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Travels and Tribulations - in Hungary

Including Gyor and Budapest


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Hungary

CAPITAL: BUDAPEST
LANGUAGE: Hungarian
PEOPLE: Hungarian

Hungary is one of the oldest states in Europe, and has an ancient Magyar culture. Bordering countries with very different cultures has given it a cosmopolitan culture of its own.

Hungary has a fairly consistent continental climate with wet springs, late summers and cold, cloudy winters. The transition between seasons, however, tends to be dramatically sudden.

Foreign travel is mainly via the rail link from Budapest to the Austrian border, although motorway links are impressively good and roads are ever-improving.

Start of this segment!
Although our main port of call was to be Budapest, we stayed at a hotel in Gyor, mid-way between Budapest and Vienna: to make the return trip to Vienna shorter when the time came. The town we stayed at was pleasant enough, and the hotel offered us a splendid room and facilities, although comparison between fellow travellers indicated that the quality of room service was somewhat dependent upon pot-luck. We, fortunately, had a reasonable pot! Although, I guess Hungarians do expect shorter visitors than me. Certainly both the bed and duvet assumed this much, and I spent one night dressed on top of the bed. Apparently the hotel cloakroom madame managed to lift our coach driver's wallet on the first evening: just after Dave's warnings about pickpockets. I won't say what the driver was doing at the time, other than to mention that his hands were not free to defend himself at the time. When he told his sad tale to me, he also spoke of one from another coach driver who, while cleaning his coach, had been taken with a young girl who seemed to fancy his body but whom, a little later, he discovered had rather more fancied his wallet. With these stories ringing in our ears, we decided that it might be asking for trouble to leave open the balcony doors, given that you could step across to it from two adjacent balconies. So we closed the doors, although warm, and slept fretfully with our passports.

Nearby is the Fishermen's Bastion, a strange, turreted building teetering on the brink

We did not have enough time to explore Gyor, except that I can say that it seemed a very pleasant city. It stands at the junction of the Danube, Rábca and Rába rivers. Although it is a major industrial centre, there is no hint of this in the city centre which has a pleasant pedestrianised street, and areas that are landscaped. The Town Hall is one of many fine buildings in the city. On the top of Chapter Hill is the cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. It is a good motorway trip from Gyor to Budapest.


BUDAPEST

Entertainment near the Fishermen's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary - click to enlarge!Like Prague, Budapest has a castle across the river from the main (modern) part of the city. In fact, the castle is in Buda, and across the Danube is Pest; the building of bridges led to their merging as Budapest (better than 'Pestabud', I suppose). We stopped on the heights of Castle Hill first, and wandered round the sights, including the Matthias Church. Nearby is the Fishermen's Bastion, a strange, turreted building teetering on the brink, one of the landmarks from the river below; it gained its name from the fishermen's town below, and is merely a folly: but one with tremendous views. This is the area for open-air cafés, souvenir hawkers and, above all, tourists! The picture shows their colourful answer to a busker: complete with dancing children, when I passed by! When visiting this area, it is worth knowing that many places close in Buda in the late afternoon - leaving the bustle to Pest.

There is also a furnicular up the hill from near the river, providing an easy uplift to the entrance of the Royal Palace: now a collection of museums, galleries - including the Hungarian National Gallery - and courtyards. There are remnants of German defences up here, and there are even subterranean passages to explore, should you be so-minded; I was so-minded, but, short of time, explored a coffee and Danish pastry instead. There was time, however, for photo opportunities of the superb Danube views.

Looking from Buda to Pest, Budapest, Hungary - click to enlarge!The coach took us over a few of the Danube's bridges in an initial tour - I think the driver thought we were a bridge convention - including Elizabeth Bridge and the much-photographed Chain Bridge. The latter was the first bridge to be built across the Danube in the city, surprisingly as late as 1849; before that Buda and Pest were linked only by boats and temporary pontoon bridges. The coach then dropped up at a place were all the coaches drop people: a place where the police don't like them to drop people. Everyone has to leap off quick-smart! Then we descended a subway beneath a main road to the bridge to enter the main shopping street. Gypsies begged in this tunnel with poor children huddled on their laps to curry sympathy; I had it, but not for the mothers, rather for the poor children forced to lie, day after day, looking in such a pathetic state. We were much happier bartering for a lace tablecloth from a pretty gypsy girl who, with cut-throat expressions finally signified that we had reached an acceptable target.

McDonalds lay straight ahead - along with cheap ice cream stalls, clothes, and many modern shops. The girls were dressed in minis, and looked very English. In fact, because we could have been in any city in England, I was a touch disappointed. The miles to get there just didn't seem worth it. (Prague, for example, has much more character.) Having read a travel article in Britain the week before, about how the poor Trebant cars cough and splutter around the city, I also felt cheated that they were hard to spot. It was easier to spot a Mercedes! But I did take a photo of a Trebant eventually: but only to prove they still exist!

Houses of Parliament, Budapest, Hungary - click to enlarge!Then we took a sight-seeing cruise on the Danube. Yes, I can confirm it too: it was not blue! Quite pleasant, although we had to take our own chairs up from the dining room to the upper deck it we wanted to sit. Principal memories were of the dominant Palace of Buda and the Fishermen's Bastion on the Buda bank, not looking nearly as high they had seemed to be when we were up there looking down, and the magnificent Houses of Parliament on the Pest bank: almost like a glorious cathedral. It was all a bit like a Seine trip - or a view across the Grande Canal at Venice. Frankly, I'd sooner have been on the Seine - or even better, in Venice!

We were picked up again at the same difficult spot, in a busy square, and during the brief pause for people to leap aboard, a driver tried wrapping his already much battered car around the back of the coach. Whether he was just trying to straighten it out, or claim on his insurance for a new vehicle, I'm not sure, but the driver soon straightened him out, and apart from a minor bruise, our coach continued unscathed.
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