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Let's try some public transport

Budapest, Hungary

Dodge the guards at Fisherman's Bastion! When we arrived on Sunday, we trotted across the square to what we thought was the ramparts and were able to walk along a part which gave excellent views over Pest. The following morning we thought it would be nice to see this in early morning light; oh no – there were a couple of burly individuals (one male the other probably not) in uniform ensuring that anyone who wanted a good view would pay for it. When we went back later that evening, they were busy counting their money and preparing for bed so we were able to have another look then. We had discovered that these ramparts are called Fisherman's Bastion. They were built between 1895 and 1902 and restored in 1947–48, after its near destruction during World War II. Its seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen that was responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. Most fishermen I know are fairly peaceful folk, I don't know who thought it was a good idea to give them a section to defend but I confess they wouldn't have been my first choice. Anyway, to get the good view go at or after about 8pm.
Today was a day for brave acts – using public transport! Sue liked the idea in the rough guide to get on a bus to the cog railway, walk a short way to what is known at the Children's railway, then take a trip along to the end and halfway back for a short walk up to a splendid viewing tower with a chair lift back down to civilisation. To enable this and other such activities, we would purchase a travel card which would give us free transport for the duration. We duly walked down to the place where the tickets are sold and using her best pigeon Hungarian with associated signing, Sue was able to extract the requisite items – I restricted myself to saying sagely in my best Hungarian 'kurssurnurm' which is supposed to be thankyou – it got a smile anyway.
Theory was fine but the practise had a small hiccough initially in working out from where the bus actually ran to get to the cog railway. No problem for Sue who deployed a stream of her best pigeon Hungarian and gesticulation at a couple of official looking blokes in uniform who duly delivered the required information. We managed to get on the bus but now had the problem of where to get off. The book said 2 stops but hadn't mentioned anything about request stops or whether we should counts stops where we didn't. Anyway when we disembarked Sue nailed a couple of old ladies who couldn't run and deployed her language skills to good effect. We were told we had missed our stop (surprise) and would have to walk back. About 200 metres back we found where we should have alighted and crossed the road to the cog railway. A word about Budapest bus drivers; I am not aware of a Hungarian F1 driver but I am quite certain that there are a huge number of potential candidates from the bus drivers we had today. As some readers may be aware I am not averse to being a bit heavy with my right foot occasionally but I have never before heard wheelspin from a bus; I am sure I did today, frequently. And I am quite sure that there is a competition to see who can turn the bus over first from the way they corner.
Anyway as we waited on the tram, our ideas ran out of steam as a lovely couple deploying similar language skills to Sue indicated that the line was under repair from the third stop, so we wouldn't be able to go to the end and would need to get off and catch bus No. 22. While we had got the message, they were a little puzzled that we didn't alight. They would have been even more puzzled by the crazy English who went up to the third stop – and then just travelled back down again. Well we had promised ourselves a trip on the wretched train and we were jolly well going to have it. As it happens the bit we did was pretty uninspiring. Anyway, we managed to find bus No. 22 and a nice bloke who suggested that we don't try to get to the first station but aim for the second as the bus could drop us very close to that at Normafa. In fact we found the penultimate stop was right by the station.
The Children's Railway is a narrow gauge line and most of the station staff are filled by Scouts and Guides who have an interest in Railways – hence the name. I did find it a little other worldly watching a 10 year old saluting the train as he had been taught as it left the station. It was a pleasant trip on the railway climbing steadily through woodland and we left it at the second station, Janos-hegy. We had a steady uphill walk of just over 1km to get to Erzsbet look out tower. However, if our trip to lake Agnes last year rated a 9/10 for difficulty, this only managed about 3; it made us puff a bit but we didn't have to stop often.
We got some fabulous views over the city from (not quite) the top and were able to note the parliament building, the military museum, Mattyas Church and thereby our hotel. Childish but fun! We had some more fun at the cafe by the chair lift. There were a small range of foodstuffs on offer but the main ones were hotdog, hamburger, which I vaguely recognised and melegszendvics. The last sounded like some kind of sandwich, confirmed by our phrase book as toasted sandwich. I duly (and worriedly) ordered these and the surprised looking lass taking the order confirmed one each; I was pleased that she correctly interpreted the single raised digit. The word meleg, it turned out may be better translated as 'hot' because it was not a toastie as we may expect but a huge torpedo which has a minced beef sauce on it and cheese melted over it. Sue confirmed between rather unnecessarily full mouthfuls that it was very good indeed.
On the chair lift back, there was a note not to rock the chair while in motion. Given the height above ground and the lack of a safety net I felt this admonishment was rather unnecessary. Arrival at the bottom terminus left us with a short walk to a waiting bus. Sue, feeling confident and fluent by now asked how we could get to one of the cave systems and was told very precisely that we should stay on the bus until a stop called Budegyozgye, then take a No 61 tram going in the opposite direction for 2 stops before finding a No 29 bus and getting off at Outilan; once Sue had elicited the information, I did my bit and smugly said 'kurssurnurm'. Sure that we had now got the complexities of Budapest travel understood, we never even blanched – perhaps we should. Getting off at the right place was no problem, nor was finding the tram going in the right direction or indeed, after some discussion, getting on the right bus going in the right direction. No our problem was the old one of knowing the right stop! We duly alighted several stops after we should have done near to the cave system that is in fact closed today. We had a 1.25 km walk to the other one, the first half km retracing our steps or rather wheels.
The Palvolgi Stalactite caves were originally carved from the rock by rising thermal waters that subsequently powered the Budapest hot springs rather than the more common rain drainage. We only toured a small part of the huge complex but what we did was extensive and I'm tempted to say 'fantastic', Dad. In the course of a half hour tour we went up and down through some vivid underground landscapes at one point having to climb a 7 metre ladder. The temperature in the caves is a steady 10 degrees which was a welcome relief from the 30 degrees outside, but we were glad to have brought some warm clothing.
When we got out we noticed there was a bus nearby and undaunted or perhaps enboldened by our earlier efforts jumped on the first going in roughly the right direction. This took us to a square we had never heard of so we jumped on another that was going somewhere we had. From here we felt we should have a go at a form of transport we hadn't tried before so jumped on a metro which took us to Moscow Square from where we were able to get a bus right back to the front door of the hotel. Public transport here is absolutely excellent; relatively cheap, incredibly frequent (usually today we had a maximum 10 minute wait even well out of the centre) very reliable and rather unnecessarily quick. It operates largely on a trust system so nobody checks you have a ticket as you board saving a huge amount of time over the course of a journey. UK take note.
For our evening meal tonight we thought we should try a little restaurant hidden away behind the main drag not far from the hotel. As we looked at the menu it looked pretty good and noticed a violinist playing (rather well to my untutored ear) some classical and classic music. We duly ordered and when the only other diner (!) vanished, we found ourselves treated to the undivided attentions of aforesaid violinist. Now I don't mind a bit of music as I eat but I found his attemps to get eye contact somewhat unnerving and the final straw came when he appeared with a 2000 forint bill stuck in the neck of his strad. This was taking unsubtlety to a new level but I was up to the job and looked him in the eye – not difficult as he was only a foot away at this point. I told him he played well and asked how long he had been playing. Misinterpreting my interest he told me that he was a gypsy violinist – my 'oh really?' was greeted with a virtuoso performance of recognisable and very nice hungarian folk music. I duly applauded and thanked him afterwards but he was confused but the lack of cash forthcoming so retreated to the interior of the restaurant. We paid our bill and left. You can't lever cash out of a Johnson by trying to embarrass them into it, we have too much experience of the state.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on May 31, 2011 from Budapest, Hungary
from the travel blog: Hungary anyone?
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Jnr would be very jealous of all that train travel! xx

permalink written by  Zoe on June 1, 2011

Yes, we thought of him & F, and Thomas the Tank engine as we travelled. We did even more today!!

Lots of love M&P

permalink written by  Rick on June 1, 2011

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