The Forests of Budapest

Posted by – June 1, 2011

Budapest Forest

Forest near Budapest

It’s true that Budapest is full of traffic and traffic fumes, but on the other hand after only a short tram ride followed by a short walk, you can be totally alone in a beautiful forest.

Or at least I think you can — as for myself, I live in an apartment block with irregularly-spaced lights that switch on and off unpredictably and are operated by switches in obscure places; due to this, a couple of days ago I thought I’d finished walking down the staircase in the dark, but in fact I hadn’t. My ankle made an interesting crunching sound, and since then … well, if there are any one-legged hopping championships in Budapest, I’ll definitely enter them.

Before this happened I did have a chance to explore the more popular parts of the forests however. SvábhegyFrom the center of Budapest you can take a tram, metro or bus to Széll Kálmán tér (which used to be called Moskva tér — note the name, because you may still see it on signposts and you’ll get confused), and from there you can take the 59 or 61 tram to the cogwheel tram stop at Varosmajor, which will take you to János hegy or, two stops before, Svábhegy. The cogwheel tram is a tram that’s equipped to climb gradients, and you can travel on it with the ordinary tram tickets and passes that you’d use elsewhere in Budapest.

There’s actually also a “Children’s Railway” (good for adults too) that runs right through the forests, stopping at János hegy and other places. You have to pay separately for this, but it’s a very nice ride, and staffed by amiable Young Communists (OK, they used to be Young Communists, now they are some kind of boy scout ….).

These hills have a number of tourist facilities located on them, catering perhaps more to local “tourists” than foreigners. You can buy food up there — burgers, candy floss, that sort of thing. And this ….

Kürtös kalács

Kürtös kalács

… which is a sort of sweet thing, very tasty, made fresh in front of you and not as sticky as it looks.

On Jánoshegy itself there’s actually a big tower, filled with tourists (at least at the weekend) which you can go up for free.

Jánoshegy

Jánoshegy tower

This is a good vantage point from which to survey the sheer extent of the forest near Budapest. There’s lots of it. It’s fairly old forest too — not horrible scrubby forest of the kind you can find in New Hampshire USA, and not paper farm forest of the kind that mostly occurs in Scotland, but delicious 8-out-of-10 mature forest [Note, 23 July 2011: I was totally wrong about this. Most of it sadly is pretty scrubby. I'm working on figuring out where the best bits are!]. No doubt this forest is filled with interesting fungi when the weather turns cold in autumn, since the climate here is perfect for mushrooms.

I must mention something strange at this point; it’s strange but the birds sing a lot more loudly here than in the UK, Holland, Italy or the one part of the USA that I’ve visited. Are they trying to make themselves heard over the traffic? Budapest must have the loudest blackbirds in the world! The forests are of course full of twittering birds, as well as beautiful shiny green or gold beetles and quite sizeable little green lizards. There are also deer there, but I haven’t spotted any yet myself.

JánoshegyAs you can tell, the forests themselves are the main attraction for me up in the hills — there’s nothing quite like sitting quietly in a forest listening to the sound of leaves rustling and birds singing, in-between hunting for edible mushrooms if it’s autumn or late summer. Nevertheless, I must mention one other attraction of Jánoshegy that is really worth paying a few euros (well, forints) for. There’s actually a ski-lift-type-thing that takes you up and down Jánoshegy if you don’t want to walk. This contraption takes you through the tops of the trees, your feet dangling a dizzying distance from the ground, making you feel not unlike a strange sort of bird. I highly recommend it.

Internet Income: Guru.com

Continuing with this blog’s purported theme of making money while living in cheap (by UK/USA standards) but beautiful places, this week I’ve been creating a profile on Guru.com and bidding on bits of work. I’m still clueless about how this site really works; I don’t know how easy it is to get freelance work on here, how much money you can make, how easy it is to find good contacts through this site, or really anything else. Guru.com has lots of software work on it (which is what I’m mainly looking into), but there’s also web design work, article-writing work and so on. I’ll let you know how it goes. My plan is to start off by bidding on a few contracts, then intensify my efforts if nothing comes of my initial forays. Guru.com makes you pay if you want to bid on more than ten contracts a month, so I’m still deciding whether to stump up cash or not.

Hungarians: Chess-Playing Ping-Pong Jazz Enthusiasts, Every Single One of Them

One last note. I’ve been here a month now and I’m gradually getting to know a little bit about Hungarians. They regard themselves as horribly pessimistic, but I haven’t actually seen any signs of this myself — except that they all think Hungary is rubbish and Britain a paradise. If you were to take politics and economics out of the picture, I would frankly say that the truth was the other way around, going on what I’ve seen of Budapest (but OK Budapest is not Hungary). Of course, politics and economics are unfortunately highly important. I hope Hungary can get on track economically; I’m sure it can, once the current financial crisis dies down a bit.

Cogwheel Tram

Cogwheel Tram

Hungarians really seem like very nice people. They aren’t reserved like English people, or not to the same extent. An old woman took me by the arm and pulled me back from the edge of a tram track the other day; she thought I was standing dangerously close to the tram. People of both sexes spontaneously start talking to me (usually in Hungarian alas, which I am still struggling with!). And let me say that I am tall and serious-looking, which deters people from talking to me in England! It seems as though there is a lack of pretension in Hungarians that is very pleasant. They aren’t trying to impress you or intimidate you. When I first came to Budapest, I half expected to find it crawling with pick-pockets and prostitutes. So far I haven’t encountered either! London at night makes me nervous, but not Budapest. According to a survey I read recently, young people in Hungary are the least committed to large corporations of anyone in Europe. Hungarians, it seems, are far more likely to be jazz- or classical-music-loving artists or mathematics enthusiasts, enjoying ping-pong or chess, than to be squash-playing stooges for some big corporation. This is very refreshing.

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