"Hungary" for winners!
Last Updated : 16/09/08
nwards and Eastwards! I’d wanted to visit Budapest for a number of years as apparently it was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and, more prosaically, it had trams and beers to scoop! Hungary was also a new country for me; I was running out of new nations to scoop in Europe and, out of necessity, was now heading Eastwards in search of new beers and territories.
With so many options to get to Budapest the only problem was deciding which airline to take; it seems as though every man and his dog now fly to Hungary from just about every regional airport which, after all, is what they are there for. It may appear as though I’m being sponsored by Stelios by recommending them again but, honestly, easyJet were the best option I found after a lot of searching - Ł40.98 return from Luton! I was a bit loath to fly from the same airport twice within 3 weeks, and if I’d known how crap the new terminal would be I may have changed the plans, but at the time it seemed perfect. I’d booked the flights and parking within ten minutes leaving the usual old thorny issue of the hotel until the next day; this one would require a bit of thought…
I’m always a bit nervous about hotels, even after all this time booking “city breaks” as they’re colloquially known, as this is the one bit that can make the whole trip a shambles; being in a crap hotel will ruin a trip better than a dose of amoebic dysentery and I’ve been so lucky so far that choosing a duffer always preys on my mind. I pored over the usual websites and the rough guide until a place called Hotel Classic appeared; it wasn’t in the centre but looked easily reachable from tram 61 and, as Brucie would say, the price was right; €37.50 per room with breakfast from hotels.de finally swayed it for me; I booked the Classic with a fervent wish that all would turn out well and it wouldn’t be too far from civilisation or too manky…
You may think Ł25 a night is cheap, but that’s nothing compared to my cheapest hotel experiences; in 1991 we stayed, for Ł3 a night, in Marrakech within a lovely courtyard house with tiled floors, walls and just about everything else. That was 14 years ago, however, so the trophy must go to the rather optimistically-named Hotel Grand at Šumperk in the far northeast of the Czech Republic. Šumperk is a pretty little town at the foothills of the Jesenicky mountain range which soars to 1400 metres above sea level and has one of Europe’s loveliest rail journeys passing right over the shoulder of the high peaks. The Grand is a somewhat age-worn yet clean and endearing little place with an old lady owner who only speaks Czech and Polish (although she knows the odd word in German and English) which makes things interesting! For the grand sum of Ł6 you can have a single room with shower which must be one of the bargains of the century, especially when the snow comes down in winter to a good few feet in depth and the trusty old radiators blast out their therms all day long. It’s also near a great local’s bar which sells the local-ish Zubr tmavé dark beer from Přerov (amongst others such as Litovel and Holba) on draught at 25p a half-litre, but I don’t suppose that would interest many of you…
Sorry, got a bit sidetracked there, back to the trip in question. Those of you who are regular readers of my reports will undoubtedly be pleased to learn that this particular one won’t be as voluminous as the few previously uploaded purely due to the lack of beer scooping options in Budapest! (Actually, it is as long as the last one… sorry, got a bit carried away) However, be assured it will contain the usual swearing, bad grammar and irrelevant gibbering which I’m sure you have come to expect from me by now so, without further time-wasting, hey-ho, here we go…
Sunday 9th October 2005.
We all love Luton.
The trip began in exactly the same way as the previous one to Geneva; we got up at some unearthly hour of the morning called 02:00 and proceeded to drive down to Luton via the bendy roads which, thankfully, kept me awake again in partnership with our motorway-strength espresso we’d consumed before leaving. The one point of excitement during the journey occurred when I had to avoid a mouse; whereas last time all the critters sat like good little bunnies at the side of the road, this time I had to apply the emergency brakes to avoid a small rodent who thought he’d choose the very minute I was accelerating away from a roundabout to scurry across the road! I’m pretty sure we missed him though as I felt no bump…
We were soon at the airport having dropped the car off and caught the transfer bus to the airport with no problems whatsoever. The last time we’d been here, three weeks previously, the “hand baggage only” check-in had been closed early in the morning due to there being “no staff to run it” according to the chief easyJet person, but this time we were delighted to see it open – this is situated to the far right as you enter the check-in hall and, just like the ones in Stansted, is usually deserted as normals don’t have the mental capacity to work out just what “hand baggage only” means – or because they all have 36 huge wheely-suitcases crammed with brown sauce and cornflakes with them because, as all true Englishmen know, foreigners eat crap food like snails and dogs and it’s safer to take your own. (That was irony in case you believed me for a minute…)
As we headed for the counter another couple beat us to it so we slacked off the pace and formed a polite queue for them to clear the desk. Bert made a great performance of placing his bag in the hand baggage size-checker cage thing but then somehow managed to get his luggage stuck and almost pulled the handles off trying to extricate it from the cage! After all this performance, he presented his boarding cards with a flourish – only to be told that Ryanair passengers couldn’t check in there and he’d have to go to one of their check-ins! Denied, they shuffled off indignantly.
We had much better fortune and found a rare thing; a check-in operator with a sense of humour! (The only one previously had been at Klagenfurt, Austria; when asking the usual questions she changed one to be “any guns/bombs/explosives?” and when we denied having any she said “well, that’s good then!”). He laughed about the previous customer being such a knob – “how big does that sign have to be?” he asked, pointing to the 20-foot tall easyJet logo above the desk - and we agreed it seemed plenty big enough to us so collected our passports and boarding cards - that was it, we were checked in, and even earlier than last time!
Once again, time passed slowly in the crappy new terminal and Sue was so bored she resorted to buying a Sunday paper! This made the last half-hour wait a bit more bearable and we were soon at the gate – a proper one this time with an airbridge – stood in the relevant queues for boarding card number. I don’t know what it is about people who can’t understand this system; it works very well, but there are always some people, usually chavs, who think they have the right to board when it suits them; if they succeed it always pisses me off but this time the boarding was being conducted properly and the various groups of chavs were dispatched to the end of the line to board last; result!
An impressive first impression.
I honestly don’t know what I expected from Hungary; I’d heard that Budapest was a polished tourist-oriented city with a lot of wealth but the rest of the country hadn’t achieved that and, in some areas, was lagging severely. Having visited Prague fairly regularly I was expecting large numbers of homeless with a penchant for hanging around tourist areas; the new “free market” in the old socialist states seems to have a lot of problems sharing out the new-found wealth of the tourist industry to the less well-off members of society and in that way Hungary proved no different to Prague although, as I’ve found in such places, we had no hassle at all from them.
We flew in low over Budapest, following the Danube, and got a great view of the city especially the Buda castle district. Landing was westerly so we were taken a long way out to the east before performing a tight turn (with the wing disconcertingly close to the ground) and landing shortly afterwards. We were flying into Ferihegy airport’s No.1 terminal which had just been re-opened for budget airlines; when I’d booked the trip we had been booked into Ferihegy 2B. Terminal one the old freight terminal and this is apparent as the taxi-ing takes a good five minutes from landing to being on-stand, although to compensate it seemed as though entertainment had been laid on - whilst waiting to disembark a dog ran onto the tarmac closely pursued by a van which proceeded to circle around it until the dog ran off back towards the terminal buildings!
We were herded onto buses for the short journey to the sparkling new terminal buildings where the bit I’d feared may take some time, passport control, was accomplished within ten minutes and we were in the arrivals hall proper and very nice it was too, all marble and relaxing space without the horrible clutter and chaos of Luton; I know who I’d rather have build my airport terminal if I were in the position of requiring one! We speedily acquired a map from the tourist information and, after a wander around the upper level, found a cash machine which dispensed 19,000 Forints each (around Ł55) in fluent English; there’s another one downstairs by the info desk which appeared between us arriving and departing!
The next step was to buy some bus tickets to get us to Kóbánya Kispest metro station where we should be able to purchase a 3-day “Turistajegy” rover ticket – I say should as lots of things looked like they didn’t operate on Sundays and I was hoping the ticket office wasn't one of them! Helpfully, the tourist desk told us we could buy single tickets from the shop on the main concourse so off we trotted and obtained our 170HUF bus tickets easily. We were now armed and ready with validity so it was time to find the bus stop… which is rarely as easy as it sounds!
We dragged ourselves away from the aroma of espressos wafting through the terminal and followed the arrows indicating the bus-stop. The approach road soon joins a major dual carriageway and we paused – surely there would be no stop here? A quick glance to the left showed that there actually was a stop here although it looked like we were going nowhere; the timetable seemed to show no service on Sundays… after the momentary panic I looked around and saw some locals loitering around smoking, and we were soon joined by a couple of adventurous tourists from our plane (most of the others were last seen hailing taxis which would probably cost them at least 20 times more than the bus) and, thankfully, the bus from Kóbánya Kispest soon arrived at the opposite stop!
Our bus soon pulled up at the stop and, not knowing when the next one would be, we piled on and stamped the tickets. Beige Phil had told us not to expect a seat on public transport and it seemed as though he was spot-on; every seat was occupied so we resorted to standing in the middle articulated area and carefully watched where we were going so as to recognise our stop on the return journey! From the air the airport had looked a lot closer to the centre than the 20km I’d seen quoted and we were soon at Kóbánya Kispest metro station where we climbed the steps in search of a ticket office. We walked along the overbridge to the platforms, passing the usual fast food and beer outlets seen in ex-communist countries (i.e; not McScum – real local food!), and soon located a small ticket office next to the metro platforms; I was very relieved as I’d been sure that we’d not find an office open and would have to resort to single tickets!
One look inside the office and my heart sank, however; it was occupied by a woman in her 40’s and I just knew that she wouldn’t speak any English and as I only knew a few words in Hungarian I felt the purchasing of the correct ticket might prove difficult. All my fears were groundless, however, as she easily understood my gibberings and produced two 3-day passes and even validated them for us! 2,700HUF each (around Ł7.50) for three days unlimited travel in the city on all transport except the funicular seemed good value to me and, bidding her thanks, we descended the steps to the metro platforms to see what this leg of the journey would bring.
I soon noticed the metro was identical to the one in Prague; Russian-built and modern in a rustic kind of way. We’d just missed a train but within three minutes another had appeared so on we got and had a free choice of seats. We sat with a view of the line map easily visible but now we needed to make a decision – we’d not yet decided where we were going to! A quick look at the map and we’d decided to take the metro to Nyugati station and then walk along to the Danube before taking a number 2 tram along the north bank of the river for one back along the other side. Sorted!
As we progressed into the centre the train gradually filled up and soon resembled the Northern line in rush hour – well, almost! One confusing issue soon raised it’s head with the passing of the stations; most of them seemed to have the word “Ferenc” somewhere in the name meaning care needed to be taken as to which station we’d reached, seeing as the names all looked the same at first glance! We soon reached Nyugati and we, along with most of the other passengers, alighted and took the frighteningly fast escalator back up to street level where we found the station to be very impressive architecturally but almost impossible to photograph. By now very hungry we headed off along Szent Istvan Körút towards the Danube in search of sustenance.
As we walked towards the Danube we passed a very posh-looking coffee and cake shop very much in the Habsburg style and, being famished, in we went! It was obviously aimed at rich Hungarians and tourists but the prices were still reasonable and the espressos were smooth, strong and mellow – just what we wanted! The cakes came in large slices and were excellent; my hazelnut cake was rich, creamy and deliciously nutty and we left the café feeling happy and refreshed – this was a good start to our Hungarian campaign!
We continued our perambulation along to the Danube where, after a brief service interruption where no trams arrived, we took tram 2 all along the northern quay of the river to Boráros Ter where we changed for a No.4. I was very impressed with the trams; they were implausibly antiquated home-grown Ganz-Mavag beasts with unfeasibly loud control relays clattering away when under power and a dark wooden interior which completed the heritage image. As it was now 15:00 we decided it was time to find the hotel and see just how rural it was; we took another “proper” tram down to Móricz Zsigmond Körtér (who apparently is a Hungarian author but, owing to the pronunciation, I simply called the stop MZ throughout our stay) where we just missed the No.61 tram towards our hotel – this would become a common occurrence – so had to wait ten minutes for the next one, which turned out to be a modern-ish Czech Tatra T6. We took it to Budaörsi út, the nearest tram stop to the hotel according to the various maps I’d seen, and after buying a bottle of water at the corner shop for an extremely democratic 15p we set off down the busy main road towards the hotel.
Despite Sue’s bad knee which had been brought on by sitting on the plane for two hours (allegedly!) we were soon walking along the road towards the hotel and within ten minutes we were there – and it was certainly rural! Well, thinking about it, the hotel Classic may seem out of the action but you only need walk 20 metres to the busy main road down the hill and you’re on a bus into the centre, and it’s only a ten-minute stroll to the tramstop – even if you walk slowly! So, despite not really being in the thick of the action, the proximity to transport made it feel like we were only just outside the city centre.
It was at this point I got my usual worries – would there be a room for us? I was a bit more concerned this time as I’d booked through a new avenue, the German hotel-booking site hotels.de, and the price had seemed too good to be true… as usual, though, I needn’t have fretted and within five minutes we were in our room, sorting out our gear, and recovering from the unseasonal heat – the temperature was hovering around 20°c and we’d not expected it to be this warm`… I roundly cursed George Bush and every American with a 14-litre Humvee for inflicting this heatwave on us whilst opening the window as wide as it would go to admit the lusciously cool breeze.
Brewing or not?
Right, I thought, it’s time for some beer; we’d been in the city nearly six hours and not a drop had passed my lips yet and, armed with my list of potential brewpubs, I was determined to remedy that situation as soon as was practical. There was, conveniently, a suspected brewpub near to our hotel on the No.61 tram route but that would suffice for a nightcap; we were starving hungry and had decided that Kaltenberg, apparently a brew-restaurant, would do very nicely thank you very much.
Before all that, though, we decided that as the trams were so rateable and the riverscape looked very impressive indeed we’d do a few tram moves to get more of an impression of the city. After a trip down the southern bank of the river we decided that Budapest was so much prettier than we’d ever imagined – the bridges in particular were superb, especially the “Liberty bridge” which was constructed from huge iron girders yet in a subtle, clever way which actually made it look delicate rather than chunky. Trams squeezed over the bridge, giving a superb view of the panorama below, and then stopped outside the indoor market at Fovam Ter which looked amazing with it’s complex brickwork and coloured tiles on the roof; unfortunately it wasn’t open Sundays but we vowed to return the next day and see what we could find there – there must be some scoops somewhere inside that imposing edifice!
With a growing feeling that we didn’t have nearly enough time in this fascinating and extremely beautiful city we headed for Kaltenberg at Kinizsi Ut 30 to slake our thirst and hunger. We didn’t know which end of the road the place was located so we guessed at the southern end – and predictably got it wrong; we walked down the full length of the road almost as far as the Ferenc Körút metro station before we found it on the left-hand side. It seemed to be a cellar bar and, fortuitously, the menu outside was in three languages, English included! After a few minutes slavering over the delicious sounding treats we could bear it no longer and plunged down the stairs into the bar.
We were greeted by a besuited manager-type person who soon deduced that we weren’t locals by my ineptness to communicate in Hungarian – luckily he was fluent in English! I asked him if the beer was made there and received an emphatic “yes!” before we were shown to a cosy little table along the back wall. When the waiter arrived to take our orders I quizzed him too about the beer and received another confirmation that the beer was indeed brewed on-site, although I couldn’t see a brewery anywhere – yet. Through my time as a UK beer scooper and, more recently, Euroscooper I’ve learnt that being able to see a brewery isn’t always a tablet of stone that beer is actually brewed onsite; quite a few places have false kit littering the place, the Beer House in Tallinn being one, whilst some places with no kit on show actually produce the goods in a big way; after 15 years of scooping you learn never to trust what you see or hear!
A fine gastronomic experience.
Our waiter soon returned to take our drinks order and, after a final query if the beer was honestly brewed there was affirmed, I enquired what beers were available and was informed that only the pale was available; I wasn't that surprised as a contact in Hungary, Ferenc, had visited a few weeks previously and had to blag the dark beer as they weren’t happy with it – if a Hungarian had to prise the beer out of them what chance did I, a foreign tourist, have? So, I asked for a two glasses of the pale beer and we sat back to see what would materialise.
Our food soon arrived – Sue had goose breast with whortleberry sauce and a bizarre poached pear whilst I went for a chicken and pork rosti-type concoction and we were stunned by the quality and flavour of the comestibles we’d been served; Sue’s goose was as soft as butter and the sauce was bewitchingly fruity; think damson jam, whilst my rosti was spicy, meaty and gloriously flavoursome with absolutely loads of juicy pork in the mix. We both ate in silence until the plates were clean whereupon we sat back and smiled; that was one of the best meals I’d eaten in a long time and Sue agreed, but now there was some important work to do - I’d been so engrossed in the magnificent fodder that I’d forgotten the beer sat in front of me!
I took a large swig; it was a decent pils with a grainy malt-sack flavour and some late-coming bitterness but the overriding impression was of a rich, smooth, malty beer which was very moreish and flavoursome; it certainly tasted micro-brewed to me although we’d still not seen the brewplant! Fortified with our first Hungarian scoop I decided to try to blag the barna (dark) beer so collared a sociable-looking waiter as he circulated within eye-catching distance of our table; I reasoned that different waiters might have different ideas as to what was actually available and it was worth a try!
“Do you have a dark beer brewed here?” I ventured hesitantly.
“Yes we do!” he replied with a beaming smile as if he were inordinately proud of the fact, “You would like to try it?”
“Result!” I thought to myself. “Yes please!” I replied and off he went to fetch this huge winner. He soon returned with a glass of a slightly hazy reddy-brown brew which, he assured me again, was brewed onsite; it was toasty and malty with a slightly unusual nutty twang and ended with a toasty bitterness – not bad, but not as good as the pale and I could see why they wouldn’t want to serve it to the general public as I’m sure there would be complaints from some people!
Having scooped both beers I was now determined to see the brewplant and so off I went to find it! I first almost walked into the kitchen, much to the alarm of the waiters, before retracing my steps past our table to the back wall. It looked like mirrored glass all along, but then I caught a glimpse of conditioning tanks in a room at the back – I did a check in case they were just a picture on the reverse of the glass but they seemed genuine to me and I felt happy that I’d seen the brewkit and I could now count the beers as genuine winners! To be honest I’d suspected they weren’t brewed in Germany as they both tasted homebrewed, the Vilagos (pale) in a better way than the slightly unusual barna although both had been very acceptable.
I’d heard that Kaltenberg relied on coach parties as it’s staple means of custom and, right on cue, as we were finishing our beer what must have been one bloody massive bus disgorged it’s contents of Chinese tourists into the hall and they wandered around looking confused as Chinese tourists do in the way of rabbits in a field when a tractor approaches. A “traditional” musician had also set up uncomfortably close to our table, presumably as an accompaniment to the busload of tourists, so we decided that was enough culture and it was time to leave! (Was it Hermann Goering who said “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”?). After a short wait we received the bill which was only around half of what we’d been expecting… I was confused, but the waiter soon pointed out the flyers which proclaimed (in Hungarian) that Friday and Saturday nights were half-price for food! I’d happily have paid double of the list price for our excellent nosh-up but, as it was, Ł7 for an evening out seemed most acceptable to us!
All downhill from here.
Extremely happy at having scooped such rare beers and superb food – for half price – we wandered off slowly in the direction of the Berliner on Raday Ut which Beige Phil had told me served the best InBev beer brewed in town, Borostyán, and as the bar was on the way to the tramstop we reasoned that it wasn’t that far off-route. Raday Ut transpired to be a road lined with bars and cafés but, unfortunately, all the ones I checked only served crappy standard Dreher or the like and nothing remotely interesting was seen on the bartops or menus, so we pressed on and eventually found the Berliner – closed up as tightly as could be, and probably the only closed bar on the whole street! We consoled ourselves by purchasing a bottle of Dreher Bak (7% dark bock beer) from a shop as we weren’t going to let this minor setback cloud the warm glow of our Kaltenberg experience!
On we trudged to the tramstop and took the first No.49 to Móricz Zsigmond Körtér and then, after just missing a 61 (this was already becoming annoying!) we eventually alighted at Csörsz utca and made for the huge MOM park shopping centre next door as in there, improbably situated on the top floor, was another brewpub owned by a German brewer, this time Paulaner of München. It seemed totally implausible to me that there would be a brewpub within, more so on the top floor, but Ferenc had assured me it was there and Beige Phil had visited recently so I reasoned we were in for a few scoops despite my reservations about it existing and in we went to the achingly Western mall.
We studied a map inside the centre and made our way to the top floor where we found Paulaner to be nowhere near where the map had said it was… either that or we’d made a total arse of reading it (and this seems more feasible) but here we were and the brewing kit was clearly visible in the back room through the huge front windows. I cackled to myself – another four scoops in the book thanks very much – but felt that given the dodginess of almost every other brewpub in town I’d better at least make an attempt to verify the beers were brewed there and not rebadges.
We were welcomed by a waiter who spoke good English so I took the opportunity to ask him if the four beers on the list were actually brewed there which, I assumed, would be a foregone conclusion given the shiny brewplant gleaming away in the background. How wrong I was, as usual!
“No, we cannot brew here at present” he declared with a look bordering on regret, “There are power problems with the brewery”
I was withered – if you’d asked me to bet on whether this place brewed five seconds earlier I’d have put a tenner on it what with all the copper hardware lurking in the back room, but it just goes to show…
“We have not brewed for six months” he told me as I ordered a glass of pils and one of Salvator; I was disappointed but not too much so as we may have been blown out by the brewpub but I still required the Paulaner brewery in München!
The beers were very good, and a lot better than I thought they were going to be; the pils was a refreshing very pale grassy and malty beer whilst the Salvator was more to Sue’s taste being full-on caramel / toffeeish in flavour which I found a touch cloying although it was a decent beer in it’s own right. We didn’t feel like the other two beers and, as was usual for our first day away, we were by now feeling the pace as we’d been awake for around 20 hours so we paid up and caught the next tram 61 back to Budaörsi út for the short walk back to the hotel Classic.
Back in the room we flicked through the channels on the TV – we had around 50 from all over Europe – and found one mildly amusing one with a fat Russian stand-up comedian dressed entirely in beige, although it wasn’t clear if his amusing clothing was part of the act. If we’d understood Russian maybe he would have been a damn sight funnier but, as it was, we soon became bored and decided to get some well-earned doss!
Monday 10th October 2005.
A Cat on a cold Perspex roof.
We allowed ourselves the luxury of a small lie-in and trailed down to breakfast around 9. It was surprisingly good with hard-boiled eggs, various rolls and breads, cheese and the like all available on a help yourself basis so, on the basis it would be rude not to, we stuffed ourselves with as many free items as we could within the short time before breakfast finished. Between visits to the breakfast bar, we were sat at our table chomping away when Sue saw something on the roof above; it turned out to be a cat walking over the ridged Perspex construction although all we could see of him was his paws and enough detail to tell he was a tabby… our first cat of the trip!
Our plan for the day was threefold; firstly we wanted to see some more of the beautiful city which had really impressed us the previous day, secondly we wanted to scoop as much public transport as we could including the cogwheel railway and rucks of heritage trams, and thirdly, of course, the beer! I’d found several possibilities to try out including some micros and bars and, of course, the hugest brewpub in town - Mister Sörház – which Beige Phil had visited a few weeks previously and provided us with all the gen we needed to locate the place; it seemed a bit of a trek!
So, after meeting up outside the hotel with the cat we’d seen traipsing across the roof during breakfast, we headed for the tramstop for by now what was becoming the standard move – the 61 tram to Móricz Zsigmond Körtér for a No.49 to Gellert on the riverside of Buda where we wandered around for a while taking some photos of the river and buildings. For a change we walked across the impressive Liberty Bridge which, in contrast to the chain bridge nearer to parliament, is more like a Victorian British construction with its sickly-green painted girders and latticework. Somehow trams and cars both squeeze over the structure and the former make it vibrate and shake alarmingly; pedestrians walk outside the main structure (very much like the Eiffel bridge in Oporto) giving great views down the Danube of the architecture and riverfront.
Shop ‘till you scoop.
We were soon over Liberty bridge (Szabadság híd) and admiring the buildings on Főva tér which had some glorious architecture lurking behind the trees; we noticed them as one had a dazzling golden mosaic set into the gables which, with the sun reflecting from it, almost blinded me as I looked! All this architecture was, despite it’s attractiveness, a distraction from our reason for being here, as we were here to investigate the indoor market opposite. The impressive coloured tiles of the central market hall (Kösponti Vásárcsamok) rise above the Fővám tér tramstop and it’s bustling entranceway primes you for what you will find inside; despite some stalls selling obvious tat for tourists, it’s very clearly a working local’s market with over 150 stalls selling neatly arranged vegetables, meat, all kinds of sausages and most other things you could need.
We wandered around the market with open mouths – it wasn’t just the impressive building and it’s shafts of light streaming through the glass roof onto the stalls or even the sheer variety of paprika-laden sausages and cuts of pork – it was the whole experience of being somewhere that still existed for it’s original purpose of providing goods to the locals and the odd tourist. We compared prices of bottles of Tokaji (Hungarian sweet white wine) at various stalls and eventually found one right at the back where the wine seemed to be around two-thirds of the price of the more obvious tourist ones at the entrance; we’d be back here on Tuesday to stock up as a half-bottle of 1993 6-puttonyos wine was only around Ł12!
As I’d feared, beer wasn’t high on the commodity list for the traders and all we found were a couple of stalls selling the usual suspects such as Dreher. Just when we’d given up on finding and scoops, however, I made a discovery which proved to be the rarest beer we’d have during the trip and one I’d not expected to find; Palotai Asok from ER-PÉ Serfözö, a micro from north Budapest, was on sale in one-litre PET bottles from the "Kmety & Kmety" stall, halfway down the central aisle! We were surreptitiously noting the prices of the Tokaji on sale and trying to ignore the photos of Thatcher visiting the market when I noticed the bottles lying in the crates alongside. I took a look and almost expired with amazement; 260HUF for a litre of this huge winner seemed fair to me, despite the slightly dodgy bottle, so I duly purchased one and with the scoop in the bag we strolled out of the market a lot happier now we had a) a huge winning beer, and b) lots of gen on cheap Tokaji to take home!
Time for something completely different.
That was tonight’s in-room beverages and hand baggage drink sorted; now it was time to do some serious tram bashing! After doing a No.2 along the Pest riverbank we decided the cog railway sounded interesting and, as we like to scratch as many different varieties of traction as possible, it seemed to fit in with our ethos so off we headed to Moskva tér and then onto tram 56 a couple of stops to Fogaskerekú Vasút where one of our original hotel options was located, the Budapest, which resembles the Birmingham rotunda in almost every detail and had promised a great view over the city; great, but what if you were billeted on the other side? Being a cynical bastard I reckoned that only those paying inflated rates would get a room with a view over the city and if we’d booked via a budget agent we’d most probably be allocated a ground-floor room facing the bins so we’d gone for the Hotel Classic instead!
A Hungarian rotunda wasn’t what we were here for, however, so we trotted over to the interesting (if you’re a saddo) cogwheel railway for the 15-minute grind up Széchenyi hill. The depot was right behind the station so various trains were parked around the site and they looked like very strange trams rather than trains to me! One soon arrived so we secured some prime seats and off we lurched up the increasingly steep gradient. The line was a lot longer than I thought it would be but eventually we arrived at the summit, where there seemed to be no view of the city below; cheers then! I’d expected a stunning panorama but all we got were some trees and a tacky bar!
We wandered off in search of the famous “children’s railway” which was set up by the communists under the guise of the “young socialist pioneers movement” and now, as then, children undertake all the jobs on the railway except actually driving the trains over the 7 mile route. It’s only about 200 metres from the terminus of the cogwheel railway (turn left and follow the path alongside the woods) but when we arrived nothing was happening at all – the platform was open but everything else was securely locked up – so we assumed by that there were no trains running! There was a timetable in Hungarian which seemed to suggest trains ran on some days but not this one and above that was a photo of one of the engines; a narrow-gauge beast of a diesel… I’d expected it all to be filthy kettles, but to be denied a dreadful little narrow-gauge diesel was a bit of a bummer!
With nothing else to do on top of a hill with no views we took the next cogwheel train back down to the city then hopped on a tram 4 to Nyugati station where we changed for Metro 3; all this was done within about five minutes so good were the connections! We were soon clattering through the tunnels towards the end station, Újpest-Központ, where we would take tram 12 to it’s last but one stop at Fő Út and then a short walk to the brewpub. On reaching Újpest-Központ, however, there were signs for tram “12V” and, after investigating the tramstop, we decided that engineering work was on; the tramlines further up the road were blocked by all manner of digging equipment and the rails looked rusty. Great, no trams, now what? We’d not come all this way to give up, however…
A quick inspection of the bus-stop outside the metro station revealed there was a replacement bus service, the 12V, which would get us to Mister Sörház after all and, after a brief wait, one soon arrived and we piled aboard. The journey by tram would have taken around 15 minutes but the bus went by such a strange and tortuous route that it took almost twice as long to reach our stop; we were very glad to get off and begin the walk towards Mister along Kazinczy Ut which was a very nondescript suburban road with a mixture of houses and businesses strung along it’s length. It took us around five minutes to reach Régifóti ut at the other end, the road we were aiming for, and after turning left and walking a few metres we could see the pub (I’d googled to a page with a photo of it so that’s how I knew what it looked like in case you were wondering) which quickened our pace somewhat; after over an hour travelling we were finally there!
All the way there I’d been hoping it would be open; according to gen I’d read it should be, but I didn’t want to visualise arriving to a bolted door… thankfully lights were visible inside as we climbed the steps although we now had a more pressing issue to deal with – how to gain entry to the place! It wasn’t obvious, honest, and we wandered around the back of the building until we came upon the cleaning staff having a crafty fag out the back where, despite the clouds of cancer wafting around, we could smell brewing aromas drifting up from the outbuildings below – or maybe we just wanted to smell brewing so much we could! After the cleaner’s initial shock at seeing two tourists aimlessly wandering around the corner she showed us how to operate the front door and we were in!
The pub seemed to be deserted – no other customers, no staff except the cleaners – was it closed in the afternoon? Just as the nagging doubts were winning, suddenly, from nowhere, appeared three young waiters who were no doubt surprised to see anyone in the pub at 15:30 by the looks of things. Once again my inept use of Hungarian indicated we were tourists although this time no-one spoke English; “this might be a problem” I thought to myself. The first waiter tried German and I jumped at this – I could get by and we might actually get some beer and food! We were soon seated at a surprisingly posh table and I ordered some of the (hopefully) homebrewed Mister beer which looked like it was the only one they sold judging by the huge font on the bartop. I asked the waiter in my best German if it was brewed at the pub and he replied an emphatic yes, gesturing towards the back of the pub; this tied in with the brewing aromas we’d smelt earlier and I now felt a lot happier about getting it into the big orange scoops book!
The beer arrived and I took an appreciative sniff; I’d not known what to expect but I’d not expected anything this good! I breathed the luscious malty aroma deep into my lungs and was amazed by it’s complexity and inviting character. It tasted even better than it smelt with mounds of rich, creamy, grainy malt and balancing bitter hops in the flavour which developed into a long nutty sweetness with more bitterness in the finish. “Drinkable” is an over-used word but this stuff is, believe me!
We’d ordered food and it soon arrived looking delicious – thinking back, the presentation was excellent in all aspects of the place including the beer, tables and staff. I’d gone for Venison with red wine and plum sauce and I can honestly say it was in the top ten meals I’ve ever had, and even better than the one at Kaltenberg the night before… The sauce was intense and fruity whilst the meat was flavoursome and not too tender; I like a bit of texture in my steaks! Sue had a strange dish which I liked a lot but she wasn’t sure about although it was still an excellent plate of food. The beer was so drinkable I ordered another large one and contentedly supped it to wash down the top fodder I’d just eaten and, as I drank, I mused that most of the best meals I’ve had in the last five years have been in brewpubs – Kaltenberg in Budapest, Siebensternbräu in Vienna, Füchschen in Düsseldorf, Päffgen in Köln… brewpubs certainly seem to make that extra effort with their food!
Garage wines? This is garage beer!
Although I could have sat there all evening drinking the superb beer we had other things to do so, reluctantly, we paid the bill (only about Ł8) and headed out for the bus but not before we’d taken the necessary pictures of me at the bar, including a slightly fake one where the barstaff insisted I held a litre stein which was being used to catch the froth off the Mister! The evidence acquired, we walked back down Kazinczy Ut and caught a bus back to the metro station at Újpest-Központ within ten minutes, even though it still took around half an hour as opposed to the 15 minutes had trams been running although we did see loads of work being done on the tramlines so they should be good now they are reopened to traffic – reports please!
We took the metro all the way to Ferenc Körút for tram 4 to Boráros Ter then the little HÉV electric train to Csepel (although we just missed one and had to fester ten minutes for the next) which took twenty minutes to reach the suburb’s terminus. Csepel (an island in the Danube, albeit a big one) turned out to be stacked with communist-era flats and not that interesting as a place but we were there for another reason – scoops! There were two micro breweries in town and we had gen on both of them; one an address and the other an outlet for their beer!
After ten minutes we passed the bar, Kapufa Sörözö, which allegedly sold a beer from Harmath Sörfözde, a micro somewhere in Csepel, and it looked a bit… let’s just say… basic! A hundred metres down Szebeny ut was supposed to be the other brewery, Rizmajer és Társa, although I was feeling distinctly dubious about this gen – this was a residential road with affluent-looking large houses and certainly not a place for a brewery! I then remembered Hartington Avenue in Nottingham where Mallard brewery is located and it wasn’t a million miles in looks from Szebeny ut, so I said nothing and we carried on along the dimly-lit road towards the supposed brewery.
There’s good news and bad news, I’m afraid. The good news is that the Rizmajer brewery definitely exists; the bad news is that it’s not a brewpub but located in a residential garage under someone’s house! The sign was clearly visible but the gates were firmly locked and, not being able to read Hungarian, we couldn’t figure out what the sign on the gatepost said apart from it being open (whatever that means concerning a brewery in a garage!) all day until around 16:00. A bit withered, we set off back for the Kapufa bar hoping there would be a scoop in there for us.
“I don’t drink”.
Back at the bar, we gingerly went inside to gauge the possibility of a winner and the clientele; it didn’t look the most salubrious of pubs from the outside! Inside it was basic but sociable with a lot of vertical drinking being done; I couldn’t read the taps from where I was by the bar so asked the barmaid what beer they sold. Predictably, she spoke no English and asked for help from the array of locals propping up the bar and got one positive reply from a middle-aged rather fat bloke who spoke very basic English – which was better than my 6 words of Hungarian! I showed him my printout of the two breweries’ details and asked where I could get the beers and, after a minute of careful consideration, he beckoned us to follow him and stormed out of the door!
We had no choice but to follow him – I guessed he might know the owner of Rizmajer and blag some beers for us – so we followed him at a furious pace along Szebeni ut until we reached, for the second time that night, the bolted gates of the brewer’s house.
“There he is!” our friend proclaimed, and waited for us to do something.
I felt a bit embarrassed at getting him to bring us here for no reason; I apologised for the waste of his time but we actually wanted to drink the beers…
He seemed to accept this fact philosophically and set off back to the pub at an even more furious pace than he had left it with Sue and I doing our best to keep up with him.
We were soon back in the pub and our friend returned to his pint of red stuff which looked, and smelt, just like some kind of red wine. He indicated the bartaps and I was elated to see Harmath Jagerbier on one of them; what a huge winner that was! I tried to order some beers but he was having none of it and ordered two glasses of the Harmath for us and a top-up of red wine for himself. I felt that I should pay for these drinks and offered the barmaid a 200HUF note, but he waved it away. “I will pay” he declared. I felt as if I should make another effort and asked him if he’d like a drink but once again he refused. “I don’t drink” he said and must have noticed my glance shift to the three-quarters full half-litre glass of red wine sat before him on the bar, for he suffixed his statement with “…beer – I drink red wine!” and a chuckle.
The 25cl glasses of beer cost 66HUF each, around 15p; it just shows how rip-off the prices in the centre of Budapest are – for example, Gerbeaud charges around 350HUF for a glass of their “own” beer! I sipped the pale beer and found it had grassy, hoppy flavour with some maltiness and a fairly neutral finish with more grassiness; nowhere near as good as the Mister beer but I’ve had a lot worse in my time and suspect I’ll have a lot worse again!
Our friend asked about the UK as, so he said, “we don’t get many English in here!”
“I think about going to London” he queried, “what is it like?”
I think we persuaded him that London is a filthy shithole and he should visit Manchester or Edinburgh instead, although I’m not sure if he totally believed us; after all, he said he hated Budapest yet we loved the place! I suppose it’s all about familiarity and such things, as maybe I liked London the first time I went there but have subsequently grown to dislike it during my visits – so maybe it’s the same thing with him and Budapest; crime-ridden, expensive, unfriendly… all the things he said about Budapest mirrored what we said about London!
Not worth the journeys.
We drained our glasses and, after thanking our friend who had just replenished his half-litre glass of red wine, set off on the five minute walk back to the station. On the way we passed a supermarket so we investigated it’s beery contents which, unfortunately, only turned up Borostyán and the usual standard brews – we could have scooped twenty Hungarian lagers if we’d so wanted, it was just that we didn’t want to! We made up for the disappointment in the beer department by purchasing some decent wine for knock-down prices including some Bikaver (bull’s blood, the famous red wine of Eger) and a 25cl bottle of 1993 Tokaji from the previously nationalised Hungarian Tokaji company for around Ł2.50! (We tasted it on our return and it was very decent too!)
The little electric train whisked us back into town and I reasoned we had time to try just one more of our targets – Jager on Etele utca, allegedly a brewpub although I wasn’t quite sure…! We took a tram to the terminus at Etele ter where we soon discovered we were at the wrong end of the road in question – cheers then! I’d guessed wrong as usual, but we decided to try again and went back via Móricz Zsigmond Körtér to the other end of the road – Etele ut – on tram 18 where, after temporarily going down the wrong road (it was dark…!), we soon found the Jager bar and a most unlikely location for a brewpub you’d be hard pressed to find! It was located amongst mid-rise Communist flats and loud music was booming out from the door; I felt I could see the windows flexing under this aural assault. Ah well, we were here so we may as well have a look!
Inside it was dark and full of young people drinking bottles of multinational beer – not a good sign! The bartop had only two fonts and neither were for Budai Ászok which was allegedly brewed onsite and I was by now convinced we’d been lured here on false pretences… I asked the barman (who was most amusing, being an old bloke trying unsuccessfully to be “hip”) if the beer was brewed there; he replied it was so we tried a half just in case there was a chance he was telling the truth. The resulting glass he handed to me was filled with a crystal-clear tasteless and fizzy liquid which was probably Soproni (it said so on the tap) so, by now convinced there was no brewery there, we drank up and made a swift exit to escape from the booming 80’s rock “music”! At least the beer had been cheap…
(John Holland has also visited this place and has a similar experience. He saw a door which said "Sorfozde" above it, presumablt meaning brewery, but being a Sunday evening it was closed. He was told, like me, by the barman that the beer from the Soproni tap was "brewed there" but when he asked if he could see the brewery he was told no. So, in conclusion, there may be a brewery but I doubt if the beer served in the bar is from there!)
It was our final night in the city so we trammed it back to the riverside to take some phots of the spectacularly-lit buildings and riverscape. By the time we’d finished walking along the embankment it was too late to scoop any more bars in so, with the end of the tram service drawing near, it was time to head back to the hotel for our stash of beers we’d accumulated during the day.
We started with the Borostyán which, as Beige Phil had told me, was pretty decent and had a soft malty aroma and taste with some toffee dryness; not bad for an InBev beer! We followed it with the litre bottle of ER-PÉ Palotai Asok we’d had sloshing around in our rucksack all day; surprisingly this battering seemed to have done it no harm whatsoever and despite all it’s accumulated tram mileage and inherent disadvantages of a plastic bottle it was a good beer with an unusual grainy malt flavour and a dry, grassy aftertaste which proved so drinkable that we finished the whole bottle within 15 minutes. This feat was aided by the entertainment we found on the 50-channel TV including a Russian Jerry Springer-type show with the obligatory baying council tenants and, more bizarrely, the classic South Park “Cartman gets an anal probe” dubbed into Hungarian! We finished with the Dreher Bak which was almost black with a caramel and toffee flavour ending mellow and dryish – again, not bad for a multinational!
Tuesday 11th October 2005.
So much to do, so little time…
We were up and out early to make the most of our final day in Budapest; although the flight back wasn’t until 20:40 we still had enough things to see and do on our list to take up days of anyone’s time and it was dawning on us we might not have allowed enough time and/or not researched Budapest well enough in the first place…
For a change of scene we caught a bus from the stop just down the hill from our hotel but it seemed to be an express service (even though it didn’t say it was!) and took us way past the Budaörsi út tramstop and as far as the next one, Hegyalja ut – cheers then! This, at least, was a change from our usual move although we still had to go to the end of the line at Móricz Zsigmond Körtér and change for a tram 49 to Fovam tere as we had a market to visit!
We alighted from the tram and crossed the busy road to the market but before we could enter we saw one of the methods of transport we’d not scooped thus far – a trolleybus! It was parked in it’s stop just outside and we learned, by a swift examination of the map, that it seemed to do a fairly short route out east to Orczy ter; this was too good a scooping opportunity to miss so we leapt on for the 15-minute trip. Luckily, we managed to scoop a different one back by running from the back of the stop to the front where another one was just leaving – result! Back at the market we purchased some bottles of 1993 Tokaji from the cheapest stall hidden away right at the back of the market away from the tourists and, resisting the temptation to take home another bottle of the ER-PÉ Palotai Asok, we made our escape out to the tramstop for a No.49 all the way to Etele ter for our major move of the day – the Communist statue park.
Of all the various tourist attractions in and around Budapest this had seemed one of the more unusual and interesting ones. Apparently, after the fall of Communism in Hungary in 1989 most traces of the occupation had been erased from the city, some destroyed and some just removed to storage. The council had the bright idea of bringing them all together in one place as a kind of “the way we were” theme park with 40 or so sculptures, statues and friezes arrayed in one place which, for reasons best known to themselves, they situated miles out of the city with nothing else around to provide any interest. I’d seen photos of some of the statues and, being a bit of a fan of Communist art, the 20-foot tall Lenins and Karl Marxs beckoned to me – this had to be done!
Unfortunately, to get there involved getting a bus from the Etele Ter terminal and to make matters more complicated it was a Volabus, the private company in town, so our rover tickets weren’t valid! We were even more withered when we arrived at the terminal to hear that, owing to a bridge being reconstructed en-route, the number of buses was severely restricted and we’d have to wait half an hour for the next one; still, the tickets were only around 50p return so we wandered over to the stop to wait developments. An old bus was waiting there and, more alarmingly, so were a large group of studenty-looking types standing around looking bored with their teachers – and there were more of them than it looked possible to cram into the old bus! Thankfully we managed to beat them to the doors (the teachers held the indifferent rabble back) and bagged a seat for the twenty-minute crawl to the park.
Characters from the past… and a Trabbie.
The bus took a tortuous route through backlanes and ground along twisty roads but eventually we pulled up outside the sculpture park with it’s statues peeking over the surrounding wall at us. We spent around an hour wandering around the park with it’s monuments from the past, some big and some small, but all interesting; there were the usual suspects such as Marx, Engels and Lenin along with other less-well known socialists and murals. The star of the show is a massive 20-metre high statue cast in bronze which towers above the park and is undeniably impressive both in it’s bulk and imagery, although there are other stars such as the cubist Marx and Engels, the creators of the Communist manifesto, and a massive Lenin set into the entrance wall.
The problem, however, is that the park seems to be a vehicle for extracting currency from tourists with no real investment having being made to the site since it was created in the early 1990’s leaving it in a rather tatty state; grass grows through the paths and signs are missing from many of the exhibits. Saying all that it was an experience not to be missed despite the obvious honeypot activities of the site - the t-shirts being around Ł12 shows what it’s there for – and I’d recommend it to anyone as long as you don’t expect it to be too informative about the exhibits themselves and ignore the more obvious commercialism of the site.
Apart from the massive examples of communist art, the star of the show is an original pale-blue Trabant – the infamous socialist plastic car – which you can climb into and see just how basic it is inside and get an amusing photo of yourself bellowing out of the window… as I did! We strung this out as long as possible but still ended up waiting twenty minutes for the bus (the same one as we’d had out there) to arrive, luckily getting on before the students again who had been moping around the park looking bored and climbing on the statues, getting in the way of those of us who wanted to take photos and appreciate the exhibits!
After the tedious half-hour crawl back to Etele ut (passing the leafy suburban terminus of some tram route) we still had around three hours to kill and, with so many options of things to do, we couldn’t decide what would be the best use of our limited time remaining. We trekked over to Nyugati station to check out the railway museum but, unfortunately, we’d missed the last heritage train out to the site and so indulged in a coffee and cake in Europa to make up for it.
It’s all “Foreign” to me.
We had a couple of hours left and we quickly decided to have a quick look at Heroes square – Hosok Tere – up in the north of the city. We took the amusing little “millennium” metro there and spent some time wandering around the undeniably impressive monuments and statues in the square. We did the metro back and I decided to have a quick look in Gerbaud, one of the supposed brewpubs, which was opposite the metro terminus just to prove to myself it didn’t actually brew. I descended the steps into the cellar “Bräuhaus” where a copper installation gleamed away to itself and asked the nearest waiter if beer was brewed there. Commendably, he admitted that the brewkit was “decoration” and the beer came from Itzer in Monor so I shot back up the stairs like a ferret after seeing the prices being charged – around 350HUF for a small glass – although admittedly it’s right in the middle of the prime tourist area.
We did a few more tram moves and wandered around the parliament district, making the most of the fine weather, before taking a walk along Vaci utca, the main shopping street, just to reinforce how tacky we’d expected it to be – and it didn’t let us down, let’s set that straight right now. It was crammed full of “named brand” outlets, overpriced Tokaji shops and various other shops designed to milk unadventurous tourists of their Forints, although we did find one shop which sold Niederegger marzipan from Lübeck at a not too-extortionate price for the area.
As we approached the end opposite the indoor market I spied a restaurant with the most amusing name of Fatal; not wishing to pass up this excellent photographic opportunity I posed in front of the sign whilst Sue took the obligatory phot. Whilst I was posing there, some Americans were attempting to read the menu with predictable results;
“It’s all goddamn foreign!” said one to the other, “Except for espresso – that’s English!”
Momentarily stunned by this amazing display of ignorance I missed the opportunity to point out to them that espresso is Italian and maybe they should buy a fucking phrase book and use it although, such was their stupidity, I don’t think it would made much of an impact anyway; they probably think English is something that Americans invented!
Our time at an end we boarded a metro train to Kóbánya Kispest and witnessed the amusing method used to ensure no passengers were stuck in the doors when departing a station – they were repeatedly slammed until the obstruction moved! Effective, I suppose… On arrival we expected to wait twenty minutes for a bus but, totally at odds with the timetable, one appeared within five minutes and, not wishing to pass up this bit of good fortune, we leapt aboard for the short ride out to Ferihegy airport where we decided to take advantage of the proper coffee on offer in order to keep us awake, hopefully, until we reached home.
We hung around the check-in desks until the flight appeared on the screens whereupon everyone present clamoured for position in the queue which suddenly appeared; people were seemingly appearing out of the walls and floor and running for the queue! Happily for us we were soon checked in with the all-important sequence number of less than 30 on our boarding cards – but such was the shambolic loading procedure that we were lucky to get a window seat; each group of passengers was put onto a bus but the second lot left for the plane before we did… farce!
The flight was made less interesting by a veil of cloud below which meant we didn’t see that much of the scenery below (that and it was dark) apart from when brief clear patches let the lights below through. Back at Luton we suffered one final shambles when the bus to take us to the terminal (which seemed exceedingly heritage and quite rateable) was unable to release it’s brakes and another, more plastic, bus had to be kicked out to get us back to the immigration area… ah well, the final hours of shambles couldn’t tarnish the great time we’d had in Budapest and we knew that it was another place on the ever-growing list of “must re-visits”, not for the beer this time but for the many things we’d not yet done in that beautiful city.
As much as we loved Budapest it’s not one to recommend for a beer-scooping break. The range of beer available isn’t the most exciting I’ve ever seen and the brewpubs are a mixed bag – most of them we investigated don’t actually brew at all and of the couple that do one is a good half-hour north of the city and the other is an excellent restaurant with no real bar area. The micros in town are difficult to track down and scooping their products involves drinking beer from PET bottles or pubs in suburbs which have seen few tourists.
Don’t let this put you off, however, as Budapest is a gorgeous city and would reward a visit by anyone with the slightest eye for architecture. Add to the amazing riverfronts (UNESCO world heritage sites, and with good reason) a quirky and very heritage tram system, a cog railway, a narrow-gauge railway, a funicular and trolleybuses (that’s transport fans taken care of!) then, to summarise, if you like Prague then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll love Budapest too.
Getting there and getting around.
Reaching Budapest is dead easy – almost everyone with a plane to hand now flies there from the UK including easyJet from Bristol, Gatwick, Luton and Newcastle, Jet2 from Manchester, SkyEurope from Luton and Wizzair from Luton as well as the other option of training it from Vienna. Airfares can be had for next to nothing due to all the competition; we flew with easyJet via Luton for Ł40.98 return each all-in. Ferihegy airport is around 15km to the east of Budapest and can now be reached by direct train from a new station close to T1 to Nyugati with trains every 5-10 mins or so, or if you're determined to use the "old" method you can get into the centre via a metro/bus combination much the same as Prague; the metro takes you around halfway as far as Kóbánya Kispest from where the No.93 (Reptér-busz) takes over for the final 5 or so kilometres.
There are now two terminals again at Ferihegy; terminal two handles most of the “flag” carrier flights whilst the newly-refurbished terminal one (and a really good job they’ve made of it) handles most budget flights. T1 is about 2km closer to the city and it’s bus service stops on the main dual-carriageway 100 metres from the exit; as you leave the terminal, follow the approach road which bears slightly left and the stops are close by the taxi rank with the stop for the city being on the airport side of the road. Buy your single ticket from the small shop in the arrivals area for 170HUF and then invest in a day, three-day (2700HUF) or week (3100HUF) ticket (Turistajegy) from the metro station ticket kiosk when you get there.
Public transport in the city is handled by a surprising variety of traction; diesel buses are most common followed by trams, although sadly the old Ganz-Mavag beasties have now all been replaced by cast-offs from other countries with some newer Czech Tatra T6’s assisting. The routes most useful to the tourist are the 2 which runs alongside the river on the northern side and the 19 along the southern bank whilst for the scooper tram 12 will allow you to reach the Mister brewpub from the northern terminus of the Metro line 3 (the blue one). In addition to trams there is a lengthy cogwheel railway, a funicular (not included in the transport passes and around 600HUF each way) by the castle, a narrow-gauge children’s railway on the Buda hills and even a clutch of trolleybus routes to enjoy. Electric trains form the HÉV network which will take you to the southern suburb of Csepel amongst other destinations and it’s also possible to catch boats in summer! Beat that for variety.
The main thing is to get there when it’s not swamped with drunken British slobs on stag/hen nights; as usual for city breaks winter is the best time to avoid the hordes which descend during the summer but as the temperature dips well below freezing it’s probably best to consider spring or autumn as a compromise unless you particularly like snow. Leave summer with it’s 30şC and above to the stag parties and sun worshippers.
As can be expected for a popular short-break destination, hotels are probably the biggest expense you’ll have to fork out during your stay. There are all the usual 5-star monstrosities lining the riverside but for most of us a 3-star will do just fine; after all, how much time will you be spending in the room apart from sleeping? Exactly. A good plan is to find somewhere you like using sites like expedia or lastminute then google the hotel name and book directly with them saving yourself a tidy sum in the process. For those hotels without their own websites try hotel.de or Venere.
The currency used in Hungary is the Forint and in September 2008 there were 305 to the GBP. Cash machines are scattered throughout the city with two at the airport so just use a DEBIT card to withdraw money as and when required; I say debit as you shouldn’t get charged anything for withdrawals whereas you get chinged Ł2 with a credit card. It’s an essential bit of knowledge for the regular traveller, and my Nationwide debit card has saved me a fortune in card bills whilst away these last few years of beer scooping in Europe. Travellers’ cheques are a relic of the past and best avoided unless you want to pay huge surcharges each time you change money to and from sterling and you also need to find a post office or bank to change them. Forget it and move on!
Budapest is a well-known spa city and, although we didn’t avail ourselves of the thermal springs, the hotels they are located in look very nice indeed; the Gellert in particular, opposite the Liberty bridge, is a glorious example of pompous architecture. There are around 100 springs in the city which range from ones used by locals to the grand elaborate marble-encrusted examples to be found in the five-star hotels so if you’re after a dip in a thermal bath you’ve plenty of choice.
We stayed at the Hotel Classic at Zolyomi utca 6 out to the southwest of the city. I got a great deal with hotel.de although the hotel was a little too far out and we’d probably elect to stay nearer the centre next time although by all accounts the facilities it had were fine; breakfast was help yourself and there was a decent choice, the beds were comfortable and it was in a quiet location. If you don’t mind being a bit out of the action and having a ten-minute walk from the nearest tramstop (or a two-minute walk from the bus, #139, alight at Fehér ló utca) then this place is worth a look.
For those who usually learn a few words of the local lingo, Hungarian is probably going to provide a few problems. It’s nothing like any other European language (except Finnish and Estonian) and is incredibly hard to speak and decipher owing to the hordes of punctuation and reocurring vowels. A few words which help are - Please – Kayrem and Thank you – Kursurnurm. Beer is Sör (pronounced Shur), Tram is Villamosh and “The bill please” is Kayrem uh samlat. Have a go!
Chris Fudge sent me the following - "in the top tier at the main market, opposite side to the clothes stalls, are several fast food outlets and bars. Most of these serve beer, in the form of the dreaded Dreher or Stella, but we did find Borsodi Sorgyar Bivaly 6.5%, Arany Aszok 4.5% (ok it too is brewed by Dreher), ER-PE Serfozo Palatai Asok and Harmath Jagerbier on gravity! The latter was available from a bar called 'Kis' and was proving very popular with the locals - i had to queue in line for best part of 5 minutes to acquire a half litre (30p) of it. I don't know if this a regular feature or just a 'guest' but, whereas i too can recommend the trip out to Csepel, don't expect to find any Jagerbier there as Kaputa Sorozo no longer stocks it. There is of course Rizmajer 2 minutes away from Kaputa Sorozo but it has no bar, though it is available for off-sales......if the brewer is home! An alternative to the HER back from Csepel is either the 147 or 147A bus which drops you off very close to the micro Pikolo (at Soroksari ut 64). Again this has no tap to the best of my knowledge"
Beer and Breweries of Budapest.
As I’ve said, Budapest isn’t a beer scooper’s paradise by any stretch of the imagination although an enjoyable few days could be had by most people. There are two brewpubs (plus one not currently brewing) and around five micros along with the usual Multinational factories. The Roman numerals in the address are the area codes within the city which are quite useful in pinpointing where places are likely to be with a map – they all have the codes on them. I've continued with the Gazza ratings for each place and beer - the marks are out of five and are shown in "scoop glasses" - the more glasses the better!
Etterem Kaltenberg, Kinizsi 30, Budapest IX. ()
At the northern end of the road near Ferenc Körút metro stop and the Applied arts museum.
Brewing (well, 3 separate waiters said it was) and we saw the plant through the back windows. Beer was good although one waiter said the dark (barna) wasn't on but another, when asked, got it for us. Food was absolutely superb too and very reasonable, even more so being half price at weekends - 3 beers and meals only cost us Ł7! Watch out though - this is a restaurant, not a brewpub, and I'm not sure you can drink without eating (although eating here is a total treat and is highly recommended!). You may have to ask more than once to get the dark!
Beers : Vilagos (pale, ), Barna (dark, ).
Paulaner, MOM park shopping centre, top floor, Budapest XII (Buda).
Tram 61 to Csörsz Utca and it’s in the shopping centre over the road on the top floor. Honest.
Despite rumours to the contrary this place is still open for business, still has a nice shiny brewplant in the back room and a load of lagering tanks, but the waiter told us they haven't brewed for 6 months due to "power" problems. All beers are from München at present.
Beers : None brewed at present.
Mister Sörház, Régifóti u. 31, Budapest XV. Open from 12:00-23:00 daily. ()
Take Metro 3 to it's Northern terminus at Újpest-Központ then Tram 12 from just outside (direction Rákospalota, Kossuth Utca) to the last but one stop, Fő Út, then cross the main road ahead and walk down Kazinczy Ut to the end (beware - every house has a rabid dog!). At the end, turn left and Mister is 50 metres on the right.
Superb place – it’s a bit of a trek but well worth it. The beer is excellent (full flavoured and very malty with loads of character) and we could smell brewing out the back too! Food was, as usual in Hungary, superb and very cheap. If you're doing one brewpub, do this one.
Beers : Mister Sőr ().
Gerbeaud, Vörösmarty tér 7, Budapest V.
Come up the stairs at the southern terminus of Metro 1 and it’s there, you can’t miss it!
Not brewing and I don't think it ever has. I was told the plant was "decoration" and the beer is from Itzer in Monor and is reported to be average at best – and around 700HUF a half-litre!
Hotel Kempinski also has a brauhaus which claims it's very own "German-style beer" but Mark Enderby found no evidence of brewing.
Jager, Etele Ut 3, Budapest XI.
Tram 18, 41 or 47 to Etele Ut, turn right down Etele Ut and the bar is on the right..
Despite allegedly brewing, this place was a dodgy music bar and didn't look like it did. I was assured the beer was made there but it came from a Soproni tap and tasted very thin so I'm not sure... more info needed! See if you have any better luck in working out what’s going on.
Beers : Who knows??
Harmath Sörfözde, Zsolnai Ut 30, Csepel, Budapest XXI. ()
Micro in a southern suburb reachable by the HÉV train from Boraros Ter.
The beer is available at the very rustic but sociable Kapufa Sorozo at Szebeni 2 (on the corner) which looks anything but promising but the beer is on tap and it's not bad. A local (who said he didn't drink but was tucking into a pint of red wine) bought us the beers… Incredibly cheap too; 66HUF for a 25cl glass, or about 15p!
Beers : Harmath Jager Bier ().
Rizmajer és Társa, Szebeni 16 Csepel, Budapest XXI.
100m from Kapufa Sorozo as described above.
This is another micro in Csepel located in Mr Rizmajer's garage in a suburban street! It was closed when we were there but is apparently open (presumably for sales) until around 16:00. No idea where to get this beer although it has been scooped in bottle by Per from ratebeer and Fudge - who blagged an impromptu brewery visit by ringing the doorbell!.
Beers : Szebni Asok.
ER-PÉ Serfözö, Dembinszky Ut 1, Budapest XV. ()
Not far from Hősők Tere; tram 67 or Metro 1 come the closest.
We found their beer in a 1litre PET bottle in the main market at Fovam Ter (trams 47 or 49) just south of Kalvin Ter. Walk down the centre aisle of stalls and find "Kmety & Kmety" about half way down; if in doubt the stall has a photo of Thatcher on it (if that's not enough to put you off beer!) which sells their Palotai Asok in 1-Litre PET bottles for 260HUF, or about 75p, and it's a nice drop too despite coming from a plastic bottle.
Beers : Palotai Asok, ().
There are two more micros in town we didn't get time to investigate -
Bercsényi Iskola, Maglódi u. 4, Budapest X. (Trams 28 or 37).
Pikoló, Soroksári ut 164, Budapest IX. (Near to Boraros Ter HÉV station)
Dreher (Kobánya) Brewery () in Budapest is now owned by SABMiller. Its main products are the Dreher Classic and Arany Ászok pilsener-style lagers but it also brews Kobányai Világos, Dreher Lager and Dreher Bak (a double bock, one of the best beers we had).
Borsod brewery at Fehérvári út 85 () is owned by Inbev. In addition to the local brands of Borsodi Világos, Borsodi Barna, Bivaly and Borostyán, it brews (under licence) Stella and Rolling Rock.
Pécs Brewery is majority owned by the Ottokringer Group. Its brands are Pécsi Szalon, Szalon Barna, Tavaszi Sör ("Spring Beer"), from Királyok ("Three Kings") and (under licence) Gold Fassl.
Bräu Union Hungária Breweries is majority owned by Bräu AG of Austria and has breweries in Sopron, Martfu and Komárom. Its brands include Soproni Ászok, Talléros, Arany Hordó ("Golden Barrel"), Soproni Kinizsi, Sárkány Sör ("Dragon Beer") and (under licence) Amstel, Gösser, Heineken, Kaiser and Zlaty Bazant.
© Gazza 16/09/08 v1.3