I have always loved trains, even as a child some of my favorite places in the city were the metro stations. I can’t even say what it is that attracts me to trains but I just find that it is one of the best ways to travel. It lacks the turbulence associated with flying and there is more room to stretch out your legs. On longer trips you have the option of having lunch in a dining car while watching the world fly past your window. Trains just seem to have more character.
When I was younger, on our family visits back to our home country, we used to take the train from Budapest to a small town called Chop, which rests right on Ukraine’s border with Hungary. The road home was a convoluted one — we would fly out of Montreal with a layover in Paris on the way to Budapest where we would board a train bound for Ukraine. I remember one such trip when we spent more than 24 hours travelling from Canada to Ukraine by means of bus, plane, train and car transport. Arriving at our final destination felt like quite the accomplishment.
It has been a while since I last visited the capital of Hungary but the memory of it is still pretty vivid. Budapest has always reminded me a little of Ukraine — something old and beautiful in the midst of a slow decay. Although there has been obvious effort made in the restoration and conservation of the city’s historic sites, the wear and tear of time is starkly visible in between the tourist attractions. Despite this, the grittiness of Budapest has never really alienated me. Instead, it settles in my mind like dust over top the city’s elegant architecture.
Budapest is divided in two by the river Danube, on the western bank lies Buda and on the eastern bank is Pest. The Hungarian Parliament Building is located on the riverbank of the Pest side. Built in 1902, it is considered the world’s third largest parliament building and its elaborate Neo-Gothic architecture is as iconic for Budapest as the Eiffel tower is for Paris.
Not too far from the Parliament Building there is a beautiful green square with a footbridge where the statue of a solemn man stands looking towards the Parliament. This monument, erected in 1996, is in honour of Hungary’s Imre Nagy who had been elected by popular demand as leader during the 1956 anti-Soviet Hungarian Uprising. Although the revolution was quickly crushed and Nagy executed for treason his legacy and the fight against the totalitarian regime of the early Soviet Union is enshrined in the country’s history. The site of his monument is appropriately named Martyr’s Square.
The Parliament Building and its surroundings are well within walking distance of Budapest’s Keleti Railway Station. We didn’t always have the energy to go exploring the city and sometimes we would just sit in the train station and watch people bustle past. The Keleti Railway Station is over a hundred years old and in a constant state of repair and restoration. Last time we were there the International Ticket Office was a mess of wooden support beams and scaffolding. Other parts of the station were more polished and awe-inspiring with their Romanesque columns, archways and elaborate frescoes.
My memories of the train station in Budapest are not always fond but my love for railway travel has gone undiminished. There were times when the fatigue from skipping over time zones mixed with the lack of nice cafes or clean washrooms made the wait for the train seem unbearably long. One time I barely managed to fend off a drunken railway worker that tried to ‘help’ me with my baggage and nearly put me on a train to Moscow. All that aside, I have always loved getting on the train — standing in the hallway of the train car with the wind from the open windows on my face and seeing the scenery change and become more familiar with every passing town that brought me closer to home.