You’ve just spent the day wandering around historic Buda Castle, spending some time in the National Gallery and walking the battlements and we are slowly making our way up the cobbled back streets towards Mattias Church when a small swinging sign comes into view saying simply “Labirintus”. Intrigued we press on up the bank and reach a simple arched doorway, flanked by open wrought iron gates, with “Labirintus” again embossed in the arch to reinforce statement opening onto some steep steps leading down. On seeing the steps my wife suddenly feels an uncontrollable urge to have a coffee and left me to brave the unknown alone.
So nothing ventured I start down all 44 steep steps curving left then right into the entrance vestibule and a notice emblazoned with the legend “Labyrinth – Dracula’s Chamber” and then telling how King Mattias, the 15th century king of Hungary captured Vlad 111 (Dracula) in Transylvania and imprisoned him in the Labyrinth’s prison for 10 years. A slight use of artistic licence here as Vlad was actually held in Visegrád north of Budapest in the Danube Bend, rather than Buda castle, but the blurb gloriously enthuses in true Hammer Horror fashion.
It turns out that the labyrinth is a series natural cave formations linked with some man-made middle-age tunnels and used over the years as bandit hide-outs, wine vaults, prisons and even torture chambers. After paying the entrance fee at the booth to a person partly hidden behind tinted glass thus obscuring their identity and adding to the sense of mystery, I pass through the gate and enter the complex. Luckily there is a map on the wall detailing the cave system and the route through; it also shows a number of side chambers and some dead-end arms which should not be a problem, right! One slightly un-nerving thing is that the map shows that there are two entrances into the complex, with Hungarian notes that (I assume) refer to the location in the outside world, which is not the easiest to understand.
So, hoping I have chosen the correct entrance, I start off dutifully following the helpful direction arrows and pass a number of chambers, some with vaulted arches, containing with statues of past nobility and some with prison bars, behind which are mannequins dressed in 18th century clothing with some unrecognised operatic music playing which purportedly relates to the story of ‘The Black Count’, a rags to riches chancer by all accounts. Rounding the corner the light dims markedly such that it takes a few seconds for my eyes to acclimatise and carry on. Turning the next corner I come to another barred chamber containing a supposed tomb, but I have no idea who it is supposed to be as I cannot see any explanation notice, if there is supposed to be one, could this just be a ploy to ramp up the apprehension? As I continue the light gradually becomes poorer until all that there is to light the way is a pair of blue tinted floor lamps that add hardly any useful illumination, but being a brave manly man I press on. Then, to add a further touch atmosphere, a gentle wisp of mist begins to infiltrate the tunnel, further reducing my ability to clearly see the way forward. The result of these theatrics is that I miss a direction indicator and plough on into increasing darkness and eventually a dead-end, one of those dead-end arms I saw earlier on the map.
Fighting against a man’s natural instinct to press on regardless, I about-turn and head back to the light and finally locate the direction sign and continue on the correct path. Again, against type, I admit defeat and switch on my phone’s torch and continue around the path in some sort of confidence. The mist is not helping much as it is absorbing the torch light, but onward I press. Round a corner and more operatic music floats in and another chamber with mannequins staging another scene from the Black Count appears, again behind bars. Pressing on I surprisingly splash through some water and then enter a number of empty chambers, nearly tripping over a low step. Obviously there is a degree of redesign or refurbishment in progress and these chambers are obviously waiting on an idea. After a couple of false turns and step retracing I get back on track and find the exit gate, the bottom of the 44 steps, day light and freedom. As I climb up the steps, which is a lot harder than coming down, I make way for an elderly couple coming down with no little difficulty, obviously unaware of the adventure that awaits them.
This attraction is certainly not from the Disney stable and would give the Health and Safety people quite a number of palpitations. Anyone who is at all claustrophobic, or prone to anxiety, would certainly experience some issues in parts of the caves, especially those where the light level is really restricted. Still I must say that it was certainly an adventure, but I did not get the Dracula angle from what I saw. Whether the exhibit was too subtle, I did not spend sufficient time investigating, or whether should have been in those empty caves I don’t know, but I did feel a little unsatisfied when I hit daylight again. For even though something may frighten your socks off you kind of miss it when it’s over, something like a really good roller coaster. Scream if you want to go faster.