June 17th……..Esztergom, Hungary
We enjoyed Budapest and didn’t want to drive straight out of Hungary so we drove on to Esztergom which is 29 miles northwest of Budapest. When we arrived we doubled the numbers of campers on the large site, just over the road from the banks of the mighty River Danube. Just over the river is Slovakia and here, the river forms the border between the two countries. The bathroom facilities on the site were best described as clean but in need of modernisation but the location just on the edge of the town was perfect.
Later on we wandered into the town which took us past a park where a group started rehearsing very loudly on a stage and we knew that if they were playing that evening then that may have been the reason why the campsite was so empty. Perched on a hill there sat a huge church with a very large dome so we followed the steep paths which snaked their way up the hill. Why on earth did such a small town warrant such a majestic place of worship? Later on we looked it all up and found that now the town has a population which numbers under 30,000. However from the 10th to the mid-13th century Esztergom was the capital city of Hungary until the capital was moved to Budapest and we were right about the scale of the building. It is the largest church building in Hungary.
We saw the castle and lots of other statues and buildings that showed the importance this town had in the past.
When we got back to the campsite we found others had moved onto the campsite. There were three separate lots of cyclists with their tiny tents and bulging saddle bags. It was fascinating to hear about the trials and tribulations of the British pair that had set up their little camp right behind us. The chap came over from a Hungarian van and it ended up that he and his wife were English but now lived in Hungary and he suggested a few places in Hungary for us to visit on our way to Austria. Luckily the music stopped prompt at 11pm so we were happy but probably not as happy as the six cyclists in their tiny tents.
June 18th ……Szentendre and the bend in the Danube
We pulled into the town of Szentendre because this was the first suggested stop on the way. It was a lovely little town with lots of churches and cute little streets and looking at the coaches lined up in the car park and the people in the streets thronging the many souvenir shops and the food and handicraft stalls then it is obviously a popular tourist attraction. The other place we were told to visit was way up a steep, windy road to get up to a castle and to go into a hotel carpark which would give us the perfect viewpoint to see the famous bend in the River Danube.
The road steeply snaked its way up and we pulled into a lay-by very near the top. It was well worth the detour. Whilst I made the tea Elaine got into conversation with a pair of cyclists who had stopped beside us. They were yet another pair of Aussies and we spent some time chatting with them whilst enjoying the magnificent view.
That evening we stopped at, according to the glowing reviews, the best campsite in Hungary at a little place called Sopron. Far from it! It was the worst campsite we had come across in our two years of travels. Even the water had been turned off from the taps and I had to take the showerhead off the hose so that I could fill the watering can to get water for the van. The Chinese woman who we presumed was the owner said no water and 17 euros for the night. We would have moved on but there were no other sites close by so we just made the best of it there.
On the way the next day we bought a vignette for Austria and drove into the outskirts of Vienna to visit the city. Some years ago Elaine and I took a five day Christmas break in Austria and have every intention of seeing more of this lovely country.
What a contrast to our last night’s stop. The camper stop is situated south west of the city centre and an underground railway station is just around the corner. All the staff were just so helpful and they loaded us up with maps and information about their city and the facilities were spotless. We relaxed that day so we would visit the city over the next couple of days. The rain gods decided otherwise. The next morning it was pouring and the rain continued for most of the day. Just across the road from the site is a large Chinese restaurant so we indulged ourselves so we could escape the confines of our motorhome for a couple of hours.
The next day the sun was back in the sky so we bought a two day travel card and headed into the city. Elaine had used the previous day planning what we should see on our first day from all the maps and leaflets we had been given by the campsite. What a wonderful day we had.
We took a 40 minute tour in a very luxurious carriage pulled by two elegant horses around the beautiful city centre and it gave us a really good basis to know where all the important landmarks are situated. We used our travel passes to get around and managed to find all the places on Elaine’s list.
During our lunch we had an intriguing conversation with an Austrian man and a Rumanian girl about the referendum and they had opposite views. He was hoping the British would vote for an exit because he and his friends want the same thing for Austria. The girl just wanted everything to remain the same and seemed genuinely worried about her future if the UK votes for Brexit. It was a hot day and we spent a lot of time walking from one beautiful building to the next and we were two pretty tired people when we got back to the campsite.
That evening we received a pretty awful telephone call from our Aussie friends Brian and Wendy. They were on a motorway heading for Prague. There were roadworks and they were in a contraflow where all the traffic were on the one side of the motorway. Suddenly the car to their right attempted to turn across the traffic to go back the other way. He smashed straight into their motorhome and has caused so much damage that it will probably be written off. Their trip is wrecked but at least they are uninjured. They have had to leave virtually all of their stuff in their van which is being transported to England, for inspection by the insurance company. They now may be forced to fly back to Australia instead of near Christmas which was their original plan. They told us they were going to a hotel in Prague to get over the shock and to think what to do. We told them we will spend the second day in Vienna and then we will leave Austria and drive straight to Prague to lend them any support possible.
The next day we caught the underground and went straight to the Schonbrunn Palace. It is truly magnificent and the extensive grounds are a joy and the views from the top are magnificent.
We then went straight across the city to go to the Danube Tower. There is a 150 meter ride in an express lift to get to the viewing tower. The roof of the lift is glass so you can look up and watch your ascent. From that height the children we had passed in the park just looked like ants from up there. We then went up the lift again another 10 meters to the revolving café for coffee.
From there we went back into the city to the Belvedere Palace and despite the fact that there was little colour in the large gardens the many statues and the magnificent fountains made the visit well worthwhile. Vienna is a fabulous city but how lucky are we. In no time at all we have visited Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia and then Budapest and now Vienna. Although it is sad that we will drive straight back out of Austria we have decided to go to Prague and park our motorhome at a campsite and then to take a hotel break in the city somewhere close to the Aussies’ hotel so we can properly visit this capital city.
June 23rd– 27th ….our hotel stay in Prague
We bought another vignette just before the crossing the border and the motorways in Hungary are being extensively repaired and modernised all funded by the EU according to the huge signs, dominantly displayed along the stretches under repair. It is nice to see where our money goes. We drove 181 miles but it took us around 6 hours because of the many hold ups on the way. Finally we got to a site where we felt safe to leave the motorhome for the four days. You would think that by now we should be seasoned travellers and that we should be able to get about anywhere. We had booked a hotel in the 01 district in Prague which is the centre and the girl at the campsite said a station we should head for we left the site at around 5pm. We sat on the train; none of the stations we passed had the name the girl had written down. It suddenly looked like we were leaving the city so we got off the train at the next stop deciding that we should travel back on the next train. We waited. No train arrived. A young girl felt sorry for us and suggested we catch a bus back into the city. Finally we arrived at the hotel at 20.30 that evening having set off at 9 am that morning from Vienna.
There are all sorts of tours you can take when you visit a large city. There are free tours and paid professional tours. All large cities have hop-on, hop-off bus tours and there are many more tour possibilities. We took the “Aussie tour”. The next day we met up with Brian and Wendy and they took us around all the places they had found the previous day. They also pointed out the bars they had visited and it would have been rude not to have joined them.
There are fabulous buildings everywhere just like in all the great cities we have visited recently. The temperature got up to around 34- 36 degrees which is hot, hot, hot! The difference here in comparison to our other recent cities is just the numbers of people that roam the streets. Beer and cigarettes are very cheap here. The only thing is: if you drink the local beer then when you ask for a large beer you will get a glass half full because the rest is the froth to the top of the glass. However it is cheap so no-one complains.
The layout of Budapest and the layout of Prague are very similar in many ways. Both cities have a wide river running through them and both cities have expanded out massively over the centuries on the side of the river where the land is relatively flat. Both cities have a range of hills running almost down to river and this is where both cities have built impressive palaces and castles.
In Prague there are lots of bridges up and down the river but the most significant one is the, centrally placed, Charles Bridge which is a wide old stone bridge bedecked with large statues on either side. Nice stalls are set out across the whole length and the special thing is that it is for pedestrians only. Near the centre of Prague there is a large weir that runs across the river so the large and small tour craft have to go through a huge lock over one side of the river to be able to be able to get from one level of the river to the other.
This leaves a large area of the river where families are safe to enjoy the multitude of pedal boats that are on hire there and what a colourful scene it makes.
We kept seeing kit car mock ups of old fashioned cars taking people for tours around the city. Brian and I both liked the idea so we waited until it had cooled down a little and found a four seater and took a 40 minute tour for the four of us.
Our driver gave us a really good tour which took us both sides of the river. All was good until we got to the hills and the car started to cough and splutter. The driver had to keep stopping by the side of the road to try to get the thing going. Eventually, he dropped us off at a park and said he would be back in 25 minutes so that he could continue our tour.It was still very hot and just opposite we came across two small spa pools and there were people sitting all around them with their feet in the refreshing water. So the four of us soon joined them and what an enjoyable break it made. We went back to the arranged meeting place and there he was and the problem was fixed. The good thing about the tour was it showed us all the places to see over the other side of the river.
We didn’t stay with Wendy and Brian the whole time but on the Saturday we arranged to meet in the Irish Bar to watch the Rugby between England and Australia. England needed the win to complete the tour whitewash over the Aussie team and despite feeling sorry for our Aussie friends over their predicament they were in; it was fun to celebrate the England win.
Over our four day stay in this wonderful city we spent lots of quality time with the two Aussies. We learnt a lot about the recent times and the problems the city had with the recent Russian, oppressive rule. It just happened that we were there in the city to enjoy the festival to celebrate the 25th anniversary of when the Russians finally left the city.
We saw the changing of the guard at Prague castle and accidentally stumbled across the most amazing Synagogue. We have visited churches, palaces, the cathedral and most of the important and fascinating tourist attractions and were out in the city during the evenings to see great places lit up at night. We did learn one very important fact about Prague that I will pass on here in case you come yourselves to visit the city. The trams do not stop at pedestrian crossings. Forget that at your peril!
I sincerely hope that you do not get”boared” reading about our adventures.