If you had been a fly on the wall you would have laughed at the sight of us this morning. We couldn’t wait to get ourselves ready and out of this hotel with all haste, but first we went down to the breakfast room. It was just as awful as the rest of the stay. Green eggs and cracked cups is just an example. I could go further, but have tried to block the memory. A fitting end to our sleep deprived night. We wasted no further time in checking out.
By 8.30a.m. we were on the train to Budapest, still in such shock that we didn’t register that this was the ultimate train ride of our two month journey together. It seems we have got on so many buses and trains as we circled our way around Central Europe, that the stories of those adventures just about obliterated all other travel stories on this blog. This train was practically the ‘creme de creme’ of all that we have sampled – air conditioned, comfortable seats, modern design, and a pleasant conductor. I even managed to book Bill and I into a new hotel using the free wi-fi on the train.
Then we got to the taxi rank at Budapest station. Being innocent Aussies, we went to the head of the rank to engage the one who had been waiting the longest. First he told us that he couldn’t fit four persons and their luggage in one vehicle. Then when we were loaded in separate vehicles and ready to go, he told us the fare. I ran back to Jay in the taxi behind. We were splitting up for a couple of days and we wanted to say goodbye.
“How much?” I asked her. She told me a price a few thousand forints less than ours.
I protested to our cab driver. He spun me a yarn about the quality of his vehicle, stressing that it was a Mercedes. It was all too much of a prush and reorganisation to retrieve our luggage. We rode with him to our hotel.
I found out later we were both
scammed. It was just a matter of degrees. Bill and I paid almost three times the right price.
An angle of St Stephens Cathedral silhouetted against a cloudless sky
A front view of St Stephens church
Back in the communist days, around 1978 or 1979, I had twice queued for hours at the Hungarian Embassy in London to get a visa to enter the country. That is how badly I wanted to see it, particularly Budapest. For one reason or another, I had never made the trip. Now I was finally here thirty-five years later, and so far it was not going well. Not well at all.
How to keep cool at an outdoor restaurant
The welcome at our next hotel fixed all that. The staff at the K&K Opera Budapest could not have been more welcoming or efficient. Despite only having made the reservation an hour before, they went out of their way to find a ready room. Not only that – the ‘drop dead gorgeous’ male receptionist handed me a welcome pack of tourist brochures. Such bliss! I spent a contented hour sipping coffee and planning our next outing.
Sphinx outside the opera house
We were in a part of the city that is close to the Opera House and Andrassy Street, an elegant boulevard that runs from Saint Stephen’s cathedral to Heroes Square. The Szechenyi Thermal Baths are just beyond that square, and we headed off on foot along the boulevard,thinking we might reach that far, but we had not taken the distance into account, coupled with the ongoing heat. The part that we managed was commercial with stylish buildings that led to a square called Octagon. This is a major intersection in – you guessed it – an octagonal shape.
Off the Andrassy Boulevard
In the side streets between the Opera House and the Octagon Square we found what appears to be the theatre district. Lots of outdoor cafes and posters advertising theatrical events. It was all very lively. We also discovered that Budapest has many statues, both upstanding examples of famous people in their history, and fun ones of comic relief in the theatre district.
In the theatre district
Bill and fat friend
Along the way we passed the TerrorHaza – the House of Terror. This building once housed the secret police headquarters, now it is a museum depicting the struggles during the fascist and Stalinist regimes, and the 1956 uprising. Ordinarily we would have spent hours in such a museum, but we did not have the time this afternoon. The museum stands on a corner, and the two external walls are covered with photographic plaques of people who lost their lives during the conflicts.
Awning outside the Terror Museum on Andrassy Boulevard
On a lighter note, we were entertained in the evening by the Hungarian Folk Ensemble and Orchestra, at the Danube Palace which was built in 1895. This troupe performs traditional music with a gypsy flavour, and alternates it with folkloric dances in national dress. It was a lively and spontaneous presentation that included music from Liszt and Brahms as well as the snappy gypsy improvisations. The orchestra was having a great time, taking turns at solo spots, or playing off against each other. The concert included an instrument called a cimbalon. I couldn’t see it from the front, but it looked as if it was a xylophone or harped stringed instrument, about the size of a large keyboard, and struck with a drum stick covered with a soft pom-pom. Very engaging music.
The show included a late candlelit buffet dinner and cruise on the Danube. I was quite surprised when Bill was happy to do this, as we did not even board the vessel until after ten p.m.
, but we were both very pleased with the decision. Often on tourist cruises the food is ordinary, however on this cruise there was plenty to savour, starting with goulash soup and moving on through a range of meats, chicken and cabbage rolls backed up with vegetables and salads. Of the four desserts on offer, I left room for the Hungarian trifle called Somloi Galuska. It is made by layering chocolate and vanilla sponge cake with vanilla custard, raisins, walnuts, chocolate sauce, rum and a generous topping of whipped cream. Very decadent and very tasty.
And then there was the view from the Danube River ……………..
Budapest Parliament Building right hand side
Budaoest Parliament House by night, left hand side
At midnight, as we strolled from the wharf back to our accommodation, we again passed the Saint Stephen’s cathedral, lit up for the night. Half a block down, restaurants were still doing a roaring trade, fairy lights strung around the outdoor pergola. I was struck with the juxtaposition of the frivolity on the steps of Christianity.
Half an hour later, the only thing that struck me was blessed sleep ………..
Tuesday 6th August 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Budapest, Hungary