to believe in things that you cannot.” - Bram Stoker, Dracula -
It’s October. A chill is creeping into the autumn air. Scarlet leaves the colour of blood blow from skeletal boughs in one final, desperate flight. Beautiful, but already dead!
Ghoulish foreshadowing acknowledged, but after all, this is the fall issue of Okanagan Woman and Halloween is fast approaching. The streets will soon be filled with witches, goblins, zombies and (my personal favourite) vampires!
I admit, I have morbid fascination for undead beings in human form! I devoured all four novels of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Series” like an immortal in a feeding frenzy. Perhaps that explains the allure for me of the tangled maze of ancient caves and passageways I stumbled across in a recent trip to Budapest.
THE LABYRINTH: CAVES WITH A DARK AND MYSTERIOUS PAST
The Hungarian capital straddles the Danube, separating the hilly Buda-district from the flatlands of Pest. Overflowing with dazzling architecture, thermal baths, quirky cafes, stunning vistas and UNESCO World Heritage sites, Budapest is a treasure trove for curious travelers.
My husband and I were wandering the cobbled backstreets of the Castle Quarter, when we passed an unobtrusive doorway with steep, stone steps leading directly down into the underbelly of Buda-hill. Ever inquisitive, we descended the stairs not really knowing what we’d discover at the bottom.
After several twists and turns, we found ourselves in a large cavern in front of a Hungarian cashier who wanted 2500 HUF (the equivalent of $12 CDN) before she would allow us to proceed. She spoke no English and after we’d paid, she gave a disinterested waive in the general direction of a gaping hole in the rock.
On the way by her desk, I snagged a brochure in hopes of gaining insight into our immediate future if we passed through the iron gate. It said (in stilted English, obviously translated from Hungarian) we were in the Labyrinth, which was about 1,000 meters long, walkable in approximately thirty minutes and arrows would show the way. Over the centuries, the ancient cave system had been used for many things, including a storage place for wine, a torture chamber and - according to the handout - a prison in which Dracula was its most infamous “guest”.
Dracula was a real person? That was news to me - I had always thought him to be the notorious anti-hero of the Gothic horror novel of the same name.
Not so, at least according to the brochure. The fictional character created by the author, Bram Stoker, was loosely based on the real deal: a 15th century, Romanian war lord, Vlad Tepes (or Vlad III), who was by all accounts, an equally bloodthirsty fellow. He was affectionately known as Vlad, The Impaler, because his specialty was – you guessed it – impaling people and then displaying their bodies publicly to frighten his enemies.
With some trepidation, we entered the Labyrinth and were immediately buried by blackness. It was total - so thick and encompassing, I only knew my eyes were open by feeling myself blink. If there were “arrows”, as the brochure so optimistically advertised, there was no way to see them.
Groping the dank walls, we shuffled forward with tiny, tentative steps. Within moments, I managed to walk smack into a stone column, which entertained my hubby to no end. Then we remembered, we had our iPhones - thank you Apple, for the flashlight App!
As we drifted deeper and deeper into the cave, my edginess rose commensurate with the dropping temperatures and the loss of our sense of direction. Around the stone corners of the passageways, curled something that looked like smoke, but felt like fog and music, an eerie haunting sound, floated about us in the thick, underground air.