June 11, 2010 Vienna to Budapest Hungary

13 07 2010

After a good night’s sleep in our COOL room we had our little buffet breakfast with Francis, Maggie and Iris in their room.  The little hotel gives you trays to take the food back to your room and eat since there isn’t much of a lobby and definitely no dining area.  We were aiming for the 10:05 train out of town, so we had to be up and going a bit earlier.  Vienna has a number of train stations and ours was a couple of metros to transfer until we were at the Wien Meidling station.  Travelling at rush hour with our luggage proved to be quite manageable.  The train we were travelling on was a “Railjet”  train.  It was comfortable, modern and well equipped.  There were status screens (two or three in every car) updating you with the GPS position of the train and the scheduled time of arrival at the next station vis. the actual estimate based on train speed etc.  It was interesting and helped pass the time. 

Due to the seating availability in the train, Mrs D and I sat up a few rows from where the other three were.  While the seats were comfortable, it wasn’t really the greatest position in which to sleep, so for the duration of the trip I drifted in and out of sleep as the train made its many stops along the way.   The windows were Mylar coated to keep out the sun (the train had A/C!) which was great as it was going to be another hot day. The problem is that the SPOT can’t track through the window then.  This means that we’re going to see a big jump from Vienna to Budapest when we get another track point in Budapest finally.

There was no fanfare, no announcement that we entered Hungary as we went along in the train.  There may have been a sign, but I missed that too, so at some point the various signs in towns became illegible and I figured we were in Hungary.  Kind of anticlimactic crossing boarders in the EU where the Shengen Agreement is in place.

The ride to Budapest was about 2:45 long. We arrived in the train station just about 1300.  The station was a classic old station with a HUGE arching roof and the platforms being all open to the elements.  Basically it was a stop and start point for trains covered by a large half cylinder 🙂

Mrs D and I went to the bank to get take some money out.  The smallest denomination the ATM gave me was 20,000 Forints!  We then went into the bank to get some smaller denominations.  That was a slow process.  Bankers are the same everywhere I guess.

After blowing off that 30 odd minutes to get money, we went back to meet the other three that were waiting in the station.  We had gone back and forth a few times on whether to take the metro, and use the Budapest card or to take the Taxi.  We had settled on metro before we left.  When we had returned, it had swung back to “Taxi”.  I guess I was getting tired and sounded a bit gruff because according to Mrs D, I kind of snapped along the lines of “WHY?  Why are we changing our minds AGAIN?”  Thankfully the group didn’t just leave me there and they reverted to “metro” and getting the Budapest card.  Another 25 Euros…  We’ll have to see if this fares as well as or better than the Vienna Card did.

We went out to find the metro and realized that they were very subtle about these things in Budapest.  We couldn’t FIND a metro station.  Hmmm. Check the map.  Check the street.  Check the map again.  After a bit of that, we found it to be just around the corner.  They use a funky stylised “M” to indicate the metro and it’s really not that obvious.  Unlike Vienna, the way down into the metro involved STAIRS.  We had to haul our luggage down the stairs to the platform.  We were greeted by two ticket checkers that verified that our Budapest Card was dated correctly and valid.

The metro felt old.  the platform was nice enough and the walls were tiled nicely.  The benches and booths all matched and seemed to be of a maple. It was all very quaint.  Then the train rolled in.  It was a dingy grey-green colour.  There was some graffiti on the cars (what subway system DOESN’T?) and when you got in you felt like you joined the subways of the ‘70s collection.  Budapest is in desperate need of some spruced up subway cars.  Sigh.

We took the train two stops and then transferred to another.  After one stop we got out – we should be fairly close to our hotel.  Even though we may have been fairly close, we were also sweltering and as such the walk seemed interminable.  We dragged our luggage along the sidewalks and sounded again like a wagon train coming to town.  It was with a sigh of joy that Iris pointed out our hotel, just two more blocks away.  I felt the heat lessen a bit at that moment and felt like racing to the hotel.

We had walked through some very non-descript streets with offices and some that just didn’t seem to have any spark on our way to the hotel. Imagine our surprise when, like the hotel in Prague, we looked in the front glass doors of the hotel to find a luxurious, modern, steel, leather and glass furnished hotel – completed just 3 months earlier.  And it was Air Conditioned! :)  We got our rooms (Mrs D and I were on the 1st floor while the other three were on the 5th floor)  How hard can it REALLY be to put two rooms near each other?  After settling, we went out for lunch. It was a late lunch but better than not eating!

We stopped in a restaurant that we had seen while walking from the Metro.  Wow… the prices in downtown Budapest were a bit more expensive than we had expected.  As we ate our food the restaurant staff were installing new TV’s for the World Cup.  It had started already and it was good to be able to watch a game while we ate.  No tap water available here either.  “Sparkling or Still?”  “Beer please.”

We finished up our Lupper and went over to see St. Stephen’s Basilica.  Our hotel is about a 5-10 minute walk from the church so it was going to be good to get out and shoot at night (Already planning).  We got into the Basilica just as they were preparing for a Mass so we didn’t have a lot of time.  By now we had the church shooting thing worked out pretty well.  It didn’t take us too long to cover the whole building.  We just barely squeaked into St. Stephen’s chapel

where the Holy relic of his right hand was preserved.  After us, they stopped letting people in.  Mass preparation.  JUST  in time!  I moved right up to one of the barriers to get a picture of the ceiling of the church in one of the side halls and was admonished by a gentlemen in quiet Hungarian.  I sheepishly backed off and apologised.  He then smiled and pointed past the barricade… As long as I was quick and quiet, he was happy to let me shoot.  Politeness goes a long way.

The Basilica is a lovely structure and probably one of the most modern churches we have seen during our trip.  The use of red/pink marble really gave it a warmer tone than many of the other churches we had seen.

With a warm evening ahead of us Francis led us off to the Square of Heroes.  Exciting! Well – at least interesting ;)  I have to admit…with this being almost the last day of the trip, my touring desires have been pretty well satiated.  We’ll see what the square holds.

We walked over to the local metro and went down into the station.  I really couldn’t shake the quaint kitchen fell of the station.  We took the metro to Deák Ferenc tér where the M1, M2 and M3 lines all cross.  We then took the M1, the Yellow line, up to Hosok Tere.  The stations along the M1 line are divided for each direction.  To go the other direction on the train, you have to go up to the street, cross and go back down into the station. Weird.  The M1 line was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It has been running since 1896!

We climbed up the stairs and found ourselves across the street from a great open plaza with a magnificent column and two quarter arches embracing it.  The style was similar to the one we saw in Vienna.   I wondered if there was a commonality.  The arches around the monument had 13 statues.  They are representative of the Magyar tribes that came together after being converted to Christianity by the Archangel Gabriel and formed Hungary. King Stephen was the first King of Hungary and he was crowned on Christmas day, 1000AD.

In a more modern vein, the square seems to be a bit of a hangout for the skater crowd.  While we were there, about a dozen skaters were practicing their tricks.  It made for a fun diversion to try and shoot them while in the air.  I got a wicked shot of one “d00d” as he was grabbing some air coming off the edge of the monument.  Nice to see that it isn’t ALL stodgy old stuff 🙂

Behind Heroes’ Square is the Budapest City Park. It was one of the first European parks opened to the public for the purpose of relaxation, while most parks at the time had been purpose built for specific activities.  We walked across the bridge of what would have been the lake (it was drained) and over to the park.  We could hear a brass band playing in the distance and the evening was cooling off as the sun lowered in its trip towards the horizon.  We wandered over toward a castle.  The castle, Vajdahunyad Castle, was originally built of cardboard and wood for the Millennial exhibit in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from Stone and Brick. These days it’s a museum and since we were pretty late in the day it was closed.  It was still a pretty cool place. 

We continued our meander and found ourselves at a Wine Festival!  I tasted a few Hungarian wines.  Some, I wish I hadn’t but others were quite tasty.  We stopped for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere before going back to our metro (on the other side of the street) and heading back to our little bit of luxury in the middle of Pest.

Another long day in the books.  We are heading up to Buda tomorrow and the Castle district.


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