Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Day 13: Budapest

First stop on our full day in Budapest was the big castle in the Buda part of the city. It's bloody miles away from our hostel, so we took the metro. The metro was pretty cheap, and pretty straightforward to use because it only has three different lines, and they pretty much hardly interweave, though all the train station names are long and in Hungarian.

We took the train as far as the other side of the river, figuring that we'd walk up the hill ourselves. The most notable thing about being on the Buda side of the Danube is that it offers a pretty good view of the spectacular Hungarian houses of parliament.

Up the hill to the castle and the views of the rest of the city are really impressive. The entire "castle" is actually less a castle and more a small fortified city. It's very pretty, and in particular the roofs have very decorative tiling (the same is true of the cathedral in Stefanplatz in Vienna). There's a part of the wall which faces out to the rest of the city and offers some pretty awesome views, and for a few euro's worth of Hungarian money you can pay to go up onto the wall and presumably get almost identical views from being two metres higher up.

Taking a fairly scenic walk down the opposite end of the Buda castle we crossed back over the river and walked to the parliament building. It's been a while since I've been to the houses of parliament in London, but I'd have a hard time saying which one is more impressive. There's some pretty mental and complex architecture, and the front at least is a really brilliant white and surprisingly free of scaffolding (the back not so much though).

We sat and played cards in the sun outside the building for a while, and then ate a fairly late lunch at a pizza place nearby. Finding somewhere to eat was actually a bit difficult, as Hungary falls into the mainland European standard of "everywhere fucking shuts on Sunday". Wandering through the centre we stumbled across a pretty impressive church, which turned out to be St Stephen's Basilica. We were feeling somewhat knackered and walked-out by this point, so we made a final wander up to the park near Heroes' Square, sat in the grass and read for a while, and then wandered to the train station, with an 'Operation use up all the soon-to-be-useless Hungarian money before we leave" at the Tesco Express(z) on the way.

Getting the train to Krakow was a far from trivial affair. For whatever reasons the train we were getting wasn't a single train to Krakow, but a train that actually split, with the various parts going to Berlin, Prague, Warsaw and Krakow. We were booked into a sleeper cabin, number 344, and had the issue that this cabin didn't actually appear to exist on the train. We knew we were only booked from Breclav, not Budapest, but given none of the train guards spoke any English whatsoever, we were left completely guessing. We also weren't allowed on either of the cabins that said they were going to Krakow because they were both sleeper cabins we didn't have reservations for, and the train guard fobbed us off and told us to get on later down the train in one of the seated cabins.

We got on one to Warsaw, because it listed Breclav as an intermediate stop, so we figured it would probably do us good enough. The train was absolute rammed, and we ended up having to nest in the doorway next to the toilet. For whatever reason, this train had no windows in the section we were sitting in, and it was absolutely boiling in there. What was even more annoying was that the adjacent carriage was a really flashy sleeper cabin destined to Berlin which, unlike our crappy ancient East-European carriage was air-conditioned. Breclav was four hours away, though the trip was made fairly bearable by the fact that whenever we stopped at a station we could open the windows on both sides of the train and get a decent draught through.

At this point we still weren't entirely sure what the fuck was going on. We had two scenarios we thought were reasonably possible. The first one was that the booking system had fucked up and we didn't have a place on the Krakow carriages, which would mean we'd ride the Warsaw cabin to Katowice, which we knew was pretty near to Krakow, and get a connecting train in the morning, after a fairly uncomfortable and smelly train journey. The alternative scenario (which was mine, I would like to add), was that the train was going to split in Breclav and the carriages would rearrange onto a new train, and after they'd done that our mythical carriage 344 would exist.

After a journey that was actually far less uncomfortable than I thought it was going to be in the first ten minutes (helped by the fact it stopped being like 28 degrees Celsius as the night progressed), and we got off in Breclav. This then consisted of mild panic, because though we'd hypothesised this was what we were meant to do, we were still guessing and had zero concrete evidence that this was the right way to go, with the possibility the train would leave without us and we'd be stranded in Breclav for a while. We'd actually only been off the train about ten seconds before Jamie was panickedly insisting that we get back on it and just go to Katowice (something he's been fairly mercilessly ribbed for since). Turns out that our cabin 344 was on the train on the opposite platform, and we got on, and everything was cool.

This was my first time on a sleeper cabin, so I was somewhat looking forward to the new experience. They're pretty cramped and it's awkward to find spaces to put bags, but they're reasonably comfortable. When we first got in there, there was a woman just stood in the cabin. She stood in the corridor while we got into the beds and sorted out stuff, before then coming back into the cabin when we'd settled down. Given the other two beds already had people sleeping in them, we were somewhat puzzled as to what the hell she was doing. After a bit I figured out that the sleeping people were kids, and she was presumably their mother staying with them in their cabin rather than her own.

It probably helped that I was knackered, and the rocking motion of the train tends to send me to sleep even in the middle of the day, but I slept like a baby pretty much the entire way to Poland.

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