Our Railjet train got us to Budapest almost on time. I don’t think railways are a priority for the Hungarian government. Railjet, which is mainly Austrian, is the fastest train in Hungary. (We would discover later how much faster.) Keleti Station is completely rundown, but like much of Budapest reveals the glamour of a former imperial age. It needs a lot of money spent on it.
A taxi took us to our hotel, only charging us twice the legitimate fare, but entertaining us with his driving skills. Our hotel was a typical Railbookers choice – large, efficient, corporate and extremely comfortable. And the staff actually managed to make it feel friendly. We had a splendid room with the biggest bed I have slept in in a long time.
But onto the main reason for Chris visiting Budapest – CAKE! Just round the corner from the hotel was a rather nice cafe where we had our first Sachertorte.
Just across the road was a building typical of Budapest. A grand edifice having to slum it as a shop. Admittedly a rather grand shop but still a bit of a comedown.
Suitably refreshed we went for a long walk around the city. It is full of self important buildings, some of which are beautiful. Pest, the part of the city on the east bank of the Danube was virtually washed away in the 1830’s so almost every building is relatively new. In addition, the Second World War did not treat Budapest kindly. Many buildings had to be rebuilt after 1945, but generally they were copied from what was there before.
I photographed many of the buildings and it would be very boring to put all the photos on the blog but all my Budapest photos are HERE. But one building which I cannot leave out is the National Assembly Building. It was built around 1900 taking many years to construct and decorate. Wedding Cake is how Christine describes it. I think they designed it using mirrors.
It was getting dark as our marathon walk continued and I managed to get a final shot of the wedding cake from the other side.
The next day we walked over to the Buda side of the river and took the funicular up to the castle. Buda is the original part of the city, because it is on a steep hill and could be easily defended. However easily defended does not mean impregnable. It has been destroyed many times – Mongols, Austrians, Russians (with enthusiastic German participation in 1945) and most of it is now that Hungarian speciality, a reconstruction.
The only original thing in this photo is the statue and its stand. In 1944, the Hungarians, realising they had picked the wrong side in the war, buried all the art work they could. As the war ended Buda was fought over very fiercely and all the buildings destroyed. So the palace, on the left, and the Presidential Residence (the White House) on the right are new. They look the same on the outside but the palace, in particular, is all new on the inside using a communist brutalist motif.
There is much to learn about Hungarian history in Buda where much of it happened, but the happening tended to destroy the setting. So if you go there, go on a guided tour, because it will not make much sense otherwise.
We had booked, through the hotel, tickets for the Szechenyi Baths so set off by bus to get there. And being stupid tourists we got on the correct bus but going in the opposite direction. Not only that, we only discovered once we were on, that you should buy your ticket before you get on. However we survived and got to the baths unscathed.
There, before getting to the water I found a new trick to discomfit the unwary. It seems that at the Szechenyi Baths one should check your toilet cubicle for the presence of toilet paper before doing your business. Mine had none. One is meant to take your estimated usage into the cubicle from the supply in the outer toilet. If not consternation ensues.
Deconsternated we went into the Baths. There are 3 outside pools and many more inside. The outer ones have one pool at 38°C, one at 30°C which has bubbles and a flume, and a largepool for serious swimming at 28°C. The place was very full with people of all ages, and all amazingly good-natured.
The buildings are very pretty with various bits of statuary about. In particular I noticed a statue of Leda and the Swan. I have a good idea what the artist was thinking of, I just wonder what the planning committee was thinking of. One trusts that no swans were harmed in the production of this work.
After the baths – including the saunas and other facilities inside – we went back to the hotel, packed, found a restaurant, dined and prepared to leave Budapest early the next day.
To follow – How we got to Thessalonika.