Tag Archives: Capital City

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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Delhi without a Phone!

We packed up, checked out and went to the travel desk to finalise arrangements for our Delhi tour and then went back upstairs for breakfast. Given the name of the hotel (Southern) I’ll let you guess what we had for breakfast. I also had a cup of tea while Sellappan had pineapple juice. Sellappan’s phone was dead so I was fully in charge of photography – quite a responsibility!

We got into the cab and set off for the first destination, the Red Fort. You enter the fort through an enormous red stone gate, and then walk through a corridor of arches with shops lining both sides. The shops were just opening and getting set up, as we were so early, so we passed through very quickly thanks to the lack of crowds. We explored the fort and its grounds, as well as the war museum, which was up a few flights of stairs. As you can expect, the architecture was very similar to Agra Fort and the other military complexes we’d seen. One difference was that in Delhi they were celebrating Security Week with lots of posters everywhere, so I can say I’ve attended one of those!

We visited a huge modern temple the Akshar Dam Mandir which had only been completed in 2008. The security here was extremely high, and almost nothing could be carried inside including phones and cameras. The only thing you could take was your wallet or a tiny handbag. We went through the airport-style security and met up on the other side. The temple was magnificent, with a central building on a pedestal surrounded by water, surrounded by another walkway surrounded by more water surrounded by another covered walkway surrounded by gardens… It was very impressive and very clean and tidy.

Highlights included the golden bulls and swans that jetted water into the pools, and the enormous stone frieze dedicated to elephants that ran all the way around the bottom of the main building. There were stone elephants in all kinds of tableaux, with inscriptions praising their qualities or telling short stories about them. I really enjoyed seeing those. The interior of the temple was brightly lit and covered in “Don’t Touch” signs, along with the spectacular decorations and painting.

We decided to go for the souvenir photo – a quid for a nice A4 print of you and your mates with the temple – and took our time wandering around for a bit longer. We got an ice cream (well, I had mango kulfi and Sellappan had falooda) at the food court before picking up our snap and going back to the car. Sellappan also bought some Radium infused keyrings of feet that glowed in the dark – this temple had a pair of gold footprints at the entrance which were being constantly washed by a fountain.

Our next stop was a more sober one, the Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. The memorial is set in a huge green space in the middle of the city, and takes the form of a huge black stone slab, with fresh flowers on and around it and a lantern holding a small flame. It was a very peaceful place to be. We dropped off our shoes and walked the elevated flower-lined walkway around the memorial before going up close.

We visited the souvenir shop by the car park and had an ice cream, which seemed a bit strange but followed on from our post-Agra tradition nicely. We were by no means the only ones having a snack on the way out! We skipped the Indira Gandhi memorial and proceeded to the India Gate.

This was a quick visit and we completed a circuit, avoiding the salespeople. We drove up towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the president of India. We also had a squint at the parliament building and the secretariat before heading off for lunch.

The restaurant, Chimney House, we went to was definitely benefiting from the tourist trade, everyone in the world was there. Sellappan and I enjoyed a hearty North Indian meal with lots of bread and chicken in creamy sauce. It was delicious and just what the doctor had ordered. We managed to stay away from the ice cream for once! Sellappan popped into the phone shop next door to see if they could help him with his phone, but they sent us to a different shop somewhere else. No luck!

Next, we headed to the Lotus Temple, another modern temple with echoes of the Sydney Opera house. The temple is shaped like a lotus flower, India’s national flower, and the white petals arc up impressively to the sky. Though the architecture was cool, we didn’t stay for too long as our time in Delhi was swiftly running out.

We went to the mall where Sellappan had been directed for his phone, and after a little hunt around we found a store specialising in the right brand! Hurrah! The phone chose to end its strike and after twenty minutes accepted the charge and lit up. My brief spell as official photographer was over! We waited until the phone got some juice and then had a walk around the mall. Sellappan had an energy drink which pepped him up no end, and we only just avoided going around a Segway obstacle course as Sellappan’s network all discovered he was back in the land of the living at the same time. We discovered via SMS that the plane was delayed, so we spent a little longer in the mall before finding the taxi and going to the airport.

I thought it was a bit dark, but didn’t think much of it until we were inside the airport. We spent some time rearranging all of the shopping and luggage to meet airline standards for baggage, and looked up to see driving rain lashing the windows! It wasn’t too long before the thunder and lightning started, great purple flashes lighting up the place. As the rainwater crept closer to the doors, I wondered whether our delayed flight would become a cancelled one. Rain started coming in under the windows and flooding the floor, so we watched the airport staff sweeping and hoovering like made to keep it from spreading. After a while (and a short power cut) the storm wore itself out and vanished.

We checked in and went through security before heading to the food court upstairs. We weren’t very hungry, thanks to our large dinner, but we had a snack anyway to see us through the journey. We’d be very glad of that as it turned out…. Every so often we could see our flight time being nudged later and later until it eventually got delayed 90 minutes according to the board.

I picked up a delicious-lookin muffin from Baker Street, a chain bakery, and we went downstairs to the gate. A mob of men had formed around the desk and someone was shouting loudly with the support of everyone else. The grievance was mainly due to the creeping lateness announcements which kept nudging the departure time back in 15 minute intervals. We sat down a small distance away as mobbing the desk didn’t really seem like a solution! We had the muffin, which was pretty awful.

At about 10pm a bus turned up for the passengers, and Sellappan speculated that it might just be to appease the angry ones by driving them around the airport and showing them a plane. Other passengers giggled at this observation, but happily we were able to board and take off. The flight lasted  3 hours (I slept!) and we had long missed the last Bangalore Airport Shuttle at the time we landed and collected our bags. We took a taxi back to Sellappan’s place and Sellappan talked the driver’s ear off as he was happy to be able to speak Tamil again after so much Hindi and English in the North.

I’ve never been happier to see Sellappan’s flat, and I jumped straight in the shower to wash off Delhi and the plane, and changed into lovely clean pyjamas. As someone once said, there’s nothing quite like being a wee clean person in a wee clean bed! We finally slept at about 4.30am… What a day!