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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Hungarian Rhapsody

Hungary's capital retains much of its early splendour with classical structures and elegant bridges over the Danube. It also carries dark memories of wartime atrocities perpetrated by the fascist regime and Nazis in the final stages of World War Two. None of this has receded in memory. The ongoing migration crisis in which the country has erected stark border fencing on its southern edge to bar the movement of refugees from conflicts in Syria and elsewhere keep Hungary very much in the news. Reverberations of both these human tragedies even spill over into the UK's domestic politics and news headlines this week.

On a less sensitive front Budapest continues to host a vibrant tram network now enhanced with some of the longest trams operating in Europe along key routes running around the commercial centre. The system at one time was noted for its centre entrance wood framed bogie cars pulling two or three matching trailers on the same busy routes through the city. They were the mainstay of operation up to the 1990s when I travelled there frequently on business. Modern articulated trams also unique to Budapest had entered service during the communist era and would become equally iconic with their dramatic yellow livery not dissimilar to the equally famous Lisbon trams. Examples continue to operate today as seen in images taken earlier this month by my daughter on one of those 'city break' deals.

A classic design only to be found in Budapest - Hungarian high floor articulated cars standing out from the all pervasive products by CKD Tatra in communist europe. Images by Jessica Meyer-Rassow

Considerable redevelopment and investment has taken place over the past twenty years making Budapest an attractive destination for visitors, vying in this respect with sister capital, Prague itself with a notable tramway operation about which more later. Budapest's old trams have now gone into the history books but there is a major museum in proximity to the city, reached by suburban trains, which is home to a large collection of old rolling stock, both railway and trams. Well worth a visit with details available online. There is a smaller but equally interesting tram system in Debrecen in the very east of the country close to the Carpathian mountains. Trolleybuses share the system with one long tram service running to the main railway station, although an extension or new route may have been built since my visit some years ago. The distinctive and unique articulated trams on this system for some reason have baby pink and blue pastel colours in the interior making them stand out from the usual bland design now favoured by the corporate builders dominating the light rail market.

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