Day 8: Vienna to Budapest

Posted: July 27, 2014 in Budapest, Getting Around, Vienna
Tags: , , ,

Marie and Caitlin were still sleeping when I woke up at 6am and the wifi in the room wasn’t working that well so I snuck downstairs to the Gumpendorfer Cafe next door to our hotel to see if I could get an internet connection to update the blog. While I was there I figured I might as well try a Viennese “breakfast” – a cup of melange (half coffee, half foamed milk) and a roll with butter. Along with a sparkling water and a small tip, the bill was €6 ($9 cdn). The roll (basically a dinner bun) was very tasty, the coffee was simultaneously a bit weak and a bit bitter – explains why the guy sitting beside me emptied his sugar container and a fair portion of mine into his cup!

I made my way back up to the room around 8 and timidly woke the sleeping beasts so we could pack and have enough time to grab a proper breakfast before heading for the train station for our 12:02 train to Budapest. On the recommendation of the front desk clerk we decided to grab breakfast at the Cafe Jelinek just around the corner from the hotel. Although there were plenty of seats outside we decided to sit inside to soak up the ambience – slightly tattered but exactly what you’d imagine a 100+ year old Viennese cafe to look like – lots of old pictures on the walls, velvet upholstery – very cool. The food was good and the portions reasonably large but the service was a bit indifferent.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to grab our backs and then set out for Westbahnhof train station (about 15 minutes’ walk from our hotel) to catch our train. Good thing we got there early. Looking at the departure board we noticed our train was conspicuously absent… that would be because we were at the wrong train station. Working from information on http://www.seat61.com, a usually rock solid and ultra-reliable source for information about train travel anywhere in the world, I thought the train would be leaving from Westbahnhof… It was actually leaving from Meidling (the same station we’d arrived at earlier) and it was now 11:20… Fortunately, Vienna has a very effective subway system and we were able to grab a U6 train heading for Meidling which got us there with plenty of time to spare. A good reminder to always, always check your train ticket before you arrive at the station. Now all we had to do was decipher the tickets to see what seat were assigned… Eventually we were able to figure out that “fenster” meant window and “gang” meant aisle and those were probably our seat numbers.

We loaded the train without incident (albeit with the usual mass confusion that seems to go along with mass boardings of trains – everyone trying to stuff their luggage in the overhead racks, people confused about their seats, etc). We found our seats with no trouble and didn’t have to kick anyone out so it seemed we’d deciphered our tickets correctly. We settled in for the 2.5hr trip. This was one of the new “bullet” style Railjet train so it wasn’t quite as spacious as the older style train we’d taken from Prague to Vienna but was still pretty swanky.

At one of the stops in Hungary (I can’t remember exactly which one) we took on a bunch more passengers than there were seats so people were sitting in the aisles, in the connections between train cars, etc. It was quite comical. And really crowded. Most of the additional passengers seemed pretty accustomed to the whole thing so it must be a pretty usual practice on busy routes.

Arriving in Budapest exactly on time, we piled off the train and went looking for a bank machine (none to be found) and tickets for the subway. Turns out their ticket machines were down so we needed to go to the central ticket office and take a number and wait… Eventually, our turn came and we bought our tickets from the very helpful staff (all of whom spoke excellent English) and made our way to the red line – buried deep beneath the city – we must have descended more than 100′ on a very impressive (and steep) escalator. From there it was just a couple of stops to Deak Ferenc – our stop – where we piled off the train and made the trek (helped by more escalators) back into the sunlight. Emerging into the sunlight and crowds, we asked the first person we saw for directions to “Regiposta Utca” and were met with a complete blank stare… Fortunately her co-worker was able to help and pointed us (literally) in the direction we needed to go. Our apartment in Budapest is next door to the McDonald’s and above a store called “Reserve” so it was pretty easy to find once we were in the right area.

Our landlord had sent detailed instructions as to how to get into the apartment… unfortunately they weren’t entirely accurate (ie. there was no intercom button for “porter” so we had to push a few random buttons hoping someone would let us in… eventually someone did) but once we were in, everything was ready for us and the apartment was perfect – 1 bedroom, queen bed and a futon for Caitlin, small kitchenette, washing machine (no dryer but it’s hot enough that everything will dry) – the only downside is that sour sewer smell we’ve encountered in a number of apartments we’ve rented in Europe. It must have something to do with being used on an intermittent basis… In any case, it’s more of an annoyance (it’s a pretty funky smell) than a deal breaker.

After dumping our packs, we kind of hung around the apartment for a bit trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Eventually we settled on going out to get something to eat, just wandering around for a bit and then taking the night bus tour of Budapest. We grabbed some goulash soup (looks and smells like vegetable beef soup but tastes fantastic) and drinks at a pub just down the street from our apartment (cheaper than Vienna but still expensive – we’ll be eating off the main tourist strip while we’re here that’s for sure. It’s nice to be part of the action and close to everything but you pay for the privilege!

Heading over to the pickup point for the night tour (Erzsébet Square) we passed by a number of high-end hotels and saw a pretty big crowd queuing up outside one of them… There seemed to some celebrity in the hotel and people were pretty excited… We found out later that everyone was hoping to get a glimpse of the Formula 1 drivers (there is a Formula 1 race just outside Budapest on Saturday). I guess that explains the Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s we’d seen thundering down the street a few minutes earlier (couldn’t figure out why someone was driving a car that could go that fast on a tiny side street where they couldn’t take it out of first gear).

By this point, we were also realizing that Friday night in Budapest is definitely party night. The square was literally packed with people picnicking (translation: getting loaded while sitting on a blanket in the public square), the party buses and cycle-bars were full and the crowds were pretty huge in the touristy areas. Budapest seems to live up to its reputation as a major party destination.

The night tour was excellent. It took a fair bit of time just to get out of the tourist area because of traffic (at 9 o’clock at night!) but after that we took in some of the main sites and important streets on the Pest side of the Danube (the side we’re staying on) then crossed over to the Buda side and took in some of the main sites over there. The tour also stopped at the Citadel overlooking Budapest to give people time to take some pictures then headed back to Pest and dropped us off where we started. It was now 11 o’clock and the square was even more packed and the streets back to our apartment even more jammed with people but it was bedtime for us so we headed back to the apartment, strategically placed the two working fans (unfortunately the nice big one was missing the fan blades… and the other used the wrong type of plug…) to provide some relief from the heat, put in a load of laundry and sacked out for the night. We might also have stopped at McDonald’s for some chicken nuggets before heading back to the apartment but don’t tell anyone 🙂

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