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.

Malev – The Hungarian Airline

Malev was the Hungarian national airline.  I say was because in early 2012 it stopped flying and disappeared.

I had the opportunity of flying on this airline once shortly before the end.  It was a completely normal experience.  No better and no worse than other national airlines.  The cabin and cockpit crew were good and the cabin comfortable.  A simple sandwich for my short flight was quite large and tasty.  Actually, I say the food was better than average.

I give my highest regards to the Hungarian government of 2012 for letting a loss making airline fail and not bailing it out.  It is the only airline I have heard of that was actually allowed to fail.  Unlike KLM, Air France, and especially all the American airlines that are allowed to declare bankruptcy every five years completely screwing their employees and the taxpayer.  So kudos for that.

I do wish the government would revive the airline now.  Budapest airport has recently been updated and is large and nice.  The country is advancing quickly, becoming a hot tourist destination and is positioned perfectly to become a hub for international travel.  Air China has recently started flights as well as Emirates, EgyptAir, Qatar, Airways,  and others.  It would be difficult to compete with WizzAir for short haul routes except to major airports, and I think long haul opportunities are there.

It is a shame that an airline with a rich history of starting with Russian equipment in 1946 and ending with a Western fleet in 2012 just disappeared with hardly a murmur.