6. Budapest and The Castle District
Wednesday 26th September
Weather: cool, still, cloudy, polluted! Yesterday’s train was the slow one, although there are no slow trains here according to the government. There are fast, rapid and express services.

The fast train journey of three hours from Sopron in the west to Budapest in the middle traversed agricultural areas dotted with villages and the occasional town.

The biggest of these
was the industrial looking
Gyor (Dyer to you!)

station wall with tower
in background

It was nice to see locals getting on and off, and we got to see the uniformed women, complete with their little `party’ hats and signal batons (a bit like a table tennis paddle) blow the whistle and wave their arms about to let the driver know everyone was on board.
Finally we passed through miles of ugly outlying suburbs – really ugly concrete blocks of flats(the camera was allergic)
The Keleti station is a fabulous neo-baroque building that’s pretty grotty. We searched for a W.C. first, found one, and paid 100 forint(ft), about 65 cents AU, to spend a penny. Then almost staggering under the weight of our packs, we went outside to find a taxi. We had no problem there – immediately a cab-hawker was asking us if we needed one, and soon we were off.
The driver and the traffic were in a competition with each other – who was the madder? We made it safely to XIII Gergely Gyozo utca 13, Kati’s flat, and while we were paying the driver the 4000 ft, Kati (Carty) came down to meet us. We were greeted as if we were long lost family, such a warm welcome. A tiny little apartment on the first floor – really just a kitchen, bathroom and double lounge room (the couch becomes a couple of beds) and really nicely laid out without feeling cluttered.
With her very limited English and our even more limited Hungarian, we understood each other perfectly well. Kati’s friend, Zsuzsa, had left written instructions (signed “your auntie in Hungary”) and lots of tourist brochures for us. Kati bid us farewell, and we settled in, feeling right at home.
Lisa was too sick and tired with her very heavy cold to out again, so I set off solo with Chemist instructions in two languages and intention to buy food for dinner. My first shopping by myself in Hungary, without my tour guide. I was probably carrying 5,200 forints (which sounds a lot, but is about $35AU). I am pleased to say I managed it all. As you look down the street it looks all old pensions and houses, with the odd hotel sprinkled along the way. But there are signs here and there revealing that the ground floors are nearly all shops. There are a lot of cake shops, and fruit and vegetable shops (good!), and shoe shops. Not so good(looks like lots of shopping). Not any Chemists or Pharmacia. The Hungarian word is gybgyszertar (jerji-serta).
I asked one man who ran a fruit shop, and was talking to a friend. He was about thirty five. As I knew my pronunciation was unrecognizable, I showed him the word in my book. He looked at the word, said “Nem” (No), and shook his head. P’raps he didn’t read. I found a Health Food Shop. They knew. Just up on the next corner (100 metres from the fruit shop). How could someone halfway through life not know where a chemist was? I think they hate us. Outsiders. Maybe they think we’re all Americans. Maybe they hate everyone. I dunno. I certainly won’t be coming back again. Lisa’s cold tablets didn’t have a decongestant, because you need a prescription for that, and the milk I bought was some sour cultured dairy product which does not go with coffee! I bought the veggies from another shop!
On the first night the people on the other side of the wall had their T.V. on ‘til after 11 pm. Loud enough to hear every voice and the tune or inflection in every sentence! Maybe they’re old and deaf. This wall is masonry, not hollow. Next morning the bastards turn it on at 5 am. Lisa’s slept a bit longer, ‘cause her ears aren’t quite the antennae mine are. I was really tired. I thought, “Oh well, we’re only here for a few days, so I’ll just be stoic and drag myself around with Lisa for some sight-seeing.” She noticed!!
Today we bought our seven day transport tickets (for motorized buses, electric buses, trams and trains in the three, soon to be four Metro lines) and set off to Moskva Ter (Moscow Square), which is an ironic joke, as it is full of shops, including a really big shopping complex. This irony is repeated at Marx Ter (Marx Square), a point we joked about with the taxi driver yesterday. We got off the tram and followed our noses and our sore feet up the hill to the World Heritage listed Castle district, which is where we spent the day. One fantastic monument after another.
We saw the Castle. I’ve given it a capital letter because it is enormous. Obviously a king needs hundreds of rooms. Probably all the people associated with running the country, and all their families, and all the support services (known as servants) needed to live there. We look around the forecourt, the view and the entrance hallway. Huge. You could fit 1000 people in the entrance lobby, and still have room for a stage with . . . well, I dunno who, ‘cause there doesn’t seem to be any music. Maybe The Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra. I see they have a Festival next March!
Whilst up in the Castle area, we also saw the most amazing tiled roof I’ve ever seen in my life. Some sort of Church was undergoing extensive cleaning and restoration, so the roof tiles were as visible and sharp as they would ever be. I feel glad it is being cared for. We couldn’t go in.
Nearby, overlooking the Danube is the Fishermen's Bastion. Too far from the river to throw in a line. This is only about 100 years old. I don’t know why it was built. If you want to go up the flight of stairs to its top level in the corner, there is a turnstile and an attendant. No one goes up. There is no need. I take a photo of it for free. Outside the Castle we investigated the Funicular Railway. Almost vertical, about 150 metres long, down to the river, and 700 forints each. Nearly ten bucks! We turned away with our weekly tickets, and waited for a bus on the other side of the courtyard. The bus took us in the other direction, down the hill, suddenly U-turned through a tunnel and dropped us off near the river. Walking along, we noticed we were at the bottom of the Funicular for free. Sheer luck.
We compliment ourselves on our good management. We just saved 1400 forints. That’s the difference between a tourist and a traveler, we kid ourselves. The tourist gets 150 metres down a hill on a cable train which is ridiculously expensive and didn’t need to be built. There is nothing in particular at the bottom. They advertise it as having the best view across the river, but actually, before you get on, the best view is at the top in front of the Castle.
Fantastic views, despite the polluted grey conditions, of Pest-Szvent Istvan (St. Stephen’s) Basilika, Parliament, all sorts of other buildings, and of course The Danube, or Duna river.
This Castle side is Buda. The other side (where we live) is Pest, meaning oven. It obviously gets really hot. You cross a road and walk across the chain bridge back into the city.

Chain Bridge from Castle

There are lots of beautiful old buildings, of course, and about three beautiful new ones. There are also semi-derelict old buildings in desperate need of repair or facelift. Some have pockmarks presumably from war damage. Such a sobering thought to someone who hasn’t had to live with that.
I get the feeling that a lot of buildings were lost during the war(s), ‘cause a lot look like they were built by the Communists (who get a capital letter, ‘cause they too were big around here). These buildings are faceless, utilitarian, cheap. But I’m exhausted, so everything looks tired.
In a gift shop we buy baby Harriet a gorgeous embroidered blouse, similar to one Lisa had when she was a girl. Also some bookmarks for our girls. We have to remember we’re traveling light. We have a backpack each. I find a CD of The Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra. I ask can I hear a bit of it. The shop assistant gestures to the radio/CD player playing the radio (with a pile of CDs next to it) and shakes her head. I look at it pointedly and go and put the CD back. Bugger her! There will be another shop. If they dislike us so much, why take our money?
Why let us into the country in the first place, without even bothering to find out if we have a passport, much less stamping it!
We walked across the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge, down to Vaci utca (Vaci street), then caught the Metro to Nyugati Station, close to where we are staying. A whip around the supermarket to get some essentials, then home to make dinner. We’re so tired that at 8.30 we’re ready for bed.
We produced our earplugs, and awoke this morning to the exhilarating feeling that we had had enough sleep.

on to 7. The Zoo and aunt Zsuzsa
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