So, on to Central Europe. To Budapest.
Just so you know, Hungarians hate it when you refer to Hungary as being in Eastern Europe. They are in C-E-N-T-R-A-L-E-U-R-O-P-E!
My train from Munich to Budapest was the Euronight sleeper train Kalman Imre. It leaves Munich Hbf at 23:00pm to arrive Budapest Keleti station at about 9 am. I’d booked a berth in a 4-bed couchette for a comfortable night sleep. Myself and a pleasant Swiss guy turned out to be the only residents of the cabin. Sweet.
The train conductor came to our cabin as we left Munich. He advised us to always bolt our door throughout the journey. That was a piece of unnerving advice. My mind went to the movie Murder On the Orient Express. I asked the the conductor if there was a possibility of theft or robbery. He shrugged and smiled.
I bolted the door after him.
It was quite an uneventful journey. It was dark. You couldn’t see a thing.
At some point during the journey, I woke up to the sounds of loud conversations on the corridor. Must have been around 2 am.
Soon there was a loud knock on our door. We didn’t open it. I wasn’t going to open a door in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere when I’d been advised to bolt my door.
After a few seconds the heavy knocking repeated itself. This time it was accompanied by the shout “border officer” or something to that effect. Only then did we open the door.
At the door were three well-built men in plain clothes. They had police-type vests over their clothes and carried side arms. They had torchlights and one of them had some sort of scanning device in his hand. They introduced themselves. We had crossed into Austria. They asked to see our passports. The guy with the scanner scanned my Schengen visa with the device. He got on his mobile phone reading out something on the visa. He wasn’t speaking English so I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Soon after he gave me back my passport and bade me goodnight.
I thought the Eurozone was supposed to be borderless?
Alas, my Swiss mate took leave of me at Vienna. I now had the cabin to myself. There was still about three hours left till we got to Budapest.
Cleft in two by the mighty Danube River. Hilly and imperial Buda to the west and flat, buzzing and bourgeois Pest to the east. The two cities came together in 1873 to form Budapest.
Can you believe the other name that was in consideration for the city was “Pestbuda”?
Why am I in Budapest?
If there was a single country that experienced the double whammy of both Nazism and Communism within a short period, it was Hungary. During WWII, the Nazi proxy party in Hungary, the Arrow Cross party, a fascist organisation, unleashed total terror on the people of Budapest. Thousands of Hungarian Jews were rounded up and deported to extermination camps all over Europe. Some were executed in the city and dumped into the Danube.
During Second World War, Hungary was in the crossfire of the Nazis and Communist Russia repelling Hitler. Hitler eventually lost the war and the Soviet took over Hungary. They imposed their own brand of terror on Hungary and Budapest. Citizens were reduced to subjects and killed on the flimsiest reason.
I was particularly interested in visiting the Dohany Street Synagogue – the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe – Memento Park, with its sculptures venerating communism and communist leaders, the House of Terror and Shoes on the Danube Promenade memorial.
But first, what were my first impressions of Hungary?
As with Munich, I had less than 48 hours to spend in the city and my opinion may not truly reflect what is quintessentially Budapest. But first impression is all I have to go by on this European jaunt.
I have mixed feelings about Budapest. At times, I think it is a city a tad suspicious of black people. I did not experience any particular racist incidence and I did meet many nice people. But it’s all in the simple things: the stares, the looking-over-shoulders and deliberate attempt to avoid hand contact. These may have been isolated cases but I was more careful and restrained in Budapest than in Amsterdam, Berlin or Munich.
Can’t explain it but I found all the Taxify drivers in Budapest more friendly. Almost all of them thought I was American. One of the drivers put on a hip-hop track as I got into the car. He was bobbing his head enthusiastically and smiling at me. I rated him 5 stars for effort.
But it irks me at the supposition that I was American. This had previously happened to me on earlier visits to Paris and Rome.
I’ll have you all know that Africans do take holidays!
I had such a cramped itinerary that I regretfully didn’t see some of the other places worth seeing.
But I made time out to visit the Szazeves Restaurant, the oldest restaurant in Budapest. How could I not? This is food we are talking about here. A Taxify driver recommended the restaurant for an authentic Hungarian experience. I checked the review online and knew I had to pay them a visit.
Meet my dinner.
Magyaros gulyasleves or Goulash soup Hungarian style and Belszingulyas galuskaval aka Sirloin goulash with dumplings.
I cannot come and kill myself.
Right. To my last European city – Krakow.
Please click here for the Krakow account.