Grey Clouds Can't Hide a Buda-ful City!

Trip Start Apr 14, 2011
Trip End Nov 16, 2011

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Where I stayed
Camp site Castrum
Camp site Fortuna

Flag of Hungary  ,
Saturday, October 8, 2011

Having left Croatia we entered Hungary at the road border, all was going well until a man with a gun decided he wanted to check Ethel so asked us to open up while he had a look. Quite what he thought we had we don't know especially as all he did was pop his head in the door and didn't even search the toilet (note to selves when we are smuggling things home put them in the toilet!). As we had read in one of our many books we needed a motorway pass to go on the motorways in Hungary we were forced to stop at a service station to buy one. It works a little like the congestion charge in London and after Skody was registered on the system we were set for 7 days travel on the faster roads. They are a bit naughty as they don't tell you this at the border or give very good signs about it, we guess that they make a good amount of money from fining those not in the know.
When we finally arrived in Keszthely at the camp site we knocked on the reception door only to find there was no one there! It had a note in German on the wall that said if closed go and pick a pitch and see them in the morning. A slightly strange set up but as seasoned travellers we just followed instructions and we were soon set up and lunched! Our love of lakes had meant that we picked a site near to Lake Balaton with the aim to get a bit of sunning before the colder weather, so we set out to find a suitable lounging area. When we got to the “Libas Strand” (Libas beach) it again appeared to be a ghost town, no one in any of the areas that we guess you had to pay for in high season so we just strolled in and set up to catch some rays. With Poppy's love of water increasing every day it was no surprise to see her paddling into the perfectly flat lake waters. More surprising however was the friendship she had with a big Hungarian dog! The two of them seemed to play very nicely even though Poppy was less than a fifth of the size of “Big Dog” as we called him.

All sunned for the afternoon we popped back to camp before heading out to explore the local town. They must have had some funding from somewhere recently as they are digging up massive parts of it and most of the area off the high street was like a building site. The high street area was much larger than we thought it would be and we spent a bit of time popping into some of the local shops. Only issue was that with more than 330 Forints to the pound working out how much things were was a bit of a challenge, thankfully we had a small calculator to hand to work out the more difficult numbers! We did buy a couple of bottles of wine from a very friendly wine shop that only stocked Hungarian wine, although we had never had wine from Hungary before we can now recommend it, it is very nice and that night we drank some with a 'chicken in the bag' tea!
The following day we needed to get to a supermarket for some supplies, we headed out with a little too much excitement in our hearts as we had seen a sign indicating there was a Tescos nearby! When we arrived we could barely contain ourselves, it was like being back at home, especially when we found that they sold baked – wait for it – beans! After picking up a load of lovely foods and a new kettle we were ready for another lake day in the sun. Poppy was happy to see Big Dog again and they had a game of chase and a splash about in the lake. The weather towards the late afternoon started to get quite windy and we had heard that rain was forecast for the following day so we were lucky to get out couple of lazing in the sun days! That evening we played cards, drank wine and ate the steak we had purchased earlier (yes steak, the prices here are very good!).

After our relaxing stay by the lake it was off to the nations capital - Budapest. The drive was not too bad, so we planned to go into the city in the afternoon for some sightseeing, as we only planned 2 nights and wanted to see as many things as possible. Unfortunately as the temperature has dropped we don't spend as much time outside of Ethel as we did but as a benefit camp only takes a fraction of the time to set up than it did in the warmer climes. After lunch we drove into the western side of the city to the castle district of Buda. The city was divided by the Danube into 2 distinct towns, Buda and Pest, but were unified into the city known today as Budapest. The castle was not quite as expected when we pulled up. It is actually a palace,and therefore although it is very grand it does not conjure up the castle images we were expecting. The three of us had a nice walk around it and were not put off too much by the blustery wind or the occasional rain shower. 
There was a Sausage and Palinka festival going on inside the castle interior area but it was actually quite expensive and although an afternoon eating sausages and drinking spirits sounded good we pushed on for more sights! As we must see churches in all the cities we go to, we next went to have a look at Matthias church (which is actually a cathedral). It was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries but had a major redesign in 1896. The roof was like the church in Zagreb had some amazing roof tiles on it, and even in the cloudy light looked really cool. Around the corner from the church is the Fisherman's Bastion. At 140m, it contains 7 stone towers that represent the 7 Hungarian tribes that conquered the country in 896, although it was actually constructed between 1895 and 1902. Bizarrely it got its name from the local fisherman that defended this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. The view from there was really great, and you can see why like Florence, it has been named as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
As the rain and wind had been trying to chill the sunned gypsies for a while we decided to seek out an indoor activity, and what better choice than visiting the largest thermal spa bath in Europe! It is said that visiting Budapest is not complete without a visit to a thermal spa so we headed to the Szechenyi Bath. Built in 1913 the complex has 15 indoor bathes and 3 outdoor pools for its weary visitors to enjoy. There are 2 different springs that supply the bathes with water and their temperatures are controlled from a chilly 16 degrees to a warming 40 degrees! We had a great time trying out all the different bathes and even popped into a sauna and steam room! We got to chatting to an American guy that said the outside section was open which considering the conditions was a little surprising but we headed out there to investigate for ourselves. Well we must have looked a right pair as we ran from the main building through wind and rain to jump into the hot pool outside, but once we got in we agrred it was definitely worth it. There was something very cool about having the rain on your head while swimming around in the warm water. The bath that was probably the most fun was the one with jet streams around the whole edge that pushed you around it without having to swim. We were not sure what this was supposed to do but it was a lot of fun racing around it! After our various mineral infusions we headed back to Ethel for a well earned rest and recover. 
We awoke the next day to see that some of the rainier weather had lifted so we set off again into the fray to sight see once more. Our first stop was the same park we had gone to the spa in the day before but this time we wanted to look at the outside attractions. The park was really big and Poppy enjoyed the freedom of running off her lead and playing 'fetch the conker'. There is an agricultural museum in the park which looks really cool, kinda like Hogwarts we thought, have a look at the photos to see for yourselves. The park led on to the Heroes square, located at the end of the famous Andrassy avenue. The area has three main sights the two museums (Fine Arts and Hall of Art) and the Millennium monument, a 36m column with a golden statue of the angel Gabriel at the top of it. The two semi-circular arcades at the side hold bronze statues of seven outstanding people in Hungarian history. Here two little Hungarian/ English (Mum Hungarian, Dad English) girls took a liking to Poppy and spent a long time practising their English and telling as all about their pets!
After we had expended all our energy at the park we needed some traditional Hungarian food to give us fuel to walk around the rest of the city so we found a cool Hungarian fast food place to get a couple of bowls of delicious Goulash. With energy levels refilled we headed off on a self guided walking tour, we don't have a trusty lonely planet for Hungary so left it up to ourselves to plan a route to catch the main sights. At each turn is an amazing building, we spent most of our time having to do 360's at each corner to take in all of the lovely architecture. Although we had been over it in the car it was not until we walked up to the Chain bridge that can you see why this is listed as a monument of the city, built in 1849, destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt for its centenary in 1949 it is an engineering marvel. The views from the bridge over to the castle district were definitely worth walking along the bridge for, not to mention the panorama of the city either side of you. Carrying on down the river we walked to the Parliament building to see the sight of the permanent seat of the national assembly, the complex itself being the largest of its kind in Hungary. The building was built between 1884 and 1904 it has 691 rooms, and is 268m long with a dome of 96m high! 
Our next walking tour sight was yet another memorial, this time it was to the Russian soldiers in the battle of Budapest in 1944 (basically if you do something good in Hungary they definitely remember you for it which we thought was good!). Our final big sight was that of St Stephens Basilica, the main sight of worship for St Stephen. Famed for holding the Holy Right (the incorruptible right hand of St Stephen himself) it is the largest church in Budapest and is visited by tourists and locals alike to pray. The dome on the top of it can been seen across the whole city. After a couple of wrong turns on route back to the car, we headed back to camp for a well earned dinner and snuggle in our collection of duvets.

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Mum (Jean) on

Love the idea of the thermal spa, not sure I could cope with getting out in the wind and rain!! xxx

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