|HUNGARY TRIP REPORT
|Thursday 20th May. Reason for this year's
trip to Eastern Europe was to see the Ex-communist states
before they become too commercialised and touristy. First
on the list of countries to visit was Hungary.
Left Moravce, Slovenia and headed for the Hungarian border along with a lot of heavy trucks. We met a few delays on the way as the motorway is incomplete / in the process of being extended to, presumably, go straight across from Hungary to Ljubljana. EU funding ? Off the motorway progress was quite slow because of the trucks. These went with us all the way to the border where we came up behind a long, unmoving line of them. Managed to slip past them up to the checkpoint and we were soon allowed through. It looked as if the trucks would be there for some long time / hours to come.
Our first campsite was in Keszthely by Lake Ballaton,a very popular holiday spot for the landlocked Hungarians. For the very first time this trip the weather was good enough to tempt us to unload everything from the topbox and set up for outside eating. We had not allowed for the size and ferocity of the hungry Hungarian mosquitoes who had booked our table, or rather bodies, for dinner. By the time we realised our mistake we had both been eaten alive - before we had had our own dinner. We ate that inside after all.
Shorts and tee-shirt for first time of the trip on the next day as we set off on the scooter to try to find the elusive Balaton lake. Elusive as the Hungarian tourist board campsite guide lists ours as lakeside. A little inaccurate given that between us and the lake there was a road and then a railway line along which trains pass quite frequently, tooting loudly as they go over the level crossing. The water itself was totally hidden from view. We knew the lake was there as we heard lots of frogs croaking but we couldn't see it. The residential area round here is really strange. Lovely houses, guest houses and hotels all laid out as if they are overlooking a beauty spot i.e. as if they are on the waters edge but they are not and what they actually overlook is a road and a railway line. We did eventually find the water / Lake Balaton but neither very pictureque nor anywhere we might have wanted to linger for a while. Give me Lake Windermere any day.
Keszthely is a holiday town and the pedestrianised area was full of strolling tourists. Most seemed to be German dont believe there were any English apart from us. We visited the Festetics Palace,3rd largest palace in Hungary, and were very impressed. The gardens are laid out like English parkland just some very old lovely trees, shrubs and a few formal flower beds. These were in the process of being replanted with summer bedding as the spring pansy displays were almost over. We only visited the outside of the palace as inside visits were guided and we didnt fancy a repeat of our previous all German-spoken tour. We timed our visit to the Palace grounds just right - as we were coming out several busloads of tourists including school children were going in.
We went next to Hevis where our guide book showed a beautiful thermal lake with a pavillion and with the waters surface covered with water-lilies. Reality was different. The lake was not covered in water lilies, only a few of those, it Was covered in flabby floating bodies in rubber rings up to their necks seeking a cure (for old age ?) in the healing waters which are slightly radioactive. Somewhat disappointed to find that the whole lake is a thermal spa and contained within a high fence. As we had not, unlike everyone else, taken our rubber swimming ring and swimming costumes we decided not to join the swimmers /floaters in the warm water.
Did at last manage to get a bit of suntan about time too as we had now been away for over 3 weeks. Both of us also had quite a number of mossie bites so felt quite itchy especially as the campsite was filled with willow trees which were losing their blossom and this floated everywhere, including into the M.Van, like cottonwool.
Next day we left for the highlight of the Hungarian tour - Budapest. The weather had changed again overnight and cloud had moved in with a chill wind. Our route took us along the East side of the lake through several lakeside holiday resorts but the sight of water still mainly eluded us though we did catch the occasional glimpse from a distance on the other side of the railway line which runs right round the lake between us and the water. Decided the only way to see the lake was to drive over the railway and down to the waters edge and we did at last find a massive expanse of water. This was in a little harbour or marina which is obviously a thriving area in summer but not much happening out of season.
Continued on our way but not very fast as most Hungarian drivers seem happy to tootle along at only 25 miles an hour totally oblivious to any build up of traffic behind. No dual carriageways so when we got behind something like this we were often stuck there. The worst offenders for snail-pace driving were the drivers of the East German (communist type) cars Trabant and Skoda. Often not possible to drive very fast anyway as road surfaces generally leave a bit to be desired.
After Lake Ballaton we came to another small lake Velence of which a third is a nature reserve. Hoped to have a peaceful lunch on the lakeside but, just like Ballaton, there was only very limited access to the waters edge. We stopped in one small town which looked as if it had been developed as a Communist holiday area. Very utilitarian, mainly grey concrete buildings, breaking up concrete pathways and in need of TLC. We had not yet found any pretty countryside in Hungary as everywhere is so very flat and we had not seen any natural lakeside only tourist built up parts. These I am sure are far more attractive in full season when everywhere is lively and filled with the people for which they are designed. As Hungary has no coast it seems that the lakes are their sea and this is a very popular holiday area for Hungarians (and Germans of course but they are just about everywhere in Europe .... cant be many Germans left in Germany). Hoped that when we got north of Budapest and in the more mountainous National Park areas we would find some more attractive and natural spots and also a more colourful and native Hungary than we had seen so far.
Drove through, and got a little lost in, one large town called, unpronouncably (as most Hungarian seems to be), Szekesfehervar. This seemed to us to be the epitome of a Communist built town. As we approached all we could see were grey concrete tower blocks and these lined the streets that we drove through. Dotted among them were a few older style prettier houses but there were not many of these. Concrete reigned supreme in this depressing town.
We noticed as we drove along that many of the trees and hedgerows were very light coloured. Seems to be a preponderance of white flowering trees in this area, interspersed with the purple lilac which was in bloom everywhere and there were lots of extra large bright red poppies dotting the road side. Not in the fields though these are enormous, stretching unbroken by hedge or fence or farm building as far as the eye can see. This is the result of communist collective farming. Nor did we see anyone working the land. Could only assume the farmers must live underground and that they creep in at dead of night to do their work as all the fields looked extremely well cared for.
As we neared Budapest we found ourselves driving along the mighty Danube. We have seen this river before in Vienna and it is definitely not blue. Its big and wide though. Went across it on the first bridge into Budapest but only after we had almost broken the van in two on the most appalling road surface we have ever driven on and certainly astonishing to find it on a major route into such an important city. Stopped at a Tesco Hypermarket on the way - a super shop - far superior in range of goods sold to our branches in England. Only needed a few food items but of course got several other things as well including a sesame baguette which is quite possibly the best bread we have ever eaten. (We used the Tesco receipt later when home in England to 'claim' our clubcard points. Must remember to carry my clubcard when we travel in future).
Our campsite was only a few miles out of the city centre. It was exactly as described in the Camping Club book a little peaceful oasis right in the suburbs of the city. Lots of trees, including sweet smelling white laburnum, some beautiful singing birds (nightingales which sang all night we discovered later) and two very friendly campsite dogs - Rudi and Linda (good old Hungarian name ?).
Very cold next day with an icy wind - not ideal city sightseeing weather at all. We rode into Budapest on the scooter after checking we were only carrying minimum of items as aware of risk of pick pockets, car/scooter thefts here. The road into the city was the very worst we have ever been on hideously bumpy. Riding over the tram lines was positively smooth compared to going over some of the normal road surface.
First of all we crossed the Danube to visit the Citadel up on the hill in Buda (Budapest has two halves Buda, the hilly part, on west side of the Danube and Pest, flat plains area, to the East). Good views over the river but too chilly in the strong icy wind to hang about for long. We then explored a little way along the riverside in Pest but if anything it was even colder by the water. Lots of large cruise boats moored up and taking on passengers. These go right along the Danube to Vienna but would not have fancied the trip - too cold ! We used the scooter to get round the city and visited the Parliament buildings, the famous Chain Bridge and then the cathedral just as a communion service was taking place.
Much of the attraction of Pest is in the form of extravagantly ornate buildings. Unfortunately these are at the moment often 'disguised' by a lack of TLC and/or rather unlovely communist style city planning. In the Cathedral square for example all the buildings were very ornate with the exception of one concrete 1960s monstrosity. Elsewhere we saw a couple such concrete buildings in the process, we thought, of being removed and suspect/hope this one will soon follow. It certainly looks as if a lot of renovation and cleanup is starting to take place but not much seems to have been done for a long time. This has to be the unfortunate inheritance of communism. We noticed that the major buildings do all seem to be under renovation and the work is of recent origin. Could this be an EU initiative / grant perhaps ? Will take a long time for the Pest part of the city to be brought up to the standard of other beautiful European cities we have visited, for the buildings to be restored to their obvious former glory. It will also take some effort to remove the graffiti which is much in evidence.
Our warmest moment of the day was when we stopped for coffee and delicious Sache Torte in a traditional, high-ceiling coffee house. Back at the campiste later we shut ourselves in the M.van with the heater lit as we had got so chilled riding back on the scooter. We noticed that our German neighbours braved the cold and sat outside with drinks - must have been wearing thermals !
That night it was so windy that at times it rocked the van and it was still very chilly when we got up only 8 degrees so we wrapped up in 3 layers before braving the scooter ride into the city. It was a very good idea. Good thing we had already been in on a Sunday with light traffic as Monday was totally different. The road in was very busy and even harder to avoid the abominable potholes which are its predominant feature. Bob skilfully found his way to the centre of Pest and the Main Market hall. This was wonderful lovely traditional building full of stalls vegetables including mounds of paprika, strings of chillies, piles of sausages, rows of pickle jars, lace, Russian dolls etc etc. Took lots of photos of course. Across the road we found the main touristy shopping street which we had missed the day before. This street was a pleasure not least because it was right out of the wind and in the full sun. Everything looked much better, maybe because the sun was shining and we were not chilled through as we had been the day before but also the streets were far more lively being a Monday and a working day.
Having completed our explorations of Pest we crossed the bridge to Buda and the tourist area of Castle Hill. We parked at the bottom and went up to it by the funicular. Though called Castle Hill there is no castle here now but there is a most impressive palace. An enormous complex which now houses museums. The buildings are attractive from every aspect. One area just outside is being hugely excavated and must be the site of the original castle. There are superbl views over the Danube from the palace grounds particularly over the exquisite Parliament buildings and along to where an island splits the river into two. The difference between the two areas, Buda and Pest was also apparent once on top of one of the hills. Pest is totally flat while Buda is built across several hills which stretch on that side of the river to the horizon.
Behind the castle is a church with a superbly ornate and very tall steeple and then the Fishermans Bastion. No idea what it is but it looked good. These buildings are all very clean and obviously newly renovated. Almost too good to be true in places. This area of the town contains streets full of attractive buildings, many coloured and nearly all decorated. Had a most enjoyable stroll through Buda. The wind had eased and the sun was shining and it was considerably warmer than previous day. Lunch comprised a bowl of Goulash soup. This was just watery paprika flavoured meat stock with a few bits of vegetable and tender meat. Greasy but good. Prices here are not really at all cheap and are comparable with Germany. An entrance fee seems to be charged for just about everywhere including the Buda church so being budget-minded we only visited things which were free apart from saving our legs on the funicular up the hill that is and having to pay 20p for the loo.
Despite several warnings in our guide books we managed to do Budapest without being robbed. In fact we really enjoyed our visit despite the cold.
Left Budapest next morning, heading north towards the Slovakian border, along the atrociously potholed roads. Still had not found any very attractive scenery in Hungary. Apart from the towns and cities there are unbroken expanses of field. Everything still very flat until we got a little nearer to the historical town of Eger and our next stop.
Eger has a cathedral, about 6 churches and a castle and some rather pretty rows of houses. There are also, mainly outside the centre, lots of hideous concrete blocks of flats. We went into several of the churches one, the Baroque style cathedral, was oppressive all dark and dingy inside but the square in which it sits is rather pleasant. Got sore feet walking round the castle grounds then stopped for a refreshing drink after our climb up to the castle. We observed that 95% of the women were wearing trousers and wondered if the women all had funny legs - on reflection we decided that this seems to have been the trend everywhere we went. Perhaps legs are being phased out as an EU initiative ?
Bob had an unusual experience when he went up to the campsite loo later that night. He opened the door to be confronted by the sight of a man naked except for his boots with his bare bottom sticking out of the shower cubicle. Funny the things you see !
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