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Budapest - Day 1 - All around Andrássy Avenue

HUNGARY | Wednesday, 8 August 2012 | Views [481]

My train to Budapest doesn't leave till 1735. I've pack my bags, but am compelled to stay in Bucharest for another half day until the the train leaves. It's the third day of a heatwave in Romania. It hasn't quite hit the high of 41c of yesterday, only reaching 40c at the hottest. I can only manage a morning stroll around the shopping district of Bucharest before I decided to hide in the air con heaven of the hotel lobby until it's time to go to the train station.

When I do board the train, I'm a little surprised to see another chinese person in my compartment. We exchange the obligatory hello of those sharing a train and start talking. Chinese people emigrate to the United Kingdom because of the colonial past. People emigrate to North America because because it's the land of opportunities. Eastern Europe? The person in my compartment emigrated to Romania from China. His parents did the same. It's never occurred to me that a chinese person would ever emigrated to Romania. Is this something to be done in the spirit of communist fraternity. I mean, why would you want to do that. It's not just Romania, Hungary too has it's share of chinese. Slowly, but surely, we're taking over the world.

It's quite a long way to Budapest. About 800km in fact, which is nearly 15 hours on the train. The couchette compartment sleeps 6, so it's not the widest, nor the most comfortable in the world. Turns out the route is quite popular with the backpacking community too, as individuals board into the compartment until it's time to sleep. It wasn't too bad a night's rest since I wasn't woken till we're crossed the border into Hungary at around 7, when a border guard wakes everyone.

"Passports", the guard demands. Everybody does so. I'm the last to hand over a passport. I can see through by half closed eyes he's looking quizingly at the thing I just handed over and taking a good long look at me. Seeing a chinese person with a British passport seems to be a source of confusion to the guard. I'm certainly groggy from having just woken, too groggy to understand what the guard was asking me as he waved my passport in my direction.

"What?" is the best response I could muster. 

"Wakey, wakey!", he says.

"What's the problem?". At least, that's what I said in my head. The words came out slurred, like someone half drunk. 

Again, he asks me something I don't understand. If only I had some coffee antidote, then I'd been able to get off a couple of biting remarks before he walked off, dissatisfied with my sleepy response. I closed my eyes and hoped he'd bring my passport back. Which he does after about 10 minutes, alongside everyone else.

The train arrives at Budapest Keleti station right on time at 9, where there's were plenty of outlets ready to help out the tourists with the cities attractions. First item is to get the Budapest Tourist card from a shop with 3 day's worth of free travel and discounts.

The Keleti metro is just outside the train station and I'd booked myself into Leo Panzio Hotel, just outside Deák Ferenc metro station. Easy. After a quick stop at the hotel to put my stuff down and plan out the rest of the day, I'm off for the obligatory visit to Hero's Square on the metro with a plan to walk eastward all the way to Basilica of St. Stephen, about 1km away.

Hősök Tere, or Hero's Square in plain English is a major square and landmark in Budapest. In the centre is the tallest column topped with the Archangel Gabriel. In the rear is the statues of the leaders of the seven tribes considered the founders of Hungary.

The square is surrounded by two art museums, Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Art. The former had an exhibition titled something like "What does it mean to be Hungarian". Both serious and humorous, the artworks contain historic references, Greater Hungarians, patches of crumbling walls that look like Hungary and of course proof that it was the Hungarians and not the Americans or Nazis who first landed on the moon:

The road that leads up to Hero's Square is Andrássy Avenue. Whatever Andrássy means, it's probably a wealthy area as it's lined with mansions, museums, boutique shops, fine eateries and embassies. On the way down to the Basilica,I'd planned to visit the Budapest Opera House and the House of Terror. Despite the rather kitsch sounding name, the latter actually deals with the serious subject of the secret police during the communist period and crimes they carried out.

Some time after 5, I'd worked my way down to the Basilica of St. Stephen. The basilica must be in some serious need of funds for restoration. There's an "mandatory voluntary donation" to enter the church. A neoclassical building that's in pretty good shape. 

And of course, there's the obligatory climb up to the top of the church for thepanoramic views of the city:

Tags: bucharest, budapest, hungary, unesco


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