This year six of us took part in our club’s International visit, this year we went to Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, actually two cities, Buda and Pest, flanking the River Danube (which is not blue as in Johann Strauss’ famous waltz, but a mucky brown colour). We were in Pest which is on the east bank and seems to have the main buildings, parliament glitzy hotel and top shops. Our hotel, Hotel Memories was in a narrow side street close to the National Museum. In common with lots of buildings, it had been completely re-vamped and was an excellent base for our explorations.
Our first foray into the city was via the ubiquitous open-topped busses one can see today in every tourist place. We opted for a multi-day pass and would take the “red-route” which covered most of the city to try and get our bearings. Eventually the bus took onto the west-bank, to Buda and the high points of the city which has the citadel and castle, each on its own “mountain” overlooking one another. Our bus took us first up an incredibly winding road to the citadel, where we were told we had half an hour or so to take in the view, grab a coffee, ice cream etc. Then after a lot of confusion, all the busses looked the same and there were half a dozen parked up, we got back on board and seemed to freewheel down the hill until we were beneath the next high point which contained the castle or is it a palace? Here we had to disembark our red bus and got onto a small electric milk float type bus which took us up a very twisty road to a village within the castle ramparts. Bill was our guide and told us when to get off, it was by now beer o’clock and time for lunch. With a large beer and a plate of goulash inside us we then proceeded on foot to see the sights, some splendid views across the Danube towards the parliament building amongst some spectacular churches, plazas and statutes. It took some time to catch the next milk float down, they are quite small and there were large crowds of people wanting to go our way! We again struggled to find the correct red-bus to continue our trip, but did so eventually and completed the tour soon afterwards. During the journey we had located the Gresham Palace 4 Seasons Hotel which is the HQ of RC Budapest City International, we opted to use the No 2 tram which travels along the east bank of the Danube.
After a quick shower and change we walked the 200m or so from our hotel to the tram station at Fovam Ter, there we purchased single tram tickets and caught the next tram travelling our way. We had to guess where to get off but did have plenty of time and though we were a couple of stations short of our destination, it was a pleasant stroll to the opulent front door of the 5 star Gresham Palace and the Kollazs Restaurant. Taking our ease outside the restaurant, I asked the young lady in charge where the rotary meeting was, “not here” she said, “they were here last week”. Whoops, Alan then checked his emails to make sure he had the correct date, yes it was the 24th and Aaron the president would be late as he was returning from a business trip. By this time we were joined by an American couple from Estes Valley Sunrise RC in Colorado and a young Hungarian Rotaractor Christophe. We were chatting and having a beer (very expensive) when club secretary Erden (a Dutchman) arrived, then President Aaron (who knows Ulverston and has a friend who lives just around the corner from me !!). He was joined by a lady (missed her name) and Henning a Dane and founder member of the club, then another Romanian Rotaractor, a policeman who is working in the city on a project. Both Rrotaractors will be joining the club and will become Paul Harris Fellows on joining, it is their club policy to be a 100% Paul Harris Club. We swapped banners had a few more peanuts and more very expensive drinks until first the Americans had to go, then after Colin had settled up (kitty exhausted) we decided to also find our way back via Tram 2. Whilst waiting at the tram stop we were joined by Aaron, on his way home. We asked him where we could get tickets, he then told us the good news that elderly people like us travelled free, all we needed was id to prove our age! No ID that was in the safe at the hotel, but got on the tram, we would have to explain our situation if challenged. Ten minutes or so later we were back at Fovam Ter, bid goodbye again to Aaron and then went to find a place we could afford to eat in!
Next day started with a stroll down the road to the local market, a building large and airy, all iron pillars and a mezzanine floor all around the perimeter with lots of food outlets. The body of the market reminded me of the old Barrow Market when it was behind the townhall, as a kid it seemed enormous and this one in Budapest truly IS enormous. Lots of stalls with fruit and veg, all glowing, piles of peppers, heaps of chillies, shiny mountains of apples then there are the meat counters. Sausages of all descriptions, black ones, brown ones and white ones and of various sizes, some like tree trunks and others thin and spidery. Then stalls selling chicken, it seems nothing is wasted they even had a pile of chicken feet (not thighs) for sale, guess they go into some kind of soup?? Frank did get to try the food stalls, goulashes served in a bowl carved out of a loaf of bread. All sorts of pancakes with fillings and toppings to die for. It must have been a Polish celebration when we were there, red and white flags adorned one aisle and a band of folk musicians were playing. It was fine but like musical boxes of old, they seemed to play only one tune and that got a bit grating after a while. We had noticed in the lift at our hotel that they had a Sky Bar on the roof, open from 5.00 pm until 10.00 pm, we could eat there as well. So Wednesday evening, thinking about fellow club members meeting at home, we had our spur meeting with three bottles of excellent wine and some great Argentinian beef steaks.
Thursday, we took the Yellow Bus to stop number 2 and walked to find the “shoes”, this is a line of shoes, left on the bank of the Danube as a memorial to a massacre of Jews by Arrow Cross Militia Men (a Hungarian fascist organisation, just like the Nazis) during the 2nd World War. After viewing this sobering memorial, we wandered on along the promenade to the Parliament Building, it is possible to visit, but you have to request online and the only visits on Thursday were in the afternoon and in Italian. By this time we were ready for a sit down and a coffee, actually we also had cake. Across the square from us we could hear music, taking a look we noticed people congregating in front of steps to the Parliament building. Then to a blast of trumpets, elegantly dressed guardsmen marched out and to some music proceeded to march up and down and wave their swords about. The tone changed and they formed up into two columns and an officer marched out between them and all stood to attention as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was played (EEC Anthem), we did not turn our backs! Then another anthem was played and they saluted the Hungarian Flag high above the plaza and marched back inside the building to applause from many of the spectators. What should we do now, we will catch the No 2 tram and ride on it to its terminus. Did that and only two stops further on it hit the buffers, journey end on tram 2. What next, we were at a cross roads and could see another tram which crossed the Danube to Buda, we will catch that one, the No 6. We got off it as we hit the west bank of the Danube, thinking that there would be another tram along the west bank, there wasn’t. After a bit of faffing around we got back onto another tram 6, that also went to a terminus and Metro Station. It was then necessary to study some of the tram maps and we concluded that there were two options which would take us south, we got on one the 56A to Szabadsag Bridge where we would catch a 49 tram back towards our hotel. But when we arrived at the Bridge, the sun was out and decided that we would walk across the bridge and make our way south to a futuristic building on the east bank where we had a beer and Frank and I had Paprika Potatoes, really tasty and go well with beer. We went to Vediak Etterem (Vendiaks Resteraunt) for our last evening meal in Budapest, had a couple of bottles of wine and back to the hotel for an early night.
The following day, after a great breakfast, we paid our bills and our minibus transport arrived slightly ahead of schedule and soon had us deposited at the impressive Budapest Airport, only downside was when we were on our plane the pilot announced that there would be a 40 minute delay because of airspace problems over Germany, that did reduce to 20 minutes and enables us to catch our train for home at Manchester. The two carriage train was bursting at the seams all the way to Preston but fortunately we did have seats and ran with only a slight delay because of flooded tracks which caused other services to be cancelled.
Another great International trip, where to next time?
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