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Budapest 19

Friday, 16 july 2010

I escaped the heat in Pest today by visiting the Buda hills, via the Cog Railway and then the Children’s Railway to the lookout at Jánoshegy (János hill), returning by chairlift. The evening was pleasantly whiled away at 3 cool bars.

First, I took the Metro to Moskva tér, the line that goes east-west from Keleti station in Pest under the Danube to Déli station in Buda. Then I took tram no. 61 (59 would also have done) west for a couple of stops to the circular Hotel Budapest. Don’t take nos. 18 or 56 as it says in my LP guide. They go in the opposite direction. I was pleasantly surprised that the Cog Railway line that goes from here up to Szechenyi Hill was covered by my 24 hour public transport ticket.

           

At Szechenyi Hill is the start of the Children’s Railway, staffed entirely (except for the driver, I hope) by school children. I got off at Janos Hill, the highest point (527m). It is certainly a few degrees cooler up here than down in Pest. I went for some leisurely walks in the shady forest area, then walked up to a building that was constructed 100 years ago to serve as a viewing tower. I returned down the hill via the nearby chairlift and caught the 291 bus back to Moskva tér. I decided to get off the bus at the Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge) stop.

     

It was getting on for late afternoon by this time. I walked across to Margaret Island from the middle of the bridge, just to see how different it looked from last time I visited (in winter when it was covered in snow), It was much busier than last time when I practically had the place to myself except for a few dog walkers.

There was a bar/cafe/restaurant I came across called Holdudvar (Moon Courtyard). I had a pasta and a hefe-weissbier (Löwenbräu). After that I caught the Metro to Blaha Lujza tér, where I tried to find a roof-top bar I had read about, Corvintető (Corvin’s Roof). It is an open-air bar on the roof of the former communist-era department store, Corvin. The lift attendant has an esky from which he will offer you a selection of palinka drinks (fruit brandy, like schnapps). It looks like they have cinema there too, from the screen I saw. I had another German hefeweissen there (a Hofbräu I think). It really is hot here, high 30s. I find myself drinking more pilsners and wheat beers than I would in cooler weather.
   
I finished up the evening by walking to nearby VII District (the old Jewish Quarter) and the Szimpla Kert bar. Or really a series of bars over a couple of levels in a cool distressed/urban/industrial space. There I had a dark beer (Dreher Bak), finally wending my way back “home” on my not-too-unsteady feet, well before midnight.

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Budapest 18

Friday, 16 July 2010

Approaching the end of my journey, it already seems a bit surreal. Maybe it never really happened, maybe it was just a dream, or a 24 hour LSD trip. Or maybe I just stayed in my bedroom in Melbourne for 6 months and made it all up, hoovering up photos from the internet, like that conspiracy theory about man landing on the moon.

But no, I have photos of Linsey and Danny as proof. It all really did happen!

In the 24 lots of 7 day weeks, 168 nights away, (i.e. 6 lunar, if not looney, months) I calculate I have slept in 41 different towns and cities, in 12 countries, and visited 14 other places on day trips.

They are (in order of first visit):

  1. Frankfurt am Main
  2. Budapest
  3. Vienna
  4. Bratislava
  5. Banska Bystrica
  6. Poprad
  7. Tatranska Lomnica
  8. Zakopane
  9. Krakow
  10. Wroclaw
  11. Katowice
  12. Lviv
  13. Uzhhorod
  14. Kolomiya
  15. Chernivtse
  16. Kiev
  17. Odessa
  18. Sevastopol
  19. Yalta
  20. Bakhchiserai, then Odessa for the 2nd time, then Budapest for the 2nd time
  21. Pecs
  22. Zagreb
  23. Lyublyana
  24. Bled
  25. Divaca
  26. Piran
  27. Trieste
  28. Venice, then Budapest for the 3rd time
  29. Eger
  30. Kosice
  31. Prague
  32. Warsaw
  33. Vilnius
  34. Klaipeda
  35. Nida
  36. Kaunas
  37. Berlin
  38. Gdansk, and Krakow for the 2nd time
  39. Olomouc, and Budapest for the 4th time
  40. Subotica
  41. Belgrade, and Budapest for the 5th time

The places I visited but did not stay overnight were:

  1. Banska Stiavrica
  2. Wieliczka (salt mine)
  3. Yarumche
  4. Balaclava
  5. Simferopol
  6. Skocjan (caves)
  7. Koper
  8. Duino
  9. Szentendre
  10. Trakai
  11. Sopot
  12. Westerplatte
  13. Czieszyn
  14. Brno

I have travelled as far west as Venice (Italy), as far east as Yalta (Ukraine), as far north as Klaipeda (Lithuania) and as far south as Belgrade (Serbia). I have seen three seas (Black Sea, Adriatic and Baltic), two mountain ranges (Carpathians, including the High Tatras, and the Julian Alps) and a number of major rivers (including the Danube, Dniester and Dnieper flowing into the Black Sea and the Vistula flowing into the Baltic).

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Sunday, 11 July 2010

I am back in Budapest after my zig-zag Northern Loop odyssey. I have got it in my head to do one last side-trip, so I am going to Keleti station today to catch a train to Subotica just across the border in Serbia. I will sleep there tonight then go to Belgrade (on the Danube) for 2 nights and return to Budapest on Wednesday.

Serbia will be the 12th European country I have visited on the trip. The only one of Hungarys seven neighbouring countries I wont get to this time is Romania.

If I can get internet access I will post from Serbia. Otherwise in a few days when I am back in Budapest.

So long for now,

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Eger 2

Friday, 4 June 2010

This morning I visited Város a város alatt (Town under the town) which is the old underground storage place for the wine cellars of the archbishopric, near the Basilica. It runs for 3 km in a 7 x 7 grid system, wide enough for a horse and cart to carry casks, and at some intersections big enough for them to turn around. The guide spoke excellent English, but he was apologetic because there were school groups all day and he had time to speak only Magyar. I tagged along with a school group (the only other guest besides the students and teachers). They were 13 years old or so (the students not the teachers). Before the tour started I noticed the boys all seemed to have cap guns and sling-shots, and the girls were all crowded around their mobile phones.

  

  

The roots of trees in the park above had managed to prise cracks in the rock in search of water.

In the afternoon I visited the Valley of Beautiful Women (or as the street signs translate it, the Nice Woman Valley).

 

This is where a large number of wineries offer tastings, purchased by the 100ml glass. Kate tells me this is where you get serenaded by men in suits, but I missed all that. I did hear music wafting out from one establishment, and what sounded like a spirited sing-along but that wasn’t in keeping with the melancholy theme of this blog, so I ended up the only customer in a rather gloomy cavern, with water dripping from the ceiling as the rain poured down outside.

The winery was called Tóth Ferenc. I concentrated on tasting some reds. I am not a wine buff, so I find it hard to describe the differences. I had four wines, including an Egri Bikaver (Bull’s Blood) 2006 which I was told was a blend of five different grape varieties, and a Kadarka 2007, which is apparently the name of a grape variety grown only in Hungary, Rumania and Serbia. A typical Hungarian wine, I was told.

  

I also paid a brief visit to the cemtery, which was near the Valley of Beautiful Women. There must be a moral in that somewhere.

   

Lastly, I visited the Turkish Baths which have been recently renovated.

 

The water is from a natural thermal spring, containing minerals and trace elements including small amounts of radioactive radon. The water is supposedly therapeutic, but I saw a sign advising contraindications including asthma and tumours under treatment. I think I would have been fine to bathe there, but I am being super cautious and gave it a miss. Also I would have had to buy some swimming togs. The standard ticket was for 2 hrs 30 mins in the main octagonal pool, or a couple of smaller ones, or sauna etc. There were special packages such as the Gul Baba Rose Bath and the Sweet Dreams Package. But I was able to buy a cheap ticket just to have a look around. First I had to put plastic bags over my shoes. I didn’t take a pic of the main pool, since it was occupied. But it looked beautiful, with a golden domed ceiling.

This was one of the smaller pools.

 

Some signs gave information about the role of the baths within the local Islamic (Ottoman) culture. It included the interesting comment that one of the few gounds for a woman to divorce her husband that the Sharia courts regularly granted was failing to allow her to visit the baths at least twice a week (where, apart from the bathing, she could also be involved with the community of other women i.e. gossip).

Outside, nearby, there was a double faucet with the spring water flowing out. The water was was warm and I had a couple of sips.

  

Until we meet again.

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Eger

Thursday, 3 June 2010

I just get settled in a town and I hear the road calling me to move on. I guess that’s just the kinda guy I am, a high plains drifter, a rambler, a river boat gambler, a lonesome hobo, a rolling stone, living off my wits and my Visa card. So don’t fence me in ’cause wherever I lay my hat that’s my home, and if you get too close I’m gone like a cool breeze, but don’t think twice it’s all right. In other words I am catching the train Saturday to Košice (pr. kosh-ee-tsay) in Slovakia.

But first an update on my time in Eger, Hungary. Coincidentally my friend Kate stayed at the same panzió (pension, guest house) I am in: La Casa Panzió. I tried to walk from the train station, but I got lost due to mistaking a different train station on the map. So I went back and used a public phone. Pretty soon George (or Georgie?) came in his car to pick me up. He’s a lovely fellow and made me feel very welcome. The room is great, a double with en-suite for only about A$35 per night. The communal living room and kitchen is good too, and the outside patio — pity about the rain. Kate had the even better loft room with balcony for just a bit more, but I think the current exchange rate is helping me too (and has been for the whole trip, lucky me).

After getting settled in my room, I went out for a walk. It has been raining pretty constantly the whole time I’ve been here, but that’s OK. I discovered my umbrella was missing so I bought no. 6 for the trip. I have enjoyed the different seasons: snowy winter, occasionally rainy spring (continuing now into early summer), with plenty of hot and fine summer days ahead I expect.

By the way, I have bought my ticket to fly home! I leave on 20 July and arrive in Melbourne on an Etihad flight at 6:15pm on Wednesday, 21 July. Just in time for the Melbourne International Film Festival which starts on 22 July! I make that exactly six months (24 weeks) away.

You know, a thought has just crossed my mind. It would be quite feasible to do this travel thing for the rest of my life if, say, I worked 6 months of the year (full-time or even 4 days a week) and took the other 6 months off to travel. Especially if I travelled in countries like Eastern Europe where the cost of living is no more than in Australia (actually, quite a bit cheaper)…Food for thought, what?

Back to Eger. As Kate will remember, there is a cool shortcut to downtown, via a pedestrian tunnel near the guest house which exits at the Eger Castle gates.

  

Next some Castle pics. All that’s left of the original castle are just the walls and battlements.

   

There was also a Royal Palace (1470), a museum and a waxworks which I didn’t bother to visit. Here’s the view.

     

Remains of the oldest building (10th-11th c.) of the Eger Bishopric (founded by Saint/King Stephen I himself) were discovered (a round baptistry), and the tomb of  the early Bishop Buldus who died a martyr. There are ruins of a  Romanesque and Gothic church (destroyed by the Ottomans). Underground crypts have also been uncovered.

   

I saw a couple of things from the Castle that I decided to go and check out. First, a square.

 

At ground level it looked like this.

  

The square includes lively statues of Dobo Istvan and a battle scene depicting his victory over the Turks in 1552. They eventually succeeded in 1596 however until they were finally kicked out for good in 1687. 

 

A minaret from Ottoman times, view from Eger Castle and at ground level.

  

I had my evening meal at a place Kate recommended, the restaurant at Hotel Senátor Ház. The food was very good (I had a pasta) and the serve was enormous. I sat outside under the large umbrella and plastic windows. Blankets were available but it wasn’t that cold.

 

I picked up my little volume of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in Budapest, so I am going to bore you with some more quotes.

Thought for the day:

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to to pull you up? So what?

Marcus Aurelius — Meditations

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Szentendre

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

First day of summer, but you wouldn’t think so. It’s cold and rainy today. Despite the weather I went on a daytrip cruise up the Danube to the little town of Szentendre, only 19km north of Budapest. The boat left at 10.30am and arrived at 12.00pm (going upstream), while the return trip (downstream) left at 5.00pm and arrived back in Budapest at 6.00pm. The fare was 2,235 Ft (about A$12).

Szentendre is a bit of an artists colony, with lots of quirky little museums (Music Box Museum, Marzipan Museum etc), souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. It is located at the start (if you are looking upstream) of the Danube Bend, where instead of flowing north to south cutting Hungary in two, it flows west to east. A little further upstream from here only the southern bank is Hungarian, while the northern is Slovakian. You can travel by boat from Budapest to Bratislava and Vienna if you want (in season, which is now).

 

After passing under the Chain Bridge, we went by the Royal Palace and Matthias Church on Castle Hill on the left (above) and the Parliament building on the right (below).

 

    

  

The river bank seemed quite high. When we berthed at Szentendre there were emergency crews doing a bit of sandbagging. I don’t think there was any danger of the Danube bursting its banks though.

  

I wandered into town, first to the main square, then along a few narrow alleys, and up to a couple of bridges across a stream. The pedestrian bridge was closed, probably because of the danger of rising water levels, but that didn’t stop people crossing it anyway.

    

 

Some views from a hill above the square.

 

I have been cooking some of my meals in the common kitchen where I am staying in Budapest, so I decided to shout myself lunch in a nice restaurant near the square. I chose the 3  course set menu — gulyas soup, chicken paprika with gnocchi, and pancakes with chocolate sauce for dessert. I had a glass of dry red Hungarian wine with the main course, and a sweet Tokay (white wine) with dessert, finishing with an espresso.

I have started to get itchy feet again, so I’m moving on. I think this might be the start of my northern loop to Berlin and Prague, and eventually back to Budapest. I will be going anticlockwise. Tomorrow I am going to follow in Kate’s footsteps and catch a train to Eger in the north-east of Hungary. I intend to stay 2 or 3 days there, so if I can find an internet connection I will post a blog entry.

Best wishes to everyone wherever you are.

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Budapest 16

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Back in Budapest, after a whirlwind three days in Venice. I haven’t had a chance to get onto the internet since Trieste. My hotel in Venice doesn’t have wi-fi but they’re working on it they tell me.

If you give me a chance to catch my breath, I promise you a blow-by-blow account of my stay in La Serenissima. I probably took more photos per day here than anywhere else I’ve been. But the catch is they are probably the identical photos taken by thousands of other tourists. Ah, but mine will contain the crucial tiny differences that set them apart from the crowd…

I decided to fly back to Budapest from Venice because I was fooling around on the internet and discovered a really cheap deal. The fare was only 40 euros (about A$60) total cost! And that was after they had added 5 euros for “booking fee” and another 5 euros for “personal check -in” fee. I saved 15 euros per piece for having no check-in luggage (another advantage of travelling light, with just a day pack and shoulder bag). Wizzair was the airline (Hungarian). They often fly out of secondary airports (Traviso here). There was a bus to the airport that only cost 5 euros. The flight left at 6.30am, so I walked through central Venice in the early hours, very quiet and peaceful. I did a dry run during the previous day so I wouldn’t take any wrong turns. On arrival I caught the train into central Budapest and walked to my hotel (saving the taxi fare).

Walking from the train station to my “mini-room” apartment, I passed a big post office, so I enquired there about Poste Restante. It was located there but closed at weekends. I am looking forward to going back on Monday to (hopefully) find my copy of Andy Jackson’s “Among the Regulars” waiting for me.

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