds. At one stage I got a cramp and he just gave a mighty heave and I was up before I knew it. The end cavern is like a natural stage and our guide sings a beautiful song in Hungarian followed by us singing together Frere Jacques – the acoustics are amazing.
We entered in daylight and come out in darkness all in a state of euphoria. We are nothing short of ecstatic. What a great group of people. They even get me back to the street I am staying and we enjoy a beer together at the Ruin Bar reliving our extreme adventure.