Hungary · 14 Days · 76 Moments · May 2016

Al Bates

Hitting Hungary

18 May 2016

The bottles that were tried. Despite the fabulous name we didn't buy any bottles of Koch. But did but the red with the stag on. We also bought a bottle from our friend we saw earlier today who insisted we also have a shot of cherry palinka with him. We then cycled home... Amazingly, this was our last night in Hungary. Having never been before I didn't know what to expect but have absolutely loved this country! Such wonderful culture and a fascinating place. Next stop, tomorrow morning, we drive over the boarder to Romania - another first for both of us.
So back to the festival for this evening. This time it was much much more crowded and an amazing atmosphere. There were a few stages with live music and we managed to try four different wines of varying quality. The musical highlight was almost certainly listening to grease lightening in Hungarian. Hilarious.
We nipped back to the van for dinner before heading back into town. Jon snapped Jonah looking beautiful in the sunset! Ahh this is the life.
From one great disappointment to one of life's great winning moments. As we wandered we followed the music... And stumbled upon the biggest wine festival I've ever seen! Ok ok possibly the only wine festival I've ever seen but this one was huge (at least 150 stalls of wine growers from all over Hungary) Chatting to one seller he told us it's on for 10 days and will all kick off later this evening. We bought a glass of white from him and promised we'd return later...
Like little eager tourists we stood outside this clock waiting for the hour to strike to see if the figures moved. Jon ever hoping it would be similar to a Dad's Army sketch (fans reference: "I don't like it up 'em sir). Sadly it chimed but no action. One of life's great disappointments.
One of the more bizarre scenes was seeing these Nuns seemingly performing some kind of dance routine on the steps of the church. It ended with a girl power style pose with one Nun lifting her skirt to reveal a red Lacey suspender belt and stockings... Now I'm not 100% sure but I have a feeling they're not legit Nuns...
Today we started with a decent work out and also did a few "chores". So we didn't make it out of camp until this afternoon. Szeged is a great place to wander about and is very interesting.

17 May 2016

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving down to the city of Szeged. A seemingly random place in the south of Hungary. But also a university town (coincidently we later found out that Jon's step brother-in-law went to uni here for a bit (obscure relative reference)) The campsite is right on the river and a fantastic location. We ended the day with a visit from Mr H Hogg. Lovely lad.
The main event here was the famous horse show which was surprisingly very entertaining. It involved a bloke riding 5 horses at once, controlling horses and making a donkey sit down and wear a hat. Somethings I thought I'd never see.
Because we are actually small children pretending to be adults (hopefully nobody has noticed yet!) we very much enjoyed looking at all of the animals. Especially the baby ones. And the ones with funny shaped horns.
Because we hadn't quite been eccentric enough, we drove to into the countryside and wild Hungarian plains to a farmstead. There they had a display of old shepherd huts and equipment. As you can tell, it's cold enough to freeze a monkeys bum today. The plains are, however, outrageously picturesque!
Donkey selfie had to be done.
We then departed. The oh so famous last words... "maybe if we go back to the main road the other way it won't be as bad". This is apparently a road. I'd probably call it a forest bridle way but whatever. Not the most ideal thing for a 9 metre tall Campervan. We bashed our way through the trees like some kind of cumbersome white British elephant back to the main road. We declared this the European version of African over landing and felt better about the situation. It's ok, Ganesh is on the dashboard looking after us.
It was ok though, this badass pony (look at him give no fecks about the roped off area) kept an eye on Jonah for us.
After our run we had to ask this donkey to let us use the shower block...
We stopped after a km and they also stopped and shut up. They happily walked about sniffing and wagging. When we turned back, the barking at each other started up again. Some dropped back as they were tired and the barking died down a bit. Running back into camp they all filtered back in wagging and smiling. I imagined them saying to each other "bloody hell Geoff the walk this morning was a bit extreme. Who's idea was it to follow them?" "Well, I'm sure Lesley said we should chase them" "no I didn't!". They laid about in the sun for the rest of the morning - silently... Naturally!
A little piece of info I've not mentioned on the blog is that Jon and I have been doing a cheeky little jog in the mornings. Admittedly we paused whilst in Budapest due to weather, slight laziness, and inappropriate terrain. But the past few days we've kept it up. This morning in the bright sunshine and rural landscape it was ideal running conditions. That was the idea until, as we started our jog out of the camp, EIGHT (I counted) farm dogs of all shapes and sizes shot out of the barns. All barking like mad and running after us. Now I like dogs, but after the experience of strays in India I have developed a tiny fear of random barky snarly dogs. Jon shouted "just carry on, they'll stop at the gate". The gentle jog had turned into a manic sprint out of the camp as we were chased by a chorus of barking/growling hounds. Unfortunately, they didn't stop. The pack proceeded to follow well down the road. However by this point it became clear they weren't in for a maul...

16 May 2016

To finish off today we ate the Swiss roll and custard donated to the travellers by our lovely Nan. Well travelled over the past few weeks! It's cold again tonight so it felt only right to have a tasty English treat! Thank you Nan!
After much gesturing about whether they had a water point to fill up with (queue me waving a hose at them with confused looks) we settled in what is actually a very beautiful campsite. Having failed to realise it was a bank holiday today we weren't able to get any fresh food in. There for dinner was bits out of the fridge. We managed! After dinner we watched the sunset behind the trees - stunning. It's amazing that this is the same sun we saw set in Jodhpur, Botswana, Sydney, Bako national park... Sounds stupid I know! There's something magical and humbling about a beautiful sunset, each is truly unique all around the world. We reflected on how lucky we are to have seen so many beautiful ones this year.
After a great morning checking out the scenery we headed south and a reasonably long drive. This included a stressful moment around Budapest that doesn't need detailing. I had found a campsite that I thought would be nice and rural for tonight. Didn't quite anticipate that rural meant driving 3km on dirt roads, across vineyards and farmsteads. It was ... Interesting and Jon was concerned that the campsite would never materialise. Thankfully we did arrive. Although it wasn't immediately obvious it was a campsite as we are the only guests!
We even had the opportunity to visit the arm exhibition!
Us happy skippy young Euro-Brits trotted off in our over sized camper. On our merry way we decided to visit a delightful and charming castle. (Ok OK too much with the happy mood!). Visegrad, just down the road, has a magnificent 12th century castle ruin high up on the hill top. The view is absolutely spectacular and well worth the climb up for Jonah. Even if we did go 30km/h tops the whole way up and were worried about the fact there was a police car following us the whole way. Queue some serious "what if" British speculation until he over took us. What if we were accidentally criminals and we hadn't noticed...
A little bit less of a sharp start this morning. I was more or less accosted by a muttering Dutch woman who wanted to complain at someone. She was mainly outraged by the lack of English speakers, something I ironically hadn't found a problem. She then wanted to know if I had been kept awake but by the "awful music" from the festival. I boldly defended the festival and told her to go try the food there. She said she had been but the food looked weird. On trying to cheer her up I told her excitedly about my parent's boat in Amsterdam. "Humph." She replied, "there is more to Holland than just Amsterdam" she scoffed. I politely made my excuses and wished her and her bored husband well. Old grumpy witch!

15 May 2016

After our touristy bit it was back to the action at the fare. Highlights included buying these comical utensils (had to be done, obviously). And trying out a variety of Hungarian street foods and beverages. The music was pumping and the atmosphere was brilliant. It was only the cold (err 10 degrees!) that drove us back to Jonah! But luckily we could hear the tunes from camp.
And back down again...!
Then... Our work out for the day! Over 400 steps spiralling to the top of the dome! It was exhausting but worthwhile for the incredible view across the Danube.
With a late night we had a little bit of a lie in this morning. We then spent the morning sorting bits and generally boring things that aren't worth mentioning. As the festival was on going today we decided to stay here an extra night. To get our blood pumping we climbed the hill to the Basilica. Inside was quite something but it did have a few creepy relics.
Either were are sad or euronerds or a bit of both. With the luck that our campsite has free reliable wifi we decided to stream Eurovision and watch over a bottle of wine. We made up the second bed for extra comfort. I demonstrated the flaws in the system accidentally... Not sure we'll be travelling to the Ukraine next year mind.

14 May 2016

As luck had it there appears to be a contemporary arts and music festival on this weekend! Quite a result! There were loads of stalls selling tasty Hungarian goodness as well as palinka (Hungarian spirit), wine and beer stalls. With three stages there was quite a bit of entertainment to get involved with! Esztergom is a beautiful town to look at too. The majestic basilica on the hill dominates the landscape and is huge. It feels like it should have been built somewhere a lot larger!
And then... The sky cleared and the sun appeared for a beautiful sunset! We decided to wander into town to see what Esztergom is all about. Across the river is Slovakia.
Under the advice of our Lonely Planet we drove north to Esztergom. No sooner had we set up camp then the heavens opened. It poured and poured. So we decided to batten down the hatches for the time being...
Some of the were absolutely enormous! They really were a symbol of power. The collection included a soviet built Tribant car. Most brilliant was Stalin's boots. This was a Stalin statue that was torn down in the failed 1956 revolution. Something of a Hungarian icon today.
Our first stop before completely leaving the city was Momento park. Essentially a graveyard for all of the old soviet era public statues. Truly fascinating to see the propaganda of old. We also recognised where some of the statues had once been and knew what replaces them now.
We left a very drizzly Budapest at a leisurely pace this morning and spent ten minutes being stuck behind a road repair truck!

13 May 2016

For our last evening in Budapest, and because it's Friday, we hit the town. We visited wine bars and made our way back to Szimpla kert ruin bar. Atmosphere was amazing in town. Budapest really has it all - beauty, history, culture and great places to get squiffy. All you need a brilliant European city to be!!
On our way back to camp we picked up some fresh fruit and veg from the local market. Much pointing and gesturing!
True story
We had an epic day relaxing and taking in the beautiful building. Note the man that looks like a walrus in the last photo!
With the sun coming out, and as its our last full day in Budapest, we popped into the Spa!
Another day... And the rain has cleared! Hurrah! We headed on up to the gardens to check out the beautiful sights.

12 May 2016

With the rain persisting it down in the afternoon we took to a spot of shopping. We admired the hook selection in tiger. Then we got two trams so we could arrive just outside our soggy campsite. The rain was torrential all night and we felt reasonably smug that we were in our lovely dry Jonah and not a dodgy tent!
All this foolish walking about meant we HAD to go have coffee and cake. Sorry not sorry.
Because we're hard core , and it's Thursday, we then walked up the hill next door. This one has the citidela on it - essentially a fort. The monument is a soviet liberation one but all of the references to soviet soldiers have of course been removed.
I posed like a soldier and we ate lunch before skipping back down the hill!
We had noticed how Budapest didn't feel so touristy. Up in the castle district this was an obvious difference - millions of tourist groups flocking in their buses following their respective umbrellas and flags.
Happy wandering in Buda.
Having been virtually destroyed many times in the 20th century and then under soviet rule Budapest has random building moments like these. From stunning old buildings to shitty cheap ones - it's quite a fascinating contrast.
Whatta view!!!
This morning we woke to the usual pitter-patter of rain on the roof. Back to a drizzly day it seems! We haven't yet ventured over to the Buda side of the city so today was the day to do it. Despite the drizzle we took in the extraordinary beauty of the city and parliament buildings and climbed up to fishermans bastion in Buda castle.

11 May 2016

As the sun was out it seemed appropriate to opt for alfresco dining at one of the many restaurants available. We had a delicious meal at Menza, Hungarian dishes. We were also entertained by this woman who sat with a face like a dogs bottom nearby for some time. Great people watching spot.
With a much brighter afternoon unexpectedly upon us we were able to investigate the infamous ruin bars of Budapest. Pretty much what it says on the tin - bars built inside ruins of buildings. This one (another sister recommendation) was particularly awesome and really quirky. Great atmosphere and great wine (+great prices!).
We've never been to a Synagog before so this was a new experience. Of course you can't visit without the reminder of the atrocities of the Second World War. Just bloody awful what happened here. A very fascinating place and it was amusing to see Jon wearing a piece of paper on his head when we went inside.
More learning was done at the Hungarian state museum.
To kick start the day we headed over to the main indoor market and browsed the tat. That made us hungry so we bought a caramel langos. Langos is some sort of deep fried thing, I've only had a savoury one before but the sweet was just as tasty!

10 May 2016

We ended the day in classic style...
Following the sausage wine was required. As young trendy things we found the best places for drink based on my sister's recommendations. Budapest has so many amazing and unique quirky places to hang out in!
Feeling a bit peckish and need of something to lighten the mood we headed to one of the indoor markets for a sausage. You can get sausages in a cone! Ideal!!
As we wandered we stumbled across this memorial. It's to all the Jews who had been rounded up and shot into the river in WWII. So sad. The view, despite the drizzle, of Buda is absolutely beautiful.
Feeling more than a little stunned after the museum and with the rain subsiding we set about wandering. Here is the St Stephen Basilica. Bloody massive church essentially. St Stephens hand was inside, a withered old relic. Apparently...
This morning we awoke to the rain hammering it down on the roof. So much for the sunny weather. With the weather in mind we set on an indoor activity and as morbid as its sounds we chose the Terror museum. Set inside the former arrow cross (fascist) and subsequently soviet secret police headquarters the museum goes into detail of the horrors that occurred here. It was an utterly fantastic museum, genuinely terrifying in places and extremely moving. We were there for almost 4 hours. Having studied the era in history Hungary was always merely a paragraph mentioned so it was fascinating hearing it all. A lot learnt. But bloody hell let's not ever let that happen again...

9 May 2016

We arrived to a very hot and sunny Budapest! Time for some alfresco dining and to get our tans topped up. Amazingly our campsite is less than 3km from the centre of Budapest - so it really is in the city. Quite incredible to be camping this urban.
After the stuck in the mud ordeal we headed towards Budapest - bet get out of the area quick right? First we stopped at Tesco. A slightly bizarre out of body experience. A British supermarket that really isn't like one here at all. I admired how the fridges have doors on - something I've been chiming on about for years. I must tweet Tesco and see if they'll introduce it in the UK... Also amused to see UK in the world food aisle. And to see what's been included!
So the eagle eyed would have noticed the main issue being the fact our tyres were stuck in the mud. This was an issue when trying to leave this morning. Yesterday evening a 'helpful' German had pointed out where we had parked was "nicht gut" ( thanks. We kind of worked that out when we got stuck). On asking reception if someone could help us out of the mud we were met with the rude reply "you shouldn't have parked there". Yeh. No shit Sherlock. After much eye rolling she aggressively barks down the phone to someone - which I'm sure would translate to something like "those f-ing stupid Brits need towing out. Yeh, I know, I said they shouldn't have stopped there. Yeh. Right idiots". On wandering back we found a friendly northern couple waving frantically at us. Turns out they did the same thing the other day and nobody helped them. They had come to help us - bless them! However luck had it the grumpy maintenance man begrudgingly pulled us out. And muttered curses as we left!

8 May 2016

Spot the problem...
Finally we settled in the town of Kesvthly (sp to check). Famous for its grand aristocratic palace we had a lovely evening wandering and once again drinking the local wine.
Cruising on down to the other end of the lake we found ourselves in the random town of Heviz. We were most amused by our neighbours in the carpark. Heviz is a spa town with a thriving tourist industry for health tourism - all sounds a bit Georgian. We mainly saw old people walking around with pool noodles. They were all headed for the natural thermal lake. We gave it a miss this time! Very interesting place though.
Tihany abbey sticks out into the lake like a beacon. It's very impressive and has quite a history. Beautiful too.
Talking of colours, check this lad out! He was just chilling by the look out. Nobody saw him but us, people never really look around them I always think! Isn't he a beauty (channelling my inner Irwin)
We checked out of our campsite in Balatonfured. Whilst I was checking out the receptionist looks at me over her glasses... "You were very loud last night". With a look of guilt , embarrassment and me wracking my brains to think how we could possibly have been classed as "loud" (#awkward) I reply "me? Are you sure?!". Looking down at her bit of paper that says "2 persons" I can see that she wanted the world to swallow her hole. "Oh my! I am so sorry!! It was a different English group. There's 24 of them!!". After apologising for the tenth time I left trying very hard not to laugh... I resisted the temptation to say "don't be silly, we've been married almost 5 years..." We then drove up into Tihany, a bit of land that juts into Lake Balaton. Absolute beautiful! And wow, what colours.

7 May 2016

We cycled into Balatonfured for general wandering and sipping local cuisine. So gorgeous and peaceful! And sun!!!!! At last. Also, we saw a sea snake sunning himself before slithering into the lake - wild snake #6 for this year!
Lake Balaton is rather beautiful and the sun came out on our second day. This was symbolic as this is the very first lunch sat outside the van - first of the entire trip! We had three guests join us too.

6 May 2016

The grand plan after a morning and lunch time in Gyor was to head to the abbey town of Pannonhalma. With the trusty book and lots of friendly road signs we reached our camp. Apart from the fact nobody seemed to be about. A bloke appeared eventually and said something in Hungarian making an ex sign with his hands. Now, either he was saying we had the X-factor or something wasn't quite right. Maybe the receptions closed... Or judging by the fact the pitches had foot long grass in and it was deserted the whole site was closed. Ah. Time for a plan B. We hadn't decided where we would go from this point tomorrow so this snag sped up the decision. We decided to head south to Lake Balaton... And we were off (but took a few photos of the abbey first to prove we saw it)
Opting not to use the thermal facilities at camp, we decided to move on today to the city of Gyor. A very pretty city to wander around in and we were rewarded with stunning sunshine. We took the opportunity to have an ice cream and wear less clothes.

5 May 2016

Using our trusty caravan club book (sorry, did I forget to mention we're now 57 not 27?! 😂) we aimed for a "thermal" campsite. On approach we could see the site was really rather full - very unusual for the time of year. However, the staff seemed confident there was space and gestured us in. The site was teeming with scantly clad old people who all appeared to be lining the roads to stare at our arrival. A double marvel - Brits AND under the age of not only 50, under the age of 30. Quite extraordinary it seemed. I waved. We were aggressively told to stop by a flapping man in a pair of budgie smugglers. He indicated for us to turn off the engine. What the?! His friend with what appeared to be a small Siberian hamster balanced under his nose (turned out to be an elaborate moustache) pointed excitedly at an unfazed stalk walking across camp. All clutching their 1998 digital cameras they took terrible photos of it until satisfied and we were able to pass through and find a spot.
After a long and emotional goodbye to the sister (jokes we just said "see yerrrr") we headed into Sopron to see what that was all about. Our first challenge is to park the beast that is Jonah. This was surprisingly easy once we found the coach park. We class as a coach. Sopron is a beautiful Hungarian town rich in history and is one of those "wander about and look at it" kind of places. We went up a tall tower to take it all in and sat around people watching. An ideal sunny afternoon.
Driving the whole 20 minutes over the border into Hungary, we found ourselves at Haus im See near Sopron. Which is a restaurant stuck out on a lake. We essentially crashed Cat and Chris's bank holiday plans with their friends but I'm glad we did! Our lunch stop was fab and the perfect opportunity to take some "fish cushion " photographic classics...