Friday, January 21, 2011

Lost in the Labyrinth

All Christmas day, we were stuck inside the hotel. Outside, the winds howled, blowing rain sideways past our window. Just above freezing; not the best kind of weather for sight-seeing. So instead of experiencing the wonders of Budapest, we sat inside. Thank goodness Santa had brought the boys some new toys to play with.

On the second day of Christmas (December 26th—Christmas is a two-day affair in much of Europe), we ventured outdoors. The temperature had dropped and the sidewalks were now covered with drifted snow. We had packed according to a weather forecast that predicted zero precipitation, so we were utterly unprepared. The boys couldn't keep out of the snow. Within ten minutes they were whining about their cold, wet feet.

We trudged up to the castle district, hoping to at least see something before we left the next day. Naturally, the castle was located at the top of a hill, so the winds were stronger than ever. After a few stiffly posed pictures at the Fisherman's Bastion, we searched for the Labyrinth. A dank underground tunnel system never sounded so inviting.

We arrived as they were setting up the annual Christmas candle-lighting event. Once a year, on December 26th, 1,000 tea candles light the inside of the Labyrinth, a series of caves beneath Buda Castle.

The tiny lights lined the passageways and made them seem almost cozy. And they were beautiful. I was really enjoying our trip for the first time.

"I wonder if there are any bats down here,"  Boss Man commented as we looked around.

"Bat! I'm a bat!" Snuggle Monkey said.

And then his little hand was no longer holding mine. He grabbed both sides of his unzipped jacket and held them wide, flapping his "wings." He looked like a tiny dracula flitting among the candles. I worried a bit that he'd get too close to the candles, but he seemed to be staying away from them. I let my guard down.

"I'm a super fast bat! The fastest bat in the world!"

Whoosh, he ran, down one side of the cavern. Candles flickered wildly in his wake. He wheeled around and came racing back toward us. Whoosh! Behind him, the candles went out, like a series of dominoes falling. He raced around us, as we stood in our dead-end section of the cave, which was rapidly getting darker with each flame that died. The last tealight, over to my left, sputtered and went out.

They turned off the electric lights after they lit the candles. In the utter darkness, I noted the warm, damp air against my face. And then the wails broke the silence.



The shouts ricocheted off the walls in a deafening din. I reached one hand out in the general direction of one of the wails.

"I'm here," I said, trying to keep a steady voice as I searched for my son in the darkness.

"Don't move," Beloved Husband said. "We'll find you. Just stay where you are. Keep talking."


I'm here... I'm here... echoed all around us.

"In a quiet voice please," Beloved Husband said. Wow, he was staying really calm!

Sweeping my arms in front of me, I started up a constant stream of quiet chatter. I wasn't sure if I was trying to calm my kids, myself, or my mother-in-law (who has since decided she won't be joining us on any more family trips to explore the cities of Europe). Or maybe, like a bat, I was trying to echolocate my way to my kids.

After a few moments, I located Boss Man, and my husband found Snuggle Monkey. Both were sniffling.

"What about me?" my mother-in-law asked.

"Take my arm, Mom," Beloved Husband said. "I can see a faint light down that way."

"You do?" I looked in what I thought was the direction of the passageway but didn't see anything. I did, however, hear feet shuffling away from me.

"Wait!" I said to my husband as he led us to what I hoped would be a way out.

"We're going to have to stock up on night lights after this," I muttered as we crept down the passageway.We seemed to be moving at a snail's pace—literally. I felt as if I could only go a few inches at a time, and Boss Man's grip threatened to permanently cut off circulation from at least two fingers.

"Wait, I hear someone," Beloved Husband stopped walking, and I ran right into him. Boss Man stepped on Snuggle Monkey's foot, which elicited a wail.

I peered into the darkness, hoping I might see that faint light he'd mentioned. And then I was completely blinded by a bright white circle of light that was right at eye-level about three meters away. Pain shot across the back of my eyes and I squeezed them shut. The afterimage lit up green and orange against my eyelids.

"Mi folyik itt?" came a voice out of the darkness.

"What? Sorry? Do you speak English?" Beloved Husband asked.

Beloved Husband explained as the worker pulled out his lighter and set about re-lighting the candles. Then he escorted us to the entrance. Apparently they didn't want us in the Labyrinth during their special once a year candle-lighting event. Sadly, I can't really blame them

What do you think? Fact or fiction?
Last week's story? Fact.


  1. I love Budapest so much that I am moving there next summer!

  2. I envy you... it's a beautiful city. My husband and I decided that we need to go back (without small children and when the weather's warmer).

  3. Oh, that was an awesome story! I was totally lost in it. I'm going to guess "fact" - beautifully told!!

  4. That is hilarious! I went in the Caves of Drac in Majorca at a similar age but we never got into an adventure like that. Except that when we sat down for a talk lined up in rows dad new the guy behind us from work. Wherever we go on holiday he saw someone from work, bizarre.

  5. I'm afraid to guess... although your above comment makes me think "fact". I was feeling chilly at the beginning-- I hope you all had dry socks & hot cocoa to go home to!

  6. Megan: thanks!

    Kargaroobee: Glad you enjoyed it. Isn't it weird how you can meet people you know thousands of km from home?

    Su: Have to tune in next week to find out. We did have dry socks at the hotel, but no hot cocoa. :(