Last summer Tom and I cycled our way around Europe, giving ourselves a month to cycle 3000 kilometres through eight of its’ countries. It was one of the best trips of my life so far and solidified the fact in my head that I love cycling and cycle-touring. However because we had limited time that meant we were having to push large mileage in order to meet our targets. We were able to experience a lot but certainly not as much as we would have had we taken more time and not had the daily pressures of meeting a distance goal. That posed the question, ‘How can you see Europe in a short fixed time period?’ Fortunately InterRail provided me with the solution.
InterRail was set up in 1972, the idea is you buy a pass and this lets you ride on trains all over Europe. Nowadays there are many passes available from single country to one month ‘Global Passes’, these let you travel to any country InterRail covers. InterRail spans most of Europe and is not limited solely to trains; you can also use your pass on some buses and ferries. InterRail is just for European residents and your pass will not let you travel on trains in your home country. For travellers not from Europe there is the Eurail pass which is pretty much the same. If you want more information about either InterRail or Eurail please ask me or check out their websites as they are really informative.
As I have just finished my A-levels and will be going to university in October this summer, my friends and I will be going to different institutions and our separate ways. Although we will still keep in contact and see each other, we felt it would be right and fitting to go on a final holiday together. InterRailing it was. We decided to go for two weeks in July and to get the ‘5 travel days within 10 days InterRail Global Pass’. We would fly to Budapest and begin our journey from there. We would snake our way north on trains through Vienna, Prague, Berlin and finishing in Amsterdam from where we could get a cheap flight back home to Manchester 16 days after beginning. Our plan was finalised and then our journey began.
We touched down in Budapest late, over three hours late, somehow the airline had managed to lose our plane. We weren’t complaining too much though because it meant we could watch Andy Murray win Wimbledon! However it was approaching 11pm and we were wary about check-in still being open at our hostel. Fortunately the guys at baggage control could obviously read our minds and sent our bags off first. Four out of the first ten bags were ours and before we knew it we were in a taxi speeding our way towards central Budapest. We were literally speeding. Somehow we had jumped in the taxi with a maniac. It was like being in a game of Need for Speed. In his eyes the 50kph speed limit was non existent. We blitzed down the road at speeds touching 140kph, this would not have been scary had we not been on a single carriageway, all the while dodging in and out of oncoming traffic. Headlights were flashing and there were some very close shaves, I mean very close. By some miracle we made it to the Wombats hostel alive, albeit with our lives considerably shorter. Despite his crazy driving, he was a very nice smiley man however it would have been slightly nicer had he not turned his head to talk to us while doing 135kph on the wrong side of the road with oncoming traffic.
We made it to check-in, only 40 minutes after our plane landed, if only things were that speedy in the UK. Our room was nice, although we did accidentally wake up two jet-lagged American guys when we opened the door. We thought we should let them sleep so went down to have our welcome beers then we headed out to see what the city had to offer on a Sunday night.
It turned out not that much was going on. We just walked around for about an hour and got our bearings. Tomorrow the holiday would properly begin.
For some odd reason we rose bright and early the next morning. Rather than just lie there like Alexander and Graham (the Americans) we decided to get up and go see the city. So we bid farewell to them and headed down to breakfast. For 1000 Forint (about £3) you could get an all you can eat cooked or continental breakfast. Oh and it was good! We brimmed our stomachs and took a few bread rolls for lunch. We then headed out to our first stop of the day. The Basilica.
After traipsing around the Basilica we continued our self-guided walking tour of Budapest. Heading to the Opera House, Museum of Terror (which was closed), and eventually meandering our way to the Parliament buildings. As we were only 18 and EU citizens that meant it only cost us around £2.50 to get a guided tour of Parliament. We decided to break the bank and go for it. It was well worth the outlay. We had a very detailed and historic tour around Parliament which gave us further insight into Budapest’s, and Hungary’s, tumultuous past. After this we walked on to the impressive small park of Szabadság tér.
No, we still hadn’t had enough culture for the day. Next it was time to cross the Danube, leave Pest and enter Buda. Our target was the castle and whatever caught our eye along the way. By this time our feet were certainly beginning to tire. We had trudged for miles. Fortunately we were rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view over Budapest. Definitely worth the big hike up the hill to the castle! The castle itself is surrounded by many baroque buildings, which dominate this area of Buda. We all agreed that Budapest was one of the most beautiful cities we had ever visited, archaic and steeped in history.
After a night sampling the beer Hungary had to offer, as well as its nightlife, naturally we had a lie in. We felt it was just deserved, due to the large amount of walking we had done the previous day. First stop for today was the museum of terror. Fortunately today it was open so we didn’t walk all the way there for nothing like yesterday. Again we managed to gain a cheaper entry fee as we are EU students. The museum was truly shocking, it revealed –in detail- the horrific sufferings of the Hungarian people, their battles through the Second World War and through communism. It was a very poignant museum, situated in the old headquarters of the secret police you can walk around the torture chambers in the basement. Each room had an English information leaflet so we could still understand what we were looking at even though we don’t speak Hungarian. As you enter you walk into a large atrium which goes right up to the top floor, on the walls of this atrium are the faces of all the victims who met their death in the building. It left us with a slight chill. Despite the grim nature of the museum we all agreed it was fantastic and a must see in Budapest.
After this we walked along Andrassy Way towards Heroes Square. Yet another impressive sight of Budapest. However as Budapest isn’t the most touristy of destinations it wasn’t packed with hoards of people. We found this great and we thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the city. There obviously were quite a few tourists but little compared to other major European cities. This I felt gave Budapest a more personal and welcoming atmosphere. Every local was friendly and happy to help; it was simply a wonderful city to visit.
We continued walking, which seemed to have become the trend for our visit to Budapest, into the city park. Our destination was the Széchenyi thermal baths. These had been on our list of things to do in Budapest from day one. They did not disappoint. With over thirty different pools, inside and out, all of them thermally heated this was the ideal place to have a relax and a chill. The sun was shining, the temperature was nice and warm in the low thirties, perfect. Do not leave Budapest until you have visited these spa pools!
We relaxed for hours until our hands and feet were so wrinkled we decided it was definitely time to call it a day. Feeling increasingly refreshed we were now ready to leave Budapest and get our first train. We stopped off for a cheap dinner on the walk back to Wombats Hostel; then began the process of packing.
Our train to Vienna was at 11am the following day; we had booked our seats and were all ready to properly start our InterRailing journey, finally. Budapest had surpassed my expectations completely, it is a truly amazing city and one I am sure I will return to. There is just so much to do, three days are barely enough. Anyway on to the next one, next stop Austria!