Budapest reminiscences continue (more or less) today. I left off yesterday with us at the Deák Ferenc tér Metro stop, having purchased our seven-day travel passes (even though we had just five days left on our trip, counting this national holiday on Sunday, October 23, 2011). So we continue…
Then it was time to reascend to the surface and visit (Janetʼs wish) the cheese festival, which in the drizzle of early afternoon was closing up. So all we did was wander among the booths, smelling food, watching people, perusing some Hungarian handicrafts, and making silly Wallace-and-Gromit “cheese” gestures at each other. Perhaps another half hour passed. Then we crossed our busy avenue over to the big synagogue (using my map, I had figured out what it was), but it was closed for the holiday (we had vaguely hoped it was open, having been closed as usual for the Sabbath the day before).* We decided to return there tomorrow, probably. So we wandered off on side streets, desultorily visiting the Jewish Quarter in the slightly increasing drizzle/mist/haze of moisture.
The thing I havenʼt sufficiently emphasized about our Sunday/national holiday experience was the slightly (very) menacing fact of growing crowds, police presence — tape, military-like cops, vehicles — and physical preparations for rallies. The vague menace arose from our hotel desk staffʼs apparent concern about the then-upcoming “demonstrations” about which we were not supposed to worry, but from which their list of alternative activities was designed to keep us away. Elizabeth Square, a very nice block-long and block-wide park, had actual construction ongoing (carpenters pounding and powered saws squealing — building a platform, possibly a stage), and there was a steady flow of hundreds (and hundreds) of people down one or two (relatively minor) streets toward the river. We could tell that something was going to happen — actually, as it turned out, several somethings. But we didnʼt learn that until later. We didnʼt personally experience anything about demonstrations or rallies until later.
Once we finished our tour of rundown grey buildings on curving, narrow trafficless streets, nonetheless parked with Euro cars from end to end, both sides, driverʼs side wheels up on the sidewalk (which turned out once we consulted a map later on, to be the Jewish Quarter), we wandered southwards, eventually arriving by the Great Market Hall — a location we ended up at often over our week in town. My ignorant semi-study of guidebook transit maps (and reading) indicated that the Number 2 Tram along the Pest side of the Danube was scenic, so we hopped aboard a northbound one at Liberty Bridge.
I rather enjoy public transit. Janet is less sure about buses and now, after Budapest, trams. Admittedly, I have a record of getting us… not exactly lost but far from known regions, a history extending back to the end-of-the-line debacle in Amsterdam in 1983 (we did get back; we just had to get off and wait for the tram to turn around and the driver to take a break), through an extended bus ride into the wilds of East London, possibly beyond the zones permitted on our TravelCards (but we did hop off after questioning the conductor and did get on a returning bus right back to Oxford Street; and the areas we were “lost” in were really just working class, not slums at all — regardless how paranoid we were feeling or oddly other passengers were eyeing us), through the incident I am about to relate in Budapest, to an extensive bus ride, intended as a brief escape from the rain, in Chicago over New Years (which also involved reaching the turnaround point on the loop, where the driver parked and took a fifteen-minute — Janet says half-hour — break). The problem is that bus and tram routes are generally shown only partially on maps, particularly in tourist guidebooks, but even on some official transit maps (not that we had any in Budapest and only Michigan Avenue tourista ones at New Years), so figuring where a particular bus or tram might go can become an issue of mere guesswork.
My beloved does, on the other hand, like subways, in general. And I think the London Underground and its much imitated schematic colored map is one reason. For most subways, Metros, the Underground, the Tube you can figure pretty easily where your line is going and even pretty exactly what stops to expect (Chicagoʼs Red Line proved at New Years to be a partial exception to my rule — no posted route map in the car, just advertising).
But Budapest is our topic. We got aboard the #2 heading (if I can even remember at this remove, nearly three full months after the fact) north toward Parliament. Our vehicle/car was fairly crowded (I know we had to stand — we invariably did on trams), and the view was not very impressive, especially out over the gray river on this gray and drizzly day. We could easily see Buda over there, but rushing by as we moved along. The Pest side was mostly just walls and barriers between us and stuff (like Parliament), although we did get a good, quick glimpse of the Gresham Palace and Roosevelt tér race past. I donʼt remember how far north we went, maybe to Margit híd (bridge by Margaret Island), maybe farther, then back to the south.
This southward trip was the first taste of misadventure, as somewhere south of Szabadság híd,** at what must be the Közvágóhíd terminus, in territory that seemed unfriendly beyond unfamiliar (our typical tourist paranoia arising from going beyond the regular tourist regions, just the same as the uncomfortable London double-decker tour to East London in 2001 and just the same as our worst moments later in that holiday Sunday afternoon), having to wait and catch a different set of cars to go back northwards, we both started getting nervous. Reaching the end of the line was surprising.
Possibly, the gloomy overcast and pall of threatened “demonstrations” infected our moods, but we both felt out of place. Honestly, a (very) little scared.
We got off our dead-ended tram and wandered across tracks to two other trams that seemed to be headed, eventually, back to the north and the city center. But we couldn’t easily decide which one to get on. Hesitation and fretting led to us following a few other travelers (local citizens) onto one of the cars, which after another five or ten minutes did start back up the same way we had come down. Janet wanted off once we reached Elizabeth Bridge/Vörosmarty tér, and with my now aged notion of visiting outside one of the baths, I said we should catch a 47 or 49 tram across the Danube to Buda and see the Gellért Baths.
We caught the tram easily enough, but baths we did not see, although we got to see what The Lovely One considered altogether too much of the city/suburbs south of Buda. Probably ten or twelve stops too much.
But that will have to be tomorrowʼs tale (or sometime). Weʼre well over a thousand words today.
* (Perhaps, knowing something about the paired left- and [more importantly, probably] right-wing demonstrations scheduled for the holiday, and the proximity — of the just-then-arriving right-wingers in Erszébet tér — to the synagogue, they had wisely shut up shop this Sunday. Some security was still in evidence, too.)
** (Freedom Bridge on Vámház körút, which led around through Kálvin tér becoming first Múzeum körút, then Károly körút — the big, wide street we had encountered looking for Deák tér and the metro ticket booth — the route I think we had followed more or less until we picked up the northbound No. 2)