Saturday, 18 May 2013

Budapest (or rather Pest)

Sharing my sleeper from Paris to Munich, I found lovely Elena. Formerly from the Urals, she lives with a husband, who drives South to go fishing twice a year in Croatia. He had dropped her in Strasbourg, from where she'd caught the train to Paris for a week's sightseeing and shopping - less of the latter because of "too much choice". Now, she was en route to Vienna, where the fisherman would be put her into his net and drive back home to Moscow. He works in logistics, but his passion is competing to catch carp.

Elena, born in the USSR, says that, while not much interested in politics, she feels she is part of a lost generation. Her reading for idle moments is H.V. Morton's "In search of England" - in Russian. She has never been there, but taught English at secondary level before marrying.

It felt warm already on our early morning arrival in Munich. I had never spent any time in that city before, so walked rather eagerly towards the centre, some of the architecture of which was older (and finer) than I had anticipated. I discovered the baroque vastness of St Peter's Church, where again I found myself at Mass - in German, but ad orientem. The priest dispensed at the altar rails, mainly to kneeling communicants who received on the tongue. Moving afterwards to the Cathedral, I found another Mass about to begin, this time with choir and a very full congregation, many in traditional dress. Some celebration upon the eve of Pentecost evidently: I didn't stay long enough to discover what.

It was time to catch my next train, to Budapest. This was extremely full. The fine weather didn't last: cloudy in Salzburg, by Vienna it was pouring with rain. However, as we were leaving Austria behind, the sun came out again, glinting on the largest array of wind turbines I've ever seen.

Having crossed the Danube, the train arrived here just before five, at a very different sort of station from Munich's Hauptbahnhof. "Scruffy" sums it up, but I felt better about things after a lemon sorbet from the ice cream lady, and learning that the main façade is adorned with statues of James Watt and George Stephenson. Having worked out how to collect my onward ticket from the machine, I walked off to explore, and soon found myself in Kerepesi Cemetery, the Père Lachaise of Budapest. Idling round an eclectic collection of impressive tombs and memorials on a fine evening was just the perfect antidote to a day spent in a train crowded with lively children. A helpful man appeared at one point and handed me a plan of who was buried where, but I fear the names meant little to me. More usefully, he pointed me in the right direction for something nice to eat.

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