For those coming to Budapest, this is a blogDavid Watsonwrote a couple.of years ago recounting my adventures in the city in my youth.
Lately, in our morning huddles at Beacon Dentalcare we have been sharing "facts" that we don't know about each other and I have been reminded of my fabulous 3 days in and around Budapest in 1991.
It involves Backpacking, Threat of imminent rape, murder or both, Billy Bragg, The Pope, an old primary school friend, a smelly train and a Hungarian Beatles tribute act.
It all starts in Keleti train station in Budapest in August 1991...........
So, my best friend (then and now) John Remington and I had been inter-railing through Europe for a few weeks and we arrive in Budapest late one August evening after a long train journey from Zurich. We have nowhere to stay as usual, and are greeted off the train by a young man offering "very cheap bed, and a good place to stay". Even at the time, he seemed dodgy, and looking back he was clearly very shifty, BUT we were tired and dirty and poor, and he was offering a cheap bed for the night, so what else could we do, but get in his dirty van and head off into the darkness of a strange Eastern European City.
We were not murdered, though I remember being very worried on that short journey. It turned out, that our friend was legit, and our accommodation was University halls of residence, empty for the summer! £5 per night well spent.!
Next day we set out to explore the city, which was surprisingly (to us) full of nice shops Mercedes cars and American Fast food places! Pest was lovely , but FULL of armed police , seemingly on every corner. We had no idea if this was normal or not, so we noted it and carried on.
Things started to get strange after lunch (a Big Mac meal, obviously- always the cheapest meal in a new city, or at least it was then). Crossing the bridge from Pest to Margarita Island , in the middle of the Danube, we walk straight past legendary singer Billy Bragg! In Budapest! As I recall he was very nice, but of course no pen or camera was in sight!
We carried on and settled on a sunny spot on the grass in the middle of the island, fully equipped with our normal evening diet of copious local beer and chocolate (very cheap on this occasion unlike the previous day in Zurich). After I while I noticed a young couple sitting near us, and something familiar about the guy. There followed at least 30 minutes of swapping odd glances and hushed conversation as we decided if we knew each other. Eventually, one of us ( I cant remember who) braved the question.... "excuse me don't we know each other".....
It turned out that he was a friend of mine from primary school, Pete Tilling (who had also worked with John and myself at Marks and Spencer), travelling with his girlfriend!!! Sheer odd coincidence.
We had a lovely afternoon with them, during which Pete told me that the Pope was due to arrive in the city by boat and that was the reason for the heavy police presence.
At the appropriate time, we moved ourselves to the side of the island to watch the Pontiff arrive in the city on his Popemaboat. Result!
We were intending to travel on that evening to Prague, taking a train that evening , which started in Budapest......
Before I go on, I should add a word about inter-railing. Generally the secret for a good night's sleep on a long overnight journey (Budapest to Prague for example) is to get on the train some time before it leaves, find a compartment (they were very common in ll countries across Europe in 1991), boots off, look smelly and unwelcoming and then get a good nights sleep!
"Shall we go and see the Pope in the main Square"
" But we will miss the train"
"yes, but there is another one two hours later"
"That train starts in Sofia, and is going to Berlin. we are never going to get a good seat"
"We'll be ok. How often will we get to see and hear the Pope"
I forget who said what, but the end result was we found ourselves in Heroe's Square, with 500,000 other people. The Pope was a very small (he was quite short) white figure , about a mile away!, talking to the crowd in Polish and Hungarian. What a fabulous decision to be there!
The reality dawned quickly that we had mad a daft decision, so we left to catch the train, already worried about how we would get a place to sleep/ We were right to worry. Said train was FULL. Full of Bulgarian and Romanian families, filling every space available. Forget the idea of a compartment, there wasn't even room in the toilets! and the smell was appalling. We lasted approximately 2 minutes before deciding that we could not face 5 minutes on this train , never mind 15 hours. So we got off, an headed back to the University for a further night, not sure what the next day might hold.......
The following day, on the advice of my school friend, we headed to Lake Baloton (largest lake in Central Europe!). What we found was a sort of German Blackpool by the lake (without the roller coasters). A very budget destination for less well off German holiday makers ( I am being kind).
What we also discovered was that Germans were not well liked by the locals, but Brits (and Dutch) WERE. We first discovered this that evening when we pitched up at an outdoor restaurant for tea. When the waiter discovered that we were English, he bundled a group of German students off a table and made us sit there. For the rest of the evening we had the most amazing friendly service , at the expense of our German student "friends"!
Later that evening, whilst watching the Hungarian Bootleg Beatles (really!), we got chatting to a Dutch couple, who explained that it was the same for them! A lovely evening was had by all.
The following day we headed back to Budapest and a train to Munich. Before we did that we had to spend all of our Hungarian currency, as it was a serious offence to export it. I can assure you that it was very difficult to spend the equivalent of £7.50 on light edible things in Hungary (It was very very cheap). We failed, but in the end it didnt matter, the Hungarian Border Guards really did not care.
There we have it, 3 days of surreal holidaying in an amazing place.