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.

A Facebook discussion/argument about the current state of Poland and Hungary

Me: Why are all my favorite countries going backwards? USA, Poland, Hungary. Damn you democracy letting the uninformed and idiots vote. Carry the torch and save us from ourselves France and Germany. And New Zealand just keep minding your own business and being awesome down in your corner.

Them: Is there something wrong with democracy in Poland? Oh wait, you mean those fake news? I wish the democracy was over, unfortunately it is sound and safe in my country.

Me: I am not in Poland at the moment so I cannot speak first hand about it but my other friends there disagree with you. And I’m sorry to hear that “fake news” has spread beyond the USA. So since the Economist, news channels, and my friends are all lying what is the real story?  I can speak first hand about Hungary becoming a shitty place. Everything the news and Economist report about my new home are true, so I find it difficult to believe they are lying about Poland having a shitty government. It is difficult to believe that the EU is making stuff up about Poland as well. A simple rule of thumb is that if the whole world is telling you that you are wrong then you probably are.

Them: well, many friends of mine both in Poland and in Hungary disagree with you too but we are probably “bigots”, “fascists” and you tell me what else, as the one enlightened by the Economist and CNN. Oh, you probably still believe in so called “independent” media.  “Eat shit, millions of flies can’t be wrong”

Me:  That escalated quickly. I was actually asking your opinion of what the lies are in Poland. Your response doesn’t help your point much. Plus a comparison of flies liking shit to humans judging humans is well played and effective. Excellent job of having an enlightened conversation. I have always considered you a friend and don’t mind if you have different beliefs. But you must be able to defend them instead of being aggressive and stupid.

Them:  Please, think independently. Don’t follow fake news just because the source makes itself look “cool”. You can do better than that. Read your comment on “thumb rule” again and then read mine so you’ll understand my point. Hopefully. I’m not saying that Polish government is great, I personally didn’t vote for them as they’re socialists and I am clearly not. But the whole furious attack from media, obviously independent, (the fact that they represent Germany’s political interest is a total coincidence and don’t even dare to think differently) is just outraging. The same with the UE institutions. They’re so ultra democratic, right? So why they can’t stand a democratically elected government, still, even now, supported by vast majority of Polish people? How does it work? Democracy is when all goes smoothly like Germany wants but when the majority of citizens in another country wants something else, it’s a threat to democracy? Erdogan in Turkey, if needed by the UE, is ok, he’s a very nice guy, respecting democratic rules and so on, but in Poland, where everybody is free to express his/her opinion and protest against whatever he/she pleases, democracy is in danger? Our government is finally trying to kick some mafias’ butts the opposition is throwing a tantrum simply because they’re loosing their privileges, that’s all. People, get a life! The UE should focus on solving its real problems. The West is unable to protect their own citizens from stupid attacks, but focuses on “national egoisms” in Eastern Europe instead.

Them:  Nobody respects or likes Erdogan, but right now he fills a need of the EU so they put up with him. It isn’t exactly a bombshell that countries and people do what is in their best interest at the moment, even if it makes them hypocritical. But Turkey is not part of the EU. Poland is, and Poland is not following EU rules, which are quite an important part of being a member. And that is why the EU is not “minding its own business”. If Poles do not want to follow the rules they should give back all the EU money they received, exit the union, and take their chances with Russia. That is an extreme example and I believe not what most Poles would want, but hopefully it gets my meaning across. Poland is EU business. But this is all vague chit-chat. I am still interested in the fake news part of your belief. Please pick any Economist story from the past year and tell me exactly what was false in it. Facts only please, no “some people said”, or “some people believe”. Remember that just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t make it “fake news”.

Them:  Sorry but I’ll pass here. I simply cannot argue with someone copy-pasting already digested media coverages, ready to use, without need to question them. It’d be an easy job for you as you’re constantly being provided with what to think and say. That’s why I’m so much agains the democracy as it’s just too easy to manipulate the public opinion. My tip: take extra care whenever in an article you see words like “nationalism”, “fascism”, “far-right” and other such commonly misused terms (often by your beloved the Economist to which “far-right” is virtually everything by now), especially if they come from sources defending “the only right opinions an intelligent, elite part of the society is expected to have”. If something is making you feel angry or outraged, it because it’s meant to do it. And regarding not following EU rules, don’t bother yourself with Poland, where Poles themselves want changes and support their government, which doesn’t have any implications on the other EU countries at all. Look what Germany is doing, accepting (inviting!) thousands of people from outside of the UE, without checking who they are and consulting other UE members. By not accepting them we (Poles, Hungarians etc) are the ones respecting the EU rules. Regarding leaving the EU and giving the money back, if we do so, will Germany give back the money they actually made in Poland? If the Economist and the other “enlightened” ones kindly shed the light on this topic and how many local businesses went bankrupt, instead of insisting that the EU cares so much about the democracy and wellbeing of Poles in general, let me know.  and regarding fake news: first thing coming to my mind, could you show me the Economist’s explanation on why they’re calling PiS (Law and Justice, the ruling party) as “far-right” and “winning the election because of spreading conspiracy theories” (the Economist, just after the elections and at least 3 times later), which theories PiS is spreading, what makes the Economist think they’re conspiracy ones? Being professionals they must have given some examples and clarifications, right? It must be me who missed that part. Obviously, the current situation is also explained in details, with all the historical background on how Polish juridical system has been formed after the communist era, with all the corruption scandals and other reasons which led to the current situation. Or they skipped that part as it would be just too long to read? Or maybe they just don’t want to touch it as the opposition, backing the corrupt judges, is pro German? Just a few things to keep in mind while watching news next time.

Me:  It is amazing how the whole world has split into two sides and cannot discuss or have moderate opinions. Please stop with the vague rhetoric and let us pick one topic to discuss. How about PiS and the Economist calling them far-right. They say this because the government is passing laws to exert control over the media, civil service, prosecutor’s office, police, and other offices, which in a democracy should be independent. Is this true or not? A simple yes or no please. Is the government trying to control and influence these institutions. And I do not remember reading that the Economist calls them far-right. I believe they say that the government is leaning to the far-right or heading that direction. I haven’t looked it up yet but will go through my old issues to check. And I’m sorry if you think so but Poland is no longer an independent country. It is part of the EU. It wasn’t forced upon you and you get the benefits of it so suck it up and accept the drawbacks as well. EU law says you must accept refugees to ease the burden on Italy and others so accept the damn refugees or fight to keep them out in EU court, but you cannot just refuse not to take them in. No picking and choosing what rules you like and which you don’t. It is all or none. An exact parallel is with the Muslim ban that Trump pushed through. It is ridiculous, sad, and illegal but it is currently law and being enforced while it goes through the court system. Sadly instead of going through the courts Poland and Hungary just refuse to take immigrants. So the system is still working in the USA(thankfully), but not in Hungary or Poland.  If you could explain to me exactly where the news is lying about Poland I will change my opinion and accept the Poland is doing great, but vague statements about Germany, the EU, and fake news are not convincing me.

No response from them……

 

 

 

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.

Red Bull Air Races – Budapest 2017

On a hot and stuffy summers day we drive from the largest lake in Europe to the beautiful capital city of Budapest.  During this short hour and a half journey we enjoy the fluffy clouds that are threatening a storm from the comfort of our air conditioned car.  Having just purchased a new kite we also keep a lookout for an open space to give her a test run, but it proves quite difficult picking a spot from the motorway.  Many farm fields open before us and we discuss the possibility of running through these fields destroying crops to get our kite airborne.  Having decided that this is totally worth it we pull over and begin laying out our string only to have a police officer stop and tell us that stopping on the motorway is illegal and so is trespassing on someones property.  Who knew?

Carrying on to Budapest in a sour mood we are surprised at the level of traffic going into the city.  It is a Saturday morning and usually at this time during summer the inbound lanes are clear and the outbound bumper to bumper as the city empties its people to the lake and villages.  Not today.  Both lanes of travel are packed.  Loving suspense I wonder what is going on in the city and look forward to finding some posters or coming across whatever it is but this being the age of smart phones I can only enjoy my suspense for a minute before I am told that the Red Bull Air Races are in town.  Damn you technology.

This is an amazing coincidence.  I have been to the Budapest air races before and loved it.  I know they are run right in front of Parliament over the Duna river and our hotel is on Margaret Island which is right at the end of the race course.  I couldn’t have planned our visit better if I had actually researched it.  After working our way through the traffic and checking into the hotel we grab a bottle of wine and head for the races.

Walking across the beautiful park that is Margaret Island we arrive at Margaret Bridge and are greeted with the awesome sound of pure horsepower.  Now this is an amazing rebuke to the “safety first” culture of today as these air races take place in the middle of a city, in front of an incredibly beautiful building, meters off the water and meters from bridges full of people and traffic.  There is even a flight under one of the bridges and a low speed pass by a WizzAir A321.  It is all very exciting and a breath of fresh air, except for the fumes.

Do not worry about getting your moneys worth, as the city puts this show on for free.  Grab a drink, find some shade, and enjoy your childhood dream zoom right across your face(If tearing through the center of a city at ground level in an agile and powerful plane was not your childhood dream then we have serious issues to discuss, but we will leave that for later).

After watching for a while and polishing off our wine we move on to the other offerings of this incredible city, all the while enjoying the sound of pure adrenaline fading into the distance.

 

Riyadh to Csongrad, Hungary

Driving in Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but riding in a taxi takes it to a whole new level.  An Indian in a Toyota Fortuner picked me up from my villa at midnight to take me to the airport.  Usually I sleep during car rides but in Saudi it is impossible.  I close my eyes but each speed bump we cruise over knocks my head against the roof, the seatbelt doing nothing to hold me down.  At intersections we squeeze as far forward as possible, even if it means going to the far right of the road to get one car length ahead just to make a left turn.  As soon as the traffic light turns green my driver lays on his horn even though there are twenty cars ahead of us.  It goes on like this for for forty white knuckle minutes.  I am not sure if people in Saudi have no planing ahead ability or if they just enjoy driving in this style.

At the Riyadh airport I purchase a large box of dates for my in-laws and wait near the gate for my Lufthansa A-330 to Munich.  I try to relax and read but find it impossible due to every single person watching videos, listening to music, or talking on their smartphones.  So I get up and walk circles around the terminal until boarding.  Up to this point I have only experienced the stupid secondary search on flights to the USA but it appears Germany or Saudi Arabia has jumped on the bandwagon.  As we board there are security personal in the jetway going through on luggage.  I drift off and wonder how far we will go with pointless security measures when I am brought back to the present but my checker giving a little squeak as he cuts himself on something in my bag and starts bleeding.  Surprised that I’m not immediately arrested for having an extremely dangerous zipper I board and relax in my window seat for the five and a half hour flight.

Unable to sleep I watch some films and eat terrible food on this spotlessly clean plane.  When daylight appears my soul rises as green fields and forests extend to the horizon dotted with beautifully blue lakes.  After the endless expanse of brown in the Middle East it as if I am in heaven.  I stare out of the window enjoying this scene until we land.  When I finally move my neck is as stiff as a board, but it was worth it.  I only have an hour connection to make my Budapest flight but this being Germany everything is perfectly efficient and I am through customs and at my gate being anyone else.

Though this flight is under the Lufthansa name it is actually operated by an Italian airline.  The plane is blue inside and out and the crew Italian, though their German is very good.  Again I stare out the window for the whole flight as we follow the Danube, or Duna, down to Budapest.  Everything is beautiful.  After landing I make my way to the bus, 200E, which takes me to the Metro.  On the way out I take note of the new building being built just outside the terminal.  Budapest will finally have an airport hotel.  It is growing and modernizing quickly.

My bus trip is the normal bumpy ride and switching to the Metro is easy.  I make sure to validate my ticket as the first time I visited this city I was caught and fined as I thought I only needed the ticket and did not know to validate it.  I take the beautiful blue Russian metro of the M3 line a few stops before switching to the M4 line.  What a difference this makes.  The M4 is the newest line and has modern air conditioned trains with beautiful stops. The other lines do not and get extremely hot and stuffy in summer.

Arriving in Buda I spend a few hours with my parents who are in Budapest to visit me and get some dental work done.  If you need dental work come to Budapest.  The prices are and service are outstanding.  After a few nice hours chatting and walking around I leave them to catch my train for Csongrad.

I have always loved trains and they are my transportation preference.  They don’t get stuck in traffic, they sometimes have restaurant cars,  you can walk around and move seats if you don’t like your neighbors and there is something so relaxing in the sound of the wheels on the tracks.  I purchase a first class ticket and it turns out to be a first class intercity carriage which I have never seen before.  It is air conditioned and spotless.  The seats are large and lay back to almost flat.  It is an amazing carriage for Hungary and perfect.  I have a wonderful time for my one hour trip to Kiskunfeleghaza, where I get off to switch to the local train to Csongrad.  A more extreme difference could not be imagined.  Across the platform from my first class carriage is a tiny yellow and rusted two carriage mini train.  The whole train is smaller than my previous carriage.

I climb on board with my luggage and join a family of five and a more than a few spiders hanging from the ceiling.  The temperature is extreme and the air flow zero.  Once we get moving the air flow increases to just below a breath.  This one hour train ride belongs in an amusement park.  The amount of movement in the carriage in incredible.  I hold the belief that is is impossible for anybody to stand on that journey without holding on.  It is not that the train is fast, it is most surely not, it is that it wobbles like it wants to fall over but is just barely hanging on.  I enjoyed the hell out of it.

The icing on the train trip is that it actually has a ticket checker(I wonder who he pissed off), and stops in the middle of fields to pick people up and drop them off.  Even more amazing is that people were actually at these stops.  I have no idea where they came from as it is nothing but farm fields as far as the eye can see.  I love how the world works.

I arrive in Csongrad a sweaty mess, but with a massive smile on face.

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.

03.06.2014 Szeged-4

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.