June 10th……….Murska Sobota, Slovenia
The previous day we booked our ferry home for the 18th of July so we are now on the last leg of our European tour. Our plan now is to have a look at Hungary concentrating mainly on Budapest. We will visit Vienna in Austria with a few other stops before crossing into the Czech Republic to visit Prague. We are still deciding on a route across Germany and then across to the Netherlands to the Hook of Holland for our ferry. We booked our vignette for Hungary on our computer at the campsite rather than wait to get to a computer terminal at a garage before the border. A one week e-vignette lasts for 10 days and you have to give personal and vehicle details as well as your bank account numbers so I think it is more secure giving all that detail privately rather than in front of other people waiting to use the terminal for themselves.
We have had a lot of good luck during our travels, by chance coming across special events taking place on the exact time that we are there. We were struggling to find much to interest us in this town until I spotted a lady dancing exotically in the distance. We made our way there. Music was playing through loud speakers and an avenue with a wide grass centre ran down to a very large, palatial house.
Girls in beautiful costumes were spread out evenly down the whole length to the house and each was dancing but each had their own distinctive way of interpreting the music. The girl furthest away from the house was playing a violin totally ignoring the loud speaker music. Near the house drinks were being poured ready for the expected important visitors. We asked an official photographer what it was all about. He said a large company had just finished electrifying a railway line and this was a celebration for the officials and the local council workers. We stayed around taking pictures but didn’t get offered a glass of bubbly to help with the celebration.
June 11th……. Lake Balaton. Hungary
We set off and then crossed the border. It is quite odd driving on their motorways without the comfort of a vignette stuck on the inside of your windscreen. It wasn’t long before we passed police cars parked facing the oncoming traffic and then the doubt creeps in. Did I fill that form in correctly? It is said that the fines can be enormous for anyone caught trying to cheat the system. They do say that you have to keep the receipt for two years. Why would that be the case if the system is without its problems? A week’s vignette lasts for 10 days and because even goods vehicles have to have an e-toll ticket then the motorways are totally clear of toll booths. We did stop at a garage to get some Hungarian currency but there was no cash machine so would have to wait to get into a town somewhere. I knew the rate was £1 = 400 forints so it wasn’t going to be too difficult to work out what thigs cost.
Lake Balaton is a huge lake so as Hungary is a land locked country this vast lake is used as the locals’ sea side. Many campsites surround the lake and a cycle trail joins them all and if you wanted to cycle all around the lake then you would have to go without me. The circuit is 218 kilometers. We chose Balaton Tourist camping and Bungalows which is about 7 kilometers from Keszely at the far west end of the lake. This was another campsite where there are no English travellers and the girl in the reception said that they have very few English speaking people stopping there. She studied in London so she loved chatting with Elaine at every opportunity.
We then cycled off to town to have a look around and to find a bank. I drew 150,000 forints from the hole in the wall. Some shopping cost us 8,000 fts. and at first we both took a double take until we realised we had just spent the equivalent to £20.
What a lovely town and we were both quite impressed with everything we were seeing there. The main squares and the pristine church and grounds surrounded by impressive looking buildings were a joy and we went up the high street to the top where we came across a large palace with extensive grounds. On the way back down towards where we had left the bikes we sat outside a bar and people watched and just took in the atmosphere in this, new to us, country.
We cycled back to the campsite and our good fortune didn’t desert us. No sooner had we got back to the van when there was a huge crack of thunder and the heavens opened. Our beautiful, hot, sunny day was gone and we had only just made it back in time.
We could have quite easily moved on the next day but instead we relaxed and I even got my fishing rods from on top of the van but luckily didn’t catch anything but just enjoyed the peace and quiet sitting by the lake side. The afternoon reminded me of the Chris Rhea song “Gone Fishing”. The song I used to think summed up my life. Elaine spent part of the time studying where we would go in Budapest which was our next port of call.
The next day, as we were driving near a town on the way to Budapest, we went round a corner and there in front of us was a huge Tescos.
Immediately we both had the same thought……proper bacon. We certainly didn’t need any shopping but we hadn’t seen one of the big four supermarkets since October. I didn’t need to turn the wheel but the van just drove into the car park on its own. We could have bought motorcar tyres, a dishwasher, washing machine or a refrigerator. There were quite a few English foodstuffs and a whole stand of tomato sauce but what a disappointment……there was not a single pack of “Danish” bacon to be seen.
The campsite we had chosen for our visit to Budapest was right in the city itself and we knew that if you stayed for three nights then they give you the fourth night free. That appealed to Yorkshire born Elaine so it meant me driving right across another busy capital city. Near the centre of the city we needed to cross the River Danube and the traffic was nearly at a standstill. Then we found that a police car was stopping the traffic on our route and the city was virtually gridlocked. Somehow, we eventually managed to make our way through to Campsite Haller which was not the greatest campsite we have stayed on but its location within the city limits was superb. When we finally pulled up, to our surprise, we found Brian and Wendy (the Aussies) were there. Elaine left me to set up everything; she was too busy catching up with Wendy. That evening we ended up as a party of eight, dining at the excellent camp restaurant.
Budapest is a city made up of two halves. The western side of the city is Buda and the eastern side is Pest and they are separated by the might river Danube. After the two Aussies had left the next morning we made our way to the underground station and we needed to take the tube for 5 stops to get us to the centre of the city. Some of you will be shocked to hear that Elaine and I have reached pension age. The rule in Budapest is that any EU citizen can use the buses, the trams and the underground for free once they are over pension age. Even though, like Peter Pan, I do not show my age, I put my driving licence in my wallet for when I was challenged to show my ticket. I have now come down to earth! We got to the tube station and the man checking peoples’ tickets just nodded and waved me through.
Knowing that we were going to be in and around the city for a few days we followed Elaine’s plan and crossed the bridge to Buda because on top of the hills on that side we could see, lined up, all of the impressive buildings and the map showed us that there was far more to see over this side.
We crossed over the “Chain” bridge and in a square we could see a very long queue waiting for the funicular railway ride up to the Royal Palace and the National gallery. At first we got to the back of the queue until Elaine got chatting to a chap who was selling sightseeing tours. He was English and had bought a flat here some years ago. He told us not to bother to wait and pay to go up and then pointed us to a point a little way off to the right. He told us that there were free escalators all the way to the top or we could catch the number 12 bus just over the road up to Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion and from there it was a pleasant walk to the palace. We caught the bus. I am going to let the pictures do the description of what we saw up there and the fantastic views of the Danube and Pest on the other side.
Over the next days we got to know Budapest quite well and found the tram system as well as the underground was excellent for travel in, around and back out of the city. Impressive buildings line the streets all over the city and statues can be found virtually everywhere. The centre of the city is a tourist’s and a photographer’s paradise. Near the elegant, beautifully designed parliament building we saw a building where the bullet holes have all been marked from the time of the 1956 Revolution. We try to learn about some of the history of the countries we visit and Hungary’s recent history about the Pet Boys: teenagers that took on the might of the Russian army sparking the successful revolution forcing the occupying Russians to flee the city is such an impressive story. Mind you, they came back 2 years later with massive force and many Hungarians died in 1958.
We took a boat ride along the Danube on the last night of our stay and we both agree that this is a city we could come back to in the future. We were given good advice of places to visit on our way out of Hungary as they used to live here and come back a visit the city every year. They told us that we would pass a bridge which we only had to cross to get into Slovakia and we could then boast another country visited on our trip. Elaine and I agree that our tour has never been about counting countries visited. When we visit a country we want to know about the country, the people and some of the important historical facts and we wouldn’t be doing that just by visiting the village just the other side of the Danube.