Budapest: Rolling Into Keleti

Our EuroCity train from Bratislava rumbled along uneven tracks, swaying slightly side to side. Bucolic scenes of sunflower fields ready for harvest gradually gave way to graffiti-laden suburbs outside the train window.

Dairy cows and dried cornstalks morphed into derelict rolling stock covered in neon hieroglyphics, abandoned on sidings.

Suburban Train Graffiti

As we rounded a curve, I could see the immense structure ahead, and the train began to slow.

Keleti Opening

It felt like coming home … to London, after a weekend spent rambling the English countryside. But this wasn’t London. It was Budapest, and we hadn’t been back here in over 20 years.

Budapest is significant to us.

It’s the first place we ran to when we declared our independence from corporate life, after working in London for 3 years.

We’d quit our soul-crushing jobs, ditched the stuffy suits, ended the 16-hour workdays, and decided to test our mettle in the arena of self employment. But first we needed to live our lives out loud, unshackled from any commitments. There was some marrow to be sucked out of life and we started with barely-post-Communist Budapest, setting off with good friends to explore what the city had to offer.

Keleti Station

When our train rolled into the gaping jaws of the cavernous Keleti station, I had such a feeling of deja vu. The arrivals hall was much the same as it had been – majestic with graceful arching skylights and wooden ceiling. The once faded elegance of the Ticket Hall had been given new life with a tasteful makeover.

Keleti interior

And the exterior sparkled in the sun like a new penny.

Keleti exterior

The pleasant bustle of rumpled backpackers shoulder-to-shoulder with heads-down office workers was emotional comfort food for the traveler’s soul.

For us, Budapest was a city of great promise. It helped us launch a new life that lead to where we are now. I couldn’t wait to see what it held for us this time around.


Last updated April 7, 2019


Photo Credits: 1. Martin Abegglen 3. Zátonyi Sándor 4, 5. uzo19 6. TUX


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

62 thoughts

    1. Thanks Sue, We’ve been looking at old photos (Did I really used to wear my hair that way?) trying to remember all the Budapest sights we visited, but most of the photos just show us grinning from ear to eat in delight! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Oh Susan, that’s a great idea … but that would involve revealing serious family secrets. 🙂 Hmmmm – no problem! As a teaser, I will tell you it involves fresh coconut – which is no problem if you’re in the southern USA, but in other parts of the States … or the world, it involves a coconut, a hammer, a parking lot, and some protective eyewear! ~Terri

  1. Budapest is probably my favourite city! So beautiful. And I love that ‘live life out loud’ – so very descriptive. Happy birthday James! Have a good one! 🙂

    1. We are in total agreement on Budapest, Linda. It’s so incredibly grand, but not perfect … and I love that! And as for living life out loud – we’ve been doing it ever since! James thanks you for the birthday wishes – in true “James fashion” he’s already started celebrating. 🙂 ~Terri

  2. Tugging at my heart strings here. How I love Train travel, Hungary, and Budapest especially (and I will agree, it is a beautiful station).

    Hoping to claim my Hungarian citizenship in the future as well… once I can get a far better grasp of the language!

    As always, happy travels.

    1. Hi Chris, How fascinating! Is your Hungarian citizenship via your grandmother who lived in Szeged? I’ve never known anyone who went through the process. If you don’t mind me asking, how does it work? Do you have to be able to speak Hungarian? Would you then have dual citizenship? I hope it all works out. All the best, Terri

      1. It used to rely on my mother first claiming her citizenship, however the laws have changed as of 2011, and all I need is to have had a family member who was a citizen prior to 1920 (my great grandparents), learn the language, then I can apply (I don’t need to live in Hungary, but I would then have dual citizenship).

        It looks like being an interesting, but exciting process (it will be great being able to converse better with my distant family)!

  3. It is cool how Budapest holds a special place for you. I went to Guatemala in 2003 and returned 6 years later and felt the same way. It was an emotional return to a place that was much the same, but I’d changed so much.

    1. Jeff, I had no idea that you lived in Guatemala! How cool. You certainly are a man of mystery and intrigue. Have you written about it (other than the shooting incident)? Like you, we’ve changed enormously from when we were first in Budapest – all for the better, I hope. 🙂 Are you and Kristi still in Greece, or have you moved on? ~Terri

  4. I’ve always wanted to go to Budapest. First because of the parliament building. Now also because of Keleti Station. Happy birthday to James too! All the best for both of you!

    1. Bama, the Parliament building is truly astounding – as is all of Budapest. It’s such a grand place with a lovely patina of Old World romance and tradition meets Communism-turned-Free Market Economy. As European capitals go, I find it quite unique, with one foot in the East and the other in the West. I think you’ll be glad when you decide to go. James thanks you for the birthday wishes – he’s already started celebrating. 🙂 ~Terri

  5. Terri, what a beautiful, evocative post. Train journeys can be a real joy – and even more so with the promise of arriving in some magnificent station in stone and wrought iron! No doubt I will feel the same way when I return to Spain… all that familiarity and nostalgia (and hopefully the language) flooding back. Budapest has been on my wishlist for a very long time, the closest I got was Vienna, and even then we chose to head northwards to Prague. Happy Birthday to James and may he enjoy many more years to come!

    1. Thank you James. Train rides are often one of the highlights of a trip for me. The journey from Bratislava was fascinating because it seemed the instant we crossed from Slovakia into Hungary, the architecture changed drastically. It was almost Tyrolean in character! Who would have guessed. The next time you’re traveling in Eastern Europe, I think you would enjoy Budapest – grand, elegant, and a little rough around the edges. Just the way I like it! 🙂 ~Terri

      Hi James. From one James to another, many thanks for the birthday wishes! ~James

  6. Not quite as romantic, but my first train-station memory was of Seattle’s King Station fifty years ago. It was “modernized” in the sixties but only in the past year has it been brought back to its former glory. Now let’s hop in one of those cars with a dome and find us an adventure!

    1. I would have loved to see Seattle’s King Station then. I just looked at some photos from 2010 and it’s gorgeous – a real show-stopper! Is that what it looked like then? My first train experience was at age 14 riding from small-town Ohio arriving in Chicago’s Union Station. It was the grandest place I’d ever seen. ~Terri

  7. Hello Terri. A lovely post as ever, and beautifully written. A great city, too, and a place I mean to take Leslie sometime when we live in Paris next year.

    1. Thank you Steve. I love both cities and would be hard pressed to choose between them. Both have a grand elegance and self assuredness that I admire, but after that they have entirely different characters. So I just accept them as they are and let them wash over me. I think you’ll have fun in both places in entirely different ways. ~Terri

  8. Just discovered your blog – these days, happy to be an armchair travel, vicariously enjoying other people’s adventures – and yours, with pics – are lovely. A grand journey you’ve chosen for your life. Enviable and inspiring!

    1. Hi Tricia, so glad that you stopped by. What a glorious life you are living! You must have boundless energy and curiosity – both wonderful traits. Thanks for your kind words. All the best, Terri

  9. How wonderful to come back to where the travels (post-corporate days) began, and to do so on your birthday James. I hope this is a very special one for you. 🙂

    1. Thanks LuAnn. And to give you an idea of how serious we were about relaxation when we jumped ship, we started a putt-putt golf challenge in Austria, that continues to this day. ~James

  10. I am always impressed by cavernous train stations. In fact I am impressed with anywhere that suggests the beginning of a new adventure. Even a small train station will do. 🙂 As for birthdays… back when I worked at a regular job, my philosophy was that I got one day off (not counting weekends) for each decade I had lived. Good thing my boss (which was me) had a sense of humor about my work schedule. –Curt

    1. Curt, you totally hit the nail on the head – “anywhere that suggests the beginning of a new adventure.” I still remember boarding that Lufthansa plane when I moved to Africa. James had already gone ahead (to work) while I dealt with the details back in Dallas. But when I stepped on that plane, all my worries disappeared and I just gave myself to the adventure. And that’s the part I like – embracing the adventure. It’s the same with birthdays – you just gotta embrace them and enjoy the ride. 🙂 ~Terri

  11. I am relating to the part about quitting a ‘soul-crushing job.’ Florence and I seem destined to follow in your footsteps, and Hungary is next up on our list after Spain. We are already scouting ahead for next summer. We have a contact for a possible apartment rental in Pest which we may go look at next month. After reading your story and seeing your photos, we most certainly would take the train from Zagreb. From Budapest we will probably tour Bulgaria before making a move to Romania.
    Your posts are better than Trip Advisor – such a wealth of information and insight. Thank you as always for your fun and informative post! – Mike

    1. Thanks Mike. Pest will probably be a great place to settle in for a while. There’s lots of interesting architecture, and the public transit is good. The metro, trams and buses work well, and it would make your life easier if your place was on or close to one of the lines. We had a very nice, modern apartment there, but it was more expensive than we wanted. Also, because we were pretty central, we had a decent market, but the food prices were not cheap. Hopefully, because your rental will be longer term, you can find a good value. Budapest is a good base because of its central location, and Pest is modern and has everything you need. ~James

  12. Going back is always a little precarious, but I’m pretty sure you’ll still love it. What an adventure it kickstarted for you both. You won’t be surprised to hear it’s on my list 🙂

    1. Jo, you said it perfectly about going back being a little precarious. Many places we’ve revisited have impressed us even more the second time around, and others we agree that we’ve “gotten it out of our systems.” 🙂 Budapest is in the first category. Already I want to go back again. ~Terri

  13. “But first we needed to live our lives out loud, unshackled from any commitments.” There is something about travel that really does speak, doesn’t it? Even the silence when you’re traveling is eloquent. Thanks for expressing this in a way I hadn’t considered before.

    1. Thank you Jadi. And I love that you made the point about the eloquence of silence – that’s one of the things I love about train travel – just sitting there, rocking gently with the motion of the train, watching the changing scenes outside the window. ~Terri

  14. Happy belated birthday James!

    You two have one of the most courageous, inspiring, beautiful love/life stories Big D and I have ever heard. Ever thought of writing a book? . . .

    1. Thanks so much for the birthday wishes and the kind words Anita. One thing that Terri and I have never taken for granted is each other and our relationship. And the primary thing that has enabled us to make our “courageous” life decisions is our love and support for each other. Maybe when we settle down (yeah, right), we’ll work on our memoirs. But in the meantime, the blog is it. ~James

  15. Gorgeous pictures, as always! I especially love the neon graffiti on train shot! Happy birthday to James an happy returns to the place that started it all! It must be such a powerful feeling coming back.

    1. Thanks Miranda. It really was a powerful feeling for lots of reasons. After years of struggling up the corporate ladder, and then realizing that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be took some mental adjustments. But the key for us was having each other’s support. For us, Budapest was truly where we “cast off the bow lines,” and it was wonderful to return. ~James

  16. A charming read, Terri, and belated birthday wishes to James. 🙂 I haven’t been back to Budapest for a few years, but your description about riding through the countryside studded with sunflowers, reminds me of what it was like driving from Austria into Budapest for the first time. In addition to fields of yellow, I remember all the brilliant red peppers filling up the roadside stands. That was also nearly 20 years ago. It’s amazing how fast time flies!

    1. Thank you Tricia, and James thanks you for the birthday wishes – he’s still celebrating. 🙂 I bet that driving from Austria into Budapest was fascinating. Although we didn’t see roadside stands from the train, we did see all the “allotments” and personal gardens that were being harvested. Astounding! And you’re right about time flying! ~Terri

  17. Wow! Not only is this beautifully written, but you have some professional-grade photography here. Very impressive!
    It’s interesting to hear about your ‘then and now’ contrasts of Budapest… it’s a fresh perspective that you don’t often read on travel blogs. Thanks for the good read 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Molly. I don’t think I’d anticipated how powerful the feeling would be when we returned to Budapest … but Wow! It hit me. I think all travelers probably have places that impact them in the same way. How about you? ~Terri

  18. Beautiful it was! Hope you had a great time post leaving your job and you get what you are looking for.
    I too am planning to travel places once I get some money in my pocket. Might ask for some recommendations. 🙂

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