Buying Travel Cards and Tickets in Budapest
If you come to Budapest for a few days, you can buy a Budapest travel card for one, two or three days. I think three days is about 25 euros. They are sold at the kiosks in the (underground) metro stations and at tourist information. If you don’t speak any Hungarian, probably best to buy from tourist information (or maybe you can get them in the airport somewhere), since otherwise you have to deal with Hungary’s most miserable citizens — the elderly women who work in the metro station kiosks. To be fair, it is probably a very tiring job, and badly paid. Hungarians do not smile superfluously.
You can also buy them from the machines in the metro, but dealing with those machines is almost worse than dealing with the old women — especially since some dodgy-looking geezer will probably try to sell you a dodgy-looking ticket for twice the price while you’re attempting to figure out the machine.
However, there is a secret that is jealously garded from tourists. For 9800 forint (about 36 euros), you can buy a bérlet (monthly travel pass) that lets you travel on trams, buses and the metro as much as you like for an entire month! Probably you want a havi bérlet felnőtt (monthly season ticket for adults). There are other sorts besides felnőtt (adult): diák (student), nyugdíjas (retired), etc. You must also say when you want it to start from, e.g. mától (from today).
Write down this stuff on a piece of paper and point to it! Try to look very serious at the same time.
You also need a little bit of paper called a bérletigazolvány for 250 forint — I don’t know what this is, but they will sell you one when you buy the monthly pass.
Oh, and I should mention you’ll need a passport photo to buy the monthly travel pass. But don’t worry, there are passport photo machines in most metro stations. Of course they ask you things in Hungarian, but as long as you are familiar with the machines in your own language, stay calm and you can work out how to get photos out of them.
Otherwise, you’re stuck with buying a “jegy” (ticket) from the newspaper kiosks in the metro stations and elsewhere. Each jegy is good for a single journey and costs 300 huf (forint, that is). You have to punch them in the machines on trams or buses, or at the entrances to metros. The machines often don’t work, meaning you either get a free trip or a 45-euro fine, depending on whether you meet with a member of the Kontroll (ticket inspectors) who disguise themselves cleverly as ordinary people. You can also buy a ten-ticket book of tickets (egy 10 darabos gyűjtőjegy). Don’t try to pronounce that without training though …. they won’t understand you, trust me.
Café Street and the Great Market Hall … and Repairing Your Computer in BudapestNot long after I arrived here, my new laptop broke. Asus …. I won’t be buying one of these again! Turns out my Asus warranty from Holland is only valid in a bunch of random countries that I don’t live in. Fortunately these people fixed it for me, for a mere 12,000 huf. They all speak great English — in fact the technicians are from New Zealand and America.
Even if you don’t have an Asus laptop (lucky you), Ráday ut (street) is worth visiting. It’s full of cafés frequented by students and assorted others. You can find Ráday ut just down from Kálvin tér (square), where lots of trams stop. Visible from a street off to the right as you walk down Ráday ut is the ornate Great Market Hall — a huge place full of lots of stalls selling fruit and veg, meat, preserves, chocolates and so on.
One of the tricky things when you move to a new country is working out where to buy stuff. Even if you’re moving between two countries that are quite similar (and most big towns are quite similar these days!), it’s still a bit tricky.
Here in Budapest, there are big supermarkets like you find in the UK, Italy, Holland, USA and so on. The biggest ones are Spar, Kaiser’s (suspiciously similar to Spar — I don’t understand why they have different names!), and even Tesco, the British supermarket. Type Spar Budapest into Google Maps and you’ll easily find them.
There’s also an IKEA here, but that I have yet to experience ….
If you need a computer, a printer, paper or a fan (you probably will need a fan!), there’s an office supplies shop halfway up Király utca, a street that leads up from Deák Ferenc tér in Pest.
There are lots of health food shops in Budapest — search for “biobolt” in Google Maps to find them.
And here’s a tip that I didn’t include in the first draft of this page, due to my naivete …. Don’t buy fruit, or vegetables if possible, from supermarkets. The fruit and veg is MUCH better if you buy it from a market or a grocer’s. People often claim that this is true in England, but in Budapest it really, really is true. Buy vegetables from the otherwise-excellent Spar and, no offence Spar, but you might easily end up throwing half of them away. But round the corner from Spar you are likely to find a fruit shop selling the same stuff but of much better quality. You might even find an old woman from a village somewhere selling you excellent cherries at discount prices. If you see one of these old women, don’t write them off … stop and buy what they’re selling! It’s usually good, and cheap.
That’s all for the moment — it’s 33 degrees here and the heat of my laptop is making me turn into a puddle.
Oh dear, this blog has largely lost its original purpose and is now about Budapest. Maybe it’ll get back on track later.