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Tom’s European Vacation (Part 5): Budapest, Hungary

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, I admit it – I needed to say Budapest, HUNGARY in the title as for some inexplicable reason I thought my next stop was Romania – which would be foolhardy as it would require me to navigate my way across Hungary in the first place. Fortunately for me the train knew where it was headed and I needn’t have been that concerned about getting lost.

Map picture

VERY IMPORTANT: Two things that most travellers should avoid – first: protest marches, second: arriving in a strange town in the middle of the night without having booked accommodation. For my next trick I will now describe how I managed to experience both simultaneously.DSC01962

I’m not entirely sure at exactly what time I arrived in Budapest – my mind was pre-occupied with more serious matters, such as, “What are the full lyrics to that song in My Fair Lady with the word Budapest in it”. So, whilst mindlessly singing along to myself a la boy out of ‘About a Boy’, I grabbed a tram over to some darkened street somewhere on the west side of the Danube (seen that thing three times now, Vienna and Bratislava, I’m sure it’s following me) and eventually, after some map consultation, came to the conclusion that the closed unlit door with no answer was the hostel I had in mind to stay at. Bugger. I checked with a couple of shady looking locals nearby, who confirmed absolutely nothing other than the fact that Hungarian lessons should have been sought before the trip. Double bugger.

Needless to say it was about 11:30pm that I eventually found an internet cafe in which I could sit and research which hotel I might like to stay in. Four star at least – I was not in a good mood. Damn that My Fair Lady song.DSC01960

The following day the mists of confusion cleared and I booked myself into a rather famous resort that I had seen on the telly. Yes, Michael Palin had stayed here – I was, surely, in good company. So in true Palinesque style I give you the hotel blurb (sorry Michael, it was a cheap shot): Built in wonderful Art Nouveau-style and opened in 1918, the impressive Gellért hotel shares the building with the world-famous Gellért Spa, which is accessible for free.

And indeed it was free – fortunately for me there was even a way to get from my room to the spa without going outside (thus allowing one to move between the two in a robe). I, like Michael, experienced the thrill of travelling in a tiny elevator with an ‘assistant’ at the ‘controls’ and simply having no idea what sort of conversation one should make. Best keep quiet.

Subsequently I blew all the money I had saved on the spa treatment immediately afterwards in the cafe. Brandy, cakes and tea were had before venturing out to see the world.

DSC01981There’s an awful lot to see in Budapest and I was a lone traveller on foot – so I set out to cover as much as I could and to see where my feet would take me.

I briefly visited the House of Terror Museum (see image to left). This house was used by both the communist and Nazi regimes as a place of torture. Within is documented some of the more disconcerting goings on during the occupation of these regimes within Hungary. You can see on the outside of the building (pictured left) candles along the ledge – above each is a small photograph of an ‘enemy of the state’ who either died in No 60 Andrássy Street or went missing after a dawn arrest.DSC01988

Further down the same street is the Heroes’ Square (beautifully pictured to the right, if I could be so immodest for a moment). On either side of it the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Arts – neither of which I could get into as it was already dark.  …and yes, I’m sure they do have electric lighting – by ‘dark’ I intended you to infer that they were closed already.

The heroes in this instance are the ‘tribal chiefs’ (who led the Magyars to conquest the Carpathian Basin – see more here – History of Budapest).

In fact there’s so much to see in Budapest (opera houses, beautiful parks, churches, Buda Castle/Palace in the top picture – oh and click any photo to see more, cave systems, a total of 80 geothermal springs <BREATHE>, the world’s largest thermal water cave system, four world heritage sites and it is, apparently, the 7th most idyllic European place to live) that I simply haven’t got the inclination to bore you with all the detail – suffice to say, I should have bought a flat there and moved.

DSC01958Oh yes, the protest march – it was a Monday (if I recall correctly) and, as I walked aimlessly down the streets that morning wondering why there was no traffic, no public transport and no people, I was suddenly met by a very orderly group of people coming the other way. I started to wonder if I had any distinguishing features to suggest that my opposing movement was simply a geographical one and not a political one. Thankfully everyone smiled and nodded at me as they went about their business (whatever it was) and as quickly as they had appeared they vanished up a side street (all several hundred of them) and were gone. Most odd – I felt quite alone after that.

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