TRAVELS NOW AND THEN

© Christopher Earls Brennen

HUNGARY 1975

I was invited to attend and present the opening lecture at the 1975 Conference on Fluid Machinery in Budapest, Hungary, in September 1975. This Conference was one of substantial international standing and it would be a feather in my academic hat to accept the invitation. Of course, I first needed to obtain permission from NASA. At the time NASA'S policy on fundamental research publication was much more lenient than it is today and they eventually (and somewhat surprisingly) granted me permission to accept provided I underwent a security briefing both before and after my travel. The local Pasadena branch office charged with such briefings was the purview of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and so I made the appropriate appointment for the pre-travel briefing. That office also had oversight of another of my research projects that involved cavitation on marine propellors, so they were familiar with me and my research efforts.

Budapest with the Royal Palace with green roofs at bottom center.

Buda Castle, site of the Congress Hall, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

So it was that in September, 1975, at the very height of the cold war and amid all the international tensions associated with missiles and rockets, I set out for Budapest, Hungary, behind the Iron Curtain in order to attend and present the invited opening lecture at the 1975 Conference on Fluid Machinery. The conference was to be held at the Congress Hall of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, up on the heights occupied by Buda Castle. That historical complex dating back to 1265 and known as the Royal Castle, was the site of the palace of the former Kings of Hungary. The Congress Hall was part of this complex and featured a grandiose auditorium decorated with Gothic curleques and ornate chandeliers from another age. It seemed an odd venue for such a modern forum.

  
  
  

Other organized events that I enjoyed were a day-long outing on the Wednesday to the historic towns of Eger, Balatonfured, and Esztergom, along the Danube river and the closing event of the conference, the formal conference banquet in the Grand Hotel, Margit-sziget. But apart from the technical sessions and these organized events, I had quite a bit of time to roam on my own without any official restrictions. The quality of most of the presentions was not high (as I intimated, many were barely understandable) and so I also skipped some of the technical sessions to explore the city on my own. During one of my first walks I became aware that someone appeared to be following me; that was true of all my solitary excursions.

The first step in these explorations was to master sufficient Hungarian language and script to negotiate the extensive bus, tram and subway system in the city. Indeed that was neccessary to get from the Hotal Gellert to the Congress Hall, a journey that involved a tram route beside the Danube and a funicular ride up to the top of Castle Hill. Hungarian is quite different from the western European languages so this step was not trivial. One of my longer individual excursions took me across the Danube to the main railway station and from there by subway to the city park known as Varosliget. There I visited the Castle of Vajdahunyad, the biggest museum of agriculture in Europe. This was notable not so much for its content as for its conglomeration of different architectural styles with details of well-known buildings of historical Hungary.

Vajdahunyad castle in the Varoslioget or City Park, Budapest.

But with my life-long fascination with railways, a much more exciting excursion was to the Buda Hills to the west of the city. I caught the 78 and 61 trams to the Varosmajor station at the foot of the Buda Hills and then took the Cogwheel Railway (or Fogaskereku) from this terminus to the top at a station called Szechenyi-hegy. This was also the starting point for the Children's Railway, a narrow gauge train that winds its way through the forests of the Buda Hills for 11 kilometers. It was designed and built to allow children to participate in its operation. I greatly enjoyed riding this narrow gauge train through the forests to its other terminus at Huvosvolgy, and wondered if my shadows were far behind. From Huvosvolgy I caught another 61 tram back into the city and my hotel.

Map of the Buda Hills outing.

The Cogwheel Railway or Fogaskereku, Buda Hills.

The Children's Railway, Buda Hills.

  
  
  

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Last updated 7/30/99.
Christopher E. Brennen