We spend the morning Skyping a friend. The plan was to ride all kinds of strange Budapest transportation options. Leg one would be the oldest subway in continental Europe, then a tram to the base of the cogwheel train which climbs to the top of the Buda hills (1500 ft) and lastly the children’s train which is a railroad run by kids ages 10-14. We go to the metro station and buy tickets for about a buck a piece, the same as anywhere. We attempt to start our journey on the metro but we find that line two is being renovated so we need to take a surface bus that runs the same route. What makes Budapest different is you have one ticket for all modes of transportation. Also you don’t give the bus driver or tram driver money or even your ticket, you validate it in a machine just like on a long distance train. This speeds up how fast buses and trams can pick up passengers because they only stop for a minute. Buses have three very large doors here too which allows people to get on using the back two doors. The bus shows up and we get on but can’t get the ticket validator to work. A unilingual Hungarian shows us how to punch holes in our ticket. Had he been able to speak English he probably would have told us not to worry about it. If you don’t validate your ticket it’s as good as not having a ticket which is a 2300 forint fine. Multiply that by four and I just paid $40 to ride a bus for a few minutes. No thanks, I’ll validate my ticket. We’re probably the only ones on the bus that does. The bus takes us to a tram stop. Budapest has buses, tram buses (electric buses that use the overhead wires to power them), trams and metros. It’s said there no matter where you are in the city public transportation is no more than 400 meters away. Riding the tram was uneventful and nothing new since we’ve ridden them in other cities. The tram takes us to a railway station where the cogwheel train stops. There is a small station there where we buy food and realize the 10,000 forint bill I had was actually a 1000. I’ve said it before but this money’s out of control. One thousand is $5 and 10,000 is $50. Quite a difference if you plan on living on it for the day. Piper and I leave to find an ATM and return just in time to catch the train.
This train is special because it doesn’t use the iron wheels to power it. Underneath the car there is a very large “gear” or cog that hooks up with a rack running the length of the tracks. Both have teeth on them. This allows the train to climb hills that other trains can’t. It’s one of the only operating cog wheel trains in the world. From an engineering point of view there is a huge amount of energy lost in using gears and the noise with straight cut gears is very loud so their rarely used for things like this. Our real world experience backs up this theory. This train takes off with a gnarling gear sound. Like a 4 wheel drive that’s about a quart low on transmission fluid. It’s also not very smooth as it jerks a bucks as it climbs the mountains. There’s a reason they don’t use cog wheel trains everywhere but it serves it’s purpose here and climbs about 1000 ft in 20 minutes. The cogwheel train is very wide inside and has one of it’s cars designated for bicycles which was being put to good use that day. There are many many miles of trails through the Buda hills so people bring their mountain bikes on the cogwheel train to the top then ride around.
After the cogwheel reached the top we walked through a park to reach another unique train station - the childrens train.
The children’s railway is a narrow gage railway with the tracks closer together than normal. It’s original purpose during communist times was to transport kids ages 10-14 to a youth camp outside the city that taught them to be good little communists. After the fall of communism they took the red star off the train and changed the red scarves to blue. They now run the train to where the camp used to be and back for a couple of dollars. The cars are open on the sides so you can see the forest. Originally the train was a steam train but in the 70s it was changed to a diesel train. The tracks themselves aren’t at all smooth and you smell diesel smoke the whole way but the kids think it’s great fun. What really makes the train unique is virtually every job on the railroad is done by 10-14 year olds. We walked into the station to buy our tickets and a kid the size of Jade was behind the counter. I immediately thought there wouldn’t be any language barriers because kids learn English in school but I soon found out that they don’t start learning it until about the 4th grade and these kids had just started. One of the kids that wore a red cap asked for something and I said “ages?” and he shook his head. I told him and he spoke in Hungarian to the other one who sold us our round trip tickets. Adults are used to trying to figure out things if they don’t have the knowledge but kids freeze in their tracks when they haven’t been prepared for a situation. Anyway the train showed up and the kids went out and switched the tracks so the engine could pull the cars the other direction.
The only adult on the railway is the driver of the train itself. Probably for legal reasons there needs to be an adult piloting it. A kid dressed in blue with a blue cap got on each car and a girl with a ticket bag also got on. The boy with the red cap came out to the track to signal it’s departure and we were off. Fifty minutes later we arrived at the end. There’s not much there but if a person wanted to walk a block they could catch a modern tram back to town. Since we bought round trip tickets we waited for the next train back. I really would have rather taken the tram because we would’ve been back in town in about 10 minutes but the kids liked the children’s train. One thing we didn’t get to do is stop in the middle and walk to the lookout tower. We caught the last train so we couldn’t get off at an earlier stop. At the same stop as the lookout tower is a chair lift that will take you to the bottom of the hills. I wanted to take this but if for some reason they wouldn’t allow the kids we’d have a long walk back so we stayed on the train. The lookout would have been nice because it’s 1500 ft above the city but I did get a few pictures from the mountains when the train passed through a clearing in the trees. We caught the cogwheel back down the hills and a tram back to the metro stop. Instead of buying more metro tickets and riding to our station we walked up to castle hill. We’d been avoiding the castle because it’s the most touristed spot in all of Hungary and we’d already seen about a Jillion castles anyway. We did walk through the castle, laughed at the Budapest Hilton in the middle of it, took a few pictures and walked out the other side. I can now say I’ve been there. We wanted to ride the funicular down but we didn’t come at the right time and actually beat the next one by walking. This city has a lot of strange transportation options. Chair lifts, funiculars, buses, tram buses, trams, metros, cog wheel trains, narrow gage trains run by kids and a steam engine that runs up the Danube. We got most of them.
Natalya wanted to eat on a boat that was listed in the Let’s Go guide so we found it and the menu looked interesting. They seated us without reservations and we ordered soon after. Jade had a fried chicken breast, Natalya had a goose leg with potato patty and I had duck breast with red wine cinnamon plums and potato croquettes. If that doesn’t sound good you need to read it a few more times because it turned out to be the best food I’ve had in the entire trip. Everything about it was wonderful. We also ordered what sounded like something very tasty too - cold fruit soup. I tasted my first bite and without being able to place any of the flavors loved it. I’d like to be able to duplicate it but I just don’t know what was in it. There was various fruits including blackberries and pink juice… Not much to go on. On the way out we made reservations to come back again the next night which was also our last night in Budapest.