On the banks of the River Danube is a sign with the letter D in a wavy logo, signalling a boat stop. The Blue Danube is an unromantic greenish-brown much of the time, but just as pretty as when the composer Johann Strauss immortalised it. The Hungarian language seems unfathomable for anyone not born to it – it is one of the most difficult in the world to learn, a guide boasted – but figures are figures, and I figured out that a boat would chug along in 13 minutes. There was just enough time to photograph the spectacular Houses of Parliament (the world’s third-largest) and its guards, who would look more fierce if they ditched the sexy sunglasses. I enjoyed the famous Danube for free when the boat set off 13 minutes later, because of an all-encompassing ticket that let me hop between underground trains, trams, buses and boats for a week-long bargain of R242. For many years, Hungary was a place nobody wanted to visit. The Soviet Union, which "liberated it" after World War 2, imposed a...

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