Hungary July 2014
This is an extract from a multi-country report to read the full report use the following link:
The trip was in two parts, the first bit being solid trains and the second bit being a relaxing week, with a bit of trains, drifting from Zurich to Budapest via Prague & Bratislava with my girlfriend and a cracking week it was too; with weather that couldn’t have been better but was verging on too hot.
Booked direct through Norwegian Airlines
DY2497 1535 Budapest 2B – Gatwick – £78.80 each
Budapest – Mamara Hotel, Nagy Ignac 21, 1055 Budapest – €136.18 for a double room for 2 nights – a 5 minute walk from Budapest Nyugati station, best reached by using the underpass; out of the station and on the right. It saves a lot of traffic dodging. While not a very big room it was well presented and had everything we needed for our two night stay. The hotel staff allowed us to check-in early and were very helpful throughout our stay. The room I’d booked included the comfort package which had airport pick-up as standard; as we’d arrived by train though we were allowed to use this option to get us back to the airport. The maps handed out at the hotel were probably the best I’ve used when in European cities, very easy to follow and they even gave the distance each walk covered. Breakfast was included and certainly sufficed.
Eurostar 9022 1131 St Pancras – Paris £73 booked online at Eurostar
Thello Train 221 1959 Paris – Milan (4 berth couchette) €77 booked online at Thello
Inter Rail Global Pass 15 Days – £369 booked through EU Rail
Reservations booked through Deutsche Bahn UK (all reservation only with Inter Rail Pass)
CNL40478 Basel – Koln €42.50 (4 berth couchette)
CNL40478 Basel – Arnhem €65 (3 berth sleeper)
CNL40419 Amsterdam – Basel €65 (3 berth sleeper)
CNL459 Zurich – Prague €180 (for two) (2 berth sleeper)
Switzerland BLS Car Train
0919 Iselle di Trasquera – Kandersteg CHF91 – booked through BLS online
Tuesday 29th July 2014 (Just how big is Budapest….?)
We were Budapest bound, from Bratislava, on board EC271 0622 Brno – Budapest Keleti. Having fought our way through the waiting crowds on the platform to board there was a lot more room on board than there had been from Praha the previous morning and the journey served as our breakfast time in the compartment we secured to ourselves while consuming bits and bobs we’d bought at a local supermarket the previous evening.
As per previous day’s arrivals into capital cities a couple of step backs were in the offering so as not to reach the hotel too early and a quick glance at Szob as we passed through revealed good news waiting to depart so off we got at the building site that is Vac to await its arrival behind us. Waiting to depart at Vac was more good news with the next all stations stopper to Budapest Nyugati so it would have been rude not to get off at Rakosrendeso to do it into Nyugati. Even with the two step-backs we were at the Mamara Hotel just after 11am; but were allowed to check-in immediately.
The Mamara is a 5 minute walk from Budapest Nyugati station, best reached by using the underpass; out of the station and on the right. It saves a lot of traffic dodging. While not a very big room it was well presented and had everything we needed for our two night stay. The hotel staff allowed us to check-in early and were very helpful throughout our stay. The room I’d booked included the comfort package which had airport pick-up as standard; as we’d arrived by train though we were allowed to use this option to get us back to the airport. The maps handed out at the hotel were probably the best I’ve used when in European cities, very easy to follow and they even gave the distance each walk covered.
Formalities done at the hotel and suitably rested we were out on the town shortly after lunchtime. As with Bratislava the previous day the weather started a bit crappy and was quite overcast; patience was on the menu if I was to get the photos I wanted, there were gaps in the clouds but not many early on! While the weather figured out what it wanted to do we opted to get an early lunch at a Mexican place called Iguana. Ironically we had to move seats while sitting outside due to the sun being too hot outside of the shaded areas. The food was good and plentiful, and more importantly cheap.
It didn’t take us long to understand just how big Budapest is; it’s not like Prague, which is large but nothing compared to Budapest, or Bratislava which has everything in one central area, other than its Castle. Having walked round the outside of the very impressive Parliament Buildings, the sun began to do it’s stuff and our walk was on. Unfortunately the sun shines across the Danube towards Matthias Church, Budapest Royal Palace and the Citadel in the morning but we made a bid for Castle Hill, on the opposite side of the river, to get the better afternoon shots looking back towards the Parliament Buildings.
Our leisurely stroll took us down the river back towards the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where we then crossed via the Chain Bridge to the west side and climbed the hill on foot rather than using the sensible Buda Castle Fenicular Railway to get up to the top. The walk round the Royal Palace grounds was pretty impressive but for the ignorant tossers riding about on Segways that insisted on having a group hug right in the middle of the open grounds completely spoiling everyone’s photos at the time.
From the Palace we walked onwards to Matthias Church, which unfortunately had a bit of a building site thing going on outside it. The views down to Pest, on the east of the river, from Matthias Church were cracking and the sun eventually did pick out the Parliament Buildings so at least we returned that evening having achieved what we’d set out to do. The walk back to the Mamara was pretty much a retrace of our outward steps and we were back before the big black clouds that were beginning to loom over Pest managed to empty themselves over the city. If you believe the distances listed on the map’s walking routes we’d covered about 8km! Including the half an hour lunch we’d been out for almost 5 hours so I guess it was quite feasible we’d covered that distance? I certainly felt like it but my late afternoon gift to myself as a couple of hours running around on trains to recover; or not!
We didn’t walk too far that night and found an Italian place just up the road from the hotel, towards Margaret Bridge, called Okay Italia. The service was good, food tasty and served up the best home-made Tiramisu I’ve had anywhere in the world; nothing short of excellent and the price was reasonable too. As with all decent places we find this place was used again and again as the food was good.
Evening over it was nice to relax for a while in the hotel room, maps out, trying to figure out what to do the following day…….
Wednesday 30th July 2014 (One coach trains are the way forward)
After breakfast we headed out to Vajdahunyad Castle; following one of the walks from the map the hotel had provided. There’s nothing like a brisk 4.3km walk of a morning, the outward half wasn’t too bad as the sun hadn’t quite cranked the roasting factor up by that point but on the way back it was scorching. The walk itself is basically straight down Andrassy Avenue until you reach Heroes’ Square at the end and Vajdahunyad Castle is just beyond it to the right. Unfortunately the castles periphery is quite well obscured by trees, immediately around the outside of the main entrances, inside the grounds though it’s quite open. It seemed we’d hit it just as many of the morning tour groups had as well and there were quite a lot of folk about; many stood around getting the history talk by their guides and just generally getting in everyone else’s way! One ignorant tosser got a bit of a telling when he went to position himself right in the middle of our photo’s; having walked right past us to pose for his mate to take his photo. He learnt what photo bombing was for the rest of his walk round the Castle’s grounds as I kept getting pushed about by Danielle to be forced into his photo’s!
We did what we needed to at the Castle in about 30 minutes and we didn’t rush, and that included getting scuppered half way round it’s periphery by the fact you can’t actually walk the whole way round without using the surrounding park’s footpaths. Still we were back at Nyugati station with plenty of time to spare for the 1253 to Kiskunfelegyhaza and even made the 1223 Nyiregyhaza so got a reservation on that instead; so we thought.
I’d asked at the ticket office whether I needed a reservation for the 1223 to Cegled, the answer to which was yes. As it turned out the reservation I’d been given was for the 1253 to Cegled, something we didn’t realise until someone else wanted to sit in our reserved seats; this ultimately resulted in us getting off at Zuglo and waiting for the 1253 anyway. Its standard in Hungary to need reservations on IC trains but these are actually only required in the fully AC coaches. The xx:23 IC’s from Nyugati are formed fully of these full AC coaches and only usually load 3 but the xx:53 IC’s from Nyugati to Szeged are formed of mixed stock and the non-AC coaches don’t require a reservation.
The whole point of the afternoon was to travel with the one coach trains that MAV provided for the Kiskunfelegyhaza – Szeged locals during the summer months, which were hauled by shunting locos. The trains weren’t well frequented and it was a sweltering afternoon and I have to say the driver’s uniform was one of the best I’ve seen, a pair of shorts and trainers; nothing else! He must have been melting in his cab. To avoid the direct sunshine we hid in the station waiting area at Kistelek by the booking hall, with a nice breeze blowing through when the doors were open.
On the way back into Budapest on IC703 1545 Szeged – Budapest, I managed to figure out on the free WiFi that the two trains immediately behind ours both had required engines; we were off at Ferihegy for the first and Kobanya Kispest for the second, then straight into Budapest Nyugati.
Having had a good day again we were in need of a decent meal and the Okay Italia served us up some good food again; I couldn’t resist another go at their homemade Tiramisu either. There was even one guy that came in and all he had was Tiramisu so maybe they were renowned locally for the best Tiramisu in town?
After dark the opportunity was taken to get some night photos of the various buildings lit up on the Buda horizon, including the Royal Palace & Matthias Church, and the Pest river bank, including the Parliament Buildings. The best vantage point for this was on Margaret Bridge, which was actually quite photogenic itself; the many flat topped posts along the bridge were perfect for resting the camera on and the view down the Danube was quite spectacular really. Everything that Buda & Pest have to offer being lit up in the one view. Strangely though the lights shining on one side of the Parliament Buildings went out leaving one side in complete darkness; luckily we’d got all the photos we needed before the blackout occurred and were back at the hotel relaxing and packing soon afterwards, the following morning being the last day of our trip and we’d be homeward bound in the afternoon.
Thursday 31st July 2014 (Would you allow your kids to run a railway?)
The homeward bound blues didn’t take effect until later in the afternoon and after breakfast we had decided upon one last jaunt before heading to the airport and that jaunt would be on the “Children’s Railway”, on the outskirts of Budapest at Huvosvolgy. Unfortunately this place isn’t advertised very well, or even at all, in all the tourist gen around Budapest and while it may seem like a bit of a hassle to get to its pretty straight forward really.
To get from Budapest we used tram No. 4 or 6 from Nyugati to Szell Kalman ter, where we changed to tram No.61 direct to Huvosvolgy. Szell Kalman ter is basically a big triangular tram/bus interchange point and everything is well advertised as to what is going where on electronic screens. At Huvosvolgy, the end of the No. 61 tram line, it isn’t immediately evident when to go to find the Children’s Railway station but there are stairs that led up from the tram station to a dirt track, once up the stairs turn left onto the direct track and follow it the short distance to the end; Huvosvolgy station is right in front of you. Tram tickets are HUF350 for single tickets and should be validated when you board, they’re valid for the whole journey to Huvosvolgy, including changing trams. We didn’t realize the tickets needed validating but didn’t have any issues thankfully.
To return to Budapest we did so from Szechenyihegy by using the Cogwheel Railway, which is actually operated as tram line No. 60, to Varosmajor and then tram No. 61 back to Szell Kalman ter for tram No. 4 or 6 back to Nyugati. Again there are no directions from the Children’s Railway station to the Cogwheel Railway station but it’s simply out of the Children’s Railway station, down the hill for about 200m and the Cogwheel station is on the right hand side of the road. Timetables are displayed on the station and there are at least 3 trains an hour.
When we first got to Huvosvolgy station there was nobody about at all, even the booking office wasn’t open. One of the Mk45’s could be seen in the yard from the platform end and this soon brought two coaches into the station to form the first train of the day, the 0910 to Szechenyihegy. Tickets went on sale about 15 minutes before departure and cost HUF700 each for a single journey the length of the line; rover tickets are only available for families.
Mk45-2004 headed our train with an open veranda type coach at the rear and a second coach behind the loco. We opted for the veranda coach of course and while we sat on board minding our own it became evident that the first train was used as a staff ferry train as there were only four fare paying passengers on board when it left but it was quite full. There were Permanent Way staff, who got off with equipment en-route, station staff that were dropped off at the relevant station and of course the Children; without whom the railway wouldn’t have any staff!
I was beginning to wonder where all the Children were, just as they were marched across the car park, military style and almost in time, and then lined up on the station platform in rows three deep. Lunch was then handed out to all with the first kid in line taking three of everything and the goods being distributed behind. All were briefed by the person in charge before being loaded into the front coach and distributed to various stations en-route to complete their required duties for the day. The grippers for the train had turned up separately and must be rostered in advance as they all seemed to know what they were doing and I have to say it was quite strange having my tickets checked by a kid that couldn’t have been older than 12.
The line is basically a solid uphill climb from Huvosvolgy to Szechenyihegy; it’s a shame the Mk45’s are a bit pants and make very little noise. There is a cracking view over Budapest part way up the line, which the driver slowed down for; these are adults by the way! Our morning on the railway would be just that and we did 2004 all the way out and part way back to Janoshegy for what turned out to be 2003 back to Szechenyihegy on the other turn.
As there was no interest in selling me a ticket for the return journey to Janoshegy at the booking office we ended up buying them on the train. Single journey’s short of full length of the line cost HUF600 and we had no issue buying the tickets from the 12 year old gripper. On the way back though there was obviously a bit of a language barrier, which I was keen to figure out how they dealt with it and the many tourists they must have travelling on the line and was quite withered when the young lad produced a booklet, thumbed through it and ran his finger underneath the line that said “Where would you like to go”. Then he produced a map for me to point to my destination and moments later I was in possession of two tickets back to Szechenyihegy, the cost for which was written down on the lad’s booklet. Impressed I was.
While the railway does seem to run relatively to time there were occasions that you could tell it was being run by Children and also times when you could tell that the adults were frustrated with the Children; still we had a great time and by the look of the crowds coming the opposite way as we walked down the road to catch the Cogwheel Railway at Szechenyihegy we’d left at the right time. The train had already been full as we left the station and there was another train full walking up the road.
We were back at Nyugati with plenty of time to spare before our courtesy taxi from the Mamara to Ferihegy airport so we had a farewell lunch at the Okay Italia before beginning our journey home. The taxi journey took about 30 minutes and was as straightforward as they come. Unfortunately getting through to security at Ferihegy airport wasn’t as straightforward. The queues were massive at terminal B so we walked round to terminal A, where there wasn’t one at all and were promptly sent away to go and get proper boarding passes as our print-out entitled “Travel Document” apparently wasn’t what it said on the tin.
As we queued at the Norwegian Airlines desk it looked as though loads more folk had been victim of the same assumption we had. The queuing was harmless enough though and we were through security and sat in the waiting area with rafts of time to spare. The flight itself ended up being about 30 late but was a decent flight and definitely an airline I’d fly with again.
Luckily we were dropped at the right terminal at Gatwick for the station but I was further delayed getting through immigration as my passport was scrutinized, for a change. After it hadn’t worked at the electronic gate I ended up at a desk, as usual, but the guy processing me didn’t seem to be able to deal with whatever scribbling he was seeing on the screen so had to take me to someone else to get me through. Thankfully we made the train we needed to but it was fruitless rushing in the end as the third train of our journey to Tunbridge Wells, from Tonbridge, was cancelled! Upon arrival at Tonbridge it wasn’t quite the end of our holiday and we had three days in Tunbridge Wells; which unfortunately turned out to be a disaster when the very point of being there went a bit Pete Tong! Still we’d had a cracking trip away and were quite grateful of the fact we were back home 24 hours earlier than planned in the end……