Europe 2012 – Week 2

July 25th, 2013

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21-June-2012

21-June-2012 <br /><br /> After a very nice breakfast at the gasthof, we proceed to find a laundromat. This was in the plans for today, but it is surprisingly difficult to find a laundromat. They are not in every little Austrian city as they are in the states. It was convenient that the gasthof was just outside of Salzburg where we found a “Green Clean” Laundromat and a pamphlet which proclaims alternate locations in Vienna. I’ll just keep this for later reference. <br /><br /> We have a 2½ drive to a monastery near <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linz\">Linz</a> so allow me to reflect on driving here. First, many of the roads are very narrow – barely wide enough for one lane of traffic in each direction. Many times the roads are not even that wide. I believe there are more round-a-bouts than traffic lights. I have most the traffic signs figured out, but a few still puzzle me. But I haven’t seen too many obscene gestures so I must be doing ok. <br /><br /> The car has a built in navigation system which great because I would be so lost without it. On more than one occasion I’ve missed a turn and relied on the navigation system to get us back on track. The navigation system as a night vision mode and a nice auto zoom function. But trying to pan around on the map is very difficult. However, today Hildegard, the navigation system, decided to stop talking to me. Must have been something I said, so I will have to try and get back on her good side. <br /><br /> For the first week we left the radio off. But occasionally as we are driving, it would just come on and start talking German at us. We suspect that these are traffic reports. Once we turned the radio on, we found a “hit radio” station that plays a lot of American music. We heard Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, a very bad imitation of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” mixed in with some local German/Austrian music as well as some opera. I think we have found the true definition of an eclectic radio station. <br /><br /> The car is a <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Mondeo\"> Ford Mondeo </a> with a 6-speed manual transmission. This particular one is a station wagon style giving us plenty of room for the camping gear. Reverse is a bit tricky as it requires sliding a ring up the stick shift while shifting to reverse. When the car is locked, the side mirrors fold in – this would be a great defense for those pesky sand hill cranes that attacked my car back home. The car seems to have a large gas tank allowing us to travel long distances between refills. <br /><br /> This afternoon we visit <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Florian%27s_Priory\">Monastery of St. Florian</a>. The history of the monastery dates back to around the year 800. Over the years the church has been built and destroyed many times. The current church was built in the late 1600’s with the most recent renovations take place in the early 1990’s.

22-June-2012

22-June-2012 <br /><br /> Another difficult night for sleeping as a tremendous thunderstorm rolls in while we lay cowering in our tents. After we get up and ready, we find another bäckerei on our way during a two hour drive to a city in the Czech Republic where they have the 5-petalled Rose medieval reenactment on the day of the summer soltice. Time to get some gas… here are the vitals: 50.28L @ 1.389 €/L = 69.84€ (translation 13.28gal @ $6.62/gal = $87.89) <br /><br /> We come to find out that the major attractions of the reenactment such as the jousting do not occur until late tonight or tomorrow. As it is, we took a tour of the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%8Cesk%C3%BD_Krumlov_Castle\">Český Krumlov Castle</a> and then walked around checking out at the wares of the street vendors. We took a break for a while to watch a few street performances. Chris tried his hand at archery and did quite well. <br /><br /> Many people were dressed in period attire. Apparently admission is free for those dressed up. We stopped for lunch and enjoyed conversion with a local who was also in costume and enjoying a beer. <br /><br /> On the drive back to the campsite it was unfortunate that both cameras were in the back of the car because we saw the funniest sight. As we came around the corner there was a man, thirty something, who was on a hybrid of short skis and roller blades complete with poles. The funny thing though is that he was wearing white short shorts that looked like tighty whities – and nothing else. <br /><br /> After Vicky retired to the tent for the evening, Chris and I went inside the gasthof to watch a Eurocup 2012 soccer match. The match was between Germany and Greece. It was quite an experience watching the match with half a dozen locals cheering for Germany. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I clearly understood when they were happy (or not) with the progression of the match, and occasionally there would be shots of Schnapps passed around in celebration. Germany won 4-2 and all was good. <br /><br /> I did not write down the cost of the camping, but the host was gracious enough to not charge for the night we retreated to the gasthof near Salzburg. But I recall the price being somewhere around 110€ for the 4 out 5 nights.

23-June-2012

23-June-2012 <br /><br /> A light rain last night, without the wind and lightning of the night before, was enough to ensure the outside of the tents were wet. This is not a big deal except that today we pick up camp to drive to <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest\">Budapest</a>. After getting showers we pack up the inside of the tents and hand-dry the tents as much as possible. We drive into the nearby town for breakfast while the tents continue to dry. On the way into town we spot a few pheasant along the road. <br /><br /> The local chickens are very funny and curious. While getting things together, one of the chickens decides to hop into the back of the car and inspect our packing. <br /><br /> Today we get back on the autobahn or the equivalent of the interstate. We had toll roads disabled on the navigation system previously. With this setting it was going to take 10+ hours to get to Budapest. So we enabled the toll roads and the time was narrowed down to 4½ hours. Funny thing – we never saw any tolls. <br /><br /> We stopped at a McDonalds on the way more out of convenience than desire. Now I remember why it has been years since I’ve been to one. <br /><br /> On the way to Budapest, we make another stop for gas. Now we are in <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary\">Hungary</a> and the currency is <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forint\">Forint</a>. Here are the vitals: 53.58L @ 410.9 Ft/L = 22016 Ft (Translation: 14.15gal @ $6.81/gal = $96.32) <br /><br /> After arriving in Budapest, we find our campsite and get setup. Since it is still early afternoon, we go searching for the <a href=\"http://visitbudapest.travel/activities/budapest-baths/csaszar-baths-veli-bej/\">Császár Baths - Veli Bej</a>. After arriving in the general vicinity, we circle around looking for a parking spot near the baths. We find a parking spot on the edge of the street where we hope the car is out of the way of the city tram. As we walk around we find no sign of the baths. <br /><br /> We ask a clerk at a nearby hotel. Both the instructions Vicky found on the internet as well as from the receptionist at the hotel mention walking through a hospital to get to the baths as the main entrance is under construction. We find what we think is the entrance and proceed. It became very apparent that this was not the entrance we were looking for. The hallway was about 50 feet long with dim fluorescent lights. I commented that it looked like a movie set from a horror flick. Chris corrected me and said, “In that case the lights would be flickering.” True. <br /><br /> We ask again and a nice gentleman, not speaking English, showed us the way to the entrance. Once inside we found a beautiful pool with only a few other individuals in it. The water was warm – not terribly hot. I believe Vicky would have liked the water a little bit warmer. <br /><br /> Unlike most Turkish baths, this one was for mixed bathing so men and women entered the same pool with bathing suits rather than being nude. Around the edge of the pool were small waterfalls that were very relaxing when one allowed the water to fall over the head and shoulders. Looking up at the domed ceiling were small inset lights that helped set the mood of peaceful relaxations. In addition to the main pool there were smaller pools of varying temperatures. There were also sauna rooms, Jacuzzis, and massages available. <br /><br /> On the way back to the campground, we start looking for a place for dinner. After a few wrong turns and a few opportunities that Hildegard proclaimed to be restaurants but were really pubs instead of restaurants, we decided to see what the mall looked like here. This place was huge! Four floors – basement level, ground level, 1st floor, and a 2nd floor. We find a wine shop and buy a couple of local wines – one is a dessert wine and the other a red. We then find a small Italian restaurant and enjoy a quick meal before the mall closes.

24-June-2012

24-June-2012 <br /><br /> At 6:00am we find that the airport gets very busy as we are right under the flight path of the planes landing and/or taking off. Oh, and there is rail right next to the campground. No rest for the weary. Oh, well, time to get up and head into the city. <br /><br /> We walk a few blocks and then catch a bus to the metro station. We are attempting to purchase tickets from an automated teller, but the machine will not accept my money! Apparently the machines will not accept a 5,000 Forint bill. There were three guards checking everyone’s ticket before they could go to the platform area, and we tried to politely gesture about the malfunctioning machine and he pointed us around the corner. It turns out that there was a real person at the window, but as she didn’t speak English. We therefore resorted to holding up three fingers and forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger and moving it in a semi-circle to hopefully say we want a full day ticket. We also smiled hoping that we weren’t doing anything bad with our fingers. This worked as we could get a cheaper “family” ticket at the ticket window. Once we have our tickets we board the red-line to the central station where we switch to the yellow-line and take the metro to the Opera House station. <br /><br /> Now that we have arrived at the Opera House station, we search for the office for the walking tour that we had signed up for. We meet our guide, Anita, who informs us that the city, <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest\">Budapest</a>, is really separated into two parts – “buda” and “pest”. Buda is west of the Danube River while Pest (pronounced Pesch) is to the east. The two cultures do not necessarily mix as the Buda side is considered wealthier while the Pest side is poorer. <br /><br /> Anita provides a lot of information about the history of Budapest and the roles played in World War I and World War II as well as the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1956_Hungarian_Revolution\">Revolution of 1956</a>. Much of the city has been rebuilt multiple times due the damage from the various wars. There is one building that remains standing (2 of the original 3 floors) which is left as a reminder of the war. The outside walls still show pock marks from where bullets had struck the building. <br /><br /> McDonalds: We see a few McDonald’s restaurants here and there but not really any other recognizable fast food restaurants. There was a McDonald’s built in Budapest in 1988 but no one entered the building for fear of Soviet retaliations. However, after 1989, when the wall came down, it became very popular. People would dress in their best clothes in order to go out to the McDonald’s. <br /><br /> During the tour we stopped at a strudel house where they made a large assortment of homemade strudel. I had an apple/poppy seed and an apricot/cottage cheese strudel. Awesome! <br /><br /> We took a second tour with Anita - the Hammer & Sickle Tour. But before the tour, Anita showed us some items from the time of the communism era and described what it was like growing up at that time. She was a school age girl at the time and remembers that most all households were alike. They were constructed the same, and the furnishings were the same as that was all that was available in the stores. She recalls that everyone had their documents to show and everyone had a job or was in school so if you were out on the street you could easily be asked for your documents. There were two levels of passports, a red one which only allowed travel inside the communist block and a blue one which would grant the traveler permission to visit the West about once every three years. If you had shown yourself to be a good citizen and were politically correct you might be able to obtain a blue passport. <br /><br /> 1.6 million people live in Budapest now with the city divided into 23 districts. During the tour we walk through the old Jewish district where they have three synagogues – Conservative, Orthodox, and Reformist. She spoke of the times during World War II where these were controlled districts and thousands of Jewish families were crowded into these buildings. As they had at first sided with Germany in the war their Jewish population was not at first deported to concentration camps, but with the overcrowding diseases ran rampant in this Jewish ghetto area. <br /><br /> Much of the area has been renovated – except one building that was very unique. This building is still very run down, except two or three people have fixed it up enough to make it safe and turned it into a bar. This bar, <a href=”http://ruinpubs.com/index.php?id=romkocsmak_adatlap&kocsma=7\">Szimpla Kert</a>, is also known as a “ruinpub”. Each apartment in the building has become a small sitting area where one could enjoy drinks. There was graffiti on the walls everywhere. There were quite a number of interesting pieces of furniture and decoration. I could see a bar of this fashion fetching high priced drinks in New York City. We did not get to stay long, but if we ever wind up in Budapest again, I am coming back here to enjoy a beverage and take a lot more pictures. <br /><br /> After the tour, Anita recommended a restaurant called <a href=\"http://www.menzaetterem.hu/\">Menza</a> where we could get some traditional Hungarian food. The duck liver pate was very good as were the entrees. I had grilled chicken & mashed potatoes, Vicky had a sesame chicken dish, while Chris had a spicy pasta dish. <br /><br /> While sitting outside taking in the atmosphere, we find ourselves surrounded by smokers. It is times like this I miss the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Indoor_Air_Act\">Clean Indoor Air Act</a>. As we sat, I was watching some of the people walking by and saw some of the shortest short-shorts worn by remarkably beautiful women. <br /><br /> Vicky writes on “Bathroom automatica” – “The shower at this camp was rather entertaining as there was just this one button to push for water. First it started rather cool and got a bit warmer then cool again before shutting off completely. Then you had to push the button again to get more water. So get in the shower being careful not to spray water outside the little space as there is no shower curtain. All your clean dry clothes are just outside the shower basin and would get quite wet. Water cuts off. You have to time this not to have soaped up hair. Push the button again to rinse. Soap up. Push the button repeatedly until the soap is rinsed. <br /><br /> Each little toilet area also has a light. But, it is on a timer. So if you turn on the light switch and go sit to take care of a bit of business, you might soon be sitting there in pitch black darkness. Fortunately the door is usually only a few inches in front of your knees. Most all toilets in Europe also have two sized buttons. There is a small size button for a little flush and big button for a big flush. Occasionally you will find one with the tank mounted about 4 or 5 feet up the back wall, you have to be somewhat cautious with these. <br /><br /> This philosophy does make for energy and water conservation.” <br /><br />

25-June-2012

25-June-2012 <br /><br /> Today we toured the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esztergom_Basilica\">Esztergom Basilica</a>. The tour included a visit to the crypts where it was quite cool (cold). Two openings to the sides were angled about 45° upwards where people could throw coins up the shaft and coins would catch on little grooves. We suppose this was for good luck and Chris cast a few coins to see how far he could get his to stick. <br /><br /> After the crypt we toured the main cathedral area. As in the other cathedrals we visited there are human remains on display here. In this cathedral there are two martyrs of the church who were executed by the Russians during the communist period. We are not sure why bishops, priests, and royalty wish to be buried in the flooring or down the side aisles of the churches, but it is very popular. <br /><br /> Next we visited the treasury (no pictures allowed) where artifacts as early as the late 14th century were on display. Rings, chalices, drinking horns, crosses, and many other items were on display. I assume that these were successfully hidden for many years from the Nazis and the Soviets. As was mentioned on the tour yesterday, the soviets did not encourage the practice of Christianity and at one time actually stabled their horses in some of the large cathedrals. <br /><br /> Next we begin the ascent up to the cupola. We climb 453 steps to the top where we had a spectacular vantage point over the city. Inside the domed area we were able to hear an echo in stereo. This is one of the few places where this can be heard. The attendant, who seemed excited to have visitors who had made the climb, sang to us from the other side of the dome. This dome made for some very interesting acoustics. <br /><br /> Finally we visited the bell tower where it just happened to be 11:00. Yes, it did, and yes, it was. <br /><br /> It is just starting to sprinkle and we head off to a coffee shop on the basilica grounds. After coffee and strudel we set off to see the castle ruins in <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visegr%C3%A1d\">Visegrád</a> <br /><br /> We spent about an hour roaming around the ruins running from one spot to another as the rain was pretty steady now. Over the centuries the fortress had been built to a royal residence from a fortification that was originally built as a defense against Genghis Khan. <br /><br /> Soaked, we head into town to find the <a href=\"http://www.renvisegrad.hu/\">Renaissance Restaurant</a> to get a bite to eat. Or perhaps I should say a king’s feast because that is exactly what we ordered. The King’s Feast: <ul> <li>Game pate with blackberry and wine sauce</li> <li>Pheasant soup with partridge egg</li> <li>Goose liver, goose leg, turkey breast, suckling pig ribs</li> <li>filled pancakes, apple & cabbage in red wine</li> <li>green beans and carrots, potatoes with cheese</li> <li>all served on earthen ware dishes</li> </ul> <br /><br /> While we were there we were able to dress up in period costumes and take a few funny photos. <br /><br /> There was also a group from <a href=\"http://www.silverrallye.sk/\">Silver Rallye</a> enjoying lunch. This group is touring the area in their old classic cars. I think we ran into a similar group last week in Austria. <br /><br /> After lunch we walked in the rain up to Solomon Tower to watch the Knights’ Challenge. Here the knights (actors) reenacted various events for the king and queen (selected from the audience) The knights illustrated how to use the weapons of the middle ages – bow and arrow, spears, halberds, and some type 4-point throwing dagger/star. These weapons along with plate armor were used in defense of this fortification. <br /><br />

26-June-2012

26-June-2012 <br /><br /> Today’s tour guide is named Imre. Imre picked us up in downtown Budapest and took us to a summer palace of <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Joseph_I_of_Austria\">King Franz Joseph</a> and <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Elisabeth_of_Austria\">Queen Elisabeth</a> who was also called Sisi. Imre has a tremendous knowledge of the Hungarian history and will not leave your auditory senses wanting for more. <br /><br /> Queen Elisabeth was loved by the people even though she was not of Hungarian ancestory. She won the people’s hearts because she was able to soften the rule of King Franz Joseph. Immediately following the <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austro-Prussian_War\">Austro-Prussian War</a> he hanged many of their war heroes. <br /><br /> Sisi didn’t like to eat and practically starved herself to death. She also had many secret doors in order to avoid social interactions. Both Sisi and the crown prince, <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria\">Franz Ferdinand</a>, were assassinated. <br /><br /> After the palace tour, Imre took us to the <a href=\"http://www.lazarlovaspark.hu/\"> Lázár Equestrian Park</a>. We were greeted with a sample of <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A1linka\">Pálinka</a> and a sweet roll. The guide insisted the Chris get his sample of Pálinka as “his mother had paid for it!” Pálinka is a hard liqueur that burns on the way down. Chris did not much care for it but did eat the fruit at the bottom of the shot glass. <br /><br /> The Lázár family has many horse riding champions including their 13-year old son who is currently a world youth champion in horse jumping. <br /><br /> During the horse show they demonstrated the war skills of the Huns who conquered and settled in this country. They shot arrows and threw spears while riding bareback without touching the reins. One rider stood on the backs of two horses while driving a team of five horses. <br /><br /> The four nights camping here came to 19,200 Ft or about $85.

27-June-2012

27-June-2012 <br /><br /> Today we pack camp and the camp host tried to charge more that the price that he had already agreed was too high. After we get that straightened out we head for <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holloko\">Hollókő</a> to see castle ruins from the 12th century. The castle was built upon an old lava flow. <br /><br /> Next to the ruins was an “ancient” village. The buildings did not really seem that old, or they were very well taken care of. The road itself on the other hand certainly showed its age. <br /><br /> Next we visited the wine country where we sampled a few wines. And no, the samples are not free. We bought a bottle of a 2009 <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egri_Bikav%C3%A9r\">Egri Bikavér</a>, which was a very nice red. After lunch and an ice cream we are off to the next campsite. After travelling a 25km curvy road through the mountains and forest we make it to our campsite in Lillafüred.

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