Sunday, August 6, 2023

Eurotrip 2023 - Day 2 - 7/23/2023 - Hungarian Grand Prix

Today's primary activity was the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix, the main reason that I/we had chosen to come to Budapest in the first place. It was especially exciting because my favorite driver, Lewis Hamilton, had won pole position in qualifying for the race the day before. But before that Fran wanted to check out the Hungarian National Gallery, which she had bought tickets for (including the special exhibit on Lajos Gulácsy) the day before. And before that the first order of business was breakfast at the hotel, which was decent.

We arrived at the gallery around 10:15a. We first walked through the special exhibit (which didn't do too much for me, but it seems like Gulácsy was an interesting fella), and then glanced through the rest of the permanent exhibit. The dome balconies that are accessible from the cupola room provide some great views across the city.

Hungarian National Gallery - dome balcony

After leaving the gallery and doing a little walkabout, we headed back toward the Chain Bridge to find a decent spot to call a taxi to take us to the Hungaroring. I had found out the day before that the event had partnered with the ride-sharing company Bolt, which apparently also runs taxis in Budapest (?), to provide taxis to the circuit; the benefit of this is that the taxis could take the VIP lane from the highway and get to a designated drop-off spot next to the venue. I'm not entirely sure how much time that "VIP" treatment ended up saving, as that lane seemed to move pretty slowly for much of the time, but we got to the circuit in a little more than an hour, giving us almost a couple of hours before the 3pm race start.

We spent a good chunk of that pre-race time first making it past the main grandstand on the way toward our seats in the Silver 4 section at the final turn, and then waiting in line at a Middle Eastern food stand (more falafel for Fran, though this one was apparently not very good; I had a flatbread sandwich, and we split some fries, which we didn't finish). We made it to our seats about 35 minutes before lights-out. The view was pretty solid - we were right at the final turn and could watch the grid preparations on the main straight. The weather was quite warm (almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunny, so you can imagine how sweaty I was even well before the race started.

The race itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Despite being on pole, Lewis had a bad start and was down in fourth place by the end of the first lap. There were no safety cars during the 70 lap race, so the only opportunities to shake things up were during the pit stops - most cars opted for a two-stop strategy. Lewis appeared headed for a fifth place finish (Checo undercut him during the second round of stops, after starting out of place down in ninth), but he found some late pace and passed Piastri for fourth; and if there were a couple more laps he could probably have challenged Checo for the last podium spot. His Mercedes teammate, George Russell, had a comparatively more satisfying race, recovering to finish in 6th after starting 18th due to a bad Q1 session. And of course Max Verstappen won the race - his 7th consecutive victory (and the 12th in a row for the Red Bull team, a new record) in a second consecutive dominant season. You can watch official highlights from the race here.

Hungarian Grand Prix

My impression remains that it's much easier to follow the race on TV than it is live. But having a track-side screen in view (which we also had last year in Austin), as well as a view of more significant portions of the track (compared to last year) did make things a bit easier. Going forward, I think 1 in-person race a year (provided that I have good seats) is a solid plan.

The race itself only took about 1.5 hours. We stuck around our seats to watch the podium celebration, mostly on the track-side screen, though we did have line-of-sight to the podium itself in the distance. There was a noteworthy occurrence on the way out... While waiting in line for the portable toilets I noticed a guy who appeared to be having a seizure by the exit gate, and nobody appeared to know what to do. Fran, having lots of experience with her sister Alexandria, rushed over to hold the man's head to prevent it from hitting the nearby step. Eventually medics were summoned and arrived on the scene to take over. Huge props to my wife for taking action instead of just standing there and pointing like I did. By the time we left the man seemed to be alert again (though the medics kept him lying down) and reunited with the rest of his party. We have no idea what the cause was, nor whether he had prior history of seizures.

We walked back to the taxi drop-off area to see if we could get a taxi back into the city. We expected it to be busy (after all 100,000+ people attended the race that day, and a good chunk of them would have had similar ideas), but we were not prepared for how long the taxi line was. We didn't think we had a chance of getting to the front of it in less than an hour (and probably much longer), so we decided to investigate alternatives. It was around 5:30 by this time.

Google Maps showed that we could walk 22 minutes (into the center of the nearby village of Mogyoród) to catch a bus into the city, where we could transfer to a subway. So we decided to try that. Turns out a lot of people also had the same idea - there were probably a couple of bus-loads of people there ahead of us. Also, when we checked, the next bus wasn't due until 7p, or another hour. There were quite a few taxis crawling by (traffic wasn't moving very quickly, plus they were on the lookout to score due to high demand), and we asked a couple of them how much it would cost to go to the city. The quotes ranged between 30,000 HUF (~$87 USD) and 40,000 HUF (~$117 USD); for comparison, the ride out had cost about 20,000 HUF (~$59 USD). While this was exorbitant, we would probably have been willing to pay it if we could; but they only accepted cash, which we didn't have any of.

The next plan of action was to walk 44 minutes to the Mogyoród train station to catch the commuter train into the city, where we could transfer to the subway. Up the road we ran into 4 British guys who we had earlier struck up a conversation with; they had bailed for the train station, but saw a bus coming after going past the next bus stop, so they were walking back to the bus stop to board it there. We joined them, as there were far fewer people at this stop than the original one, but in the end bailed on that idea as well. We weren't sure where this bus was going, it didn't seem like it could fit everyone, and we didn't have ready access to a means to pay for the bus.

We continued on to the train station and eventually made it there around 7p. Luckily they left a ticket window open where we could buy a ticket by card. We boarded the train that was sitting there a minuted before it departed. We took that to the last stop at Örs vezér tere, and switched to the M2 subway across the street. From there it was a few stops to Astoria, which was a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We were back in the city center around 8p, about 3 hours after leaving the circuit.

We found an appealing (to Fran at least) Lebanese restaurant called Byblos on the walk back, and decided to have dinner there. The food was pretty good, but we ordered too much of it. After dinner we stopped at a gelateria, where I had to try the ice cream in a chimney cake cone (chimney cakes are apparently a big thing in Budapest).


My favorite pictures from the full trip are here.

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