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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Four Days in Budapest P2

Four Days in Budapest 2

Here’s a good trivia quiz question for you; the River Danube flows through four different capitol cities. Answer is Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. I’m sitting on the banks of the Danube next morning nearby the Elisabeth Bridge called locally; the Erzsébet, contemplating this. Same name as my hotel as it happens so that was easy to remember. The third newest bridge connecting Buda and Pest the Erzsébet is situated at the narrowest part of the Danube in the Budapest area.
‘The original Erzsébet, along with many other bridges all over the country, was blown up at the end of World War II by retreating Wehrmacht sappers. This is the only bridge in Budapest which could not be rebuilt in its original form.’ So says my handbook.

Opposite me was a huge rock face with what they called the Citadel, a monument, sitting on top and overlooking the city. Turns out the Germans commandeered this place at the end of the Second World War and with their guns, blew Budapest apart, including all the bridges. Hard to believe looking at it from my vantage point. I was relaxing in the early morning sun, watching the world, or the boats go by when an elderly gentleman on a Zimmer frame came shuffling along. He saw me sitting on the stone steps and decided he wanted a chat. He was German as it happened. I felt like saying “so it was your mob that blew these bridges up!” but I refrained. The thought made me smile though, I could feel it, I’m always amused by my own wit! He was a nice old chap and we chuntered away in our different languages for about twenty minutes before he continued on his way. Neither of us could make head nor tail of what we were talking about for half of the time but it was nice sharing pleasantries.

The point of this sightseeing half hour was to check out the cruises. Plenty of them to choose from, I made a note of one which sailed for about an hour and a half up around Margaret Island to the north which departed around one o’clock. Sorted I then walked across the Erzsébet to Buda to explore the other half of the city. Ambling along the other side of the river, careful to avoid getting run down by the trams, “What? no elf’ and safety?” You have to keep your mince pies open here, I discovered statues and memorials everywhere. They’re certainly fond of them that’s clear. Buda appeared to be very quiet compared to its neighbour. Infinitely more greener and relaxed. After studying and taking a photograph of a war memorial commemorating Hungarian soldiers in the Second World War I took time out  for a coffee and a cake at a wonderful eatery overlooking the Danube. 

I then headed for the Chain Bridge, one of the most famous apparently, to cross back over to Pest. A plaque on one of the pillars explained a few facts about its construction. To my surprise I found it was designed by an English engineer, William Tierney Clark. The first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary was opened in 1849. Supervised locally by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, it was designed in sections and shipped from the United Kingdom to Hungary for final construction. The bridge was blown up on 18 January 1945 by the retreating Germans during the Siege, with only the towers remaining. It was rebuilt, and reopened in 1949. 
Fascinating stuff. I pondered; How did Tierney and Clark hear about the proposed construction of a bridge in Budapest back in the 1800s though? I mean, there was no emails, telephone or whatever to correspond. Maybe they used pigeon! Must have been a long job was my consensus.

It was a lovely day for a cruise, sitting on top of the boat taking in all the sights on either side of the river, past the Parliament Buildings which looked magnificent, as did the Presidents Palace on the Buda side.
Only irritating thing about this trip was a family of obese proportions taking residence in the seats right in front of me. Not only did they impair my view, having to shuffle my rear end along the bench intermittently but why did these people have to talk and laugh so loud? Bellowing in between chomping Mars Bars and cackling. Mirth was inherent throughout the trip, annoying to say the least. The boat circled Margaret Island a couple of miles up the Danube. Looked nice and isolated, green, quiet, apparently there is a hotel there so this could be one for the future I surmised. It is surprising the number of bridges there are in Budapest, reminded me of the Thames. This really is a lovely city. It was a nice way to relax for a while, messin’ about on the river, apart from the jolly monsters putting a spoiler on it!

Anyway, onwards and upwards, the magnificent Parliament Buildings were awaiting, where students staged a demonstration which ignited the fuse to the 1956 revolution. 
Guards were positioned around the building and square, mostly young recruits or perhaps national servicemen, armed and looking serious, or was that boredom? They seemed friendly enough though, tourists were having a photo taken with some of them so I approached one to try and engage some conversation. He looked a bit surprised but nonetheless.
“Morning” I said to him. He didn’t answer but I continued. In situations like this, even though I know where I am and what’s going on, I act the dumb tourist.
“This the Parliament Square?” I asked, knowing full well it was. Still, no answer. Thing was, I wanted to learn more about 1956 and all that and thought that a first hand account or something from a native tongue might be more than interesting. Like, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. 
Finally, the soldier opened his mouth; “sorry, speak little English” he murmured. Well that was a start. Figuring he must have learnt something about the Uprising at school I asked him; “This is where the students rioted, yes?” Blank.
“1956? Parliament Square? the Revolution?” Clearly this was going over his head. I sighed and gave up with a parting shot; “Christ, I know more about your country than what you do!”
He looked at me in puzzlement.

There’s something awe inspiring about visiting these places of historical interest. Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament Building is where the students of the University of Technology in Budapest gathered to demonstrate. Whether the guardsman knew this or not! They demanded the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Hungary, for free elections, liberty of speech and press and the abolishment of surrendering of goods. It followed the toppling of the Stalin statue in Heroes Square, with thousands then demonstrating on the streets and finally to the Parliament Square. 

Tension reached its peak with the headquarters of the Hungarian Radio becoming the focal point. Shooting started and by night the freedom fighters seized control of the Radio building and other important parts of Budapest. The leadership of the AVH (Hungarian State Police) and the intervening Russian army decided to keep under terror the people of Budapest. Russian tanks appeared on the streets.

At Kossuth Square the Russians turned their fire on the demonstrators who sought refuge in the ministry of agriculture building opposite but were denied admission. Around 800 people died. There are balls on the wall in the original  holes of the bullets. Viewing these is quite chilling. I looked around, trying to picture the scene. People running, cowering, hails of bullets from the Russians and the AVH flying everywhere. It must have been terrifying.

‘The violence continued, as revolutionary militias sprung up against the Soviet Army and the ÁVH. The 3,000 strong resistance fought Soviet tanks using Molotov cocktails and machine-pistols. Though the preponderance of the Soviets was immense they suffered heavy losses, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to a garrison in the Hungarian countryside. For a time, the Soviet leadership was unsure how to respond to developments, but decided to intervene to prevent Hungary from breaking away from the Soviet bloc. On 4 November reinforcements of more than 150,000 troops and 2,500 tanks entered the country from the Soviet Union. Nearly 20,000 Hungarians were killed resisting the intervention, while an additional 21,600 were imprisoned afterwards for political reasons. Some 13,000 were interned and 230 brought to trial and executed. Prime Minister Imre Nagy was captured, and was executed in 1958. Because borders had briefly been open, nearly a quarter of a million people had fled the country by the time the revolution was suppressed.’ - Taken from the Net.

The massacre on Kossuth is commemorated with a monument and memorial in the southern ventilation tunnel to the unarmed victims who gathered here with videos, photos, candles and memorabilia. 

This was where it all began. 

Some people are obviously fed up with all the monuments!
My next move was to Freedom Square which was a ten minute walk away. Checking my guide book, it told me; ‘Freedom Square is a huge and lively green space in the middle of downtown Budapest, near the Basilica of St. Istvan, the Parliament Building, the memorial to Imre Nagy, and the Danube. 
The centre of the square is filled with green grass, trees, a playground, and a fountain designed for children to run through on hot days, and so the square is a busy and lively place full of kids, parents, and dogs, and has a happy vibe. In the exact centre is a cafe that serves excellent espresso drinks and light snacks.’
Very nice it is too. 

One of the few remaining Soviet monuments in Budapest and occupying a prominent place in the middle of Freedom Square, honours the soldiers of the Red Army who died in 1944-1945 during the liberation of Budapest. 
The monument consists of an obelisk with a crest showing the Communist hammer and sickle. At the bottom is a bas-relief of Soviet soldiers engaged in battle. The obelisk is crowned with a five-pointed Communist star. 

The square is also in front of the American Embassy with a statue of former President Ronald Reagan standing proud, honouring him for his role in helping to end communism in the 1980s.
Time was now getting short and I decided to press on and make my way to the House of Terror on Andrassy Avenue.

You are welcomed into the museum, which was the headquarters of the Hungarian Secret Police by the unnerving sight of a imposing Russian tank. Being up close to this monster brings it home to what it must have been like in those dark days more than what the photographs do. 
Thousands were executed here by the dreaded Secret Police and viewing the incarceration rooms with their grizzly artefacts is not a pleasant sight. The walls are adorned with photographs depicting the horrors, there are cabinets with weapons on display, interrogation rooms and even a courtroom where inmates were given their ‘trial’. Not a very nice place this at all. Apparently there’s  Hungarians living to this day who remember the terror of the hated AVH.

Time had once again caught up with me and I headed back to my hotel to freshen up and to get organised for the early start back home next morning before going out for something to eat and drink. 
I had seen a Hard Rock Cafe during the day and went there to enjoy some good music on the videos and to look at the guitars and photos on the walls, as well as another ‘Hungarian’ style cheeseburger. 
Had a nice chat with the friendly barmen too, they seemed intrigued that I was on my own, also I guess that I was English. Thats one thing I did notice in Budapest. There wasn’t that many English speaking people around. Did surprise me a bit because everywhere you go you can hear our native tongue. 

All in all the trip to Budapest was enlightening, loved it. Beautiful city, almost a hidden gem I’d venture. There were a few places I didn’t have time to visit such as Monument Park on the Buda side and a Railway Museum which is supposed to be well worth a visit. According to my trusty handbook.
I’ll be back.

How the Evening Telegraph reported this. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Four days in Budapest

Four days in Budapest.
The River Danube
Ive had a fascination with Hungary ever since I was a kid, probably because of Ferenc Puskas the great Hungarian footballer of the 1950s. The Galloping Major they called him and I did have the privilege of seeing him play at Wembley in 1962 for a Rest of the World team against England. Aged 12 you can imagine what that felt like for a football mad boy as I was. Wasn't only Puskas either, Eusabio, Jim Baxter, Denis Law, Lev Yashin, Karl Shnellinger..then there was Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves. I digress…

Other reasons for going was to explore and discover the history of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Never been one for history in the sense of Henry 8th, The Tudors, whatever else happened in the 15th century and before. Doesn’t interest me at all. Modern history does, particularly if it’s in our lifetime. All I knew about the Uprising as a kid was that Puskas and half of that great football team fled the country amongst thousands of others to escape the invading Russians. Boxer Joe Bugner was another one. A documentary many years later on BBC4 reignited and fuelled my desire to visit this great capitol city, to find out more and to see how Budapest has been rebuilt and what is left from that terrible time in 1956.

For the uninitiated I found a summary of the events on the net;
‘In October that year the people of Hungary stood up against the oppression of Soviet rule. The uprising almost succeeded but the Soviet Union, in a full show of force, re-established its control and the revolution was quashed as quickly as it had erupted.
During the Second World War, Hungary was occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany in March 1944, being liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army on 4 April 1945. Backed by Joseph Stalin, Hungary’s fledging communists, led by Mátyás Rákosi the self-styled ‘Stalin’s best pupil’, bullied their way into power. Having destroyed all political opponents the communists consolidated their grip on power and in 1949 Hungary had officially become the People’s Republic of Hungary with Rákosi at its helm.

In just a matter of years, over 300,000 Hungarians were purged under Rákosi’s rule: exiled, imprisoned or killed. Stalin would have thoroughly approved of Rákosi’s hardline tactics but within four months of the Soviet leader’s death, on 5 March 1953, the Soviet politburo replaced Rákosi with Imre Nagy, whose softer approach gained him popular consent. Life improved, goods appeared in shops, and political prisoners were released. But Nagy became too popular for the Kremlin’s liking and in April 1955 Rákosi was put back in charge and the oppression started anew. But Nagy remained a hero.
A year after his re-appointment, Rákosi was replaced by fellow hard-line Stalinist, Erno Gero. (The Kremlin, finally realising how unpopular Rákosi was, told him to resign on grounds of ill health and fly to Moscow for treatment. He did, never to return to his home country. He was not missed). Under Erno Gero, nothing changed – arrests continued, the AVO, the Hungarian secret police, was busier than ever, while discontent simmered and people longed for the return of Imre Nagy.

In June 1953, the Poles demonstrated against Stalinist rule. Soviet tanks went in, many were killed, but then Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, withdrew the tanks and granted the Poles a degree of concession and reform. If the Poles could do it, why couldn’t the Hungarians?
On 23 October 1956, students in Budapest staged a peaceful demonstration, having, the night before, drawn up a list of sixteen demands. Among them, the demand for a new government led by Imre Nagy; that all criminal leaders of the Stalin-Rákosi era be immediately relieved of their duties; general elections by universal and secret ballot to elect a new National Assembly with all political parties participating; for the Russian language to cease being a compulsory subject in Hungarian schools; and for the removal of Soviet troops from Hungarian soil.

The students met at the statue of General Jozsef Bem, a national hero of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution. By the evening of the 23rd, the demonstration had reached 200,000 in number. ‘Russians go home!’ they shouted. Red stars were torn down from buildings. A 30-foot bronze statue of Stalin in the city’s Hero Square, erected five years previously as a gift to the dictator from the Hungarian People, was pulled down, leaving only his boots on the plinth. A delegation of protestors tried to broadcast their demands on national radio, demanding that the radio should belong to the people. The police opened fire and killed several demonstrators. Erno Gero condemned the protest and sent in the troops, but, to his dismay, found that many of his soldiers sided with the demonstrators.
At 2 am, at Gero’s request, the Soviet tanks began arriving. Martial law was imposed. What had began as a peaceful demonstration had turned very quickly into a full scale revolution. The Kremlin responded by putting Imre Nagy back in charge believing that ‘limited concessions’ were necessary to satisfy the Hungarian people. Nagy promised his people reform in return for an end to the violence.

On 28 October, Khrushchev withdrew his troops from Hungary – but only as far as over the border. Hungarians sensed victory. Political parties, long since banned, reformed; new newspapers sprung up, most only a side long, plastered up on shop fronts, trees and street lamps. Hundreds of Hungary’s secret police were lynched – punishment for their years of torture and oppression of the Hungary people. Nagy, riding the wave of optimism, promised open elections and a coalition government. A few days later he went even further – promising Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.

The citizens of Budapest took control of the radio; the state broadcasters were happy to cede control and confessed to having been instruments of the state: ‘We lied by night, we lied by day, we lied on all wavelengths. We, who are before the microphones, are now new men.’
This went much further than Poland; Nagy had gone too far. The rebels hoped and expected support and aid from the West but Britain and France were distracted by the emerging crisis over the Suez Canal and the US by presidential elections. The aid never materialised. Meanwhile, in China, Chairman Mao heckled Khrushchev for being weak and encouraged him to take a firmer line. So Khrushchev, taking advantage of the West’s preoccupations, ordered the tanks back in. They duly reappeared in Hungary on 3 November and entered Budapest the following day. This time, with brutal efficiency, the uprising was crushed.

Nagy appeared on Radio Budapest early on the morning of 4 November as the tanks started their devastating work in the capital:
‘This is Imre Nagy speaking. Today at daybreak Soviet forces started an attack against our capital, obviously with the intention to overthrow the legal Hungarian democratic government. Our troops are still fighting; the Government is still in its place. I notify the people of our country and the entire world of this fact.’
And that was it. Nagy’s voice disappeared – no one ever heard it again. Seconds later, the National Anthem played, not the communist version but the anthem that brought tears to patriotic hearts. A couple hours later, at 8.10, Radio Budapest broadcast its last appeal, ‘Help Hungary… help, help, help,’ before being taken off air.
The ‘entire world’ that Nagy had appealed to, ignored him. Western powers spoke loud words; the US condemned the attack as a ‘monstrous crime’, but did nothing – the risks of venturing into an Eastern European conflict, and the potential for escalation, were too great.
Just after 1 pm on 4 November, Moscow radio announced, ‘The Hungarian counter-revolution has been crushed.’ Nagy sought sanctuary in the Yugoslavian embassy and was replaced by the harder Janos Kadar, who, loyal to Moscow, welcomed the return of Soviet forces to crush the ‘counter-revolutionary threat’. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled across the border into Austria and the West until that escape route was sealed off. Thousands were executed or imprisoned by Kadar’s regime in reprisal.

Imre Nagy, lured out of the embassy by a promise of safe passage to Belgrade, a promise written by Kadar himself, was arrested and taken to Romania. Later, he was smuggled back into Hungary, charged with treason, tried and, on the orders of Kadar, was hung on 16 June 1958. He was buried within the prison yard.’

Sunday April 17th 2016

I’m booked on a Wizzair flight out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport at 14.30. Leaving my car at Carly and Nick’s in Widnes I arrived in plenty of time via a ten minute train journey to Liverpool South Parkway and a courtesy bus. Well it wasn’t that courteous, I still had to pay! Only a couple of quid but it was afterwards I realised and had forgotten that I could have used my bus pass! Didn’t matter really but I figured it was still the price of a half pint of beer. Yes, at one time I’d have said the price of a pint! Highwaymen everywhere, especially at airports. Just under a fiver a pint it was! London Pride. Tasted worse but nearly a fiver? Needless to say I made it last. Another thing here; Why John Lennon Airport? Why not George Harrison or Ringo or McCartney Airport? I bet that question has been asked many times..and thinking about it, I bet Gerry and the Pacemakers are miffed about the lack of recognition as well. Even the Merseybeats, Searchers.. Maybe not. Suppose you have to draw the line somewhere.

The two and half hour flight was smooth, on time and I arrived around half past five Hungarian time. This is when I realised I’d wasted more money; pre booking a bus to my hotel for £35 on the advice of Wizzair. As is normal for these places, confusion reigned, people milling about, no sign of a bus, I couldn’t be arsed hanging around so I got a taxi. Something else Ive learned though why I got duped into paying for the bus online beforehand I can’t explain. Put it down to a lapse.
Getting more excited by the minute I couldn't wait to explore and discover Budapest. I thought I’d indulge the taxi driver in idle chat, as you do. I mean, there’s something disquiet sitting alongside a stranger for over half and hour and not uttering a word to each other.
“You a football fan?” I asked, expecting some sort of reply even if it was pidgin English or garbled Hungarian. Not a word. After a  minute or so I tried again.
“Football? You like football?”
He looked at me as if I was an alien from outer space, shrugged his shoulders, muttered something unintelligible whilst still keeping his eyes on the road. This is hard work I was thinking. One more go and then, thats it, bollocks to it.
“Honved? Ferencvaros? Vasas?” Still no good. My last throw of the dice; “Puskas?” 
This guy was mute! Not a flicker, Jesus Christ, everyone’s heard of the great Ferenc Puskas! Everyone except this taxi driver!
I gave in.

The Hotel Erzsebet was right in the centre of town, five minute walk from the River Danube, plenty of bars and restaurants around, looked promising. Pleasant people too, I checked in and was given a room on the 8th floor. Right at the end of the corridor, neat single room, everything in working order, shower etc. Comfortable bed. I say this because of my dubious record and reputation with hotels. First impression was ‘yes, this will do nicely for the time I’m here’. 
Before heading out in the early evening I studied my Budapest book, a map I was given at reception plus directions the concierge gave me for various destinations I was intending to visit. Like the Nep football stadium. Where Puskas and co played. Heroes Square, Freedom Square, the House of Terror Museum, Parliament Square.
Tired, I settled for a look at the Danube, one of the great iconic rivers of Europe before looking for something to eat and drink. One balls up I had made was changing money to Euros before I came over. I had just assumed Hungary was in the Eurozone like most other countries on the continent. To be truthful, I didn’t even think about it or bother to check so it was somewhat a surprise when I was given my first bill in Hungarian currency, Forint. I was sitting in a very nice restaurant, well outside actually, drinking the local ale and feeling satiated after a Hungarian style beef burgher. Thats what the menu said! Made me feel adventurous. Side salad and a lofty beefburgher stuffed with chillies and other things with a stick through the middle to hold it all together.  I’m not a connoisseur as you can gather but whatever it was, it was lovely! And working out the bill in my head, that was lovely too. Under a tenner in English money I reckoned. They accepted my Euros but the change was in Forint. Well that was a lesson learned and a few Forints would no doubt come in handy. I retired to the hotel feeling goosed, had another beer in the bar which was the same price as my beer and meal I had just consumed but, hotel prices! It was very relaxing. Really comfortable, nice background music, nice young girl attending to you. Gave me a good feeling about this place. I went off to bed looking ahead to getting round Budapest next day. There was a lot to take in and I didn’t want to waste it.

Monday morning.
Woke up nice and early, slept well, headed for breakfast which I had ordered at the reception last night, and wish I hadn’t bothered. Nothing much to choose from; hard rolls, cheese, wafer thin ham, cereal which is what I settled for - and this added approximately £7 to my hotel bill. Well, you learn don’t you? 
My first port of call was to be Heroes Square and I determined to walk there, you see more walking around rather sitting on a bus or in a taxi. I soon began to wonder about my wisdom, there was a heatwave and the city was in rush hour mode. What made it worse was the pollution from the traffic. It was stifling, the fumes were terrible. Reminded me of Bangkok. 

My guide book told me; ‘Heroes Square has been the site of numerous special events, including many Socialist holiday celebrations staged during the country's Communist era.
Laid out in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, Heroes' Square is the largest and most impressive square of the city. Located at the end of Andrássy Avenue and next to City Park, Heroes’ Square is one of the most visited sights in Budapest. Surrounded by two important buildings, Museum of Fine Arts on the left and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art) on the right, Heroes’ Square is also a station of the Millennium Underground.

The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square was erected to commemorate the 1000-year-old history of the Magyars. Archangel Gabriel stands on top of the center pillar, holding the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity. The seven chieftains who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary can be seen on the stand below. Statues of kings and other important historical figures stand on top of the colonnades on either side of the center pillar.
When the monument was originally constructed, Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus the last five spaces for statues on the left of the colonnade were reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty. The Habsburg emperors were replaced with Hungarian freedom fighters when the monument was rebuilt after World War II.
In 1989 a crowd of 250,000 gathered at the square for the reburial of Imre Nagy, former Prime Minister of Hungary, who was executed in 1958.’

Heroes Square, according to the map didn’t look too far, I had a rough idea which direction to take, and promptly got lost! After ambling along, trying to get my bearings and with the heat wearing me down I decided the best bet was to seek some advice. Coming my way was a bedraggled unkempt looking chap with two dogs. He looked like a beatnik, hair over his shoulders, a scraggy beard, wearing shorts and a rucksack on his back, he looked just the type of guy that knows his way around. I’m attracted to these people. Something anarchic about them. Who knows what fate has bestowed on them? Anyway, I thought I would give him a try; “excuse me” I asked him, “ I’m trying to get to Heroes Square”.
He looked at me suspiciously for a minute, or was that me imagining it. He understood a smidgen of English, that was clear. “Ah, you’ve come too far, you need to go back to the next junction, Andrassy Avenue, and it is right down at the end of the road”. Well it wasn't exactly like that but that was the indication. “Come on. I’ll show you”. What a nice chap, can’t always go by looks can you? Not that I do.
“Thanks very much” I said as he shuffled away with his dogs, two small things, no idea what they were not being a dog lover, they weren’t Corgis or Poodles, I know that much.

I thought it would be a piece of cake but the road was endless! Andrassy Avenue; described in my guide book as ‘Lined with spectacular Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses featuring fine facades and interiors, recognised as a World Heritage Site in 2002, is also one of Budapest's main shopping streets, with fine cafes, restaurants, theatres, Embassies and luxury boutiques.’
It is also tree lined giving some shelter from the heat as I pursued my goal. Taking note of the various landmarks as I went. The notorious House of Terror for one. 
Andrassy Avenue

Heroes Square was right in front of me, first impression was it was reminiscent of Trafalgar Square, obviously because of the Nelson like column. It says in the book there’s not that much to look at but it is a place of importance and history. Standing there taking it all in I pictured in my mind the Russian tanks rolling past here in 1956. wondered what it must have been like and how terrifying it was too. I took snapshots of the statues cradling the square, then a walk to a nearby park immediately behind the square. Feeling satisfied I had accomplished my first goal I decided my next step would be to the famous football stadium called the Nep. A Hop On Hop Off bus service was situated at Heroes Square and feeling knackered with the walking and the heat I purchased a ticket for 25 euros. The ticket lasted a couple of days so I figured it was worth it. 

The Nep Stadium I had been forewarned was in a state of destruction and renovation but that didn’t deter me, what did that matter? I wasn’t expecting to see a game but I did want to see what there was of this place, after all it has legendary status in the football world. I asked the driver where to get off, didn’t pay attention and before I knew it, I was way past the designated stop! Bollocks! However it was one stop past the grand looking Keleti railway station, (translates to Eastern Railway Terminus), the main international and inter-city railway terminal in Budapest, Hungary. Having a passion for railways I took that in first. 
Budapest Eastern Railway Terminus

Entering the concourse the lay-out was similar to Liverpool Lime Street. I took a stroll along the the platforms where an express was waiting impatiently to begin its 150 mile journey to Vienna, costing around £30, I couldn’t help wondering what this would be like. Something like a trip on the Orient Express I imagined.

This was another site during the Uprising, captured in photographs in the guide book showing tanks lined up outside, the facade of the station pot-marked by shells, shattered windows, parked vehicles torn apart and people shuffling by, many with heads down. Sometimes you stand in these places and feel quite humble, thankful for the relative peaceful life you have endured in comparison.

Moving on, next stop on my agenda was the Nep. Two armed policeman were standing around so I approached them to ask for directions. They looked at me with the sort of expression, as if they were thinking why I wanted to go the Nep Stadium. Whether they were taking the piss or not, they sent me the wrong way! Could be I interrupted their conversation, their train of thought (excuse the pun) and unintentionally disoriented them. Give them the benefit.. but whatever, off I went, wandered about three quarters of a mile before deciding I was on the wrong track. (these puns get worse).
Checking my guide book, which is beginning to make this sound like Michael Portillo’s Great British Railways TV show, ‘according to Bradshaws’, I turned and walked back to the front of the station, and headed off in the opposite direction. Still not sure, I asked a flower seller if I was indeed, going the right way to the football stadium. The lady looked at me strangely, replied ‘yes’ in Hungarian and I carried on. This was further than what I thought, the heat was still intense, yes it was really that hot. Suddenly the Nep Stadium, or what was left of it, appeared on the horizon. A huge arena, boarded up all round, bulldozers and cranes peeking out above them, half demolished stands, could have been bombed by the Russians came to mind. This was disappointing but I walked around until I came to an entrance where lorries full of rubble were coming out. Might be a chance to take some sort of photograph I hoped.

Demolition of the Nep Stadium 

A security man in hi-viz sat in his hut drinking tea, this could have been back home, these people are the same everywhere. Before he had a chance to say anything I snapped a couple of pics of the the site, he waved his arms, uttered something about this was a restricted area I guess and tried to usher me out back into the street. Well I hadn’t come all this way just to be dismissed as quickly as that so I turned on a charm offensive. With my best gormless innocent face I asked him; “this is the Nep Stadium?’ He looked bewildered, obviously not understanding a word. This will do it I thought;
“Hungary beat England here, 7-1, in 1953”. Not a flicker, though there was a hint of a grin.
“Not that I was here” I said, forcing a laugh, “I was too young, I was only 3!”
He just look bemused. I threw in ‘Puskas?’ ‘Hidgekuti?’

Well I tried. 

Knackered with all the walking I had done I walked back towards the station and waited for a Hop On bus to come along. On the way I passed a traffic warden taking numbers down and issuing tickets to parked cars. I chuckled to myself; ‘these wankers are everywhere!’

Back to the hotel and to refresh before getting some dinner. I found a restaurant, was enticed by the goulash on the menu and well..when in Rome..or in this case, Budapest. There was no one else there. The manager came in, switched the channel on the flat screen TV and asked me if I liked football. Well, at last I thought I had found a kindred spirit. 
“You a football fan?” I asked him.
“Not interested at all?”
“We used to have some good teams years ago” This was promising, I was keen to find out more about the impact etc the likes of Ferenc Puskas,  the ‘Magnificent Magyars’ of the 50s, Florian Albert, Ferenc Bene had on Hungary.
Unfortunately that was the extent of the conversation! When I rattled these names off, he looked like the rest of them, a gentle shrug of his shoulders indicating he didn’t basically have a clue!
The mention of Honved, Ferencvaros failed to register any interest either. 
Strange I thought but maybe not everyone in Europe is as enamoured with our favourite sport than we think. 

I walked around for a bit, had another look at the River Danube by night and headed for a bar..and a Premiership game on Sky TV, Stoke v Spurs. 

So there are some football fans in Hungary I surmised.