Like many European countries still working out the good and bad of EU membership, Hungary hasn’t yet adopted the Euro, so time for new money. It also has a pay in advance system for using motorways so our first job was to work out currency rates and then buy a motorway ticket.
To do this we stopped at the first advertised services, at what was the old border crossing between Austria and Hungary. Throughout Europe, particularly on old Eastern European borders, these places have been left as they were to slowly decay. Imagine a large set of toll booths, room for truck and vehicle searches, billboards for notices and advertising and immigration / customs buildings, all left to decay for the last 5 – 15 years. They really don’t say: “Hey!! WELCOME to our wonderful, progressive and modern country!” It is more like: “YOU sure you want to come in here – things are pretty grim!”
Anyway, as with everywhere else we have visited in Europe, the border crossing was not indicative of the rest of the country. Budapest is an amazingly beautiful city.
On the way there we did get a taste of the local lingo and some of it’s complexities. Up until Hungary we have basically just slipped into a new countries language as easily as slipping into a favourite pair of old ……well, er, slippers. French, German, Italian…….even Polish seemed to just come naturally to us. And then there was Hungarian.
Those great Golden Arches establishments are a great test of a country’s progress in embracing the international language of McAmeri-Donaldo. After all, even chicken nuggets are chicken nuggets in French Mickey D’s. So with tired, hungry people in the car, McDonalds seemed to be an easy solution on the freeway to Budapest.
And then they decided to introduce a special menu and somebody married to me decided that she wanted it. It looked easy to pronounce, was not that long for an Eastern European word, had very few “z’s”, “y’s”, “k’s”, or “h’s” in unexpected places and was supported by the biggest sign in the store.
3 attempts later, young Hungarian girl looking at me like I was from another part of Europe (or feel free to insert continent, hemisphere or planet), and I still have not achieved what I could have done in a mere two attempts in the rest of Europe (only 1 attempt necessary in the Netherlands, probably because they already know Netherlander, Dutch and Hollander speak so McAmeri-Donaldo is just a short step to the next logical conclusion of internationalism!). Then it happened. The young Hungarian lady took one step back, asked me again with an agonized look on her face and then turned, walked to the big poster and in front of five full queues of hungry people, pointed at the picture of the said burger……….um, yeah, sure, and can I get fries with that?
Anyway, Budapest had no weddings, no movie auditions and the same weather as the other Eastern European countries we had visited so all up it was a great place to visit.
Molly went with Troy and Tracy to an old Hungarian thermal bath house, complete with a whirlpool, we all enjoyed dinner on the Danube and a great lunch in a small, local, neighbourhood bar where the schnitzels filled our very large plates and the “Mother Theresa” meals required football teams to eat them (so why is a turkey schnitzel smothered in bacon, cheese and silver skin onions named after a little Albanian Nun?).
When we left Hungary we enjoyed an easy run down along Lake Balaton to Heviz where Europes largest thermal lake is quoted as being the “singly most unique health giving body of water in the world”. We stayed ina nice pensione and the next morning wandered down early with the old, the frail and the hospital patients (don’t think too hard about sharing a swim with a bunch of post-surgery patients) and had a very, very, very healthy swim. The water lilies enjoy the water there and so did we, although we couldn’t stay long as Slovenia was calling.
Another very average border crossing and then great freeways took us quickly into Slovenia. Our aim was to loop through some valleys and then high country before turning back toward the East and then North into Austria. We could spend a night or just transit through, our plan was flkexible.
As it turned out, the roads were very good, not congested and what may have taken 3 hours on a Polish secondary road near Krakow was taking us 90minutes tops in Slovenia. Maybe it was timing, maybe it was regional location, but we certainly felt that Slovenia was a nice, picturesque and quite part of the world compared to some of the areas around Vienna in Czech, Slovakia and Poland.
We drove along a river valley where the mountains to the north appeared to have guard towers half way up, assumingly an old DMZ between east and West as the Austrian border was just over the ridge.
By now we realised that very few of Europe’s countries have any more or less uniqueness than another. Beautiful forests, mountains, green valleys, strong flowing rivers and alpine meadows – all interspersed with quaint villages and some good and bad cities, suburbs and traffic areas. Much of it is very unique to Australians, yet not entirely unfamiliar.
We would like to come back, but travel less and experience more…………..