Up well before the larks, Sam, Graham and I left Newcastle International Airport around 6.00am on 12th June, taking a KLM flight for Budapest via Amsterdam. My weighty bag only just made the check in allowance I think as the tripod, biscuits, salted peanuts, milk chocolate and books had upped the weight considerably. It was to be clear skies and sun all of the way and when we touched down at Ferenc Liszt Airport in Budapest the temperatures were touching 35˚ C. The taxi ride to Hotel Burg on the Buda bank of the Danube was almost as if we were being baked alive in a large yellow tin can! The friendly taxi driver’s (he was also feeling the heat) attempts at avoiding traffic failed dismally and sent us into even deeper traffic, but I can’t help thinking that the cost was far below that of a London Taxi and it didn’t take long to reach our hotel in Buda.
The boys are back in town!
A hide with a view.
This little excursion has been in the planning for at least twelve months. Graham and I have visited Hungary before, but it was a first for Sam as indeed it was a first time experience for him of focusing so much upon nature outside of the UK. Our ultimate destination was to be Farm Lator in the Bukk Hills region of Hungary, but more of that later. We’d decided to spend some cultural time in Budapest (a first time experience for us all. Budapest, not the culture), so we were to be here for a couple of nights. The air conditioning in Graham’s room was ‘out of order’ but once fixed up with a large fan we were exploring Buda and taking in the views over the Danube to Pest, and in particular the Hungarian Parliament building that I’m sure all of my cultured readers are aware of! I secretly congratulated myself on the choice of hotel and area for our short stay. It was well away from the maddening crowd, although if honest, I never really saw crowds in Budapest or anywhere else in Hungary. Quite a relief for someone who lives in an over populated UK.
Round the corner from the hotel.
Now Budapest is not without bird life and I shall come along to that soon, but first a little information concerning our experiences. Importantly we found a very nice little restraunt up the street from the hotel and had our evening meals there whilst serenaded by a Gypsy type band that where very good, as was the food and friendly service. Our evenings were spent looking over the Danube River from high up on the area known as the Fisherman’s Bastion which was a two minute walk from our hotel. Sam and I ventured down to the riverside and blimey that walk back up the hill was a tough one. I found the area unbelievably quiet for a capital city and it was all the better for that. The lighting at night is spectacular and one experience which sticks firmly in my mind is listening to Crickets, Blackcap song, Gypsy Music and the church and bells sounding from various parts of the city, whilst drinking a cappuccino on a warm evening whilst looking across, up and down the Danube. Like true tourists we took a boat trip on the Danube, although for me I think our walk across the Chain Bridge and back was far better, as we took in St Istvan’s Basilica, Parliament buildings (where by sheer chance we timed arrival to see the changing of the guard) and much more great architecture. Our walk back was made easier with a trip on the Funicular Railway (no queue at all despite warnings to the contrary in my guide book). We were lucky once again to time things in order catch the changing of the guard, this time at the Presidential Palace.
St Matyas Church. I'm afraid no camera could do the beauty justice.
The dome of St Istvan's Basilica
A short stay in the city passed by very quickly but not before we had begun our bird list with the likes of Hooded Crow, Night Heron, Yellow Legged Gull and Garden Warbler. We had found Swifts at the airport, significant in that on my previous trip to Hungary I had seen no Swifts. The Hooded Crows and Night Heron were lifers for Sam as indeed was the Suslik he had seen at the Airport. We’d listed nineteen bird species without really looking, plus Comma and Green-veined White Butterfly before leaving the city. The blue and fritillary butterflies remained unidentified. Two birds of signifigance come to mind. Firstly the Night Heron which flew past us and away from the Danube and the lit up Church of Matyas which was opposite our hotel, and secondly what I will call Graham’s bird which I gave much thought to so as to be able to add to our list. Unfortunately I had come into the conversation mid way have arrived from the bathroom, so all of my thought was to no avail anyway as I suddenly realised that we were talking about a dead bird seen on the pavement outside of the hotel! This I thought might make a nice comedy sketch, but I think Monty Python may have beaten us to that some years ago. I’ll just add a third significant bird species, the Hooded Crow and in particular the one stood upon the remaining ruins of Second World War bombing opposite the present rebuilt Presidential Palace. A reminder of what this city has suffered in the past.
Hooded Crow. More nature to come, I promise.
It had been a great stay in one of the world’s great city’s (where everyone had been so friendly) and I had been able to practice the use of my only known Hungarian word, Kōszōnōm (Thank you), but the real focus of the trip was to be on nature so it was with some eagerness that we set off in the rented car on 14th June and headed for the Bukk Hills. There’s to be several parts to this expedition so I hope you’ll stay with me until the end of what was planned as a general relaxed nature trip with a focus on birds and butterflies and definitely nil twitching.