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Saturday, March 7

A Grand Day Out

We had breakfast in the hotel which was expensive but pleasant. It was also an excuse to get ourselves out of bed early. This gave us plenty of time to go and explore Budapest, which we attacked with gusto.

However, owing to a miscalculation on my part, we ended up diagonally opposite where I was expecting us to be. I had no idea that there are two bridges that connect with the Island we were staying on – Margaret Island (or Margitsziget). As a result, I had the impression that something was up, and it was. We were on Arpad Bridge (Arpad Hid) not Margaret Bridge (Margit Hid). This became clearer when I Google Mapped us and the phone, with a new found GPS accuracy of 50 meters (normally I get 2000 meters “accuracy”) basically said “you’re wrong”.

Still, we learned quickly how to piss off the kiosk man with a hugely high-value note offered against the purchase of some very cheap stuff, and then we learned how to use the train and maps, and the tram.

Visits and highlights of the day included looking around St Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan for Hungarian speakers out there) and the Opera House. We also fulfilled one of my ambitions and went up a special tram-car arrangement near the National Gallery where the potential energy of one car at the top of the hill is exchanged with another at the bottom of the hill to create an energy efficient transfer. What excited me as much as this was discussing it with my girlfriend. The pleasure of having intelligent company is great. Note: she explained the physics to me. Cool.

For dinner, we took a recommendation from a guide book and booked a taxi to take us to the restaurant in question. I’d tried to ring them but was getting no luck with the phone call. It felt like the person on the other end wasn’t being helpful – perhaps a bad line. It turned out that the restaurant was closed. Not cool for a Saturday night. I’ve no idea why. Luckily, though, we’d bonded with the taxi driver who, by chance, happened to have lived in England, in Reading, about 10 minutes from my house. So we chatted about the local area and we’re now mates – though I’ll probably never see him again.

Faced with empty stomachs, we asked him for a recommended restaurant. He took us somewhere nice and expensive. I could tell by the uniform of the doorman that this would not be cheap. Then I remembered that I was bringing my girlfriend to a far-away city for a nice weekend together and that I didn’t care if it was cheap or not, so long as we enjoyed it.

We ordered from the menu in where it was indicated by Hungarian flags to be more typically Hungarian fayre. The wine was also from a Hungarian grape. We listened to a Hungarian restaurant band play music and it was very pleasant. At one stage, the violinist came close to our table and played some poignant music directly in our faces – to him it was poignant, to us it was the music from the Stella Artois advert – so be it. In the end we allowed them to sell us their CD because we’re obedient tourists.

It was, indeed, a lovely end to a good day’s exploring. I can’t think of a better way to unwind after what had been a pretty tough week preceding.


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