Szeged to Maribor

It is well known that the idiom “All roads lead to Rome” was actually stolen from the original “All roads lead to Budapest”.  If you wish to travel from Szeged(on the Southern border of Hungary) to Slovenia(on the Western border), you must first go to Budapest, which lies near the Northern border of the country.

First thing in the morning we went to Bor Ter(wine festival) in Szeged to get wine glasses that we have collected most years.  Sadly it was early and the booths were not yet open so we couldn’t enjoy any delicious wine, but it being illegal to drive with even a drop of alcohol in your system it was probably for the best.

After purchasing our motorway pass we settled in for a long and boring drive through the Hungarian farmland.  First we would head North, then South-West, and finally West to reach Maribor, the start of our Slovenian vacation.  Not a bad days drive at slightly under five hours.  Heading North was uneventful, as was our South-West journey.

Nearing the border with Slovenia things got interesting.  Dark clouds blotted out the sun and brilliant flashes of lightning took its place.  I was enjoying this wonderful display of nature until we entered a downpour.  Glad we had decided to take the Rolls instead of the convertible we quickly fogged up and both scrambled to fix the issue.  Thanks to our quick reaction we cleared the windows and were greeted with exactly the same amount of visibility, courtesy of the intense rain.

Driving by following the reflectors on the painted lane directly in front of the car we soldiered on, stopping at a petrol station on the border to purchase a Slovenian motorway pass and give my eyes a rest from not blinking for the past half hour.  Waking my eyes up we continued through these cats and dogs.

Nature did not loosen her grip until we found our rental house just outside the city , when we rewarded with a drizzle while escaping our car for a more comfortable structure.

We saw nothing of the Slovenian countryside or of Maribor that first day due to the wily combination of weather and darkness.

Veszprem, Hungary

A short drive North from Balaton Lake brings you to the City of Queens.  Sadly this is not a city of cross-dressing fun-loving people, or one of constant tributes to a legendary band.  The name refers to the towns history of crowning Hungarian queens, as in royalty.

The center of this town is called Castle Hill, and there truly is a castle upon a hill.  Be prepared for an ascent whichever direction you decide the approach from.  One end has a steep winding road that ends in a row of restaurants and the business district.  The other end has a long series of steps that takes you to the statue of King Stephen I and Queen Gisela, and residential neighborhoods.  IMG_1587.JPG

Castle Hill should be your first stop.  It contains fantastic museums, government buildings, churches, and views over the town.  If the town would just buy some buckets of paint and maintain these historic buildings, Castle Hill would be beautiful.  Instead it suffers a somewhat drab and dilapidated appearance.  Behind the aesthetics though there is much to do.  The many museums can take up a large portion of your time.  One even has a bone of Queen Gisela encased in glass, though it truly could be the bone of anyone as I have no way to verify.  IMG_1585.JPG

Outside of the museums there are the usual church’s to admire and also a well kept and attractive fire-watch tower.  When bored with Castle Hill make your way down the steps the the statues of King Stephen I and Queen Gisela.  This area is on a barren hill somewhat lower than Castle Hill but higher than the rest of the city.  It offers an excellent panorama of this green town.  Walking to the edges are for the brave and stupid only, as it is a cliff face on all sides.  IMG_1584.JPG

Continue down more stairs to the bottom of Castle Hill and you arrive in a residential neighborhood with a few hotels, restaurants, and the mighty Sed Creek.  Walk along the Sed Creek(of which Little John from Robin Hood-Men in Tights would be proud to guard), and you will walk under the town’s iconic high flying bridge and end up at the fantastic zoo and one of Veszprem’s many beautiful parks.  IMG_1580.JPG

Veszprem is a fantastic place to stop and visit for a day while traveling between Lake Balaton and Budapest.  A beautiful area(notwithstanding the Communist buildings), with a rich history.  It was good enough for the Hungarian queens, and it is good enough for us commoners.  IMG_1590.JPG

 

ZOO- Veszprem, Hungary

As you walk to the entrance of Veszprem zoo you get a vague, though small scale, feeling of Jurassic Park.  A gated wall protects the entrance as tree covered hills flank both sides.  Behind that gate you expect a T-Rex to be lurking, and you would be correct.IMG_1621.JPG

Your first stop upon entering the zoo is a simple concrete building to your left.  Inside you are greeted with the joy and pride of the zoo. Guinea Pigs! In a small hay enclosure with a very low wall are dozens of these scared and squeaky animals.  A few minutes of enjoying the cuteness and trying to catch one will be enough to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.  IMG_1602.JPG

Tearing yourself away you continue through the building into a large playground full of entertaining items like rope walkways, as well alligator turtles and snakes(Not roaming the playground but safely behind glass in the walls).  You may decide to play around which will require you to push little humans out of your way or you may wish to stand in front of the alligator turtle tank wondering if it really could bite your finger cleanly off, though this will most likely also require you to push little humans out of your way.  IMG_1604.JPG

Stepping out of the building into the sun you take note of your surroundings.  There is a large walkway down the ravine with little trails running up the sides of the hills.  All is densely covered with trees and animal enclosures are dotted along everywhere.  You continue down the main path zig-zagging across to look at all the animals.  Birds, Raccoon pandas, raccoons, deer like things, capybara, and much much more.  You wonder what animals lay hidden behind these enclosures on the small trails running up the hills but decide not to check as that means walking up hill.  You continue down the main path but your luck runs out.  The trail spits into two and both run steeply up hill.  So much for trying to avoid it you mutter under your breath as you start huffing and puffing. IMG_1611.JPG

From here the zoo becomes a maze.  Hopefully you have kept the map you received upon entering or you may end up lost and a permanent exhibit.  One path leads you through the forest on what can only be described as a hiking trail.  No animals are around but you do come across a large sign explaining the flora of the area.  Remembering that this is a zoo and that you came to see animals you take a break to drink some wine(This is Hungary so it is federal law to have wine, beer, or palinka on any outing), then quickly move on and try to find your way back to where the animals roam.  IMG_1612.JPG

After roaming for a few hours and seeing the tigers and other wonderful animals in large and pretty enclosures you climb another hill to find the much needed restaurant and toilets.  Here you give your barking dogs a break(Your feet and not your pet as he had to be left at home).  After relaxing for a while and finishing the break off with an ice cream you continue your tour by entering the new part of the zoo.  This section of the zoo is an animal resort.  First is the meerkat exhibit which is a large open area that you are actually able to walk inside and get close to the animals.  Things continue like this for a while, though you can not get into the pens of most of the animals, which I am sure is a disappointment to the carnivores.  You will be impressed with the zebra and rhino enclosure.  This massive area seems straight out of Africa.  The animals roam a large area.  It is impressive.  IMG_1616.JPG

A short walk from this area you will discover what Hungarian scientists have been hard at work on.  They have found a way to make a park of plaster dinosaurs.  This is an excellent area of life size dinosaur exhibits.  The dinosaurs are placed chronologically with information plaques in English and Hungarian.  An excellent use of an hour of your time.  Feeding them is allowed though trying to ride them is frowned upon.  IMG_1624.JPG

A full day at a zoo that is well worth it.  Just be sure to visit a spa after completing your trek and have a nice comfortable bed to pass out in at the end of the day.

The Hungarian People

Hungarians are the strangest people I have come across in my life, which is made all the more weird since they are in the middle of Europe and surrounded by cultures I like.

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Let me begin with their physical appearance.  A german looks German, a Swede looks like a Swede, a Brit looks like a Brit, a Slav looks like a Slav, an Arab looks like an Arab, the Japanese look Japanese, and an Indian looks Indian.  Every country on this planet has a look. Even Americans look American.  It is easy to tell an American black from an Ethiopian.  Hungary is the only country I know of that doesn’t follow this rule.  They have no identity at all.  They look very plain.  I cannot even say that they have mixes of German, Turkish, or Russian, because they don’t look like it.  Go to Hungary and try it.  Sit in a cafe and guess peoples nationalities.  It will be easy with the tourists, but Hungarians you will mistake every single time until you hear them speak.

Then their is their attitude.  I have two complaints about it.  They are the most negative people on the planet and also have an unhealthy, almost religious, obsession with food.  Lets begin with their negativity.  Most of them act like dogs that have been beaten.  They never smile when walking and forget about anyone saying hello or good day.  I was told by some Hungarians that if you do smile to strangers they will think that you have a mental problem.  This all goes out the window once you have befriended them.  Then they become extremely nice and hospitable, showering you with food and drinks and making you feel like an honored guest in their house.  I feel it my duty here to tell you the golden rule of Hungary.  ‘Never refuse a palinka when offered’.  Palinka is the Hungarian drink and forms a bond between you and the host immediately upon sharing one.  Refuse and you will make a lifelong enemy.  So do not visit Hungary if you do not drink.  If you do visit prepare your liver for destruction.  Real palinka made by grandfathers, and not the store bought stuff, is extremely strong.  Drinking it has resulted in my only blacked out night.  So prepare yourself.

Beyond this they always think the worst of every situation.  To illustrate this point I will tell the story of a girl I knew.  She was applying to get a job and had an interview.   I wished her luck, helped her practice the interview questions, and told her she would do great.  He parents, yes her own parents, told her that she probably wouldn’t get the job and not to get her hopes up.  That about sums up their attitude to life.  I guess it is from being such a poor country under the Soviet Unions boot. Being poor might also explain their facination with food.  Where the British greet each other by asking about the weather, Hungarians greet each other by asking how their last meal was or what they are going to eat.  90% of any conversation concerns food.

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Hungarians also seem to have extremely poor decision making skills.  As a country they have been on the wrong side of every war.  Even now they are the most zenophobic country in Europe and the Prime Minister is a complete and utter moron.  But I do give them some credit for the obviously evil Jobbik party not winning, though they did come close.  They seem to refuse to learn English, which is weird and stupid when compared to Poland.  Most poles learn English and take advantage of the EU and go work in the UK.  But as you can guess Hungarians don’t learn English and don’t take advantage of the EU.  Instead they get extremely low paying jobs at home and then complain about it.

So Hungarians are the weirdest people I have ever met.  If food is your enjoyment in this life or you ever feel a need to be surrounded by negativity then I recommend you move to a Hungarian village.  The cost of living is almost nil, so go ahead and do it today.

 

Wine in Eger, Hungary

You have probably never heard of Eger, and there is a reason for that.  Eger is not Budapest.  All visitors to Hungary stay within that beautiful city.  Actually, let me adjust that statement.  If you are German you are probably also familiar with Balaton Lake, which happens to be the biggest lake in Europe but that is for a different story.

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This lack of travel outside of the capital is a shame.  Even though Hungary is not a beautiful country it does have some worthwhile sites, and Eger is one of them.  Let us begin with my favorite part of Hungary, the wine.  The Eger area makes fabulous red wine, and they have a wonderful spot to enjoy it.  Within walking distance of the center is a square of near one hundred wine cellars where you can go wine tasting.  From the outside they don’t look like much but inside some of them are fabulous.  Some have three or four levels where you can sit and enjoy wine and make friends.  The stone and brick cellar combined with wooden tables and chairs makes a very inviting environment, especially on a hot summer day.

I need to say something about wine tasting in Hungary at this point.  This is not your normal sniff and little sip.  A “taste” of wine in Hungary is a full glass.  Sometimes they even skip the glass and the host will just pour the wine straight into your mouth from a long glass tube.  This is quite fun.  I highly recommend it.  And when you make your zig zag way out of the door do not forget to buy as much as you can.  One Euro will get you a liter or two of this liquid gold.

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Continuing on to the city itself.  It is not very impressive.  By Hungarian standards it is in the hills.  There is a  castle in the center that offers good views of the city, and the center itself has just been redone, but in a poor manner.  While not beautiful or too intersting it is a nice place to spend a few days.

I can sum up Eger with one sentence.  If you enjoy excellent and cheap wine, visit it.

First Visit to Budapest

The Pearl of the Danube(or Duna) lives up to its name.  It is one of the most beautiful cities I have been to.  Take into account the cheap cost of living and excellent exchange rate and it is easy to see why it is one of the best cities in Europe.

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First I have to get my biggest negative out of the way.  There is no main square for the city.  I understand this is a personal preference, but this is my blog so everything here is my personal opinion.  Where was I?  Oh yes, a main square.  One of the reasons I love Poland and Germany so much and dislike Vienna and most other cities is the having or not having of this wonderful area.  A main street is so uninteresting, but a main square in the Summer time or during Christmas festivals is one of the best places to pass time on the planet.

With that out of the way let us proceed with Budapest proper.  The main street, Vaci utca, is full of the usual shops, cafes, and restaurants with hosts trying to get you to sit down for a meal.  This is where most tourists will spend their time.  A shame really, but normal for tourists in every city to stay in the touristy areas.  How easy it is to get the Hungarian culture and vibe by trying out a hamburger at McDonald’s, or a local coffee at Coffeeshop Company, or maybe purchase some locally made clothes at H&M.  Okay, enough about international takeover of local business.  Let us move on to some of the tourist attractions and a little geography lesson.

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Budapest is actually a combination of two places separated by the Duna river. Buda covers the west bank and is built into hills.  It is the greener and nicer area.  Pest is the business district and contains most of the shops, cafes, and restaurants.  Sitting atop Buda is a castle.  While not too impressive in itself it does offer wonderful views of the city owing to its high location.  Sharing this high ground is a Communist statue referred to by the locals as the giant bottle opener.  You will understand why when you see it.  The other main attraction in Buda is Fisherman’s Bastion, which is impressive.  I will not try to describe it.  You must go and see it for yourself.

Now over to Pest, which supports many wonderful sights.  The most prominent being Parliament.  A masterpiece of architecture, you must view it from the Buda side, the tour boats, and by walking around during the day as well as at night. Do all four mind you, not just one.  Then there is Hero’s Square, which is an average giant Communist sculpture, the Basilica, and….you know what, just walk through District 5 and you will find unlimited sights to keep your eyes and mind occupied.  There are also the spas which are a big deal and exactly what you expect.  A bunch of different temperature pools, some looking and feeling like motor oil and others smelling of eggs.  A great time all around.

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I actually do have one more complaint to discuss and that is about the Hungarian people.  Not a big issue in Budapest since there are so many expats and tourists, but quite annoying in the countryside.  Scratch that.  I will discuss the people in a separate post.

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So let me sum up.  Budapest is a stunning city with enough to keep everyone busy every single minute for weeks.  It is many times cheaper than other European capitals in Europe.  The airport is brand new and modern with excellent connections and some of the cheapest flights in Europe.  Festivals happen weekly to keep you entertained and hydrated with the fantastic wine and decent beer.  There are very few things better than spending a stint in the Pearl of the Danube.