Seven Hours in Budapest

I first went to Budapest when I was about 17, travelling to meet a whole bunch of friends I’d met online. After a few more flying visits, once again I found myself in striking distance of this city that I enjoy so much. I last visited in 2009 with my dad, as part of our interrailing trip.

The alarm went off at six and I got up quickly, having been too overexcited to sleep well. I got my things together and prepared for our day trip to Budapest! Aimee awakened herself with a cup of tea and then we headed out to the bus. We had to sprint a little at the end but we made it! Then we ran down the escalator to the U-Bahn to the West railway station. It never ceases to amaze me that building a shopping centre around a train station is the done thing in many countries – Austria included. After negotiating our way through to the ticket office Aimee bought our return tickets to Budapest, leaving in ten minutes.

Aimee asked if we were able to buy food on board, and the answer had been “You can, but it’s Hungarian”. Pass the paprika chicken please… We had just enough time to grab a couple of croissants out of a bakery before getting on to our train – just in case there was nothing we fancied.

We had been warned by the booking website that this train would be really busy, but in fact we had our six seated compartment to ourselves for a lot of the way. I chanced letting a few friends know we were going to be in town, and waited to see if they were free to join us. We crossed the border into Hungary after a short while, and our mobile phone companies let us know by sending us texts full of prices.

After a while longer, two people got on who also had seats in our compartment. We took this as a good moment to investigate the restaurant car. In the end we just got a drink. I had a really sweet hot chocolate in a glass cup, and Aimee had a really sweet cappuccino, which looked incredibly uninspiring. It was more covered in scum than with actual froth. As the train rocked from side to side, a few tablespoonfuls were lost to the saucer on either side. Needless to say, Aimee wasn’t disappointed about that.

We sat in the restaurant car for the rest of the way, and I finished my chocolate. Just as the final station was called, out waiter returned and gave us the bill in Forints. They accepted Euros too, which is lucky as we didn’t have any Forints yet! I tried out my extremely rusty Hungarian – just politeness phrases – and was pleasantly surprised that I still had some left in my brain!

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In the meantime, I had received a whole bunch of messages from team Hungary, who had gotten their heads together and come up with a meeting plan. We were to go to a cafe, Rengeteg, which is fairly close to Keleti station and have hot chocolate. Only one of my friends, Sirpi, could make it, so he booked a table for us and we arranged to meet him there. Once we arrived at Keleti we had to get some Forints, go to the loo and sort out a transport ticket for the day.

Since last time I was there they had put in a metro line connecting the station to the rest of the network, and had redone the area around the station. Areas right next to stations are never the most pleasant, but the atmosphere was improved from last time. We got ourselves sorted out with transport cards and then headed towards the cafe, planning to find it first and then explore the area around it for a while. We had a go at finding three different geocaches but failed them all. We ended up in the Corvin shopping mall in the warm looking for the last one, but didn’t manage to find it either.

We wandered back around to the cafe and went inside…

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There isn’t a lot around in this street, but the cafe really stands out with its red door, and when you go inside you go down the stairs and find this…

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As well as the coffee and tea and chocolate all stacked up around the counter, there are also lots of old bits and bobs scattered around the place, especially teddy bears. There are also lots of games and other toys, as well as some completely unknown objects. On the handrail on the stairs there’s even an old ticket validating machine from a tram/metro/bus.

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We got a table and soon Sirpi arrived – shortly followed by Mária! What a great surprise! She wasn’t feeling 100% but had come along to share a drink with us. It was really lovely to see them. Some hot chocolate soon woke us all up. There was no particular menu for the hot chocolate – I was told to just come up with a flavour, so I did… below you can see my hot chocolate with orange. The hot chocolate itself was really thick and almost like angel delight, but not bubbly. I ate mine with the spoon.

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We had only expected to meet for a drink, but Mária suggested a whistle-stop tour of the main sights in Budapest by car – we headed straight for the Hungarian parliament building as Mária talked us through lots of the sights along the way. She used to work as a guide and claimed not to remember much any more – even so she barely drew breath until we jumped out of the car and took a walk by the parliament and along the bank of the Danube.

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The number 2 tram is a lovely old-fashioned one, and Mária recommended it as a good way to see the sights as it goes along the Danube and has great views.

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After the walk around the parliament building Mária drove us up the hill to look at the beautiful view from the top. We parked slightly outside the car park, which is apparently jam-packed in summer at peak season – even in the winter it was quite a busy spot. We managed to get into some space and take in the view.

We came back down the hill and Mária and Sirpi dropped us off at Deak Ter in the centre of Budapest. We were really hungry so we went to a “Traditional Hungarian Restaurant” closeby which seemed to have a very high turnover. We had lángos, which are somewhere between a calzone and a pancake. Mine was filled with delicious paprika chicken.

We paid and left quickly – with not too long left before our train. Near the metro station was a big Christmas market selling all kinds of things. We got some tokaji for Christmas after tasting a few of them, and stood in the queue for kürtőskalács, cakes which are made from spirals of dough and then cooked over coals. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to wait to get some of our own, but we did have some sausage and potato fritter to keep us going – we’d hardly had anything to eat all day apart from our hot chocolate!

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After packing our bags, we went down the high-speed escalator to the metro and went back to the train station for our three-hour train journey back to Vienna.

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