Thro Europe to Hungary

Tuesday 6th  May 2008
That accomplished we headed straight off down the motorway to Koblenz to start the following day on the drive down the Moselle to Trier following every bend of that well-known river.  We spent the night in the car park on the edge of a village called Alkin.

Wednesday 7th  May
 We crossed the river and headed out into the hills to visit the Eltz Castle, A Castle in perfect condition owned by the one family since it was built over 850 years ago on a steep rock in one of the tributaries of the Moselle and owing to clever diplomacy it has survived unharmed for centuries making one of the few European castles to have escaped destruction.  It was certainly a beautiful sight the first glimpse on the walk from the car park to the Castle.  We did a tour of the inside and having seen many castles over the years the inside almost all similar.  It did have a double sized bed I was made in 1525, one of the very few pieces of furniture of that vintage still available in all Germany.

What I think is remarkable is that in 1472 when this Castle was built, the Sistine Chapel was also built, that was the year in Russia when Ivan the Great married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor after the ridding Russia of the Tartars, the year that in James 3rd of Scotland married Margaret of Denmark thereby gaining the Shetland Islands for the UK, and that was the year that showed the final splitting of the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.  For one family to survive for that length of time, with all of the wars and intrigues along the way and still be in a position to maintain such a fortress takes a lot of admiration.

We crossed back over the Moselle and on down the road to Burgen were we found the campground for the night.

Thursday 8th May
 Today we drove on to Kröv on a very winding road, with steep banks on either side all planted with grapevines, some of the banks I believed were so steep I believe that goats would have not tackled them.  The locals had some little motorised trolley that went straight up the cliff side with a rack-and-pinion track that wound its way through the grapes.

Every few kilometres we came across another small village or town which made up the town's of the Moselle which was a major tourist attraction with in Germany.

We passed many caravan parks that were packed, many motorhome parks which also seemed packed, I hate to think what things would be like here in July.

We spent the night in a area that was put aside for motorhomes to overnight at the princely sum of €6, there were motorhomes of all shapes and sizes.

Friday 9th May
 Today we finished our drive down the Moselle, said goodbye to all the vineyards, passed through the city of Trier then followed the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer until we reached Merzig, then a left-hand turn away from river into the L374 through the forest until we found a peaceful spot where we camped for the night.

Saturday 10 May
 In uninteresting day today, we drove through 150 km of German countryside, through numerous villagers, that had all that German touch to them, all orderly, all looking much the same, there's no way you could mistake a German village for an Italian village.  Consequently we took no photos today.

There was one interesting spot near Zweibrücken a very large factory outlet with all of the European and American clothing names there, being a Saturday there were lots of people there, and being close to the French border are a lot of French, I would assume saving money, as we left there was a very large bus from France just arriving full of shoppers, like factory outlets all round the world they seem to be very popular.

We stopped on the edge of a forest in a parking area a little bit east of Pirmasens.

Sunday 11th  May
 Today we drove about 180 kms over much the same scenery as yesterday so we programmed the GPS to take us to Walldürn by the fastest route.  Tomorrow we will have the people that installed hydraulic jacks have a look at them and then we will travel on South into Bavaria and hopefully more scenery.

Monday 12th May
 Well today is a religious holiday, so the hydraulic jack people did not arrive at work, and as the problem was a very minor we just headed on our way South, about 360 km, extremely normal German scenery until we were about 60 km from our destination and the Alps covered with snow, start appearing as a backdrop, and then we started seeing interesting village landscapes and at last the cameras got some action.

We stopped for the night at Fussen about 8 km from Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle built in 1869 for the Bavarian King Ludwig ll.

Tuesday 13th May
 Today we visited the Schloss Neuschwanstein the fairytale castle built on the shores of Swan Lake, on our tour we discovered that the Castle was incomplete, King Ludwig died before the Castle was complete and now I guess it is about 60% finished on the inside.  Evidently they started showing people through the Castle within a few years of his death and they have been doing so ever since.  It cost €9 each for a guided tour and one of three languages with about 30 people in the group.

There was a 1.5 kilometre walk uphill to the Castle, and then probably 140 stairs to climb once you are in the Castle, and of course the same number to come down.

Once we were out the Castle we took a 15 minute walk, again up a steep hill, to Marien Brucke, a Bridge that was over the waterfall in front of the Castle we had a magnificent view of the Castle and the surrounding area.  A €1 bus ticket got us back down to the village and €7.5 got the motorhome out of the car park and were able to drive on about 3 km to theTegelbergbahn gondola which went to the top of one of the many high mountains round the area which gave you a magnificent view of the whole area on the flat, and when he turned round and looked into the mountains they seem to go on almost forever.

And of course was also a favourite spot of the hang gliders and the few minutes that we were there probably six launch themselves off the mountain to floated gently back to the base.

We then drove on to Oberammergau that is famous for the Passion play they stage every 10 years and of course for all the wooden carvings depicting everyday people and many religious scenes.  The whole village is full of painted houses and shops making an extremely colourful vista.  We got a photograph of the hotel I and friends stayed in 40 years ago on a long drive we did around the whole area.

We drove back towards the main Road for about 14 km and found a very small casual campground and we spent the night in.

Wednesday 14th May
 Today we headed north to a suburb of Munich to visit Tuma to have the water heater in the motorhome checked to make sure the latest update had been done to it when we had the repairs done in Valencia last year, it had, trust the Italians to mess up the German system and force us to have it checked out.  The Italians had done the job properly, even if they had not fed the details into the computer.

We then headed all towards Berchtesgadener land, one of the most beautiful regions and all of Europe with a Lake which is almost 2000 m above sea level.

On our way here there was a Road closed for upgrading, we were waved off to the left, and as we were not aware of the German word for “detour” we wandered around quite a bit with the GPS telling us to do a U-turn, and in the end we had to drive about 30 km to get back on the correct Road, we started to recognize a German sign with a complex German word on it which we assume must have been “detour” but they had not placed this sign and enough corners to stop a Kiwi getting lost, assuming he knew what it meant.

Tonight we are high up in the mountains at about 600 m, with the roar of a mountain river reasonably loud, in a campground with no English signs, guess you must expect this in Germany.

Thursday 15th May
 We started the day by driving 16 km to the parking ground of Hitler's Eagles Nest.  Right from the start the steep drive up the hillside started all for the 24° warning and the motorhome going into low gear.  It was uphill all the way until we got to the parking area in what was once, I assume, the village for Hitler's entourage.  There was a short walk to many gifts shops, a restaurant, a Museum located in the old guesthouse and from what I understand one of the many bunkers the built in the area.

A short walk to the bus depot, where we purchased a return ticket, and then it was a 6 Kilometre Drive up the side of the mountain, along a road that had been carved out of rock, it was a one-way Road hence only being available for transportation by bus.  At the top then it was 100 km walk into the mountain to catch an elevator which took us 124 m to the top.  There was about 2 m of snow still there in the patio area with sufficient snow being cleared away for the restaurant to be in full swing and the guest shop to be able to relieve the tourists of the money.  The further walk to the top of the mountain was closed off because of the snow.  It was an incredible view from the height of 1834 m and the information says you can view up to 200 km in Distance.

We didn't really feel like sitting in amongst the snow to have an overpriced meal so we went on down, caught an earlier bus back to the starting point, and had a meal in our own restaurant.

We then headed all to Salzburg, the park-and-ride was full, as we drove about I could see nowhere that we being a foreigner could Park, I guess that if I was a local I would know all of the tricks of the trade.

So we headed off to our next destination which was Hallstatt which was on the Road towards Graz.  The GPS had been programmed for the quickest route without using a toll way took us through some interesting villages on what was basically a one-way Road most of the time.  Eventually we came to Russburg a small village with a few shops, large church, information office, and what looks like a gondola as you come into the village.

I asked an information office, where I could Park for the night, and I was told to park anywhere.

Friday 16th May
 We drove for about 30 minutes to Hallstatt, one of the oldest cities in Europe being first settled some 7000 years ago, as a result of the existence of a mountain of salt hidden inside a mountain it sits at the foot of.  It is the oldest existing salt mine in the world, that has been in production since it discovery.  The city sits on the edge of the beautiful Lake surrounded by mountains on all sides has really a beautiful part of the world.

We did a tour of the salt mine, so now I know how to remove the salt from the inside of a mountain, should anyone reading this have a mountain of salt in their backyard.  A boat tour on this beautiful lake sealed the day.

Saturday 17th May
 We left the delightful setting beside the Lake and headed off up into the mountains on a road that had a 23° slope to get us started, fortunately it levelled out and became a plateau at about 850 m elevation.

We drove on through the mountains, magnificent mountains on either side, and of course in front of us, almost all still with snow, to we felt like stopping and we found a old restaurant on a side road that was now abandoned, it had occupied an old house, there was about four stories high and must have had about 25 to 50 rooms, but the re-routing of a new motorway was the death knell for it, and was just sitting there totally abandoned looking for a new owner.  We made good use of the 50 car, car park for the night.

Sunday 18th  May
 Today we headed off for the city of Graz, the guidebook said it was surrounded by high mountains, they were not obvious to us, its spoke about a town underneath the old fortress that was on the hill, but as car parks were somewhat like hens teeth we decided after driving around in circles for some 30 minutes to move on which we did and we found a car park near a bus station that was used for commuters where we settled in for the night.

Monday 19th May
 By 8 a.m. we found the car park was filling up with commuters so we headed off towards Vienna and found a campground that was an easy bus ride and train ride to the centre of the city.  We parked the motorhome and were ready for the guided tour at 12 noon in the city, but there was a students protest which had closed down some of the streets so we had to make do with having lunch and then going on an abbreviated tour around the city afterwards. 

We elected not to visit another Palace or Cathedral that we could have accepted many offers from the salespeople trying to sell tickets for the opera, ballet, plays and what have you, if we had been in town and had transport for another couple of days.  This is rather fortunate for a few people, as it is rather disconcerting, for the people that would have been sitting close to me, to have somebody sitting close to you that is fast asleep during the most exciting part of the performance.

Tuesday 20th May
 Today we drove the short drive from Vienna to Bratislava in Slovakia, we found the camping site on our camping map, but in coming to this country we reached the edge of a reliable GPS coverage with a lot of the small the streets just not being listed.  So consequently we drove around for about an hour looking for a camping sign in the end we just gave up and decided to do some shopping at the large Tesco shopping centre. 

After replenishing our supplies, we set out to carry on with our hunt for a camping site as we left the Tesco parking area we saw three motorhomes parked in the area ahead as we went round the corner a sign to a campground.

I should add, today has been a wet day and it looked like it had settled in for a week, so we booked into the campsite for two days hoping the second day would be fine.

Wednesday 21st May
 Today started out looking like that was going to be a fine day so we headed off into the city armed with an umbrella for fortunately we did not need it.  It's interesting that the British supermarket Tesco have a large presence in this country along with a large French supermarket.  Tesco has a large shopping complex in the centre of the city and this rather than McDonald's (which is normally the case) is used by the locals as a reference point, in this case where the No 4 tram left from.

Bratislava is not terribly interesting city, a two hour walk around the old part of the city seemed to cover all the main points.  Looking at my guidebook on Europe Slovakia is not included!

Thursday 22nd May
 Today turned out to be a fine day in we headed off about 80 kms on as many back roads as we could find towards Salgovce the village in which David and Ann bought their rundown Chateau with the object of turning it into an exclusive hotel, the BBC produced a TV series called “A Chateau in Slovakia”, followed by “Chaos in the Chateau”, it reached the top 10 whilst it was being run in New Zealand.

Driving through Slovakia became very obvious that this was an agricultural country, with plain little villages, quite good roading, considering the traffic on the roads looked like a quiet day in the remoter parts of the South island.

We found not much of interest in Bratislava the capital city, we found very little of interest on the Road to the Chateau, and when we finally reached the village of Salgovce the Chateau was more or less in the middle of the village area.

If I was sinking as much money as David and Anne appeared to be spending I'm not sure I would have chosen a building to renovate in the middle of a farming area of Slovakia in an uninteresting village like Salgovce, I would certainly want something for my potential guests to do, or something to attract them to the area, I do believe there may be skiing in the mountains close by, but I would want something more than that!

All these thoughts will running through my mind as we were driving towards Salgovce and once we arrived in the village we realised that we were going to see probable disaster!

We rounded the corner and saw this beautifully renovated large building with a nice high concrete fence around it, a beautiful painted coat of arms with the word “The Chateau” facing towards the village so you would see it as you approached, and as we parked outside and looked over the fence at the grounds it was obvious that they had run out of money, but we were not put off that easy, so we locked the motorhome and started walking towards the entrance, which was not marked, so we walked around until we found to rather grand doors with some rather nice signs telling us that it was one of the fine hotels of Europe.

So we knocked on the door, the door was answered by a tall slim man in his late 60s, who invited us in thinking we had a booking, no he could not speak English, but he could speak German, which was no use to us, so I suggested Russian, and he nodded, so Luda set forth in Russian, which he understood slightly better, by a small margin, than English.

No David and Anne were not here and he had no idea when they would return.  That, to us, said it all.  I would think that there is a beautifully redecorated Chateau in Slovakia for sale to an interested party, at a good price, at this time.

So as we were not able to have dinner there we drove on to a small town called Hradok and we have parked on the side of the Road beside a soccer ground in a nice little car park.

Friday 23rd May
 We are so excited about what we have seen of Slovakia today we are driving directly to Hungary, were found a campground almost in the centre of the city and that is our destination.

What our impressions of Slovakia, well to us they give us the appearance of being poor, they don't move fast in fact you may almost call them lethargic, but the houses we see in the villages that we passed through whilst most of them are at least 50 years old, they were kept in good maintenance, well painted, clean with nice curtains.  Most have a substantial vegetable garden with a good variety of vegetables planted, religion plays or has played an important part in the community, with many religious statues to be seen throughout the country and very well-kept churches.  The main religion is of course Catholic which seems to have survived the Soviet period.

In the city's the Soviet style apartments are very obvious and some are now painted in bright colours which makes them look not quite as drab as concrete grey.  Once you leave the city's the number of cars drops dramatically and old Lada's and Skoda’s appear to be the cars of choice.  Agriculture appears to play a big part in their economy.

It is very interesting to criticise the Soviet style apartment blocks that were built in the 50s and 60s but I wonder what the English would have built, perhaps the housing estates that are so commonly featured as crime centres on the Bill!  If they all did what I saw done in Poland a few years ago, paint them with bright pastel colours then they no longer look the Soviet style apartments.

We crossed over into Hungry without any fanfare, and the first thing we saw as we crossed the border was a Tesco shopping centre, it was once said that the English are a nation of shopkeepers, and seeing how Tesco have made it in to Eastern Europe that statement was probably right even if they managed their automotive industry into oblivion.

I stopped at Tesco to change some money, you don't realise how convenient it is with most countries on the Euro how you can just crossed borders without any worries.  These new entries into the EEC, I understand I due to go over to the Euro with in the next 12 months.

We found the camp ground in the centre of the city without any problems, there were motorhomes in caravans from most places in Europe, there, and there was about one space left which we took which means with a six minute walk we can catch the Metro into the centre of the city.

Saturday 24th May
 Today we did a metro ride into the centre of the city an easy five station trip, the open decked tour bus full of Germans and French, but we were all given a receiver which received the sightseeing information in our own language.  After we'd finished that we walked down to the Danube and took a boat tour and saw some of the same things from the water.  We had lunch at the Havana club, a little bit of Cuba in the centre of Budapest.

Sunday 25th May
 Today we drove to Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, a rather an interesting drive from Budapest, I might explain at this point we measure how much interest there is in any country by the number of times we are inspired to take photographs.  The UK and Italy have topped our list for Europe to date but we're happy to review this at any time.

When it was time to stop we had the choice of two campsites one large one with 560 sites in a small one with 129, the small one I might add was a naturalist campsite at thought it might be just a little too much “in one's face” there for three days, so we took the coward's choice and chose the larger campsite which was almost deserted with perhaps 10% of the sites in use, next month will see a big change to this we have been told and of course July will be bedlam.

There are over 30 campsites around this large Lake that has an area of about 673 sq km which is just slightly larger than Lake Taupo in New Zealand.  It's interesting camping here, there's nothing really to indicate we are in Hungary and we could really be in any part of the world and has a flat terrain and that we could be in parts of New Zealand that has an European variety of trees, which is rather sobering after driving such a long distance.  However tomorrow is another day and another range of scenery's which at least will be viewed under the Northern summer sky's.

Wednesday 28th May
 We left the reasonably priced campsite on the shores of the lake and headed off to our next destination which was Pécs down near the Croatian border. Pécs is a city that has a 2000 year history starting off with the Romans followed by the Turks.

We programmed our destination into the GPS and when we turned in towards the lake on the GPS’s instructions we assume that we were either going to be crossing a bridge or paying for a Ferry, naturally with our luck the latter was the case, but it obviously reduced our travelling time substantially.  While we were waiting for the ferry Luda photographed a 2 m long snake swimming in the Lake, this being the second snake she is seen in the last three days she becoming quite unimpressed with this country for some reason.

So we are travelling over what was now typical Hungarian landscape with every major town having signs showing us the way to the local Tesco.

At our destination, surprise, surprise there was a Tesco, so in we went to do our shopping and as we came out low and behold there was a sign to a campground which we followed and found a small camp ground in the middle of a laden cherry orchard, there are motorhomes from Germany and Holland, after Vienna we have seen no more motorhomes with the UK sticker.  No doubt there are British that moved out of their comfort zone in the centre of Europe but we very seldom see them.

Thursday 29th May
 We caught a bus into the city at 9 a.m., with the map of the city, and we wandered around like a headless chook until I finally asked some young students if they could speak English and got directions to the information office, there we found there was a small Road train that did a sightseeing tour around the interesting parts of the city and I'm sure if we had been up to speak Hungarian we would have found the information most interesting, as it was with my language ability, I just had to enjoy the sights.

We wandered back to the campsite at 12 noon, packed up and headed to our next destination which was Szeged and the route would taken us along the Serbian border.

Again normal Hungarian villages and agricultural countryside with the occasional horse and cart, today we experienced some of the worst roads we've been on for some time, and Luda complimented the GPS for finding a these roads for us.  We find as we travel through Europe lots of red poppies growing on the side of the road and often whole fields of them growing in with some other crop.  Hungary seems to have a very large number of these poppies and I can't help wondering if they are considered to be a pest.

As we rounded a bend we saw a delightful camping site on  the side of the road so we pulled there for the night, we overlooked the fact that there was massive roadworks close by where there were some of the noisiest trucks in Europe about to descend on the bend, but we gained comfort from the fact that they would not be working at night so we had a restful nights sleep until it was time for the trucks to start their work again.

Friday, May 30th, 2008
 So we carried on towards yesterday's destination of Szeged getting there and about 12 noon, we had lunch in a supermarket car park after driving through the city, we felt the city was quite like many other Hungary in cities we had passed through so we decided to go towards tomorrow destination of Debrecen.

We passed through many kilometres of vineyards, there was not that much traffic on the Road away from the major cities, but there were many crosses decorating the sides of the Road, and after a few Hungarian cars passing us in what I would call impossible situations we did start to understand the meaning of the crosses!

Again away from the major centres we have seen very many Russian Lada cars both parked on the side of the road and indeed moving in varying directions.  In Poland and Romania I saw very many horse and carts being driven in the rural areas but we have not seen that here, perhaps the Lada's the next step up in revolution chain.

Today when we felt like stopping for the evening we drove down a side road which just led into the countryside and parked on a little layby in the middle of acres of grassland.  There was no traffic noise, no animal noise, just delightfully peaceful.

E-mails have always been a problem when I have been traveling and I have solved that problem on this trip very successfully.  I have a small USB memory card on which I had my e-mail program all set up to run with all my e-mails and addresses.  I plug the card into an Internet cafe computer, run my program, and all of my e-mails waiting for delivery get loaded onto my memory card.  These can then be loaded onto the laptop at my leisure, reply is made if necessary, and they get saved on the memory card to be sent next time I go into Internet cafe.  This is far superior to carrying a laptop into an Internet cafe where there is at least a 70% chance you will not be able to plug it in and they do not charge you a premium rate for the pleasure of connecting your laptop.  Another advantage is of course the memory card is very small, but you have to be very careful that you do not lose it and possibly attach it to your key ring.

Saturday 31st May
 It was an extremely peaceful night, not a light to be seen in any direction, no cities close so every star in the sky was visible in and in the morning it was only the birds that woke us up.

Today we changed our destination from Debrecen to Eger a city that is extremely prominent most guidebooks.  Was 160 km away so we arrived in Eger and about 12 noon.  We stayed off the motorway for this trip and consequently went through a lot more of rural Hungary, a lot of the houses in the villages had no running water only a on the street at the end of each block and from this they can fill buckets of water for their domestic use.

We pulled beside one of these and filled up and water tank, not quite the clear water we are used to in Christchurch but we saw many drinking directly from these taps so assumed that was the least suitable for washing.

Going through these villages was extremely interesting however to get to these villages we did experience again some of the roughest roads we have experienced some time, and there was one interesting rail Bridge that has traffic lights at each end to allow Road traffic to use it as a one-way bridge, but the train has preferential treatment so we waited about 20 minutes whilst the train took its turn and then the traffic from the opposite direction that we were travelling followed the train so eventually it was our turn to cross is interesting Bridge.

Another interesting experience was arriving at what the signs made me think was a Bridge that could swing up to let a boat pass through to find that no, that sign in Hungary, meant a ferry.  This was a ferry that would take the motorhome plus one car, went from one side of the narrow portion of the Lake to the other   using a wire rope to pull the boat across the water this cost us €2.5.

The roads remained quite deserted outside the major centres and besides the old Lada's we had been seeing there was quite a number of the East German Trabants chugging their way around.

The Internet has really arrived in Hungary particularly in the villages, there are roadsigns within the villagers making people aware of just where there are is a Internet cafe and one village we counted five of these signs.

On arrival in Eger we found a car park quite close to the city centre so walked the couple of blocks to get into the downtown area, where we had lunch, walked to the information office, which was closed, missed by five minutes the Road train that would have taken us round the city telling us all about it in Hungarian, and as the temperature was about 30°C we decided to do the abbreviated tour of the whole part of the city on foot, we decided not to venture into the Castle, and the tall minuet left over from the Turkish occupation that had 100 steps leading to a wonderful view over the city, we decided after looking at some of the people that he emerged from the confined space that looked like they had been in a vigorous Turkish bath or Finnish sauna that today with us high-temperature was not the day to climb the minuet.

So we wandered back to the motorhome, went out to the Tesco to replenish our supplies, and we were just taking things into the motorhome and large drops of rain started falling, and now we have experienced a electrical storm and everything is wonderfully cool.  Were spending the night in a new to Eger motorcamp that is not on our list and tomorrow it was back to the mountain regions of Slovakia to see if that is more interesting than the flat.

Sunday 1st June
 We decided to visit the city of Tokaj a region that has world-famous wines so we drove about 160 kms sideways from our current location, again through wheat and barley fields, again very little traffic on the Road and considering that we were entering a world-famous wine region we saw very few grapes and to were almost at the city, no was not a city that a town, we had no problems finding parking so went for a walk through the town, which was almost deserted being a Sunday, there were about three or four wine shops open, and of course no one could speak English, and the wine labels were all in Hungarian.  We did however find one wineshop with the owner could speak German and to three words of English so are able to spend some money there and ended up with four bottles of hopefully beautiful wine.

With nothing more to hold us in this thriving metropolis we headed off this time to this Slovakia border by GPS again avoiding motorways, this took us down a lot of interesting narrow roads, as usual, through a beautiful part of the area that was a little bit mountainous and finally we found some artificial lakes that were stocked with fish that people could camp at or stay in apartments. If you're inclined to go fishing you could do it in comfort with deck chairs, and beach umbrellas, unfortunately you still had to get your line into the water without extra help.

Professional wedding and portrait Photography, right through Hungary and in major towns we had been taken with the quality of wedding and portrait photography on display and it seems to be uniformly of an extremely high standard.  The quality was such that you would only see portrait photography of this standard in New Zealand in very few cities or towns.