Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for Hungary

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

12th September Hungary
Budapest - Click to enlargeUnfortunately things didn't go on being so wonderful! We had planned to travel to Budapest on Wednesday so we left in the morning and caught the local train to Poprad. From ther I bought tickets to Budapest via Kosice. Nobody at the station spoke English and I had some trouble understanding the times of the trains. The man at the information desk wrote "22.12" on a piece of paper for me, so I decided it must be an overnight train. It was not until Kosice, when we arrived in the late afternoon, that I realised that the train to Budapest actually left at 18.14 and arrived at 22.12. We were a little daunted by the prospect of arriving in a strange city at night in a country where we didn't know any of the language and had nowhere to stay, but it seemed we had little choice, so we went in search of something to eat. Kosice was a lovely town with a lively pedestrianised centre, and we found a fast-food place which sold cheap pizzas, but we couldn't get Tom to eat at all. Looking back, I probably should have been more alarmed by this than I was, but it was easier to put it down to nerves about the journey and its uncertain end.

On the train, we got just about as far as the border before Tom started being sick. He did it in style, covering a toilet cubicle! Nick did his best to clear up a bit, sluicing water around, but it stank! About an hour later, poor Tom had been sick about 2 or 3 more times. He lay down to get some rest as the train lurched along, from side to side. Then Esther started! She threw up all over the compartment we were in. The seat and floor were covered, and so was she! Nick took the kids to another compartment and I tried my best to clear up, using a T-shirt I had been given by British Airways when they lost my bag on the first day. We caught the rest of the sick in bags, but Esther was still throwing up as the train arrived at Budapest's Keleti Station.

We were obviously not going to be able to walk far, and finding accommodation that night was clearly out of the question. We found an ATM and withdrew some Forints. Then we found a waiting room, that, at least, was lit and had some seats. Tom really couldn't carry his bag any further, so there we stayed and waited until morning, amongst a lot of people who were not really waiting for anything at all. These people watched in sympathy as, gradually, we were all taken by the bug, which was quite nasty, and rather messy for us, as there were no toilets open. In between bouts of sickness we all managed to get some sleep and, in fact, although very uncomfortable, we felt quite secure there. There was a security guard who patrolled all night and, somewhat surprisingly, we did not feel at all threatened by any of the people there.

Bleary eyed and washed out in the morning, we made our way to the entrance of the station to try to find some accommodation. before long we were approached by a lady, Vali Nemeth, who offered us a room in a shared flat with use of a kitchen. It was just within our price range and, after a very quick look at the photos she had with her we accepted. We were hardly in aposition to turn her away, especially as we had been told at the tourist office that the cheapest accommodation they could offer us was 80 Euros per night, well out of our range!

The flat turned out to be lovely! We had a four bedded room with a small balcony in a quiet and secure apartment block not far from the centre of Pest. We set about the business of recovering!

Most of Thursday was spent sleeping, but, by the evening, all of us except Esther were well enough for a light meal. Esther was still unwell on Friday, so I spent a quiet day in the flat with her. I caught up with my journal (old fashioned style, with a pen!), did some reading, read to Esther, and did some much needed clothes washing! Here is what Tom and Nick got up to.

(Nick continues) Tom and I had a great day taking a liesurely walk into Pest. The plan was to get some fresh air and do some exploring. We have a mutual love of museums so we got some culture (man!!) visiting the Museum of Fine Arts opposite Heroes Square by the Varosliget park. This was a wonderful experience and we saw exhibits of pottery and sculptures from all over the globe. Tom was most excited and, to my surprise, informative about the Egyptian display of sarcophagi, some with mummies still intact. As we strolled through the beautiful building we had to sit at times to admire the splendid paintings, and also because we were tired from our illness of the previous day. To round off the day we found an amusement park and decided to go on a couple of roller coasters (L. interjects, wonderful for poorly tummies!). Tom was very brave and punched the air as we soared on what I would describe as the scariest loop ever. The second one was much more genteel and ressembled a typical American wooden structure (cool!). By the time we had walked the 3 miles back to our digs we were completely shattered, but we stayed awake long enough for Lindsay to cook us a yummy tea. It was great to see Eti Rae looking better.

(Lindsay continues) Esther was better on Saturday. She ate a little scrambled egg and toast for breakfast and seemed fine, so we went off to explore Budapest together.

17th September Hungary
Stroking a Sloth in Budapest Zoo - Click to enlargeWe spent a week in Budapest. It is a fascinating city with lots to offer, and we did not manage, by any means, to see everything that would have interested us. It is a place we would like to return to in the future (possibly without the children!!? Watch out Mum and Dad!).

The following are some of the highlights. On Saturday we generally found our bearings in the city, riding the trams and Budapest's highly efficient metro system around the city. We found an excellent bookshop with a good English language section, and stocked up on reading material, and we rode a tram across on of the city's spectacular bridges to look at the boats on the Danube and the view of Castle Hill, on the Buda side of the city. (Budapest, by the way, is divided by the Danube into two halves which, in years gone by, were actually two separate cities, Buda, the oldest part, with cobbled streets and old buildings, and Pest, the newer, more cosmopolitan side, where modern shopping centres to match anything in London are to be found alongside fast food chains and touristy pavement cafes and markets).

On Sunday we visited the zoo, under a certain amount of pressure from the children. It was a really good day! Budapest zoo, in the Varosliget park, is quite compact and easily manageable in an afternoon (we arrived at about 12.00!). Although the big cats' enclosures were a little on the small side, as was that of the gibbons, and the elephants looked very bored, the majority of the animals seemed happy enough. We particularly enjoyed watching the orang utans playing with boxes, the sealions being fed and performing, and having the chance, quite by chance, to stroke a sloth!

On Monday we found an internet cafe and checked our email and were thrilled to find a message from Peter Keszthelyi from the Wwoof farm we were hoping to visit, to say that we would be very welcome! Cheered by the news we went off to explore Castle Hill, across the river in Buda. We climbed the hill and looked at the spectacular view of the river and the city from the old Fishermen's Bastion. We also visited a nice, if touristy, market, where Tom spent some of his pocket money, and admired the architecture of the famous Matyas church, also on the hill, although we couldnt go inside as there was an organ recital going on. Later we walked across Margit Bridge to explore Margitsyiget, the island in the Danube just north of Budapest centre. It was really lovely and has been preserved as a park and recreation area. There we found the ruins of St. Margaret's convent, where she once treated lepers with thermal spring water in the 13th century. We ate out that night in a busy little restaurant right in the centre of Pest, opposite St. Stephens Basilica. It was a real treat!

Tuesday we had rather a lazy day, lying in the sun in the Varosliget park, and checking out the thermal baths there. More about that later!

On Wednesday, our last day in the city, we decided to explore a little further afield and took a bus out to Obuda, to see if we could find the Roman ruins we had heard were there. Aquincum, the ruined fort, is further out of town that our bus could take us, and we were not so well motivated as to have gone to the trouble of looking at alternative means, so we settled with finding the ruins of an old bathouse, and the amphitheatre. The bath-house was well preserved and very interesting, particularly as we were planning to visit some baths later in the day. Bizarrely the remains nestle underneath a very busy flyover from a road junction. It seemed strange to be wandering around the ancient ruins with the noise and bustle of the road above our heads and people walking past through the various underpasses running alongside. The amphitheatre was also interesting and its layout clearly visible, although it was rather overgrown with weeds. We ate our lunch there, sitting on a Roman wall in the shade of a tree.

In the afternoon we went bathing!!

18th September Hungary
Bathing in Budapest
We chose Szechenyi Furdo for bathing on the grounds that it was near where we were staying, and in the Varosliget park, which is pretty! Pricing was somewhat confusing, as were entrances! The first one we tried had queues of people but turned out to be for adults only. We were sent round to the other side of the building, which was large and palacial, and from the entrance there we could see the outdoor pool in the central courtyard. We were a bit put out, as we concluded that this meant that, as a family, we could only swim, and not use the thermal baths. Of course that did not bother the kids, so we paid and went in. There were three pools in what must have been the most ornate and regal looking outdoor pool complex anywhere! It really was beautiful to look at. The first pool we went into had fountains all around, and lots of bubbling jets with old ladies sitting on top of them! There was a circular section in the middle where there was a spa pool and a channel where the water moved round in a circle, propelling the bathers along (it was all too sedate to call them swimmers!). We loved that, and the children shouted and squealed as they whizzed round and round, Esther in her armbands. There was a rectangular pool for serious swimming, in which you had to wear a bathing cap, which gave us a good excuse not to do any serious swimming! Tom went on an exploration mission and discovered that the third pool was hot! (I had wondered why there were so many motionless people in there!) This was the pool where, in winter, men play chess while submerged to the chest in steaming water. Today, though, they played chess on the side in the sunshine. It was at this point that we discovered that we did, in fact, have access to the indoor facilities as well! Nick and I each had a turn of about 20 to 25 minutes. (Tom also went in for a short time and tried out some of the baths and the steam room.) It was amazing! There was a large sauna which was absolutely packed with bodies, about 10 bathing pools at different temperatures between 28 and 38 degrees C, steam rooms at various temperatures, the hottest being 50 to 70 degrees. It was so good! Soaking in those hot, sulphurous baths, naturally heated and mineralised by the Earth, you could feel your muscles relaxing and your mind drifting away.

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, we drifted back to the flat and cooked pasta for tea!

18 - 21 September Hungary
Lake Balaton
Tom and Esther on the beach at Lake Balaton - Click to enlargeAfter one week in Budapest we took the train to Keszthely, on Lake Balaton. We stayed at the Zalatour campsite, in one of their bungalows; actually more like a garden shed, complete with spiders, but still a roof over our heads. The weather was very hot and sunny, and the area really pretty, although a lot of touristy places, which accounts for a lot of places along the lake shore, were closed, which was slightly disappointing. Still, it was peaceful, which I don't think is the case in high season.

On Friday we swam in the lake. We cannot decide if Lake Balaton is fed, in part, by thermal springs, or whether it is warmer than the average large lake on account of its relatively shallow average depth (approx 3m). Whatever the reason, the water was only about as cool as a fairly chilly heated pool! The only problem for us was that at that particular point it was very muddy and getting to swimming depth meant wading knee-deep in silt for a couple of hundred metres!!

If we suffered from a lack of entertainment because of the facitlities being closed, our neighbours certainly made up for it! Lisa and Reinhold were a German couple in their late 70s who had spent many holidays at the lake. On our first night we had just put the children to bed and started to play cards, when Lisa appeared suddenly from behind the wall between our bungalows and invited us to have a glass of "champagne" with them. We did, and spent a pleasant and amusing evenong with them, although their English was minimal and our German more so! They seemed to have a never-ending supply of tomatoes with them, which they had brought from their garden at home in Germany, and they kept us well supplied. Every morning Lisa went off on her bicycle to collect mushrooms, which grew in abundance on the campsite and looked lovely. (We didn't collect any, as we had no way to cook them, but were amazed at the amount which Lisa and Reinhold seemed to get through!)

On Saturday we hired bikes, which were rickrty, battered old things, but they got us about for the day. We set off for Kis-Balaton, a small lake and nature reserve at the western end of Lake Balaton. It was not well signposted and the weather was very hot, and eventually we gave up and just ate our picnic where we were, which was by a river and under some trees. This would have been nicer if Esther hadnt been stung on the face by a wasp. Still, she recovered quickly enough and I perched her back onto the back of my bike (a makeshift seat on the rear carrier, designed by Nick), and we went off in search, instead, of the thermal lake at Hevis.

This we found with little trouble, and it was incredible! We had to take a dip! The lake was not very big, but large enough to look pretty surreal with hundreds of people, from young children to little old ladies, bobbing about in it wearing rubber rings. The temperature in the water was between 31 and 33 degrees C, which was very pleasant, and the sun was still shining hotly when we got in at around four o clock.

We had invited Margaret and Barry, a couple we had met at the campsite, ti spend the evening with us, and they were due to come round to our bungalow at 7.30pm, so we got out of the lake at 5.30 and got ready for the ride back. On returning to the bikes, though, we didscovered that we had lost the key to the lock. (Actually we found it a few days later, but by then it was too late!) In the end, Nick had to smash the lock with a couple of metal gate props that he found in the car park. By the time we made it out of Hevis it was getting dark, and between the three bikes we had only two front lamps which worked. Nick went on ahead to be there in time for Barry and Margeret and Tom and I struggled home for about8.20, but not before getting lost in Keszthely.

Thankfully, Margaret and Barry had not given up on us, and even stuck the evening out when Lisa and Reinhold turned up with a few too many glasses of wine inside them and muscled in on the evening! (Good on you, M & B!) They were really interesting people to talk to, as they have been living in their motorhome and living a travelling lifestyle for 9 years. They are also keen cyclists who have travelled around the world with their bikes twice, and done cycling tours of Europe and Australia. We really enjoyed the evening and talked until very late. It would be good to stay in touch!

Margaret and Barry saw us off at the station in the morning, after we had paid them a visit in their motor home - which is a fantastic bit of kit. We waved goodbye and were on our way to the Zsellic hills, and our first Wwoof farm.

21 - 29 September Hungary
Wwoofing in the Zsellic Hills
Peter Kesthelyi's Farmhouse - Click to enlargeWe took the train to Kaposvar and were met at the station by Peter Kesthelyi, our host for the week at his goat farm in the Zsellic Hills, in the south west of Hungary. The farm is about 30km from Kaposvar, and felt as if it was 5km from the nearest surfaced road! It was a beautiful and very peaceful location miles from anywhere, surrounded by gently rolling hills and - well, nothing much else! On the way we stopped for Peter to buy some provisions, and he asked if we needed anything. I wasn't sure whether we should stock up on bottled water, so I asked what he thought and was told that it was quite alright to drink water from their well. OK I thought - there were no other options really, and anyway, with the five of us, our three rucksacks and Peter's shopping in his Renault 5 there was not really space for it anyway.

Click here for a photo gallery.

At the farmhouse we were introduced to Peter's partner Zsuzsanna, and had some delicious soup and bread followed by rice with a mushroom sauce; a taste of things yet to come. Zsuzsanna was busy preparing some straw matresses for us (actually far more comfortable than they sound - we all slept very soundly on them throughout our stay), so she got back to doing that and we were shown to the house, a few hundred metres from the main farmhouse, that was to be our home for the week. It was very basic, in the process of being renovated to accommodate more Wwoofers in the future, and quite the most peaceful and incredibly beautiful place that I have ever stayed in. The beds and shelves were made on the farm from wood from the surrounding forests. Everywhere there were twigs and small branches jutting out - the natural shape of the wood - on which we hung our towels and small bags, and on the beds, the incredible straw matresses that Zsuzsanna had made. The house was heated by a large and cleverly designed wood-burning stove. This had to be kept lit at all times, as it was still drying, having been built only a few weeks before, and we enjoyed blowing on the embers to get the fire roaring again in the chilly mornings and evenings. We shared the house with Ian, another wwoofer, from London, who had been there a few weeks before us. We got on very well and spent some excellent evenings together, joined also by Jacob, a wwoofer from Berlin who had been there even longer and was staying up at the farmhouse. Ian and Jacob were in the process of building a smoking house for the cheese and meat produced on the farm.

Did you do any work? I hear you ask! Well, yes, but at a relaxed pace! For most of the days we spent there I worked with Uri, a tenant who rents a house close to the one we stayed in, picking apples, pears and walnuts. The children helped, or did their own thing. (Actually, Tom did quite a lot of 'Travel School' while we were there, as, for once, we found that we had the time to concentrate a little bit on that.) Nick also picked fruit for a couple of days, and then, when he had finally managed to persuade Peter that he was proficient with a chainsaw, did some tree work on a couple of apple trees that were in sore need of it, and then chopped some logs to be stored for winter. As well as goats, Peter and Zsuzsanna keep around twenty pigs (they're not sure of the exact number!), two donkeys, three dogs, several cats and kittens and a cow called Nooshi. Tom fed the donkeys all the bruised and damaged apples every morning and, over the week we spent there, we built up something of a relationship with Nooshi, who came regularly to investigate - especially when apple picking was going on! Esther was rather wary of her, as she was rather large, but actually she was the gentlest beast you could hope to meet!

Meals were served three times a day at the farmhouse, although it quickly became apparent that there was no timetable, and that, although breakfast mainained some consistency, being served between 8 and 9am, lunch could be at any time between 2 and 4pm, and the evening meal could be as late as 10.30pm. This took some getting used to, as did the diet, especially for the children, as it consisted almost entirely of home produce, or that of neighbouring farms. Therefore we ate a lot of goats' cheese (as well as some Nooshi cheese), heaps of heavy and filling homemade bread, meatloaf made of goatmeat and pork from the farm, and lots of paprika (in Hungary these are mild, sweet peppers) and local tomatoes. It was all washed down with herbal tea which grows naturally in the hills, and made with well water, and this was the only time since leaving England that we have been able to drink water directly from the tap, as it came from the well, rather than the mains. We did, in fact, get used to the routine, to the point where, when we left after just one week, we wondered how we would ever be able to go back to our normal way of doing things!

One of the highlights of the week was the village Festival, which happened at the weekend at the end of our stay. Until we arrived we remained unconvinced that any village actually existed, as it seemed to us that there was no other house for miles around. However, a short drive or a medium-length walk (depending upon whether you fitted into the category of "men" or "women and children") along a farm-track brought us to the village centre, where there was a small schoolhouse which doubled up as a kind of village hall. Everyone from the local area was there, and they sang and played instruments while preparing food for a communal meal the next day. On Sunday there was a football match, in which Jacob played, his team winning 9-1 (or something like that!), and then everyone got down to the serious business of getting drunk on beer and palinka, eating some delicious goulyas, talking until the sun went down and generally celebrating their patron St. Michael, and their existence as a community. There was great excitement as evening approached, as a famous (apparently) Hungarian singer, called Tomas, was due to come and play his guitar and sing.

On Monday 29th Sept, Peter drove us back to Kaposvar to begin our journey on to Romania. To say we were sad to leave would be a terrible understatement, and we waved goodbye to Zsuzsanna and Flora, their 12 year old daughter, who had struck up a great friendship with Esther, wondering whether we shouldn't stay for another week. We ate our picnic of homemade bread and goats' cheese that Zsuzsa had packed for us in a pensive mood, knowing that we would all miss the peaceful pace of life at the farm, as well as the wholesome diet - yes, even the kids had begun to look forward to their breakfast of goats' cheese, bread and tomatoes each morning - and, of course, the people we had met. Our stay at the farm has to go down as one of the true highlights of the European section of our trip.

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