Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Budapest Interlude

A four-day jaunt to Budapest.  The Hungarian capital had been one destination in our plan to travel by rail to Eastern Europe after leaving Paris.  But carrying heavier luggage, we opted for a month in Vienna after an apartment in Verona proved so expensive.  We had been to Budapest before.  We spent one day here while on a Danube cruise, and Penny came back for a couple of days when she and her mother took a different cruise on that fabled river.  Cruise ship stops are what they are, but they can't really do justice to so many places.  We had always wanted to come back and see more.

Penny found a 19 euro fare on OBB (Austrian railways) for each leg of a round trip from Vienna.  That is such a good price that we could hardly afford not to go.  Reasoning like that can lead to so much trouble, can it not?  But it didn't.  We stayed in a B&B called Budapest Rooms, where Balasz was one of the nicest hosts we have met in any of our travels.  It is easy to understand why he gets such glowing recommendations on tripadvisor.com.

Our train left Wien Meidling station on time and arrived at Budapest Keleti a little behind schedule.  We had paid a few extra euros to reserve seats, but they were occupied when we boarded.  Those passengers weren't about to move, and seemed quite annoyed that we would ask for our seats.  As there were open seats elsewhere in the car, we decided not to make a scene and sat elsewhere.  In a similar situation on the Dublin-Belfast train, they moved out graciously.  Not on this one!

As we were traveling light and the B&B was little more than a mile from the station, we walked directly there. We decided we would not buy any public transit passes because everything that we wanted to see was so close, and this was a good decision.  Unlike the case in Vienna, they would not have paid for themselves.  Afterward, we also learned that Budapest has a significant problem with gypsy cabs gouging tourists.  Again, not a problem for us because we never took a cab anywhere.

Budapest consists of Buda on the right bank of the Danube and Pest on the left.  It is the capital of Hungary, as it was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the post-World War One peace conferences broke that polyglot polity into linguistic-based states.  It was also at one time the northwestern-most city permanently under Turkish rule.  Hungarians are a unique people and their capital reflects that, but at the same time Budapest seems a very cosmopolitan city.  The janissaries are gone, but you can get a very nice kebab almost anywhere.  Or a Big Mac, should you want one.

It is a stately city, and it looks in many ways like Vienna.  Not surprising when you think about it.  Hungarian food is good, but tends to run toward meat and starches like most places in Central Europe.  Restaurants accept Euros as well as Hungarian florints (HUFs) but they use an exchange rate that is very favorable to themselves.  It is probably worth it to get HUFs from an ATM, but try to gauge it so you don't have many left when it is time for you to leave.

They don't seem to have heard that smoking kills.  Cigarettes everywhere, without regard to the health or sensibilities of anyone.  So be aware of that when you get here.

Our short visit ended without incident and we returned to the Budapest Keleti station.  There was no problem with our seats this time.  In the next pair of seats were two Americans with open tickets.  They had been brought from their hotel and "helped" into their seats by porters of some sort, who refused a tip in Euro coins. They insisted on paper money, and the gentlemen didn't have any note smaller than a ten.  So they gave it to him.  That is a fourteen dollar tip.  There does seem to be a tendency to fleece tourists as brazenly as I have seen anywhere.  But even with that, Budapest is a great city to visit.

One of many commemorations of the 1956 uprising against Communist rule and Soviet occupation.
The Hungarian Parliament building sits on the left bank of the Danube.
The Dohany utca (Street) synagogue is the second largest in the world, after New York's Temple Emanuel.
Looking across the Danube to the Pest side.

The royal palace at night on the Buda side.

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