Archive for the 'Hungary' Category

Budapest

This was possibly my most anticipated trip. I became fascinated with Budapest a few years ago after seeing it on a property development programme, of all things. It took four and a half hours to reach on the train from Linz, and I arrived at night so I was pretty exhausted by the time I set foot in the city. I was picked up at the station by Tressa, a cheerful, upbeat girl from Colorado, who is studying in Budapest for a semester. Since she had a lot of work and exams to prepare for, I only really saw her when I came back in the evenings, so during the day I was navigating and experiencing the city all by myself.

I must admit, the first thing that came to mind when I got off the train was, ‘Wow, this screams Eastern Europe’. I know how prejudiced that sounds, but it looked exactly how it is often stereotyped to look – very outdated and slightly worse for wear. I also felt really disorientated – I had no idea where I should be going as I couldn’t even guess what the signs said.

You see, Hungarian is a unique, ancient language, thought to have originated in Western Siberia. Therefore, it is related to no Indo-European one, meaning that for example if you were an English speaker, you’d have more luck understanding Sanskrit than Hungarian. Moreover, it’s considered one of the world’s hardest languages, due to its extremely complex grammar (which is another of the roots of my fascination, actually). But it does turn out that, interestingly, Hungarian is a regionally recognised language in Austria! Vienna is called Bécs

Anyway, Tressa’s place, not far from the main station in Pest (the side of the city east of the Danube), was very cosy and had many of the features that I had seen in that TV programme – for example, there was a lovely stained glass window in the kitchen. The blocks of flats in Budapest are very often centred around a courtyard, like so:

And the lobbies of even very average-priced buildings can look very fancy indeed. This one had a beautiful tiled floor which I unfortunately didn’t manage to do justice:

The most stressful aspect of the trip was, no doubt, when I was accused of riding the underground with an invalid ticket. I feel I should tell this story in full to make people aware!

At the top of each escalator going down to the trains, there are conductors whom you have to show your ticket. I had bought a 24-hour one about two hours prior to this incident. I was stopped, and although I kept explaining that my ticket was valid, I kept being told I was wrong and was just treated like a complete idiot. I was told I needed to pay an 8000 forint fine (about 30 euros), but I didn’t have this money on my person. The conductor took my passport and made a note of its details, and gave me 10 minutes to get some cash out. I was really panicking and thought, ‘$%*^, I am really in for it now’. I got out a wodge of money and zoomed back. Upon my return, I was surprised to find that the conductor apologised to me because she had misread the date on my ticket. Hmmm.

So that was a massive relief in the end, but at the time it was a nightmare. Even if you’re travelling between EU states, you should take your passport with you wherever you go – contrary to what I’d thought before – because I dread to think what trouble I could have got into if I hadn’t had mine, not least because I was in a very unfamiliar country.

Hungarian forint

But the rest of my day in Budapest was great. The downside was that I had to rush everything a bit and cram it in – annoyingly, the only train ticket I had been allowed to purchase was one that let me arrive on Thursday evening but leave on Saturday lunchtime.

On Friday morning I walked by the Danube and got some gorgeous views of Buda (the western side):

Unfortunately, I never set foot on Buda, even though it is home to some of the most famed and beautiful sights the city has to offer, such as the architecture left over from the days of the Ottoman Empire. I hear there is a castle from which you can get a view of all of Budapest. Definitely next time!

Pest is the more modern side. It is home to the Hungarian government, plus the main shopping streets. It is also much bigger than Buda, and much easier to access due to its abundance of public transport.

‘Shoes On The Danube Promenade’ – a chilling memorial to the Hungarian Jews who were ordered to take off their shoes and were then shot into the river in 1944.

Parliament Building

Hungarian Post

Sign to an underground station

This is the type of building that, inexplicably, I’d love to live in.

Ah, yes. Let me tell you about the wonderful lunch I enjoyed.

As is the case with most new cities I visit nowadays, I look up any good vegan/vegetarian restaurants that might be about. Napfényes Étterem had got flawless reviews, so I decided to go there. It was a bit out of the way, but totally worth it. I had a salad and a pizza made of spelt dough, soya cheese, pineapple and seitan cubes, it was amazing. As much as I’d have wanted to try out some of the vegan cakes that were on offer, I was absolutely stuffed. This is why I’d advise that you go on as empty a stomach as possible – and believe me, even if you are a meat eater, you want to go there! It is located in a charming little brick cellar. The staff are friendly and it was one of the only places in the city I found they could speak pretty decent English (I’d been getting by in German, which seems to be most people’s second language there). The seating is comfy, it’s well-priced, and there is lots of variety on the menu.

The entrance to the restaurant!

After that, I spent some time wandering around some back streets. It was nice enough, but this is the time I started to feel a little ill – I couldn’t stop sneezing, my whole face ached, my sandals were becoming very uncomfortable, and on top of this, the heat was unbearable. I suppose this is why I chose this point to indulge in some retail therapy. There were some cute little stores around the Astoria underground station – if you wander round they are pretty easy to find! My favourite purchase by far was this calculator watch:

It looks much better in person!

Because it had been a hot, exhausting day, I was keen to visit the thermal baths which are a unique feature of Budapest (another Ottoman relic). But I got there and they were just about to close which was so disappointing as I would have liked nothing better. So I came back to Tressa’s place – we’d been unable to properly hang out as she’d been in classes all day – and this is when things got worse. My eyes were beginning to swell up and I felt physically unable to do anything except go to bed. It was such a shame as I had been looking forward to seeing some of Budapest’s cafés and bars at night.

The next day, I had some time to squeeze in maybe one more activity before I got the train back to Linz. I went to Margaret Island, a mile-long island right in the middle of the river. I only had time to see the very tip of it, but it has some nice gardens and things like that on it. There is also an artificial beach, although personally I wouldn’t really like to dip my toes into the dirty old Danube:

Departures/arrivals at the train station, going to many countries: Germany, Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania…

Overall, I loved my trip to Budapest, despite feeling under the weather and not being able to stay nearly as long as I’d have liked to. I will most definitely be making an effort to come back and uncover more of its mystery, now that I know what I missed the first time. I have also certainly been inspired to travel further east into Europe, although this probably won’t be happening any time soon, sadly.