Although I am writing from the capital of the former Roman Empire, I will share a few pictures taken from Aquincum, a Roman city on the outskirts.
Last Tuesday morning, Jesse and I hopped on the tram and transferred to the HÉV (suburban railway) stop that goes to Aquincum. When we got to the bottom of the steps, we were met with this:
It was déjà vu. Last August the very same segment of the HÉV was under construction. While Jesse and I, jet-lagged and disoriented, were staring at the sign, two pierced-and-tattooed guys came up to us and started talking to us in Hungarian. When we failed to respond, they immediately switched to English:
“This is f***ed up!”
Which pretty much summed up how I felt about the situation. We had navigated our way around tram construction, but I felt overwhelmed by more public transportation obstacles. I was ready to go back and hide in the hostel room. Luckily, the guys decoded the cryptic sign.
“There is a bus. You better come with us. We will show you.”
We weren’t really sure how wise it was to follow two strangers through Budapest, but they led us to the bus stop and chatted with us while we waited for the bus. We identified ourselves as Americans, and their immediate response was, “Why did you come to Hungary?” We explained that we were English teachers.
“Oh, that is very respectable. Our English, it is s***.”
While we were standing at the stop, a young woman with wild hair came up to the four of us and started murmuring. Her lips were moving, but not much sound came out. It wasn’t clear whether she wanted money, needed help, or had some important message for us. Our new friends tried to speak to her in Hungarian, but she didn’t respond. As she wandered off, the guys looked at us apologetically.
“Yeah, we don’t know what the f*** that was about.”
During my time in Hungary, I often reminded myself that if I was confused, chances were there was a Hungarian who was equally confused.
A few minutes later, we followed them onto the bus, and they made sure we knew where to get off and change to the HÉV. We arrived at Aquincum as the sun was setting and only had time to walk around the small civilian amphitheater before we made our way back to the hostel.
The incident will stand out in my memory as our first bizarre adventure in Hungary. It was reassuring that two strangers helped us on our way, and they were glad that we had come to their country to teach.
A year later, we managed the replacement bus without the help of our friends. And this time, we actually went inside the museum and archaeological park.
We spent several hours at Aquincum, and we virtually had the park to ourselves. With the help of EU funds, the park recently built a new museum complex, reconstructed a painter’s house, and created a beautiful park for kids. It is too bad that there weren’t more visitors to enjoy the state-of-the-art facilities.
Although it was the capital of a province on the periphery of the Empire, Aquincum had all the essentials for a Roman lifestyle: public and private baths, central heating, floors covered with mosaics, walls painted with beautiful frescoes, temples, and plenty of markets. And this was just the civilian town near the equally large military settlement.
It is believed that Marcus Aurelius wrote part of his Meditations in Aquincum. I have often taken solace in his calming, stoic words, and it was fascinating for me to imagine this great philosopher-emperor sitting near the Danube and scribbling his thoughts on a piece of parchment.
Sometimes, life comes full circle. Aquincum was both our first and last Hungarian adventure. Only ten months later, I know a lot more about Hungar, and perhaps a little more about life.
We are flying back to the States on Wednesday, but I promise that pictures of Prato and Rome are forthcoming!