Our penultimate day in the city of Budapest…well, it probably didn’t get off to the best start. And it went a bit pear-shaped in the middle too…
First up, we took the final Free Walking Tour we hadn’t done – the Jewish history tour. Sadly, as we’d enjoyed the other walking tours we did, this one just didn’t live up to it as the guide was nowhere near as engaging as previous ones.
After taking a stroll along the Pest side of the Danube (which was beautiful), we took a quick stop-off at Margitsziget (Margaret Island), a popular city park. Unfortunately, the winter season hadn’t been kind to the island, and with lots of refurbishment works ruining the scenery, we decided to head on for some lunch.
Which is when we had another disappointment in store. If you know me well enough, you’ll realise that walking 45 minutes for pizza is something I’d do. And I did. I’d read about Marxim online, and it sounded like exactly the kind of place I love. Delicious pizza, quirky Communist-era decor and good music. It sounded perfect…
…but it was closed. Until 6pm. I reacted exactly as you’d imagine when a hungry person is refused pizza, and cursed myself emphatically for not double checking the opening times.
Thankfully, the main main reason for our visit to the northern side of Buda was the Children’s Railway, a train service operated by schoolchildren. Supervised by adults, of course. After we’d found a nearby cafe, eaten some schnitzel and re-grouped, we opened up Google Maps and worked out the best way to get there.
Turns out, the way to the Children’s Railway is pretty simple – you can get the 21A bus from Széll Kálmán tér, alarge transport interchange, that stops at Svábhegy, then it’s about a 15 minute walk. Or, you can get tram number 61 to Hűvösvölgy, where you can pay for a round trip and get the tram back again after. Nice and easy, and you’re back to the city in time for a chimney cake.
Or, you could do what we did, and get lost in the woods…
It all started off well enough – we found the 21A, sprinted to the bus as it had one minute til departure, got on, and began to head up through residential areas and finally hilly country roads.
The first sign that something hadn’t gone right was when we stepped off the bus at the stop we thought was the right one (clue: it wasn’t Svábhegy) was that there was literally nothing around, except a smattering of houses and derelict bus shelter.
As we kept walking down what was basically a dirt road, the few other passengers who’d got off the bus with us began to peel off down other pathways, or to the odd house along the route. Eventually, we were alone, and the further along we got the more my imagination conjured up images of horror movies about English tourists who get lost in the woods and inevitably murdered…
Once we hit a small gathering of houses, we spotted an elderly lady who we for directions to Széchenyi-hegy Station. It turned out that she didn’t speak any English whatsoever, and our Hungarian just about stretched to ‘thanks’ and ‘cheers’. Luckily, a couple in a car also appeared and managed to roughly understand us and direct us the right way. Which was still pretty confusing. And also, it was back the way we came.
On the walk back following the couple’s directions, we managed to twig exactly where we’d gone wrong. Which was getting off the bus about four stops too late, it seems. The railway station was only on the other side of the hill, and as we were sort of friends with Google Maps again, we decided to take the shorter of the two routes it was showing us, in the hope we’d still manage to catch a train.
The route took us onto what Maps said was a road, but thanks to recent weather, it was actually more of a mud-coated dirt track. With patches of ice for extra good measure.
In an old pair of Matalan boots (my only shoes for the whole trip…) and some Adidas Hi-tops, it’s safe to say we weren’t entirely prepared for a mud-soaked hill hike. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll hike with the best of ’em, but the unexpected feeling of being lost with half of Budapest’s floor attached to my feet wasn’t exactly how I’d planned the afternoon.
Finally, we spotted some train tracks and the relief of ‘WE’VE MADE IT’ set in. As we dragged our muddy legs onto the main road, it was a simple stroll down a paved(!) path to the station – which was small and unassuming, and also very quiet. Opposite, a few stalls were selling hot wine, so we settled down in the waiting room with a couple of cups to wait for the train.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so excited to see public transport arrive.
The Children’s Railway, as I mentioned above, is run by schoolchildren as an extra-curricular activity. There are actually quite a lot around the world, and Budapest’s ‘Gyermekvasút’ was built between 1948 and 1950. The full track is 7 miles long, running between Széchenyi-hegy and Hűvösvölgy. Both names, I definitely pronounce wrong. It runs through the stunning Buda Hills, a low mountain range that goes through lots of forest and stops off at some local recreation sites.
The experience of being on the railway definitely made up for getting lost in the mud. Our journey started just as dusk was falling, so we saw the Buda Hills and forest areas slowly darken, to an almost spooky atmosphere.
Also, the children were lovely, and seemed to know what they were doing and happily went about their jobs. When they weren’t able to understand our English, they had neat little translation books, and we were able to point at Hűvösvölgy on a timetable to show where we were headed. The journey cost 700 HUF, which is around £1.92. Definitely cheaper than any train you could get in the UK!
Upon arrival in darkness to Hűvösvölgy, we found the tram with ease and headed back into civilisation, where we found ourselves teacups of hot wine and tasty pizza waiting at the now-open Marxim! You can find out more about that on my post about places to eat in Budapest on a budget, BTW.
It’s definitely not the way I’d expected to spend an afternoon during my Budapest trip, but the Children’s Railway most definitely made up for getting lost.
And honestly, looking back, it was actually a really fun day. As beautiful as the buildings were in the heart of the city, and as wonderful as everything there is, the route we took and the Budapest Children’s Railway showed us a whole different side of Budapest that not many visitors get to see. There was quite a lot of swearing and a bit of a tantrum (from me). But it gave us a funny memory to giggle about together, a bonding experience and the knowledge that we won’t (quite) kill each other if things go a bit wrong, and a story to tell.
Totally worth ruining my only pair of shoes for, right?