During September I made a business trip to Hungary - my first ever trip to the country - but, as is usually the case with work trips, I had no real chance to sample the railway scene whilst there. Shortly after I returned however I had an exchange of e-mails with a colleague who, along with some others, had planned a holiday there in November, including a days trip into Croatia to sample some of their diesels.
"Why not come along?" he said.......
My first reaction was that I did not have the time (too many railtours at the moment!) nor money to contemplate a trip into Eastern Europe. The financial situation was confirmed when I checked on the British Airways Website and was quoted Ł662 for a return air ticket from London to Budapest!! A search on "Expedia" however offered me the same basic flight details with Malev (the Hungarian national airline) for a mere Ł172 - that was flying out on the Sunday morning and back on the Friday evening, thereby enabling me to travel on the two railtours I was already booked on. OK thought I, that's the time and money arguments put to one side, Hungary here I come!
As per my normal practice I have shown all the required haulages underlined in red.
Thanks must go to my Father for getting me to and from Heathrow Airport - this saved a lot of mucking about on public transport or having a hire car or taxi (couldn't have made the flight otherwise on the Sunday morning). I was checked in not long after 7am on the Sunday morning (5th November) and Boeing 737-300 HA-LES transported me the two and a half hours to Budapest where I arrived about lunchtime. Various ways to get to the centre of Budapest, all involving road transport - per advice given I chose the Airport Minibus at about Ł4.50, probably about the quickest way other than a taxi (at about Ł7.50). The advantage of the Minibus service is that it drops you off at the address of your choice, in my case Budapest Keleti railway station.
Another piece of helpful advice I'd received prior to leaving the UK was to write down the details ticket I wanted (in Hungarian) on a piece of paper. This is where knowing someone who has been before comes in very handy! Armed with the information required I soon purchased a weeks MAV (Hungarian Railways) railrover - an absolute bargain at less than Ł24 for 7 days unlimited travel on all MAV operated services. Obtaining a timetable was less successful however - the ticket office clerk referred me to the information window alongside. The woman there sent me to the main information window behind the left luggage but they said I should go to the information window by the ticket office! I later found out that the left luggage office often sells timetables. Oh, well...
After a quick stock-up of supplies for the afternoon I set off to make my way to Szombathely where I was meeting up with my colleagues. The 14.15 departure was to get me all the way to Szombathely - V63 045 providing the motive power to Györ where M41 2169 took over for the remainder of the run via Celldömölk and Sárvár. My colleagues were due to join me at the latter station but the train was so wedged they couldn't get through the carriages to find me! At Szombathely we met-up but late running in caused us to miss the opportunity for scoring a Russian built M62 for haulage. Oh, I should probably explain for those not "into" Hungarian traction - diesel locos are recognisable by having class numbers beginning with "M" whereas electric loco class numbers begin with a "V".
For the next few days the group of five of us (Denzil, Matt ~ alias "Mr Haribo", Wes, Sutty and myself) would be travelling round together, experiencing whatever the areas we visited could throw at us. Having missed the intended train we chose to go to the hotel at this point, dump the bags, then go and get a bite to eat. This we did after which we made our way back to the station to enable me to do something I did not intend leaving Hungary without doing - have an M61 class "Nohab" for haulage. A DMU (BZmot205) took us back to Sárvár in time for M61 010 on the evening service from Pécs to Szombathely. Day one and I was well happy already! This was sampled as far as Vép (no relation to SR EMU's) where a short wait scored us M41 2208 for the remainder of the journey to Szombathely where we arrived about 10pm. With an early start planned for the next day we walked back to the hotel at this point and crashed out. The Hotel Savaria where we were staying was definitely something out of the Communist era - big rooms, lots of ornate decorations, marble etc
Day 2 (Monday 6th November) started with an 05.10 taxi to the station. We raided a local supermarket (open from 04.45!!) to get some rolls and fillings, then onto the station to find "Sergei" M62 255 on the 05.30 train to Pécs. This thrashed its way along to Nagykanisza whilst we made up breakfast from the supplies we'd obtained. Only one minor problem - Matt had bought some butter for us all to use, but it turned out to be bakers yeast! We stayed on the train at Nagykanisza where the loco was changed to V43 1069 for the onward journey. Only another 10 minutes on board for us though as we changed at Murakeresztúr for the cross-border train into Croatia.
Took ages to get our tickets here and we began to think we might miss the DMU (Croatian Railways 7 121 007) to get us over the border. We need not have worried however as the passport and customs officers had to go through the train first. That got us two more stamps in our passports! The train went to Varazdin and we baled here to get some local currency. With that achieved we then killed some time in a local bar before heading back to the station for our next train. We were amused in the bar - the door marked "WC" led to....an open courtyard! Our motive power out of Varazdin was GM-built 2 062 017 which worked the local train to Koprivnica, a journey of about 40 minutes. I think I have finally found a decent GM product!! The thrash was superb away from every station. We killed time at Koprivnica photographing the various train movements in and out before the same loco returned us to Varazdin - more hellfire thrash!
Once back and five became six as another UK crank joined us (Anthony), armed with some local beer for us to sample :-) The remainder of the afternoon was spent between Varazdin and Cakovec, scoring some more "HZ" (Croatian Railways) diesels for haulage (2 044 011, 2 044 013 & 2 044 015). At Cakovec we attracted the attention of a local police officer but, after a few questions, he seemed satisfied we were not up to anything untoward. We returned to Hungary behind 2 044 017 on an international train, with a loco change to V43 1160 at Murakeresztúr whilst the passports were being checked (no stamps this time though). We all agreed our trip into Croatia had been well worth the effort and we even started planning a longer trip there for next year!! The electric got us to Balaton-szentygörgy where we hoped to make the "minus one" onto the Nohab diagram to Szombathely. We were confident of making it....but failed :-( It was annoying to then discover two more UK cranks were aboard and they also knew we were trying to get it.... An hours fester in Balaton-szentygörgy before we had M41 2169 (my first dud MAV haulage!!!!) to get us to Tapolca, or base for the next two days. Two taxis were hailed to get us to the hotel where we met with the two other UK cranks and also a local Hungarian one they all knew (Ferenc). Check-in, spruce up and a group meal was taken in the hotel restaurant.
Tuesday (7th), day 3, and I started the day on my second "Nohab" - M61 006. With only three still in active service (out of a class of 20) I was quite pleased to have another required one. This got the core five of us to Fonyód where a quick leap got us behind M62 171 for a run back towards Tapolca. As we changed we noticed the driver of the M61 investigating a load of smoke coming from the leading bogie of the loco - traction motor problem perhaps (happens a lot on the MAV Nohabs apparently). Some excitement at Balaton-szentygörgy when we were held for the addition of M47 2157 onto the front of our train - another new loco class for haulage :-) We baled at Kesthely for V43 1060 back (again) towards Fonyód, but only as far as Balatonfenyves. This back and forth bash was enjoyable as we were on the route which follows the southern shore of Lake Balaton, so there were nice views in addition to scoring locos for haulage.
Supermarket time, then into a local bar for a beer. One of the locals in the bar must've liked us as he brought us over a bottle of Hungarian red wine to try! It was nice so we bought him a few beers in return. The rest of the day was a very strange experience - travelling over the narrow gauge lines to Somogyszenpál, Táska and Csisztapuszta. How such a set of lines has ever survived into the 21st Century is completely beyond me - the train consisted of an 0-4-0 diesel-mechanical shunter (C50 class) and a single carriage. The carriage had wooden bench seats and a wood/coal fired heater in it! It did however come equipped with a toilet - complete with a bucket of water to flush it (though no-one had - the results of which are simply too gruesome to describe here!!). The line wends its way through the countryside, serving small hamlets and farms.
A visit to the narrow-gauge workshops/depot was also made - another strange experience as it involved a visit to the depot managers office before we left. No English spoken, but we still managed some communication about the railway and locos. A box of postcards and a book were produced and we were expected to spend some money on them (no "free" depot visit here then). The visit was completed when the depot foreman offered us a glass of Pálinka, a "local" Hungarian strong spirit (down in one - hellfire!). The final train we did on this line was the "peak hour"service which even took in a curve not otherwise used on the daily service. It was a busy train as we left (mostly school children) but quite soon we were the only passengers. It was getting dark too but the guard didn't bother with the lights, so we completed the journey in complete darkness (he was in the cab with the driver by then)! We were pleased with the afternoon on this network of lines as we had scored two C50 class locos (GV5713 & GV5723) for haulage.
On returning to Balatonfenyves we wanted to make the "-4" connection on to the Nohab hauled train (same one as mentioned twice already above!). Some fast running on the narrow gauge...
....well, "fast" is sort of relative, the line speed limit was just 15km/h....
....anyway, as I was saying ~ some fast running did get us back in time for the Nohab (M61 006), which we took as far as Kesthely where myself and Denzil baled to get a beer in then M47 2157 back to Balaton-szentygörgy for me to score M41 2182 back to Tapolca (dud for the others, hence they went straight back to the hotel). Quick clean-up and another hotel restaurant meal was sampled.
Day 4 (Wednesday 8th) was to have been an early start, but a change of plan had been agreed the night before when we realised M61 020 (my last one for haulage of the surviving service fleet) was out on the morning train to Pécs. M61 020 duly arrived and I was all smiles. An even bigger smile then as Denzil had been chatting to a driver he knew on an M41 that was platformed alongside - the driver had a word with the Nohab driver and it was agreed we could experience the Nohab from "up front". At Kesthely, Matt and myself baled off the train and up to the Nohab where the driver promptly opened the door to let us in. We stayed on until Fonyód where we got out to let Wes and Sutty have their first Nohab cabride.
Our re-planned day had us making a seven minute connection at Kaposvár but we were held on the approach and arrived to find no obvious train bound for Budapest. We collared the station master and he showed us we'd got a wait of nearly 3 hours - the train we had wanted had been retimed two minutes earlier. We assume we'd been held until it left as there had not been a free platform. Grrrr....
Back on to the Pécs train (now changed to V43 1148) for a half-hour run to Dombóvár. A wait here for another V43 (V43 1074) back to Kaposvár for a supermarket move (you'll have gathered we were killing time, waiting for the 13.55 service to Budapest). We decided on a hot lunch and hamburgers were duly purchased from the station burger bar. Unfortunately the meat was still cold so they were quickly binned! As we headed towards Dombóvár on the Budapest train (V43 1068) the smell of hamburgers became very noticeable - the train heating was on rather hot and it was heating the litter bins under the table, which in turn were cooking our discarded burgers!
A small treat at Dombóvár as the train we were on is joined up to a portion from Pécs. As a result we scored the shunter for a haulage of about a kilometre (M43 1116) and also another electric (V43 1081) which took us onwards towards Budapest.
As we were running almost three hours behind plan we were still looking at where we'd be spending the night - we were intending to head out to Miskolc (a couple of hours east of Budapest) but a late arrival was now on the cards and we had no hotel booked...nor did we know what hotels were there. The plans were further thrown into disarray when the gripper appeared. As he checked our tickets he yabbled on about something which included the word "autobus" - oh dear, a further hold up was about to scupper our plans. Sure enough, at Pincehely we had to change to buses for a 15 minute journey to Simontornya (about 12km by rail). As we crossed a river approaching Simontornya we saw the reason for the bustitution - MAV were mid way through a Newark-style bridge replacement exercise! The new bridge looked about ready to be moved into place. Bit of a bugger really as I will now have to go back to get the missing piece of track between the stations! Never mind, I then scored yet another V43 (V43 1352) as a result of the line closure. Further time was being lost at each station stop and, after a while, a group decision was made to abandon the plan to travel out to Miskolc in the evening.
We arrived into Budapest Deli station about 6pm, accommodation already arranged (courtesy of Ferenc, the Hungarian crank) in the Hotel Volga (Ibis) near Nyugati station. Getting there involved a ride on two metro lines. A ride on the Budapest metro is recommended - it is based very closely on the metro system in Moscow. It also uses Russian built units, still complete with Russian-language builders plates above the internal end doors!
The roaming grippers were out in force and we had our tickets checked THREE times in less than five minutes. We can only assume they go for tourists as "easy prey". Once into the hotel we freshened up and then went out for a meal at a local restaurant. Slight problem when we returned - I was sharing a triple room with Matt & Wes, when Matt plugged his mobile phone in to charge he blew the plugs and room lights! All credit to the hotel, they got it sorted very quickly.
Thursday 9th - day 5. We still intended to make it to Miskolc as there was a narrow gauge railway there we wanted to travel on. We got there as follows;
Budapest Keleti - Hatvan : V43
Hatvan - Füzesabony : V43 2309
Füzesabony - Eger : V43 1020
Eger - Füzesabony : V43 1372
Füzesabony - Miskolc : V43 1362
We'd been warned that the narrow gauge station was a long way from the mainline one and a taxi move was the easy option. A quick check of the tram map at the station however showed us we could catch a tram there. We did - although it took about 30 minutes (giving some idea how far it was). We made it with about 10 minutes to spare and had a chance to photograph the train arrive. D02 501 (Mk48 class) was our loco to get us to Garadna, the end of one of the two routes on this line. This narrow gauge railway system is actually now privately owned, so we all had to purchase tickets - which cost about 80p for the two hour round trip! The train consisted of just a single coach, coal/wood fired stove heating again. And an interesting journey it proved to be....
Shortly out of Miskolc Kilian Esak station we passed the depot where D02 508 was noted on a wagon containing ballast. Once out of the town the line climbs very steeply into the woods. The train has a crew of three - and we were the only passengers! One of the crew motioned to us that we were welcome to stand on the outside balcony behind the loco. Part way up the single line I happened to glance back - and almost fell off the balcony when I saw D02 501 about 50 metres behind us, propelling the ballast wagon!! Shouts and hand signals between the two train crews made it obvious that D02 501's crew thought we were going too slowly and they got within just a few feet of our coach at one point, motioning for us to go quicker. Imagine single line operation like this in the UK - I think not!!
Part way up we stopped at Lillafüred and two of our number were despatched for hot dogs as the crew intimated we'd be there for about 10 minutes. We were but the fast food outlet wasn't (fast, that is) and Matt plus Wes returned with just two hot-dogs after I dashed in to tell them the train was about to leave without them. The three of us who didn't get our hot-dogs got the last laugh though - the meat was cold, so they got chucked! We set off with the freight train again in pursuit, though it dropped away on reaching a p-way gang about a kilometre from Lillafüred. Towards Garadna we had a good laugh as we passed a car parked up next to the line in a small forest clearing - with all the windows steamed up. From our laughs the crew also worked out hat was going on!
At Garadna the loco ran round and we soon headed back down the hill towards Lillafüred - it was so steep that the driver didn't bother to start the engine, we just freewheeled! Now, how do we count that in the haulage records....is the mileage valid?
As we passed the car (still with steamed up windows) the driver slowed the train so he could get a good look!
Back into Miskolc we only had about half an hour to make the station for the train we wanted - we made it but only by a fast run from the tram stop to the platform. V43 1052 took us to Hatvan where we baled in search of another shunter haulage on a service that arrives as two halves and gets shunted. M43 1119 duly appeared and I scratched my second M43 for haulage. We stayed on the train once shunted and this got us back to Budapest Keleti station (V43 2275 in charge). Back to the hotel then out for a meal in central Budapest. We'd also arranged to meet Ferenc for a drink so it was a late night. Matt failed early (I was getting close too, as I think was Wes) so the three of us got a taxi back to the hotel. It was just gone midnight and Wes decided to plug his mobile phone in to charge it. He managed a repeat performance of the previous night - all the lights went off! Poor Matt was sat in the loo at the time and had to sit it out in the dark until someone came to restore the lights!
Friday - day 6 and my last one of the holiday. We'd arranged to meet for breakfast at 8am but Denzil and Sutty failed, having not got back to the hotel until about 2.30am. They appeared just as we finished, but just in time so that we could start off together on the days moves. A local day planned, we took the metro to Moszkva Tér for a tram to Város Major. Here we swapped onto a rack railway for the run uphill to Széchenyihegy. A very tight connection here got us onto the 10.00 departure on the narrow gauge "Childrens Railway" (once also known as the "Pioneer Railway"). This is the quite well-known line which is operated predominantly by school children. We spent the morning on this line, scoring the two locos for haulage that were out working (Mk45 2002 & Mk45 2005). I can honestly say this is the first time I have seen a ticket collector (a girl of about 10 years old) getting a pencil-case out so she could "grip" my ticket! We also had a look around the depot before heading back into Budapest via two different tram routes.
Lunch was taken in the MacDonalds at Budapest Nyugati railway station - probably the most ornate MacD's anywhere in the world! Big Mac, fries & a drink for about Ł1.25 - reasonable value for us but I expect somewhat expensive for the local population. The first part of the afternoon was spent on a short leap out into the suburbs to Kobanya Kispest station behind V43 1255. Whilst waiting for an M41 hauled service out we had a rare treat in the shape of a passing steam-hauled railtour! M41 2111 took us to Pestszentimre Felsö for M41 2102 back.
Too soon and, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end - for me it was time to head for the airport for my flight home. At Kobanya Kispest it is possible to get an express bus to the airport so I said goodbye to my travelling companions and did just that. Boeing 737-400 HA-LEO got me back to Heathrow (on time - something rarely achieved by British Airways in my experience) and the end of an extremely enjoyable weeks bashing.
Verdict : Thoroughly recommended! I would suggest however trying to do your first trip with someone else who has already been before as it is a somewhat different culture compared to the UK. Going in a group is also an advantage - more fun and a little safer too (not that I'd say Hungary or Croatia was particularly "unsafe", just you do "stand out" a bit from the locals and could potentially attract the attention of some unsavoury characters). Knowing some German is also helpful as not much English is spoken.
The cost? I already mentioned how cheap the air ticket was that I managed to get - Ł172 - and the rover ticket at under Ł24 for a week. Combine this with hotels between Ł10 and Ł20 a night and well-cheap food and it actually makes for a cheap weeks holiday (probably about the same as a week on a UK all-line railrover- but a lot more interesting!). Staying near Lake Balaton is also pretty good if you want more than just a railway holiday as the area is very "geared up" for tourists, especially in the summer.
Follow this link for some photos of the trip.
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