Continuing East

Trip Start Aug 29, 2005
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Budapest, Hungary

In Vienna the owner (Ildiko) of the guest house where we stayed, was born in an area of Hungary that has changed hands many times. What was once Austrian, then Hungarian and finally a part of Slovakia makes the politics of Canada seem so safe and sedate.
Ildiko, as we were to find out, lived in Canada for 3 years and her son was born in Canada. She has lived in Austria for most of her life but her heritage and language are Hungarian. Her homeland was Hungary before Slovakia's and Hungary's borders were redefined after the Second World War ..........and so her birthplace became part of Slovakia (but she does not have a Slovakian passport). All very interesting. She told us all this because she discovered we were going to Budapest and told us that it is her absolute favourite city in the lots of helpful tidbits.

In Hungary we continued to meet helpful and friendly people. And on the trains - there are hand delivered coffees to your seat, and for only $1 (for 2). Easy transport through the train stations in Hungary as the platforms were all on one level! Important factor for some you know! We were beginning to think that only the French and Italian train stations had us going under the platforms - by stairs, with no lift in sight. Not always easy with one collapsible stroller, 3 bags on a wheeled hand cart and each of us wearing a back pack (one with child in it). With all of this train travel we discovered that 5 pieces of luggage is one too many for train travel. But we developed a system....
Once in Hungary we were away from the chocolate filled croissants (yea!) and into cheese and meat...hmm - this is Eastern Europe. The memories of Budapest? - many many, but the highlights have to be the trolley cars and the thermal baths. We went to Széchenyi Fürdö bath - an outdoor pool surrounded by a Versaille like courtyard and Géllert Fürd; - lounging in the warmth under a stained glass domed cathedral ceiling.
The subway - or at least the Yellow line which is the oldest and built in the 1890's - was an adventure in itself. Only 4 feet below the ground, it has riveted steel girders holding the street above. Then the 'newer' lines are significantly deeper, with the escalators getting to the trains at 60 degree angles, going at 20km/hr, for what seems like ˝ km! Longest, steepest escalators we have seen. You have to jump fast when with two youngsters, one in a backpack, one walking but an umbrella stroller in tow!
The yellow tram cars are everywhere in Budapest. The kids loved riding on them as they could see everything and the ride mimicked our many train journeys. Do you think we have a photo????
In Budapest the structures and buildings all seem huge and elaborate - some certainly in need of some repair. The Red Stars of the communist government are gone from the government buildings, the Soviet statues and monuments no longer adorn the centre of the city and the parks - they have been moved to Statue Park on the outskirts of town - along with Tesco's shopping mall and other Western European chain stores! There are fewer soviet Ladas and Zucs (cars) than 20 years ago - pre 1989/1990 - when Ted was here last. But more street/homeless people visible - we were told this was a change since the fall of communism (89/90) when ALL people would have had some form of work - and at least enough to support themselves. We definitely were given views from both sides (by the cab drivers of course!)- both favouring communism and those not. For the educated and established the leap to multi-party democracy and free enterprise was not so great but for the disadvantaged and the marginally educated the change has seemed hard. Instead of a job for every citizen and a far reaching social safety net there is now more onus on personal responsibility, personal initiative and less government welfare programs. However we did see a very large police presence throughout Hungary. In both the Czech Republic and in Hungary the number of police has not seemed to diminish. Has the police state really disappeared? One has to wonder....
At least the streets of Budapest and Prague are very safe.

Food shopping - at least in France, we could understand most Budapest, not even the pictures helped sometimes. Hungarian is in a league by itself. Hey! But who doesn't like straight tomato paste on pasta? Or coffee creamer instead of coffee grounds (but the package had a picture of a coffee bean on it.....maybe the ingredients with a word looking something vaguely like glucose should have been the first hint!) - wait till we shop in Bulgaria with the Cyrillic alphabet....

After Budapest the view from the train was fairly flat land, heading south east there are only two large hills between Budapest and Romania. However we have been warned about the problems we might encounter at the border.....
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