To Be Or Not To Be A (Wash)Bear: A Visit to the Budakeszi Wildlife Park

One of my favourite books as a child was a beautiful shiny orange hardcover by the Hungarian name of Mosó Masa Mosodája– its alliterative beauty will obviously be lost in a direct English translation, which would be Masha the Raccoon’s Laundrette, but one might alternatively undertake some linguistic acrobatics along the lines of Washy Wooshy’s Washroom. Ultimately, though, the book is nigh untranslatable, as it was written specifically to teach Hungarian spelling (aka dark arts on a level with necromancy, splitting the atom and brain surgery) to elementary school children. It seems to have worked quite well, as I managed to be modestly proficient at the skill without any formal schooling, but its main achievement nevertheless was convincing me that raccoons- mosómedve in Hungarian- are bears and they love to wash stuff.

The source of this academically sanctioned misinformation is the German language, in which the name for the racoon is also Waschbär- they are neither bears, nor do they actually wash things. What they do have is very dexterous front paws, which they often use to prod at things and paddle, sometimes in water, the source of the English raccoon is a Proto- Algonquian root which refers to someone who scrubs, or scratches with its hands. This very long and convoluted literary and linguistic detour is here with an actual purpose: the wildlife park in Budakeszi hosts two raccoon girls (the portlier one with the tell-tale name of Dagi) and they are seriously Youtube-video level cute.

We managed to stumble in their area right during feeding time, which is 3 PM (there is a schedule available online) and thus learned that they basically eat everything but somehow don’t really enjoy salmon. To their left we got to know another invasive species (animals that are not native to Hungary- otherwise all animals living in the wildlife park are ‘locals’- but have moved in, usually due to rather foolish human intervention), the raccoon dog, which IS actually a dog, the raccoon bit being added only due to similar fur patterns, and is native to the Far East. In Japan is it known as tanuki and holds a special place in mythology, being considered to have magical qualities such as shape shifting- blaming a tanuki for unsolved crimes seems to have been a modus operandi favoured by local authorities when all else had failed.

It is of course a sign of my eternal weak mindedness that I would swoon the most over the two invasive species, though I guess it is ingrained in human nature to be attracted by the exotic, so I will now atone with a round up of what else is to be seen. A grumpy owlet and two hyperactive squirrels, a bunch of wild boars in various stadia of development, from tiny piglets to giant adults, all extremely content and extremely filthy. Experimental bullocks, which have been bred to resemble the ancient species as much as possible, different varieties of deer, which I am afraid I can’t tell apart particularly well besides identifying the variant which looks most like Bambi.  Wild horses with an unpronounceable Polish name (Przewalski’s horse, there I made it!), buffaloes (or as I have professionally named them recently while trying to explain mozzarella bufala, sumptuous cows), two sleepy bears (Tibor and Romulus) and three sleepy wolves, whose position right across from the wild sheep was considered by the blog’s industrious co-photographer to be some sort of a bad practical joke on the poor animals.

Since the park is rather sizable I will also valiantly admit that I got a bit frazzled towards the end, so I glided unfairly quickly over the sections housing rodents, foxes and various types of wild birds, the last bit being made double difficult by the fact that telling birds apart is something I can do even less than telling deer apart, but at least I recognized the owls. Finally, the wild cat was pissed out of its mind, which is the least you can expect of any kind of feline.

The best part about all of it is that it’s available a quick bus ride’s away from Szél Kálmán  (aka forever Moszkva) square – you need to take buses 22A or 222 and get off right on the administrative border between Budapest and Budakeszi, at Szanatórium utca station, from where you can reach the park by a leisurely ten-minute walk in the forest. The route is easily noticeable and marked, though of course I missed it the first time around, in spite of the fact that all you need to do is take the very first turn to the right.

The basic adult ticket costs 1600 forints, and there are various reduced options for children, students, pensioners and families of different complexities. Right next to the wildlife park there is also a dinosaur park, the combined ticket costing 3050 forints, but since I never felt particularly attracted by fake T-rexes I will postpone my visit until they get the real deal- if they also procure the promised baby alien and/or predator for the invasive species section we’re all set for the adventure of a lifetime. A third option is the adventure park, which costs 2800 forints per hour for adults, and 3600 in combination with the wildlife park, and yes, I am now somehow picturing Chris Pratt running away through the parks from a superteam of pterodactyls and predators with Dagi the washbear in his arms as some sort of ultimate Hollywood mash up.

Should Chris Pratt feel hungry, he needn’t worry, provided he does so at lunch time: there are a couple of food stalls selling some basic dishes right by the entrance, and while sandwiches and chimney cakes are available all day, the delicious smelling gulyás the blog’s industrious co-photographer was particularly keen on sold out by the early afternoon. Besides food, money can also be spent on an assortment of souvenirs, and while I managed to refrain from purchasing any stuffed animals I did however go for a rather fetching memorial coin with a squirrel on it, for the humble amount of 600 forints. Those who wish to spend their money in a more adult way can also ‘adopt’ one of the park’s animals, for a fee of 8000 forints a year which will be spent on catering for the chosen critter and, you guessed correctly, the raccoons have a record number of mummies and daddies. And if you still feel that your bank account looks too chubby, you can participate in an escape game called Medvexit, which costs between 15 000 to 22 500 forints, depending on the number of participants, the purpose of which is to stop a very bad person from releasing Tibor and Romulus. The overall thrills are somewhat reduced by the reassurance that bears shall not feast on you even if you fail at the game, which was perhaps the reason why Tibor (or Romulus) spent half of the afternoon despondently chewing on a not particularly appetizing looking wooden log. 

Having mentioned our food conundrum, we must add that right by the access road I could not find you will also bump into Budai Gesztenyés restaurant, which besides its practical and pleasant spot right under the chestnut trees which give its name does also have excellent food and a very personal take on the traditional Hungarian dessert of somlói galuska, which also happens to be the best we’ve ever had. It was so good that we even forgot to take pictures of our food (because we lived in the moment and whatnot), therefore we’ll compensate with some shots of Budakeszi’s main drag and bonus ridiculous sunset material from the banks of the Danube, because we like to live dangerously and walk home on foot all the way from Szél Kálmán (aka forever Moszkva) square.

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