May 12, 2008 GMT
Surf is up in Hungary

5 to 11 May 08

Our arm wrestle over a Russian visa dragged on into another week and consumed more of our days. By Wednesday our plan had solidified and our passports were dispatched back to Canberra with a courier company. This was no cause for celebration, however, as we are still not entirely sure that the Russian Embassy in Australia will give us the visa.

With 10 days before our passports return, we finally escaped from tourist central in Budapest and rode south to find lodgings in the provincial city of Pécs (pronounced Paytch).

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A rock band was organised to celebrate our arrival in Pécs (there didn’t seem to another good reason) doing covers of 70s metal standards.

This beautiful and sleepy university town is 200 km south west of Budapest and is a good base for exploration of the wine growing district of Villány and the Drava Duna National Park. We found a cheap panzio (pension) and settled in for a couple of days.

The city was very pretty, but like the other provincial towns we have visited it is very quiet. We visited one of a dozen small museums in the town.

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We found a beautiful, clean and well presented city that seemed very liveable.

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The historic centre of Pecs has been well preserved.

This one dedicated to the work of Csontváry a modern realist painter and contemporary of Picasso. On the same street we found two sections of iron fencing on which people had attached thousands of padlocks.

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Thousand of padlocks record the commitment of Pecs’ lovers

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Many padlocks have names engraved or written on them.

We didn’t find out how this custom started, but the locks were put there by couples who use them as a symbol of the strength of their relationship. Many of the locks had been engraved with the names of the couple. Others had the names written in felt pen.

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Jo found this ferocious guard dog in the old town. What every dog needs, a stuffed toy pillow.

This week we have finally started to come to grips with Hungarian food and drink. Our main conclusion is that a vegetarian would starve to death in this country. Meals include huge slabs of meat with little by way of vegetables except the ubiquitous fried potatoes and sour kraut. Jo, always one for the vegetarian option, ordered a vegetarian pizza one night. It was the first pizza made with tinned corn and peas that we have had. It will also be the last!

As we have travelled north we have left the salads and olives of the Mediterranean behind and moved into root vegetable country. Never mind, the slow cooked pork hocks are fantastic.

We haven’t found the great Hungarian red yet either, but we have discovered Hungarian Tokay which is a great treat. We also give Hungarian beer high marks, so much so that we signed up for a tour of the local Pécsi Sörfözde brewery.

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Jo checking the brew on our brewery tour.

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Pipes! Everywhere pipes!

Our guide, Norá, showed us around this small but modern brewery and was also able to answer some of our more general questions about the city and its people. We finished the tour with a glass of the local product and a pleasant stroll back across the city in the lengthening twilight.

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Our guide Norá points out yeast in a sight glass in the chilled fermentation room.

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The best part of any brewery tour.

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The Elephant got a new set of front brake pads in Pécs that Mike Green had brought over from the UK. The others still had some miles left, but these will get us all the way home and we didn’t want to carry the extra weight of a spare set.

Our meander around the Hungarian south led us to the town of Siöfok on the southern shore of Lake Balaton. The towns around this large lake are the seaside resorts you have in a landlocked country; all the fun of the Gold Coast with none of that pesky surf and no sand in your pants. Unfortunately we arrived on the Sunday of a long weekend and the place was crowded with holiday makers soaking up the spring sun.

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A day at the beach when you don’t have a beach. Enjoying the sun on the lake at Siöfok.

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As in many other countries, some of the Hungarian waterfront has been alienated from the non-paying masses.

The previous week had included a four day weekend for May Day which had caused us some accommodation problems. You will understand, therefore, how surprised we were to be caught out two weeks in a row. It took us an hour of shuffling around to find a bed but we ended the week in adequate digs with a bottle of local merlot and a box of treats from a Hungarian cake shop. All we need now is half a kilo of good olives and life will be perfect.

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Stopping for a brew in the countryside.

Posted by Mike Hannan at May 12, 2008 09:29 AM GMT

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