Russian about in Hungary
24 April to 3 May 08
We have found that the best way to cross into a new country is to avoid moving straight from the border to the major city. Instead, we select a medium sized place that is within one hour’s ride from the border. We then concentrate on getting into town by mid-day with plenty of time to find accommodation and figure out how things are done in the new society.
At the Hortobágy National Park we met this cute local. He is a rare, hairy Mangalica Pig. The park protects a large area of wetlands…
…with lots of watery scenes like this nine arch bridge.
This thinking led us to make our first stop in Hungary the city of Debrecen, located in the east of the country and close to the Romanian border. Debrecen is Hungary’s second city but it is a relatively relaxed place. It is so relaxed, that it makes Canberra seem like Party-Town. Debrecen is also spacious, clean and well ordered, and a great place to get a feel for the country. Our two days there also allowed us to explore the surrounding area including the nearby National Park.
By the time we arrived in the “big smoke” of Budapest, we had Hungary tabbed; in short, orderly, beautiful and Western European expensive! The capital had a few more lessons for us. It is a truly beautiful city straddling the Danube River. One of those places you “have” to visit before you die.
The spectacular Hungarian Parliament looks very imposing close up.
The trouble with this is that lots of people “have” to visit so the place has been inundated with “terrorists” for a long time. There are so many people wandering the streets studying maps that you could be forgiven for thinking there was an orienteering championship underway; or maybe, a Hash run. On! On! To the opera house!
There are tourists everywhere. If you want to do your people watching in the fashionable areas like Váci Street, shown here, you will mainly be watching tourists. We solve this by staying in the suburbs and going to the local shops to do our Hungarian watching,
Budapest has two international ports where Danube cruise ships pull in and discharge hundreds of passengers.
Nearby, the tourist buses wait to recover the cargo of tourists they have let loose in the city earlier.
For real tourist-tacky it is hard to go past the “Barbie” bus.
We could only afford coffee at the Gresham Palace. Here the cheap rooms are close to $1000. But, it is stunning both inside and out.
To compound the tourist problem, the Hungarians had organised a four day weekend for May Day. As the holiday fell on a Thursday, they took the Friday off and made up for it by working the previous Saturday as a normal working day. This was the weekend that we had organised to meet our daughter Sarah and her husband Mike. Unfortunately, hotel beds were thin on the ground and it took a concerted effort to find two rooms in a nice, new, clean hotel on the Buda (western side) of the river.
Sarah, Mike and Jo in front of St Stephen’s Cathedral. Another church for serious God-botherin’.
At the same time we fronted up to the Russian Embassy Visa Section with our newly arrived invitations and all of the other paperwork we should need for a visa. It was a frustrating visit as we failed to speak to any official who spoke any English whatsoever. We were simply told, through the good offices of another customer with a little English, that, as Australians, we could only apply in Australia.
If we were frustrated after our visit to the Russian Embassy, it didn’t show as we enjoyed the spring sunshine and some food in the old Budayar district.
We left before tempers got too heated and our relationship with the Embassy staff suffered irretrievable damage. We then spoke to the Australian Consul who quickly agreed to speak to the Russians for us. With the four day break starting, we settled back to enjoy the weekend with Mike and Sarah.
Budapest is another city we have got to know quickly by walking all over it. Fortunately, the Hungarians are law biding types who don’t J walk and obey the parking signs. This makes it easy to get around on Shanks Pony.
Mike and Sarah try the local eats at a food stall in the old city.
We walked and looked and drank beer and walked and ate and walked some more. By the time the two Londoners left in a taxi for the airport, we felt that we had “done” Budapest and had enough of busloads of tourists swarming around us.
The Danube isn’t such a big river, but we have seen its importance in spreading the skills of good beer making all the way to the Black Sea.
As our week ends, we are preparing for the next round of our struggle to get a Russian visa. A new plan is emerging out of the mist and we are still confident that we will get our visas, eventually!
Jo, Sarah, Mike Green and Mike H. It has been a great chance for us to see the Greens again for a few days.
Posted by Mike Hannan at May 05, 2008 10:33 PM GMT