Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Interesting border crossing at 6am. Endless passport checks and a train change. Unfortunately the final painstakingly slow and detailed check was carried out as our connecting train quietly slid out the station. Oh well, apparently only an hour or so to another train. Without any currency and no ATM or money change facilities, we were saved by Anna’s superior sign language and negotiating skills to convince one of the shops to change our Ukrainian money so we could get two coffees, some water and some salty dry crispbread. The expected cafeteria car for the intercity express did not eventuate, so this was breakfast.

Explored the city by foot, bus, boat, train and underground, including Europe’s first underground line, dating from the 1850s. The not-very-blue Danube was sporting a lot of very large river boats like this one here. After the last two weeks, Budapest did feel a bit like returning to the West, even though I presume it is technically the East. Modern infrastructure, diversity, shops with big windows, and English spoken by a significant minority. 80% of the city was damaged during WWII, but many of the traditional buildings have been restored. A pretty, friendly city, full of coffee shops and good restaurants and jazz clubs. Never made it to the jazz clubs – unfortunately will have to join the list of things which have to wait for the next visit.

Near the Victory Square, with its monuments, art gallery and museum, we stumbled on Art on Lake, an installation of a dozen or more sculptures in a large shallow lake. Hired a boat to look more closely. Ranged from the intriguing through the interesting to the bland, but all good fun. Particularly liked the set of four VWs, and the park bench and lampost sitting on the lake.

Finished up our visit with an afternoon at the thermal baths. Still wondering why it took 45 minutes to get a ticket when we were the only ones at the window. No problem, just the computer &/or operator was a little sluggish that day. Another 15 minutes to find a towel and a toilet, but eventually we got wet. Another half hour to find the actual hot pools, as opposed to the cold and warm pools, but we did have a very enjoyable three hours of massage, soaking and cold plunges.

Plenty of history, with more than 11 centuries of forts, churches and territorial wars and domination by a succession of empires and migrations. We did enjoy ourselves, taking it pretty easy and soaking up the ambience in the coffee shops. Mind you we did make a few too many trips to Maccas, for the first time in the trip. Apparently the late night lifestyle means that no one else serves breakfast before 9am. Coffee yes, bakery pastries yes, black forest cake yes, actual breakfast no.

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