Heidi in Hungary

Sun 17th Aug, we leave Heidi in ‘safe western Europe’ and head off into the unknown of Hungary on the bikes…

It feels like we’re sneaking in the back way. The route by car is a LONG way around!

We cycle through similar enough countryside covered with grape vines to Fertorakas and follow the road to Balf.  All is very quiet (its Sunday). The properties are much the same as just over the border, end on to the road and stretching back a long way. Deteriorating as they go back into barns and outbuildings, usually with a strip of immaculately kept ‘garden’ / driveway between, and with corn cobs hanging out in the sun to dry. Everything looks like it’s been a while since any funds were available for maintenance; there are a lot of well-kept but old cars about..

Corn cobbs drying in the sun

Corn cobs drying in the sun

It’s a beautiful, hot, sunny day as we cycle through the rolling hills and grapevines, pausing at a ‘fountain’ where everybody is collecting their drinking water. We top up our water bottles, only to find it sulphurous, with a distinctive eau de egg. I quite like it, especially cold from the spring, but Elaine is less sure.

We turn back towards Sopron and are more than pleasantly surprised. Sopron dates back to Roman times, with many ancient buildings much as they were in the past.  An advantage over many places that have had funds and inclination to restore and ‘upgrade’ over time. Also, the Ottomans never got this far.

Sopron was the site of the famous ‘Pan-European Picnic’  held on 19th August 1989; starting a chain of events which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall three months later and ultimately the tearing down of the ‘Iron Curtain’. ( Interesting article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/hungary/6408378/Sopron-Hungary-the-picnic-that-changed-the-world.html ) And it’s just 25 years ago.

I tentatively place my ‘plastic’ in ‘the hole in the wall’ and am presented with a great many thousands of completely unknown banknotes; all the better to enjoy the fete or whatever it is, that is going on in the main square. Local wine and beer and all manner of unrecognisable and unpronounceable food is ‘going on’. We wander around taking it all in, especially the elaborate, music accompanied, fountain.

Sopron main square

Sopron main square

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The 'dancing' musical fountain

The ‘dancing’ musical fountain

..with some impressive engineering behind it!

..with some impressive engineering behind it!

Then with great trepidation managed to communicate enough to get food (some sort of sugary dough wrap thing called a kurtoskalacs) and drinks (an indecipherable fruit punch). For this we handed over thousands! of the ‘monopoly money’, and sat, waiting for the music to start and trying to pluck up courage to partake in the Sorhaz (beer house). I’m afraid to say I chickened out. Not only had one to choose between ‘light’ / ‘dark’ beer (‘vilagos’ / ‘barna’), you then had to decide on a size, with a specific name, and if that wasn’t enough, repeat what you couldn’t read properly in Hungarian – a completely unrecognisable language like nothing you have seen or heard before!

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We loitered a bit trying to soak up the atmosphere and closely observing what was a ‘normal’ request from the completely unrecognisable food stalls, before deciding that, since we had no map, it was probably wise to try to escape this strange new world while there was still some daylight.

hehe - it's all high tech here

hehe – it’s all high tech here

Well, we made it out alive, and got back to Heidi before dark…
The next day, somewhat reluctantly, we leave an ideal parking spot, and head into Hungary with Heidi and more unknowns..
We follow the main road ‘84’ toward Lake Balaton, the largest fresh water lake in central Europe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Balaton  ,Surprisingly only having an average depth of 3.2m perhaps accounting for its ‘muddyness’. The roads are long and very straight and the countryside flat and agricultural (mainly corn and sunflowers)

We stop near Keszthely on the SW end in a ‘beach’ carpark and reluctantly stump up the 500flt (less than 2eu) each to ‘enter’ and swim. It’s packed! windy and not exactly warm. The water is grey and very opaque.

It looked nice in 'the brochure'

It looked nice in ‘the brochure’

...the reality was somewhat different!

…the reality was somewhat different!

We go with the flow; realising that after 6.30pm, entrance is free and our chosen spot is deserted and quiet J

Tue 19th. We set out on the bikes to explore. Heading for Keszthely centre, we discover that although you can get close to and occasionally sit near the lake, swimming is extremely difficult unless you pay to enter one of the many artificial ‘beaches’ . The edges are all artificially reinforced with sharp rocks. Humph.

An impressive town square leads us to the palace and gardens ..owned by the Festetics family for generations. ‘Grof Festetics Gyorgy’ (Count Gyorgy Festetics) being the most influential, turning the palace into a cultural centre, expanding the Library and founding the ‘Geogikon’ a pioneering institute for Hungarian agriculture which became famous throughout Europe.

Keszthely main square

Keszthely main square


Keszthely Palace


Count 'Georgy'

Count ‘Georgy’

A wander through the market; they like their paprikas here!

Keszthely was a nice enough place, rather ruined by an inordinate amount of ‘museums’ (there must have been 20!) all hoping to fleece the tourists to look at one thing or another. I’m sure some of it, be it folklore, pottery, agricultural tools, puppets, erotica, antique stoves, lace… might have been interesting, but the choice and variety of complex pricing was bewildering.

The scary language still preventing much interaction, but we did manage a couple of drinks (ordered in German!) ..and then it was back on the bikes for further exploration.

There’s a dedicated bike path all around the lake (all 200km of it). Unfortunately much of it is set back from the edge and the views are obscured by reeds – the view was actually mainly of the railway line! We went as far as Balatongyorok; just one of a great many holiday places with artificial beaches charging for access to the water; this one with music and attractive NOT! Exercise classes to join in.

Maybe it was the weather or we didn’t give it enough chance, but Balaton really wasn’t doing it for us. Another cold, greyish, uninspiring evening encouraged us to leave and drive via Helviz and its busy thermal spa and on to the Kis-Balaton lakes and marshes just to the SW. What a difference! It’s soo much quieter. We stop at a nature reserve carpark for the night and take a stroll before dark.

Kis-Balaton nature reserve - look clear water!

Kis-Balaton nature reserve – look clear water!

We stayed for a couple of days, enjoying the peace and quiet and the sounds of the birds – but not the mosquitoes! Luckily only a problem around dusk; the noise they make has to be heard to be believed! Luckily we can retreat inside and close all of the fly screens!

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Friday 22nd we continue our journey. Travelling on small, far from even, and very straight roads through the countryside (again mainly corn and sunflowers) we pass through quiet villages stretched out along the road and looking very self-sufficient with their well-tended veg. gardens and selection of chickens and goats etc. Several places are apparently derelict and for sale. Some places appear to have a selection of Roma inhabitants, the kids waving at us as we go by. We are definitely ‘odd’ in these parts; everybody turns their heads as we go by.

We stop at Koposvar for some shopping and a stroll round the town. It’s a big place, much of it made up of very run down looking flats, luckily partly hidden between attractive tree-lined avenues. The buildings in the centre were obviously once grand, but have now been declining for several decades. The EU money is now reaching here too and much effort is going into paving the pedestrian centre, restoring / adding fountains (the Hungarians might even be MORE fond of fountains than the Germans – if that’s possible?) and statues,


Koposvar centre has seen some renovation


..most of it is rather drap though. A favoured colour seems to have been dull green


part of a series of many – obviously by the same artist / designer

..and of course one must install ‘european regulation’ kiddie springy things!

We continue on in the direction of Pecs (pronounced Paich – that’s Hungarian spelling for you!) We stop for a few days near Orfu in the Mecsek Hills, at a series of lakes with some perfect free camping spots..

complete with our own, almost private, swimming steps :)

complete with our own, almost private, swimming steps 🙂

The weather as usual is pretty mixed, but we loiter here for several days, relaxing, swimming in the lake, cycling round it and walking in the surrounding hills and countryside. Considering its August and one assumes high season? It’s very quiet here. There’s lots of holiday apartments, a big water fun park with slides etc. several bars and campsites, canoe hire etc, but all seem very underused. At least one campsite is completely empty and shut up and looks like it has been for a while. Wonder why?

where's Heidi?

where’s Heidi?


walking through the VERY quiet woodlands

walking through the VERY quiet woodlands

typical countryside in much of Hungary - so far

typical countryside in much of Hungary – so far

covered wells are a common sight in the villiages, but I suspect most have mains water these days

covered wells are a common sight in the villages, but I suspect most have mains water these days

Hungarian water pumps are also a common sight - usefull for filling Heidi's tank  - can be very stiff: currently nursing chest pains :(

Hungarian water pumps are also a common sight – useful for filling Heidi’s tank.

Relaxing hard!

Relaxing hard!

Planty of fishing (or should that be baiting?) boats

Plenty of fishing (or should that be baiting?) boats

Fishing is very popular here. We wondered at the locals’ technique – it seems that even if you have a boat here, you only use it for going out and ‘pre-baiting’, if that is the right terminology?, the area that you will later cast out to from the bank. We watched several people doing this – strange! Surely if you’ve got a boat, you fish from the boat?? The ultimate in ‘wierdness’ was one young lad, who, without a boat at his disposal, donned rubber ring and flippers and swam out with his bucket of bait to bait the area and then returned to the bank to cast out!
We spent a day in Pecs, visiting ‘the old bit’ with it’s many impressive building, attractive squares, and of course fountains and water features. The ‘big Wow’ here was definitely St. Peter’s Basilica with its 4 towers and huge statues depicting the apostles along the roofline. Recently restored in its entirety to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese of Pecs, the inside is literally jaw dropping; painted in unbelievable detail on every surface. It’s so unusual to see something of this age and size in equally good condition throughout! The crypt was no less impressively adorned. And the acoustics – Wow! We were lucky enough to be there just as a tour guide demonstrated by singing a Hungarian hymn. I looked around for the speakers providing the accompaniment. There weren’t any! And it wasn’t just her ability; another tour guide proceeded to make an equally astonishing demonstration after her.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica





SO much more than expected!

SO much more than expected!

Amazing detail! There are vast areas covered in the identical geometric pattern seemingly without fault - at a quick glance you'd think it was printed wallpaper!

Amazing detail! There are vast areas covered in the identical geometric pattern seemingly without fault – at a quick glance you’d think it was printed wallpaper!

..and it continues down in the cript

..and it continues down in the crypt

..and in the side chappel - Look at that ceiling!

..and in the side chapel – Look at that ceiling!

outside, most of the surrounding buildings were also impecably restored. Quiet leafy squares and fountains (of course!) too

outside, most of the surrounding buildings were also impeccably restored. Quiet leafy squares and fountains (of course!) too

We also hoped to visit the ‘Mosque Church’ in the main (‘Szechenyi Ter’) square. It’s the largest building still standing in Hungary from the time of the Turkish occupation (1543 – about 1700). It was still undergoing restoration and was unfortunately completely surrounded by fencing and piles of building rubble – ready 2015 (not the first time we’ve been just that bit too early at one of these sights!) Oh well, the surrounding buildings and beautiful weather (for a change!) made up for it.

The 'Mosque Church' in the main square

The ‘Mosque Church’ in the main square


just a small change on the outside it seems

just a small change on the outside it seems

Many other impressive buildings surround the square

Many other impressive buildings surround the square

The National Theatre of Pecs

The National Theatre of Pecs

and MORE fountains :)

and MORE fountains 🙂

Next we’re off to find the Danube again; it’s been a while since we saw it last, and onwards to ‘The Great Plains’..

8 thoughts on “Heidi in Hungary

  1. Mom

    I’ve seen so many posts featuring beautiful scenary and unbelievable castles and would just love to go….but…there really is that West-is-safe, East-is-iffy thing stuck in my head! Thanks for taking us along all safe and snug in our homes 🙂

    1. heidihymer Post author

      Thanks for following and taking time to comment. I guess we all build pictures in our head about people and places, from history and from the media. I feel privilaged to have the opportunity to build new pictures. Like you I love getting to know the history of the ordinary people (before our travels I was the family historian too) and not just the rich and the royals, that make up the rich tapestry of a country. Elaine

      PS – have read and enjoyed your posts as our limited data allowance allows – looking forward to reading earlier posts when we get back to unlimited internet

  2. hhhhelenn

    Hi glad to see where you have lots of fun – the language along with finish and turkish are interesting and unique!!!!…… Lots of love from here!!!!

  3. Julian

    Ah, it seems that now your adventures are only just beginning. Only now do you really feel that you are in a truly foreign country! Although I’m sure that as time goes on you’ll get more used to it and eventually be brave enough to have a beer! 🙂

  4. John and Wendy

    I guessed that there would be quite a lot of differences once you moved from “old west” to “new EU”.25 years hasn’t been long enough to even things out. Still, you said you wanted to explore somewhere different and it does seem to be nice and quiet. We hope you continue to be happy in mostly each other’s company! Are you planning to travel into Serbia? Since they aren’t in the EU you may find a few more problems – do you need visa’s (the documents not the credit cards!). I had a Hungarian colleague at work once who boasted that the Hungarian language is the most “individual” in Europe and not a bit like any others! However, my Dutch colleagues reckoned that they could usually get by with German in Eastern Europe – if that is much help!

    1. Peter Borthwick

      Anybody would think you think we’d done no research at all? lol. We were planning on going through Serbia – no visa needed and we’ve even got a ‘green card’ for Heidi… but we’ve decided a trip through Romania may be more interesting so Serbia’s off at the moment.
      There is certainly nothing like the Hungarian language! It bears no resemblance to anything else, so you have to start from scratch and you can’t even say a word when you see it because the spelling is unpronouncable in English ..needless to say, we’re not getting anywhere with it very fast!

  5. Andy Borthwick

    All lookin good to me. We went to Hungary in 1992 in the car for brief visit found the language impossible but everybody v. friendly. Budapest was a real winner. Romania is good and the language manageable – how’s your Latin? Keep on trucking!

  6. Julia

    Glad to see you are having a bit of better weather. We just had a fantastic week by Lake Annecy in France. Take a look at my facebook for pictures.


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