Budapest’s central train station is a really beautiful building, a focus of national pride.
There’s a theory that the Hungarian government deliberately let hundreds of refugees camp in front of it in the 2015 migration crisis, to reduce sympathy for them in the public eye.
I wasn’t just glad to see the station for aesthetic reasons: it was a welcome opportunity to stretch my legs after my torturously slow journey from Belgrade in neighbouring Serbia.
I was covering the trip for a series on China’s Belt Road Initiative – a significant part of which is about connecting China to Europe.
The train had trundled at speeds as slow as 10km/h for nine hours through featureless plains of unripe wheat.
It was a relief to get off, and I hope never to take that trip again until the Chinese have replaced it with a high-speed link (for mysterious reasons canvassed in my feature story, part of the Belt and Road series).
Chinese investment in Europe is a story still very much under the radar here. Until recently you’d just get the occasional press release from government ministers welcoming investment, and the occasional bump in the road as (for example) the UK wondered if it really wanted a China-built nuclear power plant.
But now the issue is moving to centre stage, as Chinese investors buy up significant technology companies (and, for some reason, lots of football stadiums), and governments re-examine the balance between the global economy and national interest.
As with many stories, this started out seeming simple (China lends money for railway to take its goods into Europe) and ended complicated, touching issues such as the political tensions between east and west Europe, and the corruption that’s apparently endemic to Hungary’s economy.
So, a fascinating story. And I can highly recommend Budapest to anyone planning a trip to Europe. Just don’t go there on the train.
Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
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