Stumble down to Budapest’s underground labyrinth

Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, has always had a “split history.” Everything from the town’s name (which is actually a combination of two distinct cities along the Danube, Buda and Pest) to its incredibly diverse architectural styles, to a range of ruling powers from the Ottoman Turks to the Soviet Union after World War II speak to Budapest’s unique dichotomy of influences and history.

Considering this “split” history, it’s not surprising to learn that beneath Budapest’s beautiful World Heritage Site at Castle Hill is a series of spooky subterranean passages dating back to the Middle Ages. Simply called “the Labyrinth,” it’s a maze-like complex of dark corridors that has served at various points in history as torture chamber, wine cellar, bomb shelter and treasury.

Visitors can wander ancient passages on a self-styled quest, replete with a mission to find your way out by feeling your way blindly along pitch black walkways in search of the exit. Sound like a recipe for a lawsuit? There’s more – befitting its history as a wine cellar, the Labyrinth is also home to a red wine fountain hidden deep within its interior. Now you can stumble down pitch-black corridors AND be drunk!

For anyone looking for a quick thrill and an interesting view at Budapest’s many layers of history, the Labyrinth does sound like a lot of fun. How often do you get to wander your way through such an atmospheric place? Give it a try the next time you happen to be in town. Oh, and when they ask you to sign that liability waiver, see if you can’t skip the line…

Greetings from Crete: The Best of Myths

Ok, so you first heard this myth as a kid: the great King Minos (of Crete) gets a beautiful white bull from the god Poseidon. He’s supposed to sacrifice the bull, but decides he’d kind of like to keep it. And, unsurprisingly, it angers the god. Bad idea.

So the god makes Minos’ wife fall in love with the bull. That’s pretty rough. But, now, here’s where it gets weird. Really, really weird. (But, yes, you did hear this first in your elementary school class, and your parents were glad when you did well in Greek mythology.)

The wife decides she wants the bull. As in: wants to be with the bull. Bad enough to have an architect build a wooden cow for her to squeeze into…so she can have the bull. And she does. And her white bull love child? The Minotaur.

The Minotaur: half-man, half-bull. (The ladies are saying, ‘hey, isn’t that most men?’) He lived in the labyrinth of the famous Minoan palace of Knossos and ate Athenian children every nine years (another story). Until an Athenian, Theseus, came to slay the Minotaur.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story was supposed to be, but I can think of a few. The legend does leave out the later marital problems we assume must have occurred with the royal couple, after the coupling.

When not building crazy sex contraptions for the queen, the architect built Knossos for the king. I’ll give you a dispatch from the ruins of Knossos later this week.