October 20, 2006

The strange sights of Budapest

We came across more than a couple of strange sights on this visit to Budapest.

On Saturday morning, as we started to cross one of the bridges we spotted some people repainting the yellow lines on the road. However, they were doing it so inefficiently I could only imagine that it was some sort of community service punishment. The person painting the line was using a paintbrush that was only about a fifth of the size of the line required, and then a person was shuffling along after them with a bottle of turps and a rag to make sure the edges were straight. At the rate they were going it was going to take a long time to complete.

Then, whilst we were waiting for our train on Sunday morning we were entertained as we sat having our coffee by a couple of the most inept workmen I have ever laid eyes upon. It could have been something out of Laurel and Hardy. They were trying to replace the light bulbs in a chandelier type affair, but to do so they were using an ungainly ladder that they could barely carry. It was wobbling all over the place and nearly took out a couple of windows before they got it in the right place. They had blocked the entrance to the toilets with the ladder, and then managed to drop and smash some of the light bulbs they were supposed to be installing. It was a complete carry on.

The scariest sight though was an old woman we passed on our way back to the EYC on Saturday night. As we walked by her she was emitting the most bizarre barely human electronic buzzing voice, like someone suffering some kind of alien possession. What she was doing was clutching a radio to her ear, which was playing some kind of mass, and she was talking along with the service, but the radio wasn’t tuned very well, so the sound of the priest and the congregation was hideously distorted. It was rather freaky to say the least.

October 20, 2006

"Delly poo" and "Kaletty poo"

Keletipu One sad thing that happened on our last morning in Budapest was that we were finally disproved in our theory of how to pronounce the names of the trains stations in the city.

We'd always pronounced Deli pu and Keleti pu as "Delly poo" and "Kaletty poo", but when we got in our taxi the driver asked "Kaletty pie?".

So no more toilet related humour for us, although we still find the idea of a train station called "Delly pie" quite funny.

We'd anticipated the cross town traffic in Budapest would, as usual, be formidable, but actually it was really quiet, and so we ended up in the station over an hour before our Sunday morning train was due to depart.

We stopped for coffee in quite the most opulant railway cafe I've ever visited - there was even a white grand piano on a raised platform in the middle of the dining room!

October 19, 2006

European Youth Centre in Budapest

Eyc Whilst we were staying in Budapest we stopped at the "European Youth Centre", which was on the opposite side of town to where we had stayed previously.

I had expected it to be quite a grim run-down hostel type building, but it actually transpired to be a very modern building, with great conference facilities and well appointed rooms. They were set up for students to study in, so had proper desks in a working area.

The only thing letting the place down was that the getting anything done was an utter shambles. Organisational skills was obviously not a requirement on their job descriptions.

When we arrived there was some confusion because I had initally only been booked in as an individual, so once I had gone through the rigmarole of registering and getting my meal tickets, they turned to Claire as if she was a completely separate guest.

Chaos ensued. We tried to explain that we were married, so it was OK for us to be in the same bed, or OK for us not to be in the same bed. Whatever. The problem was "my" room only had one set of sheets, so then there was a performance to get in touch with the housekeeper to get extra bedding.

The meal ticket system was another debacle. You were given these blue slips of paper with stamped dates on them, which you had to exchange for your food in the restaurant. Except that in the restaurant you simply chucked them into a little basket, and nobody appeared to check them. You were billed for the meals as part of your overall bill regardless of whether you had actually eaten them or not, so the whole paper ticket thing seemed like a completely redundent waste of time.

Budapestfromeyc On the plus side though, the rooms had a really fast wifi network connection, and the views from the fourth floor out across the city of Budapest were really something.

But even the simple act of arranging to leave was problematic. On the Saturday night we asked reception to book us a taxi for 8am the next morning. No problem. But then as we left the hall we noticed that our room number was up on a notice board next to a time indicating when people were getting their airport minibus pick-up. We didn’t say anything and went upstairs.

A little while later, whilst I was up on the roof trying to take pictures of the city at night, Claire got a phone call from reception checking that she was aware that we had booked both a taxi to the station and a shuttle to the airport.

Claire said that we had never booked a shuttle to the airport, as we had not arrived, nor would we be departing, by aeroplane. Claire said someone else must have booked it and given the worng number by mistake, so not to cancel it as it was probably just an error. She clearly thought Claire was lying though and angrily said to her "So you definitely don’t want the shuttle anymore?". Again Claire tried to explain that we had always been travelling by train, but that clearly someone had booked an airport minibus for that time.

When we went down the next morning the airport shuttle for our room had been pointedly crossed off the list – we just hope the people who wanted it didn’t end up missing their flight.

"We're in a cage. With birds of prey"

Zoobirdofprey "We're in a cage. With birds of prey" might sound like something lifted from the script of I'm Alan Partridge, but it was actually a genuine exclamation from Claire during our visit to Budapest's rather odd zoo.

It really was one of the most curious places we've visited together. At one point you followed a trail which led you through several enclosures with geese and ducks. You then had to cross a little lake on a rather bouncy rope bridge, and then go through a metal gate into a narrow passage between some rocks. That was when we noticed we were now in the enclosure with the eagle and the vulture and some lumps of dead meat for them to feed on. I don't know whether they had their wings clipped or their claws trimmed, but they still looked like they could have your eyes out if they wished.

The zoo was a real mixture of interesting modern ways to display animals, and grotty run-down bits. The penguin and seal enclosure included a tunnel where you could watch them underwater behind the glass, and the larger monkeys were kept in a building where they seemed to have plenty of things to swing on and play with.

Zoopetting Some bits seemed really poorly kept. There was a petting zoo area, and we initially rushed in excited by the sight of some enthusiastic young prokers, but then recoiled in horror from what must be Europe's smelliest public pig enclosure. Despite their pleading and whining, we couldn't bear to touch the dirty little piggies. In another part of the petting zoo must have been Europe's hardiest goats, as they were absolutely swamped with children - we saw one child wrestling a goat by the horns, whislt another was being chased by a goat desperate to snack on their trailling scarf.

Another strange aspect of the zoo was that people were able to buy nuts and pellets and feed the animals - and I don't just mean the goats in the petting zoo. The camels and giraffes were quite happily standing at the edges of their enclosures, mouths agape, waiting for people to feed them. The giraffe had its tongue poking through the fence so that people could place food pellets on it.


The most unlikely sight though was two hippos, with their heads sticking out of their water, mouths agape for kids to throw food at them. It was literally like watching the "Hungry Hippos" game in real life - although I don't think I would have let any children in my charge that close to a hippopotamus, which despite their appearance are actually quite quick and dangerous in the wild.


Architecturally the highlight of the visit was the elephant house. This art deco building has been lovingly restored, and boasts some great carvings of animals including dinosaurs, and an incredibly decorated dome with an elephant motif. The building was so impressive that we barely even noticed that there were some elephants in it.


We spent a good two hours there, and with a special discount for paying cash, it worked out really cheap at just 1600HUF for the two of us – around €6.

A lemon tree of our own

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