We are sitting (in a first class cabin that we can get into this time) on a train bound for Vienna (no Ultravox singalongs please). The Hungarian countryside is flying along around us, fairly grey and lifeless, just getting ready to burst into springly greenness. I think if we had been two weeks later we would have seen a completely different Europe.
Yesterday was another day composed mainly of walking around, seeing a few sights and having coffees and lunch. We started off with a brisk walk into Pest, to go on a tour of the parliament building (which is huuuuuuuge.) There is a chain fence around the whole thing, with guards posted everywhere. We eventually got to a gate, and we worked out (without any real help from people or signage) that you had to get permission to go buy a ticket, then come back out and wait for the tour to start, and only one of us was allowed to go into the ticket office. They’re paranoid about security for some reason. Once we were on the tour, we had two security guards walking around with our tour group, in addition to the guide.
So, you might think that there are some impressive parliament buildings around the world. I’ve been in a few. But they all suck badly in comparison to the Hungarian one. It could be a palace. 40 kilos of 24 Karat gold was used for the gilding, and trust me, it’s everywhere. An astoundingly impressive entry hall/staircase with frescoes, columns, statues and 4 kilometres of red carpet. Really knock you around the head kind of stuff.
Then we went into the Members Lounge, where they basically get to sit around and stuff. Very plush, more gilt edging, more red carpet, more statues. The next room was the cigar room, where members can sit around talking, smoking cigars. If they have to rush into the house for a vote, then they have numbered cigar holders.
The actual house itself isn’t as impressive as the entrance, but still way too austere for someone like little Johnny Howard. It was apparently the first air conditioned building in the world, with a massive pit that they used to fill with ice and pump the air into the building.
After Parliament we wandered around relatively aimlessly, looking at some shops, but not really finding anything too interesting (or too cheap for that matter.) We have been quite good about not eating fast food on this trip (except for Sweden where it was the cheapest by far), but we succumbed to the Colonel today. Boy, was that the mistake of a lifetime. The worst, and I mean worst Zinger burger you could ever hope for. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bread had been made, near Chernobyl, in the time of Stalin. As soon as I touched it, it started to disintegrate. Serves us right I suppose. The chips were good but.
One thing about Hungarians, and in particular Hungarians in restaurants is the amount they smoke. Crazy. Non-stop. I know the frech have a reputation for burning it up big, but they are cigarette wimps in comparison. And they have non-smoking sections in restaurants, but it’s generally only 2 tables in the corner of the room, surrounded by smoking tables, so it doesnt make a lick of difference.
We wandered up to the Palace to have a look around the History Museum, because we had picked up tidbits about Hungarian History, but wanted to try and work out a cohesive idea of what had happened to the place. Well, let me tell you that the history museum is not the place to go to do this. Wonderful exhibits, lots of information, but we came away far more confused than when we went in.
As far as we can tell, Hungarian history is basically a litany of people coming in and either taking control of the Budapest or destroying it totally. There must be about 10 instances in the past 1000 years of a complete devastation of the city, followed by a frenzied period of rebuilding. And a succession of revolutions, some successful, some short lived and some failed. There’s been 3 revolutionary wars that we can work out, but possibly more.
It’s a great city, and will probably be great to come back to in 10 years or so when they’ve had a chance to sort out a few things (public transport tickets for example … you need different tickets for buses, trains, trams etc and you can’t buy any of them from on the bus. You need to go to a newsagent!), but once they’ve done that, it will be truly magnificent.