Diary - Hungary

Monday 11th February 2002 - DAY 12

The Danube, viewed from Budapest castle Budapest

Starting point: Budapest
Ending point: Eger
Distanced travelled: 129 miles

Having spent the morning exploring the rest of the campsite and trying to use the internet again, we set off on the road again in the direction of Eger, a place famous for its 'bulls blood' red wine. We knew we were approaching the area as we passed through miles and miles of vineyards before headed up into some hills (most of Hungary seems to be very very flat). The 'year-round campsite' we had been aiming for was showing no signs of life and we decided that the layby outside the campsite was a bit too public for camping, so we found ourselves a room in a 'zimmerfrei' (guest house) in an area called Szepasszonyvolgy - the valley of beautfiul women. The only drinking establishment that we could find in that part of town was a very small cafe-type bar containing just 6 people sitting on plastic chairs and a fruit machine. Needless to say, they were fairly surprised when 2 touristy looking types self-consciously walked in and tried to order a drink. Fortunately there was a German guy who spoke a little English and was able to help us communicate with the barman. We really wished we'd brought a German phrase book with us, as everyone it seems to be much more widely spoken in Eastern Europe than English - between us our German consists of 'where is the train station?', 'I am 13 years old', 'I have a guinea pig', which isn't really too helpful. Still, we managed to get some drinks and foolishly sat down in the only 2 seats left, next to a toothless old woman who was smiling at us. She turned out to be very drunk and... let's say... from a family of not particularly diverse genes, and kept laughing hysterically (to the point of wheezing and choking on many occasions) at everything we did and making some pretty crude gestures. We pretended to be in Very Deep Conversation for long enough to finish our drinks and escape the bar. On the walk home we were howled at by a group of stray dogs and shouted at by another other drunk local - perhaps the brother and/or husband of the lady in the bar. We were pretty glad to be sleeping behind locked doors for the night.

Tuesday 12th February 2002

Despite the irony of Szepasszonyvolgy, we decided to stay around Eger for another day to relax and taste some wine. We tried to find a laundrette by driving around, pointing at a piece of paper with a washing machine drawn on it, but the best we found was a dry-cleanears. It would appear that they don't have laundrettes in Hungary. So we gave up on the washing and headed off to a little village called Egerzolat, about 5km away, where the owner of the campsite in Budapest had recommended that we visit some hot thermal baths. We weren't sure quite where the baths were so when we saw 3 guys wearing swimming trunks heading into a building, we assumed that we had found the right place and followed them. The building turned out to be a wine cellar, but the owner spoke a bit of French and was able to communicate to us some directions. When we eventually found the baths, we saw the same 3 guys were already back there drinking their wine. When they saw us and realised that we'd followed them thinking they'd lead us to the baths they thought it was very amusing (quite logical though we thought!). It was quite an unusual place - the baths were apparently created by some experimental drillings in the 60's which released some 20,000 year old mineral water, pumped at by natural pressure at 65°C at a rate of 40 litres per minute (copied that bit from the leaflet we were given!). We spent a couple of hours relaxing in the 'medicinal' warm waters - having got changed in the wrong changing rooms - 'Ferfi' and 'Noi' not being immediately obvious to us (!). We returned to Eger and spent the rest of the afternoon tasting wine in the cellars and taverns cut into the hill that the valley is famous for. At 15p a glass, we sampled a fair few different wines and eventually bought a 2 litre plastic keg of our favourite for about £3 (including 90p for the plastic keg!) and went back to the apartment to make pancakes (it being Shrove Tuesday). Fell asleep at 7pm - perhaps something to do with the wine.

(photo of baths)

Wednesday 13th February 2002 - DAY 14

Starting point: Eger
Ending point: Gyula
Distanced travelled: 180 miles

Got up early and headed off towards a small town called Gyula next to the border with Romania. Our aim is to cross the border early and drive all the way to Brasov, which could take several hours - Romania is bigger than Hungary and Bulgaria put together and it could be very snowy in the mountains so we want to get a good start. Our journey took us through a fairly unexciting national park and into the rural and agricultural areas of eastern Hungary where time seems to have stood still. It was actually quite refreshing to pass through this side of the country and to see the very basic villages, traditional farming technqiues, and even the occasional horse and cart - a real contrast to the more modern (and more expensive) places we had seen so far. We almost ran out of fuel as we searched for a petrol station that would accept visa (stupidly not having any cash on us) - most of them were just pumps by the side of the road. We were stopped to have passports checked about 20km from the border, but everything was in order. We arrived in Gyula in good time and found a our way to a campsite that was actually open (although the washing machine wasn't working) and camped up for the night.