Saturday, February 6, 2016

Telemarketers

There was an item on the radio today about an idea for frustrating telemarketers. An American, Roger Anderson, has devised a system that automatically responds with voice recordings that waste cold callers' time by engaging with them, and then stringing them along. The details are on a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jollyrogertelephone/.

Annoying telemarketers is hopefully but one step in ridding the world of this modern-day scourge. I have been giving some thought to other strategies we could employ.

Simply banning cold calling is not likely to work. The telemarketers, who have no ethical standards at all, will simply go overseas. They may have done that already. Who knows where they are calling from? However, that doesn't mean to say that we should tolerate this shameless behaviour being conducted openly in New Zealand. How about declaring the NZ Marketing Association as a terrorist organisation? That would automatically drive it underground and significantly restrict its funding.

But the real effort has to be made against the amoral businesses that employ telemarketers. This should be made a crime. Why have successive NZ governments done NOTHING to restrain this intrusive practice? Suitable punishments, for all individuals involved in recruiting and contracting with telemarketers and all directors of the company could include:
  • Hefty fines. I have in mind $10,000 for every annoyed householder;
  • Computer-generated telephone calls to their home, office and mobile telephones at random times, 24-hours per day, inviting them to buy things they don't want;
  • Publishing their home telephone numbers so that any member of the public who has received an unwanted call can ring up the people who caused it to happen and see how they like it;
  • Requiring them to wear a large sign, front and back, with the message “I HAVE ALL THE MORAL SCRUPLES OF A SOW ON HEAT”. (If we ever catch an actual telemarketer this message should be tattooed on each cheek – all four of them); and
  • Compulsory training in ethics, a subject of which they are apparently completely ignorant.
Sharia law may have some interesting punishments to add to this list.


And if all of us, just once per day, telephone the Marketing Association on 09 361 7760 and ask politely for them to cease all direct marketing in New Zealand, they might eventually get the message that the practice is unacceptable.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Copper Crested Heritage


The attached image is real.  It has not been Photoshopped or edited in any way.  You had better be sitting down when you look at it.

Now that I have your attention, perhaps I had better explain.

I had had the same hairstyle for 63 years; since the day I was born.  My mother told me that I was born with so much hair that the nurse combed it with a parting on Day 1.  So I thought I would try something different.

I recalled that a friend had an afro for quite a while, but that didn't appeal to me.  It would probably have required months or years to grow my hair long enough anyway.  A crew cut (the hairdresser called it a "flat top") interested me.  Eve was OK with the idea so we discussed it with Pauline, our hairdresser.  A flat top was out.  Apparently you need hair that is naturally something like clothes brush bristles to stand up that way.  My hair is very straight and fine.  In the end it was cut short and, with the assistance of special goo, persuaded to stand up in a spiky way.

That was enough.  It was sufficiently different from the old look that it satisfied my desire for something new, and people who knew me noticed it.  During a Skype call to cousins in Ottawa their daughter said it made me look 10 years younger.  What a perceptive and intelligent young woman she is.

I was working in Auckland with a normally sensible, intelligent man who, probably out of sheer horror, suggested I get it dyed ginger.  I relayed this suggestion to Eve and in the subsequent exchange of text messages she DARED ME (in capitals) to do it.  So straight away I made an appointment with Pauline.  It turns out that Eve was joking, but once again we talked to Pauline about the idea and she suggested 'highlights'.  We perused the colour charts, made a choice, and deferred the actual opertion until the New Year.  The result is pictured.

My children will probably disinherit me.

I can console them with the observation that it will grow out in a few weeks and I don't plan to maintain it.  Putting the colour in involved wearing a tight rubber 'helmet' for quite a long time.  By the end it was very uncomfortable.  Also, getting hair coloured costs money.

In the meantime, my charges for terrifying small children are very reasonable.  ;-)


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I dreamed of the Orient Express ... and I woke up in Plovdiv

Have you ever read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, or seen the film?  There are linen tablecloths in the restaurant car and uniformed waiters.  The sleeper berths are the last word in luxury.  While we did not expect to meet Hercule Poirot on our journey from Sofia to Istanbul we were rather looking forward to a little old-world extravagance.

The reality in 2015 is a far cry from that romantic picture.

We could not make reservations over the Internet, so we presented ourselves at Sofia station, where a pleasant woman speaking good English explained that the choice of sleeping accommodation was simple.  There were no berths of any class.  We would have to sit up all night.  Well, we'd managed that from Budapest to Sigisoara and it hadn't killed us.  We could cope.  "And" she added, "there is no restaurant car.  You will have to take your own food."  Blast!

"The train goes as far as the Turkish border, arriving at about 2am.  You will go by bus from there."  This last factoid wasn't a surprise because earlier Internet researches had revealed that the Turks have been doing major work on the tracks and we knew that the final part of the journey would probably be by road.

There was a tram from outside our hotel directly to the station so that part of the journey was simple enough.  We surveyed our takeaway food options.  Sofia had not been a gourmet experience until then and the station offered nothing to change our opinion.  The least worst option seemed to be large slices of pizza and a giant bottle of beer.  To kill time we opted for a coffee from the tobacco-and-spirits shop that boasted a few tables and chairs.  Not only was it the cheapest coffee in Europe at about 60 cents for the cup, it was the best coffee we'd encountered since leaving Germany.

The effect of this cheering jolt of caffeine was to make me study the shelves of spirits.  None of the labels was familiar, and, since we were in Bulgaria, they were mostly in cyrillic script.  I selected a green bottle with a friendly-looking label.  "Schnapps", explained the tobacconist-cum-barrista lady.  The 200ml bottle set us back $3.50.

The electronic departure board signalled that we would be departing from platform 12Ѝ.  Now Sofia station boasts the worst signage in Europe.  We found platform 12 without difficulty, but there were two trains sitting there.  Which portion was platform 12Ѝ?  There was no hint.  So I walked along the nearer train looking for a coach with the right number on it (we had reserved seats, remember).  The first several were unlabelled.  Then a conductor appeared on the platform.  "Istanbul?" I asked in my best Bulgarian.  She pointed to the coach immediately behind the locomotive.  "This coach.  Only one through coach."  So the famous Orient Express is reduced to a single, ageing 2nd class coach behind a workaday electric loco.

At least we departed on time.  And then stopped at every village along the line.  The first call was still within Sofia, where a band of young men, apparently going home from work, boarded.  There was plenty of room in the coach as we trundled through the Bulgarian countryside.  The young men chattered and we ate our pizza.  The cardboard and paper wrapping was a surprisingly efficient insulator so it wasn't completely cold, nor was the beer completely warmed.  We sipped at our ridiculously cheap schnapps.  It was OK.


Dusk turned to night.  A conductor walked down the coach.  "In 45 minutes, off train onto autobus.  In Plovdiv."  His English wasn't up to explaining why we were being transferred to a bus, but the message was clear enough.  Plovdiv is Bulgaria's 2nd largest city and, Wikipedia tells us, is an important economic, transport, cultural, and educational centre.  We saw nothing of importance as we carried our luggage across the tracks and waited at the kerbside.  Our Orient Express experience was over.


The bus quickly left the city and settled onto a motorway.  This, I thought, may save us some time.  It is actually quicker (and cheaper) to travel from Sofia to Istanbul by bus, but they don't have on-board toilets, which is an important consideration for the mature traveller.  More fool me.  It seemed hardly any time before the bus had to turn off the motorway to call at the next train station.  And on we went through the night.  I got the strongest impression that we called at one station twice.  Maybe the driver missed one and had to double back.  And towards 2am, as promised, we arrived at the border with Turkey.


If I'd thought much about it I would have guessed that the border would be a single, half-asleep customs officer stamping passports like an automaton.  In fact there were thousands of people lining up to enter Turkey.  Trucks have their own lane.  I swear they were backed up for two kilometres.  Buses and cars at least got within sight of the border control buildings before they had to queue.


Leaving a country is normally the briefest of formalities, but the Bulgarians took aside one lady.  She was part of what we took for a family group.  The husband was, I think, Canadian.  The wife was notable for wearing a formal evening gown for an overnight journey on public transport.  What was the matter?  Why should she not be allowed to leave Bulgaria?  Whatever the problem was, it got sorted out and the whole party re-boarded the bus to advance to the Turkish side.


Nearly everyone needs a visa for Turkey.  It's a nice little money-spinner for the government, with a computer somewhere in Ankara collecting fees and despatching e-visas in pdf format while the traveller enters all the information.  New Zealanders are among the chosen few who need no visa, but Eve was travelling on a UK passport.  It had taken ages, using a tablet computer, to enter the information, correct the spelling errors introduced by predictive text and double-check that everything was perfect.  In the morning I had opened the e-visa so it would be ready to show at the border and found Eve's name was misspelled, despite all our care.  I thought it likely that money would change hands at the border to remedy the defect, but I confess that I did worry a little about what would happen if we were refused entry.  My disquiet was unnecessary. We were simply handed back our passports with new stamps in them.  The problems were for the five travellers with no visa at all.  This must be a common problem, because the bus driver collected the visa-less five and confidently marched them off to where visas are dispensed.


All this took time and it was well after 3am when the bus moved on with its cargo of sleep-deprived travellers.  In Turkey the first thing it did was to force a way through the line of cars headed in the opposite direction into the grounds of a hotel.  Then we threaded our way through lanes of parked trucks, whose drivers were presumably asleep in their cabs.  Beyond this was - a railway station!  And parked beside it was a Turkish bus.  So once again we hauled our bags into a new vehicle.


Eve and I both thought that we would get no proper sleep that night, but the Turkish bus must have been more comfortable because we both managed a couple of hours or so.  As far as we know, this bus did not leave the main road. Certainly it made good time into Istanbul.  We were deposited at the terminus at about 6:45am.


I wonder if anyone has ever surveyed the accessibility of taxis by time and place.  If they have, I should imagine that going on 7am outside a boarded up, defunct railway station would rank pretty low down the list.  But Istanbul is awash with taxis and there were actually two of them sitting on the rank waiting.  We showed one of them the printed name and address of our hotel and off we went.


There was a slight glitch with the GPS navigation system in the cab (I later found the same imaginary street on our electronic map), but we were delivered to Mint Residence at about 7:15.  This has to be one of the nicest hotels on the planet.  The porter hurried out to claim our bags, confirmed our booking, gave us the WiFi password and made us a cup of coffee, all the while apologising for his poor English.  When the receptionist came on duty he checked us in and, since the room was vacant, invited us to occupy it straight away, making this the earliest of early check-ins.  We asked if we could buy a breakfast and were told to help ourselves from the buffet.  The offer of payment was refused.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sofia

If you look at a map of Europe and plot a course from Bucharest to Istanbul you have to cross Bulgaria, but you would hardly expect to take in Sofia along the way. However, extensive interrogation of the Eurail timetables could not find a more direct route.

We left Bucharest in bright sunshine, sharing a compartment with a party of what appeared to be unsupervised schoolgirls. All but one of them wore glasses. They all spent most of the journey reading or writing. How terribly well behaved! With the addition of a young man, who turned out to be another New Zealander, the compartment was chocka. The seats were OK, but the luggage rack was perilously overloaded. Late in the journey I wandered along the carriage. None of the other compartments had more than 3 people in them. What a strange way to allocate the seats.

The train paused for a while at a major river. It was probably the Dunărea, i.e. the Danube, and the border with Bulgaria. It then proceeded terribly slowly over a very high bridge; a most uncomfortable sensation for an acrophobe like me.

When passports were demanded for inspection the girls produced credit-card-sized pieces of plastic, which were acceptable travel documents. Google has since confided that some national identity cards are valid for travel within Europe, but it was a surprise to us at the time.

The New Zealander had worked out a complicated cross-country itinerary and left the train at one of several stops in depressed looking Bulgarian towns. We and the girls stayed on the train all the way to Sofia, which was reached about 10:30pm. By following the youngsters (the station had NO signs for 'exit', 'taxi', etc. In fact, it had no signs!) we arrived at the metro. But we wanted a taxi. The lady in the ticket office couldn't, or wouldn't, direct us to a taxi rank so we wandered around in the dark until we found another human, who pointed up a flight of stairs.

There were several taxis waiting in the dark. We had thoughtfully prepared a card with the hotel's address in both Latin and Cyrillic characters. A driver looked at it thoughtfully.

“You have Bulgarian money?”.
“Yes.”
“OK.”

By following the journey on our 'magic map' we confirmed that the driver went by a direct route, but the hotel had no illuminated sign and he went past it. However, with the aid of our electronic map he soon deposited us on the pavement and claimed what was probably an exorbitant fee, but what were our options at 11pm in Bulgaria?

The hotel advertised 24-hour reception, which turned out to be in an all-night eatery 2 doors along. The room was small and the ensuite bathroom poky. But the bed was comfortable and we slept well.

By a happy chance the hotel was within walking distance of a tourist information office, which in turn was within walking distance of the main sight of Sofia, the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. There were other sights in the vicinity, too, but Malaysian Airlines had cancelled our flight out of Istanbul, and the least worst alternative flight cut our holiday short by one day – and Sofia was the unlucky city that was deprived of our company 24 hours early.


The cathedral is indeed an impressive building built, according to the information board, “by the whole Bulgarian people in memory of the thousands of Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Finnish and Romanian soldiers who, from 1877 to 1878, laid their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.” Finnish soldiers? Yes, Wikipedia confirms this.

Of particular interest is the collection of icons displayed in the crypt.


A 17th century work from Rila Monastery

This depicts “St. John the Forerunner.” Neither of us had ever heard of him, but dear Mr. Google led us to an article that explains this is another name for John the Baptist.  Either the artist's brush slipped, or St. John was a particularly grumpy individual.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bucharest

If the carriages of the train from Sighişoara were numbered we couldn't find the numbers, so it took a while to find our seats. The compartment was already occupied by a lady of our generation and a dog. It wasn't her seat, but the dog was not friendly and keeping it in the compartment would keep it out of other passengers' way. Amazingly, the woman and her husband spoke English. They lived part of the year in the USA and part in their native Romania. She knew we were foreigners because we worried about finding the right seats. “Romanians just sit anywhere.” The long-haired dachshund was indeed over-protective of his owners, but spent most of the journey grumbling to himself under the husband's seat. He barked at the ticket inspector, but did not attempt to bite anyone.

We arrived in Bucharest well after the scheduled time, but our Airbnb host, Cristian, was at the station to meet us. It seemed that nothing was too much trouble for Cristian and Irina. After depositing our luggage in their flat, which was just across the road from the station, Cristian accompanied us to a local takeaway, explained the menu (traditional stews, which appealed much more than burgers) and made sure the transaction went smoothly. He then took us past one supermarket to one with a better range of wines to choose from.

Between our guide book and our hosts' recommendations we had a long list of things we wanted to do. First, we went to the National Village Museum, more because I was intrigued by an open-air museum of buildings than out of passionate interest in homesteads, churches and mills. In the event, we became so engrossed that we spent more than half the day there.
One of the tidier village houses.

"Mill with bosom" according to the information board.  Some of the translations were a little suspect.  Originally located at Orichioi, Lake Razelm, it was used to grind maize and wheat.
Relocated from the Danube delta
A 'half-buried' house originally from Castranova.  Half-buried houses were not homes for poor people, according to the information board, because their construction required almost double the amount of timber compared to a conventional house.  The design was a response to a climate of strong winds and major fluctuations in temperature.

It was only after about 3 hours that I realised that no exhibit boasted inside sanitation.  Romanian villagers are not softies!

We had intended to visit the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, but we'd used up so much time at the Village Museum that we went straight to the starting point for a guided walking tour. The metro allows easy access from one carriage to another.  In fact you are barely aware of the join.


Despite the comfort of the metro, by the time we'd got to the walking tour assembly point we had spent so much time on our feet that we decided to go and find a beer instead.


On our 2nd morning we headed for the Palace of Parliament, the world's second largest building and originally built in 1984 by Nicolae Ceauşescu. It is seriously huge – like Ceauşescu's ego. We elected not to go on the tour of the interior, and instead guided ourselves around the city centre until it was time to return to the station and move on.

Ceauşescu's 3.3 billion euro folly.

Across the road from the giant palace was a park with a pretty big children's playground.
The Dâmboviţa River.  Several fishermen were trying their luck from the bridge and catching tiddlers.

Cristian explained that the Romanian language is a Romance language and thus related to French.  It must be a very distant relationship.  We did see the odd word on a sign that looked familiar, but it didn't sound anything like French.  For example, the Romanian for "Thank you" is "Mulţumesc", which Lonely Planet spells phonetically as mool-tsoo-mesk.  Cristian told us to say "merci".  "It will be understood everywhere."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sighişoara

Mike Theilmann recommended this little town in Romania as "worth a day". Lonely Planet describes it as "so beautiful it should be arrested". We thought we'd better check it out.

We arrived on an overnight train from Budapest. Having sat up all night and consequently got very little sleep, we discovered that couchettes were available as far as Vintu de Jos and we could have transferred in the morning to a regular carriage.  Why didn't the booking clerk in Budapest know this?

Romanian trains do not display quite the same punctuality as those in Germany and Austria, so we were deposited at Sighisoara station about an hour late. Before long a tiny, ancient taxi arrived and the driver looked doubtfully at our luggage. He opened the boot and quickly decided that our bags could not fit, so he stowed them on the back seat. Eve squeezed in beside them and I nursed the small backpack on my knees in the front.

I showed the driver the address, printed clearly for just such an occasion. He looked at it doubtfully, but we set off. Within 50 metres he was on his cellphone, apparently talking to his dispatcher, and steering erratically with one hand. A couple of near misses did not disturb him. The taxi company apparently has only the drivers' cellphones for contact. I swear his phone rang 4 times before he started ignoring it - in a journey of just over 1km.

At the gate to the old town a policeman tried to turn us back. Our driver argued our case magnificently and we were allowed to continue. Barriers and tapes across the streets suggested either a bomb scare or a pop concert.

Luckily our street was one of the first in the old town, so all we had to do was drive to no. 24. The driver didn't know where it was. Neither did the two policemen at the barrier. Or any of the pedestrians who were asked. Eventually we drove the entire length of the cobbled street twice before locating it - on the corner we arrived at!

The meter had not been running. It seemed to be one of several inessential devices in the taxi that did not work. The driver asked for only 8 leu. Even with a handsome tip that was less than $4.

It turned out that the security was all part of a 4-day festival of folk music. So after taking about 1,000 photos of picturesque buildings we spent the afternoon listening to different kinds of Romanian folk music and watching the dancing. I may have taken a few pictures of pretty maids in traditional costume as well.

The canvas roofs in the distance are by the folk festival stage in the town square.

One of the towers in the defensive walls.  Each tower was maintained by a different guild.

The clock tower.  It's only a little clock on a big tower.

A street just outside the walls.  Still picturesque, though.

Another cobbled street.

Away from the centre, but still within the walls.  Just out of the picture to the right is a cafe that apologised, "Sorry, we don't offer free WiFi.  Talk to each other."

We saw many houses in Romania with similar dormer windows that reminded me of heavily lidded eyes.
This girl had a great voice.  She should be singing jazz!

Enough bling for you?

The guys were pretty colourful as well.

The school was at the top of the hill.  The steps were covered so that the pupils could get to school in all weathers.
The old schoolhouse was open to the public.  This bust was not labelled.  The first headmaster, maybe?
We had booked a tiny apartment through Airbnb. It was in a genuinely old building inside the mediaeval walled town. Gorgeous.

Strada Tâmplarilor no.24.  Our flat was upstairs.

Modern plumbing doesn't always fit mediaeval rooms.  The shower got us clean, but it spread a lot of water over the floor.

Part of the bed-sitting room.  It doesn't really show just how spacious it was.
Since the journey back to the station was downhill I reckoned we could walk it. Eve may one day forgive me. Google maps estimated 1.3km, which is less than a mile. Eve's suitcase has good wheels so it would have been OK if Sighişoara had wide, even pavements. But it doesn't. The walk did allow us close up views of the horse-drawn carts that are still in daily use in Transylvania. Based on observations from the trains they are roughly 50% of the rural traffic.


We arrived at the station in good time. Romanian trains maintained their punctuality record by running 90 minutes late. We were kept alert while we waited by the actions of what we suspected was a Roma family. The two smaller children went up and down the platform begging. The girl had a bandage on her arm, but no visible signs of injury or ill-health. She was not favouring the arm at all. The young men sauntered around in a small group, but we saw no signs of aggression or pillaging.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Budapest

The train left Bratislava late, and got later. In the middle of the Slovakian countryside it stopped altogether. The first class carriage seemed to be inhabited solely by English-speakers so none of us understood the official announcement, which was followed by a mass evacuation of the 2nd class coaches. It seems that the first theory that they were heading for a nearby station was incorrect. They had just hopped outside for a smoke! Eve's hypothesis was that the engine had broken down, and the later appearance of a fresh locomotive bore out this theory.

We sent a text message to our Airbnb host to alert him to the delay. We were therefore surprised when we got a 'Where are you?' text from the host's cousin as the train crawled through the suburbs of Budapest. The apartment was operated as tourist accommodation by the Andrassy family, and during our stay we met several cousins. They were charming and very helpful when alongside us, but text messages never got passed on to the right individual.

Having messaged our arrival it was frustrating to stand on the pavement in the evening gloom beside a locked gate for half an hour waiting to be let in. And then the flat was without electricity. The day before Budapest had been drenched by a tremendous storm, and power was still out in many places, including the block of flats where we were staying. While we saw several individual buildings in darkness, it was not affecting the whole area. Not far along the street we found a suitable restaurant where apparently everything worked except the EFTPOS machine.

In the morning the power was back on, but there was no Internet. An Andrassy cousin appeared, rebooted the router and still we had no Internet. So he telephoned the ISP and discovered that the problem was that the ISP itself was still without power. Across the street a fire engine was pumping out someone's basement. It must have been a memorable storm.

A local pastry shop and the coffee shop opposite provided breakfast for a total of $4.

Our first task in Budapest was to reserve our next train. By the time we had bought tickets and negotiated the metro it was 11am when we arrived at the main train station to book our sleeper berth to Romania. For some reason Eurail cannot reserve sleeper berths anywhere, and most of the trains as we got further East were 'reservation required'. I suspect that this is merely to wring a few extra dollars out of travellers for a booking fee. Under communist rule there was only one class of travel, and most trains in the former Eastern bloc still lack first class coaches. Back at the station to make an international booking the system is very simple. You take a ticket with a number and go to a ticket window when your number is called. At the time we took our ticket we were approximately 80th in the queue. Our number was called roughly 2 hours after we took our ticket.

Internet research had provided contradictory information about trains between Budapest and our next destination, Sighişoara. Some sites said we had to change, while some reckoned we could go straight through. Some advertised sleeper accommodation and some didn't. Our international reservations lady was built like a prop forward and gave me the initial impression of having a sore head. However, it was her computer that was troublesome, not us. After much scowling investigation we were told that no sleeper berths were available, and the only seats were in 2nd class. But we didn't have to change trains.

You couldn't help noticing a lot of people in a covered area between the main station and the entrance to the underground. They were just sitting and/or sleeping in family groups. We didn't realise until we got home that they must have been Syrian refugees

To see lots of Budapest in the day and a half remaining, we invested in a hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Not the smartest move. The open air bus was too cold and the covered one too stuffy. The commentary was available in lots of languages, but it was occasional factoids buried in lots of music, which was most disappointing. However, the tariff includes a boat ride on the Danube.

It turned into a showery afternoon, so deserting the open-top bus was a good choice. We went right around the route and determined that we would return and explore Buda Castle on the morrow.

The nearest metro line to the flat was the oldest underground railway in continental Europe. It still features little 2-car trains and very Victorian platforms. It's the underground railway that hobbits would build. Luckily it's very shallow. The lack of escalators doesn't matter.

Station name and walls in ceramic tiles.

Across the tracks to the opposite platform.

The next day was 20 August, which is Hungary's first king St. Stephen's Day, also the day of the Foundation of Hungary and "the day of the new bread". St. Stephen of Hungary (ca. 975 – 15 August 1038), as the first king of Hungary, led the country into the Christian church and established the institutions of the kingdom and the church. I mention this because the celebrations involve closing some roads and Buda Castle.

Thus we had to rapidly revise our programme. We had a pleasant amble through the park on Gellért Hill, but it wasn't the same as a castle. The hill is named after St. Gellért, an Italian who came to Hungary as a missionary bishop upon the invitation of King St. Stephen I around 1000 AD. His task was to convert the Hungarians to Christianity. Some pagan leaders who did not want to convert captured St. Gellért and rolled him down from the hill in a barrel. Whilst we deplore such a violent response, we can understand the pagans' frustrations at the uninvited door-knocker.

The weather was suitable for rising in an open-top bus on the 2nd day.
Fortunately the Danube boats were still running on the holiday, so we got our boat ride. The commentary on the boat was far more informative than the bus, but the sound quality wasn't very good.


Buda Castle

Matthias Church

Some of the blocks of flats had sporting designs on the walls.  This one is fencing.
An unknown, but very colourful building by the river.
The Parliament building faces the river.
After our excursion afloat we promenaded the streets of Pest. (Originally there were two towns, Buda on the West bank of the river and Pest on the East.) There was definitely a carnival atmosphere, including some great music.

This violinist was superb.

A wine-glass xylophone, well tuned and played with great skill.
We drifted to the Parliament building. It faces the river and our tour had overloaded us with statistics about the umpteen kilometres of corridors, total height of lift shafts and numbers of minions that work there. In the vernacular, it is humongous.

Parliament from the back.

We have not located an explanation for this piece of art.  Is it significant that it faces the Parliament Building?  Maybe all politicians should be greeted with a similar salute when they leave the chamber.
The highlight of the holiday is a huge fireworks display from the river bank. People were already thronging bridges and streets beside the river long before nightfall but we had to forgo the entertainment and catch a train.


We had stored our luggage at the flat. Lonely Planet recommends a couple of taxi companies, but warns that the dispatchers only speak Hungarian. Uber is the answer. You don't need to speak any foreign languages to use the app. The drivers were very busy that evening (or had gone off duty to watch the fireworks) but eventually we got a car to the station. This time the estimate was very accurate, and the fare was significantly less than the regular taxi we used on arrival.