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Eurotrip 2012 – Day 13

July 31st, 2012 Comments off

26-June-2012

Today’s tour guide is named Imre. Imre picked us up in downtown Budapest and took us to a summer palace of King Franz Joseph and Queen Elisabeth who was also called Sisi. Imre has a tremendous knowledge of the Hungarian history and will not leave your auditory senses wanting for more.

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 Austro-Prussian War he hanged many of their war heroes.

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, Franz Ferdinand, were assassinated.

After the palace tour, Imre took us to the Lázár Equestrian Park. We were greeted with a sample of Pálinka 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.

The Lázár family has many horse riding champions including their 13-year old son who is currently a world youth champion in horse jumping.

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.

The four nights camping here came to 19,200 Ft or about $85.

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Categories: Europe 2012, Vacations Tags: ,

Eurotrip 2012 – Day 11

July 29th, 2012 1 comment

24-June-2012

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.

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.

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, Budapest, 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.

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 Revolution of 1956. 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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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, Szimpla Kert, 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.

After the tour, Anita recommended a restaurant called Menza 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.

While sitting outside taking in the atmosphere, we find ourselves surrounded by smokers. It is times like this I miss the Clean Indoor Air Act. 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.

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.

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.

This philosophy does make for energy and water conservation.”

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Eurotrip 2012 – Day 10

July 28th, 2012 Comments off

23-June-2012

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 Budapest. 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.

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.

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.

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.

On the way to Budapest, we make another stop for gas. Now we are in Hungary and the currency is Forint. Here are the vitals: 53.58L @ 410.9 Ft/L = 22016 Ft (Translation: 14.15gal @ $6.81/gal = $96.32)

After arriving in Budapest, we find our campsite and get setup. Since it is still early afternoon, we go searching for the Császár Baths – Veli Bej. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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