Hungary (11th country on our travels)

Good to see renewable energy again in Hungary

Good to see renewable energy again in Hungary

Leaving Slovakia we had to once more present our passports at the border and pay more tolls, this time to the Hungarian government.  It’s a flat rate for a specific time frame allowing access to all motorways in Hungary, which makes it a simple transaction, with a sticker for your windscreen so the police can see what you’ve paid for.  Once into Hungarian territory it’s back to every square inch of soil being put to good use and heaps of wind turbines.  We realised that we have not seen a farm animal outside, other than the odd horse, since Germany.  The paddocks are for the usual crops of maize, barley and grass  not animals, with vegetable growing nearer the cities.  We were driving down through a huge, wide plain that stretches for miles.   Hungarian drivers are mad as well!  We came across a horrific head-on accident where a people-mover had been demolished by a huge truck, carrying massive rolls of paper.  Some of the rolls had fallen off the back of the truck and it looked as if they may have landed on the van.  It was very sobering to realise that with the state of the people-mover it meant that it was certainly a fatal accident.  No sooner had we got past this scene and Dennis and I were both yelling at this small car passing us!  Passing drivers tend to stay in the other lane (when there are only two lanes) for so long and quickly pull in directly in front of the oncoming traffic.  It seems to be normal behaviour for all these eastern European drivers and it’s usually only the frightened Kiwis who object, but on this occasion the oncoming truck driver was shaking his fist as well, the gap was almost too small.  They are so impatient!
We noticed so many “pubs” along the way around here.  I guess it’s easy to turn the front room of your home into a pub, you only needed to add blinking, coloured lights, a few chairs on the front lawn or under the veranda and you’d be away.  In a village with a population of maybe a couple of thousand we passed seven of these businesses, just along the main road.
Budapest was our next stop.  Not being nearly as informed as Dennis, I was unaware that Budapest was actually two cities, Buda on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the other.  The two became a single city back in 1873 and it is now the capital city of Hungary.  The first settlement here was built by the Celts before 1 AD and was later occupied by the Romans, who did their usual thing and constructed roads, amphitheatres, baths and houses with heated floors.  Down through the ages this region has suffered from one takeover after another, from the Ottoman rulers through after the Second World War.  Budapest sustained major damage during the War.  All bridges were destroyed by the retreating Germans and around 38,000 civilians lost their lives during the conflict.  250,000 Jewish inhabitants died during the Nazi occupation.  I am always overwhelmed with these dreadful statistics, we are so sheltered in New Zealand from the harsh realities of what happened during the War years, being such a small place all the way on the other end of the globe.  After WW2 Hungary was declared a communist People’s Republic and it was only in 1989 that they finally became a fully independent Republic again.

Our first day in Budapest was so cold and wet.

Our first day in Budapest was so cold and wet.

The amphibian bus is a strange sight on the Danube

The amphibian bus is a strange sight on the Danube

We parked in Pest in a metered car park that worked out to be quite cheap for 24 hours at a time, once you had converted the florints to pounds, as the evening hours were free.  The currency here is hard to reconcile when you are paying 459.5 florints per litre of diesel ($NZ2.53) and the paper notes in our wallets range from 500 to 10,000 florints.  IMG_0343

My cunning plan to photograph the street names where we have parked our van has proved very useful from time to time

My cunning plan to photograph the street names where we have parked our van has proved very useful from time to time

I was desperate to find a laundromat of some description and so our first stop in Hungary was at a McDonalds to look up the location of such a place online.  The weather was awful, cold and raining, so there was no way I could do my usual trick of hand washing the lot and stringing up the washing line to some convenient tree or lamppost.  Tripadvisor online told me that Budapest only has one laundromat and it boasted that I would be thoroughly impressed with this funky, modern facility in the heart of the city.  Armed with the address we set off again.    We parked the van a few streets away and had to walk in the pouring rain with the TomTom in hand.  Happily, we found another laundromat on the way to the only one in town and settled down for a couple of hours waiting for the machines to finish whirring.  I make the most of these infrequent visits to real washing machines that will take up to 16kg of clothes, with all the towels and sheets thrown in as well, consequently we now have ‘grey’ whites.  

These taxis looked a laugh.  The driver sits on a bike up front.

These taxis looked a laugh. The driver sits on a bike up front.

They were in the middle of cleaning the Parliament Buildings.  What a difference!

They were in the middle of cleaning the Parliament Buildings. What a difference!

Once I had the vexed question of the laundry sorted we were free to explore the city on foot.  What a beautiful city.  We were parked right alongside the huge River Danube and really enjoyed watching all the river traffic.  Lots of cruise ships, not the tall sort we are familiar with but overgrown barges really, as well as all the cargo vessels.  The bridges had interesting stories to go with them as well.  Margaret Bridge leads across to Margaret Is, mid stream in the Danube, the two main parts have a 30 degree bend in the middle and another bridge at the apex branches off the main one onto the island! Quite strange. Beautiful old buildings are everywhere, most of them in excellent repair.  The food in Budapest was cheap and very yummy.  We had the best kebabs we’ve ever tasted and they had free WiFi in this small restaurant as a bonus.  

They make excellent use of the rivers in Europe to transport a huge variety of goods

They make excellent use of the rivers in Europe to transport a huge variety of goods

Cruise ships are very popular as well

We have seen these cruise ships all along the Danube

The following day we got up extra early with the intention of Skyping most of our children back in NZ (Richard is always very hard to get a hold of, so busy is he designing Loomio, check it out at http://www.loomio.org)  but unfortunately, although this particular McDonalds had power points available for their customers, none of them were actually operational and so after a quick five-minute chat to Matt, we had to use our computer battery time on checking how our online auction at Flightfox.com was proceeding.  We were initially excited to see we had been given the opportunity to purchase extremely cheap tickets from London to Wellington, until we realised the place we had to book them through only spoke Spanish!  The whole idea of Flightfox.com is that their online agents compete amongst themselves for the finder’s fee ($US 49) to tell you where you may purchase the cheap tickets from, they don’t do the booking for you, just send you their recommendations.    When I realised the “only in Spanish bit” I emailed them to complain as I had presumed that I would be able to communicate in English (Flightfox is an American company after all) and they replied that I should download a translating program.  I tried this but to no avail, my children will tell you that I give up easily when working with computers, but I did try.  Once more I complained and they helpfully returned my fees and we were able to choose one of the slightly more expensive flights instead.  To book our flight home was such a joy, not only because of the price (all AirNZ flights, which was a real bonus, saving us a cool $NZ1000 each!) but we were so ready to come home.  We had been on the road for 13 months by then and we were getting quite homesick, even though we were enjoying all the wonderful experiences of being in a foreign land.

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Neprajzi Muzeum, Pest

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Buda

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Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill in Buda

The indoor market place that Dennis raved about

The indoor market place that Dennis raved about

We had an extra spring in our step on the way to the Pest Free Walking Tour starting point.   Turned out there are two streets with the same name and we happened to choose the incorrect one, so we missed the morning tour.  Nevermind, we’ll catch them for the 2.30p.m. Tour at the correct place.  I found a Starbucks, to first of all remove some of my thermal underclothing as the weather had warmed up considerably and to make full use of their free WiFi, while I sipped my coffee very slowly.  Two hours over one coffee meant I got a lot of blogging done while Dennis walked the city some more.   He found a fabulous huge indoor market, housed in a purpose-built very ornate space which covered about an acre.  When he returned to Starbucks he raved about the building in particular as well as the beautiful fresh produce for sale, which left me wondering why he had bought me some garlic that was mouldy?  We were well in time for the afternoon Tour at the right Lion Fountain but no one else showed up, not even the guide, which was a great disappointment to us as these walking tours are the best way to learn about a new city.

Budapest is just as spectactular at night

Budapest is just as spectacular at night

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Many quirky statues, this one is Little Princess along the Danube Promenade in Pest

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Chain Bridge and the Buda Castle in the background

Hungarian Flag in front of the Parliament Buildings

Hungarian Flag in front of the Parliament Buildings

Dennis had picked out Pécs as our next stopping off point. It is on the southern border of Hungary.  He had worked out well in advance our route, remembering that Istanbul is a long way to go and we now had a firm date of when we were due to leave London, bound for the Southern Hemisphere.  We took the M6, which turned out to be a newly built dual carriage motorway, complete with truck stops and petrol stations.  The only thing it lacked really was traffic!  It is 190 kms long and I reckon we would have seen 20 cars and trucks along the route from Budapest to Pécs.  Quite astonishing.  I really felt quite creepy driving on this modern highway with virtually no one else around. We figured it was probably EU money again.  When I started noticing the jets in the sky, that had me worried more than ever.  Three jets were obviously patrolling the skies, back and forth, back and forth, over and over again.   We watched a beautiful pink sunset (before the sun set at 6p.m) with the vapour trails streaming through it.  We were driving through a wide, wide plain with farms either side of the road.  The largest grain silos we’ve ever seen standing in groups of four or five every few kilometres and those huge round bales of straw and hay dotted all over the landscape.   Even very flat country can be very picturesque.  I found out later that this is part of the Great Hungarian Plain and it covers almost 60% of Hungary.  It also is part of Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, the Ukraine and Romania, covering 100,000sq.km. This one plain is around half the size of N.Z!  In Hungary the highest point on the plain is 183 metres above sea level.

Maybe I've got a guilty conscience but I thought it was creepy having jets patrolling the skies full time

Maybe I’ve got a guilty conscience but I thought it was creepy having jets patrolling the skies full-time

The M6 from Budapest to Pécs, built in 2010

The M6 from Budapest to Pécs, built in 2010

Pécs is a city of 150,00 people today but it was first established by the Romans in the second century.  Pécs is a multicultural city home to Hungarians, Croatians and Swabians (German-speaking people of the Danube).  We were so surprised to find they had a 24 hour Tesco Extra Superstore and settled down in their carpark for the night.  Tescos are a very large chain of supermarkets in the UK and their Extra stores usually include a pharmacy, cafe, clothes department and electrical goods, etc as well as the grocery lines.  In the UK it’s 70% grocery and 30% extras whereas in Pécs it was the opposite.  They sold everything from huge flat screen TV’s to tacks.  This is the first time we have found a Tescos outside of the UK.   The day was beautiful, bright blue skies and very warm so Dennis decided that today was the day he would get some jobs done.  Before getting down to business he would first like to try some local cuisine and he ordered an unknown dish from the cafe at Tescos.  Of course all the labels were in Hungarian and the lady behind the counter couldn’t understand a word of English, so after looking at what the other diners were eating he selected  some unknown dish from what was on offer.  He had to stop the generous lady from filling his plate too high, wondering how he would carry the flimsy plastic plate over to one of the tables.  I declined his suggestion that I choose another selection so he could taste two of the dishes and was content with a bottle of Coke.  They looked all so unappealing to my discerning eye.   Having the spectacle of tourists in the room meant all the other customers were very interested to see how Dennis would fare.   Turned out it was chopped liver and onions.  Now we actually like liver, a plate of Lamb’s Fry and Bacon with fried Tomatoes is rather a treat from time to time in the Bartlett household but this liver was cooked in straight soy sauce as far as I could tell and after two or three mouthfuls Dennis failed in his resolve.  It was disgusting!  

What do you think this is? Chopped liver?

What do you think this is? Chopped liver?

Thus fortified, Dennis began to make his way through a short list of odd jobs that needed doing on or around the motorhome.  First of all, we needed to find a replacement gas cylinder.  We use gas to heat the water, run the fridge, cook our food and warm the air with our flued heater in the back of the van.  In the UK we can use either a 6kg or 13kg gas bottle (similar to one you use on a BBQ) but in Europe they have a different system,  different sized bottles (no problem)  but with a different thread (a major problem).   We started walking into the city centre and found a Shell service station nearby.  The male attendant outside had no interest whatsoever when he realised that we could not speak Hungarian.  This was a disheartening start.  He pointed to the gorgeous looking lady inside every time Dennis opened his mouth.  We were hopeful that this meant that she understood some English, so trotted off to find out that no, she didn’t understand either but she did have a helpful attitude.  I got out my notebook and Dennis started drawing cartoons of a motorhome, the hapless driver, gas bottles and then to the technical drawing of a regulator with the correct thread.  She was excellent in understanding cartoons and yes, she understood our predicament but no, they didn’t sell spare parts.  “Keep walking and you will come to another Shell station closer to town” I think was her advice.  On our way we saw a sign for a camping site so naturally thought, “Ah ha!  A camping site owner would know just what we were on about.”  As we walked up the drive an elderly lady came out of the house looking a bit  concerned at our presence.  Dennis explained our story in some detail, only he had forgotten to ask her if she understood English  first!  Out came the notebook again and yes, she understood cartoons as well but no, the camp site was closed for the season and although she understood our need she had no answer.  She was however shelling walnuts, that had fallen from the six or seven huge trees around her property, with a cute little hammer.  With much hand waving and eating noises Dennis persuaded her to sell us a 250gm bag of shelled nuts.  Delicious!  That cheered her up no end and we parted best of friends.  Back to walking into town again, when we saw a plumbers’ supply store.  Once more the cartoons came in handy and provided the three staff members many moments of merriment with the end result of yes, they understood our problem but no, they don’t sell adaptors there either.  But one of the happy staff had a brain wave and used the Internet to find the correct shop and printed off a Goggle map to direct our way.  Once at the plumbers’ trade supplier the cartoons proved their worth once again.  The shop assistants assured us that they not only understood the problem, they had the correct part in store.  Dennis thought it might be wise to walk back to Tescos to retrieve the van and just make sure that this part was indeed the correct one, before he purchased it.  So off we went again.  All this walking was taking a fair bit of time but as Dennis assured me, we really were getting to know the place quite intimately by now.  I had to laugh when a chap in a car stopped us while on our way back to Tescos.  His first question to us was “Do you speak English?”

One traveller helping another

One traveller helping another


He was from Croatia and spoke a little English, he was looking for the Railway Station and was lost, could we direct him?  Dennis, being the resourceful chap that he is, did exactly that, even though we had never seen the Railway Station ourselves.  Out came our English TomTom from the backpack which Dennis used to interpret some of the Hungarian signs and managed to do a drawing showing him the way.  My notebook was proving invaluable.  When we drove back to the trade supply shop it turned out that the part was indeed incorrect and we were now given a new address to try.  Suez Ltd was a gas fitting place and the helpful man assured Dennis they would have the correct piece of equipment.  He also told Dennis the address and explained how to get there.  As Dennis climbed back in the van he said “That’s easy, I know where that is.” “How?” thought Janette silently, as we promptly got lost!  After driving for some time and confidently assuring me that “it will be in this next street” on several occasions, he finally pulled over and loaded the address into the TomTom.  Turned out,for a start the shop was called Alcatraz not Suez. Anyway, all’s well that ends well, this place had a choice of two adaptors, both of which fitted our thread  type.   Happily he walked back to the second Shell station just down the road to purchase a 7kg gas cylinder and I began preparing lunch in the van.  While Dennis walked back to the van two Hungarians saw this wealthy looking tourist and asked him for the cylinder!  He pretended he didn’t understand them though he had understood they were begging and carried on walking.   Next thing we know, while Dennis was installing the new adaptor and cylinder, an old man approached him.  He couldn’t speak English either but this didn’t stop him asking for two chickens!  Dennis couldn’t believe this to be true and makes like a chicken on the pavement, doing a fair impression of squawking and flapping his elbows, one of which is sore and needs Voltaren smeared on it regularly, to verify that “he did mean chickens?”  “Yes! Yes!” assures the old man but I don’t believe either of them and decide that he must mean eggs and get out the egg carton and wave it about between them.  “Yes! Yes!”  Two eggs is what he’s after, which we are happy to supply.   He’s so delighted he gives the surprised Dennis a big hug!  By this time it was almost 3.30p.m. and Dennis was a bit downcast that he hadn’t achieved much on this “odd job” day and to top it off he was horrified when I forgot about his lunch in all the excitement and presented him with very burnt toasted sandwiches.   

Even the bugs are beautiful in Pécs

Even the bugs are beautiful in Pécs

We proceeded back to the Tesco carpark, where Dennis parked the motorhome with one side up on the garden kerb and the other on the pavement.  He explained this was to enable him to wriggle under the van and replace the rear engine mount.  What a clever fellow!  I took the opportunity to do another hand washing season, it may sound silly but keeping our few clothes clean and in good repair was a major preoccupation for me, particularly when we had decided not to spend unnecessary money on campsites.   Not having much storage space in the motorhome meant we had a very restricted wardrobe each.  Part way through the engine mount replacement, Dennis realises he doesn’t have the right sized spanner!  What a blessing to be parked outside a Tescos Extra.  They sell all sorts of tools and it’s not long before Dennis is back under the vehicle with the correct tool and just his shoes poking out.  Tomorrow we must explore the city centre but today I have a very happy husband, pleased with his day’s adventures.

Clever husband!  No wonder the locals were looking at us rather strangely...

Clever husband! No wonder the locals were looking at us rather strangely…

There is a line strung up on each of the other panels as well

There is a line strung up on each of the other panels as well

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