Hiking in Hungary

 THE GRAND TOUR: HUNGARY 11/12/13th JULY

A peaceful night on the artillery ranges was followed by a successful early morning dog walk when I came across my third snake, luckily this one already dead.  

 The great hunter proudly returned to his women who gratefully received the bounty and set to work.  

 Soon after we started hiking in the forested hills of the Bakony region another 30km north she was thrilled to discover her second treasure of the day, a dead fox from which the skull was soon to join the stinky things to deal with list.  

 It became a rather unattractive adornment to her knapsack which kept me upwind and did little to improve our communication with the family groups we met along the way.  

 

Up until the fox find our path had been rich in more appetising riches. Mulberry trees 

 wild raspberry, walnut, Apple, cherry, chestnut, hazel and what I thought was hops 

 for the beer and even wormwood to make absinthe.  

 And fields of glorious ripe grain.  

 

Most of the long looped walk was in deep hardwood forest, this time un harvested old coppice.  

    We went through stretches of sunken gullies in the limestone and past cliffs and caves. There was even a bit of scrambling with metal pegs and cable.  

   The micro world was busy too with ants nests and fungi and little life.  

   We were very glad to be walking in the deeply shaded forest with the canopy far above our heads as the temperature shot up whenever we came to a clearing. The last couple of Kms were on the road into Csesznek past the castle ruined not in the multiple sieges it has suffered but by earthquake and fire caused by lightening strike. There’s a lesson there somewhere.  

 We were parked up in a nice little flat area with picnic tables and benches and plenty of shade. There was even a water pump in the neat cemetery opposite used mainly to water the flower planted graves.  

 Obviously a popular village with day trippers and walkers we arrived back to the van to find it surrounded by coaches but they were gone before too long and we shared the space with two camping trekkers on a long distance hike. We called to the village inn for a two course dinner and a couple of pints each which involved a lot of Google translate and cost us about 6€ each. Walking up to the castle gates we discovered it was closed for repair work four 4 days but it looked good in the sunset from the van at bedtime anyway.  

 

We did another long loop through the woods the following day. After winding up every dog in the village by parading ours past their fences we thankfully left the yapping and yelping behind and entered the cool and shade of a lovely sunken ” holloway”.  

 These tunnel like tracks and trails have been worn down into soft ground over centuries and often with a hedge on either sides whose root system resists the erosion and creates a canopy above. There are some still surviving in southern England than Robert McFarland explored with Roger Deakin and some of the old Irish borreens are the same kind of thing. Anyway, they make for contemplative walking thinking of the multitudes that have passed by on what is now a pedestrian irrelevance to mainstream transportation.  

 The karstic area is studded with hollows and sinkholes and cut with gorges and steep valleys and the forest trail had us yo-going up and down. Being limestone there was little surface water so we frequently had to stop and give the dogs a drink.  

 These woods of beech, oak and hornbeam had been coppiced for centuries and I was hoping to come across the charcoal makers I’d read about but no luck.  

 

Looping back towards the village from a different direction we passed a cliffy bit with climbers doing their thing  

  and we tried to get a better view of the castle.  

   

Time to head south to the Balaton uplands and give the lake another chance. It was hard work. Temperatures rising, tempers fraying, parking nightmare. How can the majority deal with these conditions?

After too much toing and froing we at last succeeded in leaving the van in shade and accessing the water. We were not alone.  

 Hoards of summer camps disgorge onto the beaches of Lake Balaton in the summer and the nearest thing the Hungarians have to a seaside is swamped.  

 I was too hot to care about honeypot overcrowding and just needed to swim but even that wasn’t easy as the water is very shallow and there are patrolling lifeguards to make sure you don’t go out of your depth.  

 But we managed it and coolness was achieved. We even frolicked in the ripples ( there aren’t any waves) and sat on the grass under a sun umbrella eating ice cream. 

Worried about the dogs parboiling in the van we escaped the Hungarian Riviera and drove inland to the Balaton Uplands where, as luck would have it, we found a great park up at the end of a track into the hills. At the back of the little village of Balatonhenye we found  

 and stayed next to the throbbing waters. I climbed the steep hill above us for a view of the village.  

 And returned to base on a artfully formed sheep/ goat track.  

 

This area has some fine thatched houses, and we past some in the morning as we left.  

     

We were going to walk up the butte of Szt Gyorgy-Hegy, one of the basalt mounds that rise up above the broad flat farmland of the basin in a steep escarpment and provide good views of the lake. 

Our way there was festooned with fruit and nuts of all kinds. Added to the riches we’d had in the Bakony were grape and plum and peach and pear and hazel and chestnut and walnut. And what you couldn’t eat was a feast for the eyes and nose with heavenly scented flowers displayed promiscuously everywhere. Talk about fecund. 

Making our way past the vineyards and veg gardens of the homesteads and thinking what a fantastic country to be a food forager, we climbed up to the basalt columns.  

     And up to the summit for views across to other buttes rising from the plain and the pale blue of lake Balaton.  

   Circulating the hill on the downward journey we past a few deserted properties  

   Which has been a bit of a feature of these parts. Because of the troubled recent history many places are unclaimed and we’ve heard of folk who have successfully squatted abandoned farmsteads. On the other hand we’ve also seen quite a few old places being done up, some obviously by new settlers. I seem to remember a bit of a vogue a few years ago for buying into ultra cheap eastern/central Europe. We past a place advertising some healing/ massage just after Sally slipped and fell but she toughed it out and we got back safely. 

We swung around the lakeshore again and I availed of a senior after4 pm ticket (60p) to have a quick swim before heading to our next park up on the route up our next volcanic objective, Badacsony. After some messing around up dead ends we arrived at a little village green to call home for the night and a nice man called in to wish us well.  I think. 

  

THE GRAND TOUR: HUNGARY 9/10th JULY

After our night cosied up in the van sheltered from the storm by a hill, a forest and a pile of timber we arrived into Budapest to scenes of severe damage. Branches down and trees uprooted everywhere.  

   We headed to a campsite in a little park pretty near the centre and it was chaos there with a big clean up operation going on. We heard from other campers that it had been wild, suddenly, with public transport shutting down and everyone having to walk through the rain and hail with debris and branches hurtling around. The poor people in tents got flooded out and a couple of campers had their windscreens smashed.  

 

This place included use of washing machine and electric for the 20€ and although we had no need for electricity (our solar panel doing well) Sally certainly had designs on the washing  machines. Everything got cleansed and strung out on a web of lines around our spreading pitch. 

In our sweet smelling fashion wear we headed into the big city feeling , yet again, like rubber necking country bumpkins as we unfolded our flapping street map and craned our necks toward road signs. We struggled to make sense of the metro system but did eventually manage to by a load of tickets and get on a train. Budapest was the second city in the world to have an underground and some of the rolling stock seemed a bit antiquated.  

 Our first port of call on a limited tourist trail was the splendid indoor market, giving away our weakness for gazing at fruit, veg and meat.  

   Sorry about the macabre display but all body parts were on offer here. We found some special breed of hairy free range pig and wild venison. 

The building was designed by Eiffel of Paris tower fame and had an impressive iron structure.  

 Upstairs was crafts and souvenir tat.  

   Including some very inferior (to the master Andreas Edler) sand pictures 

 

In a city with more public transport options than most with the metro, buses, trams 

  and boats  

 we continued to walk, often against the flow of cyclists who seemed to be even more prolific than in Holland.  

   

We crossed the mighty Danube from Pest to Buda and climbed Gellert Hill to the Citadel for a panoramic view of the city.  

  It was rewarding to find ourselves overtaking the other sightseers on the way up as our well honed muscles barely noticed the effort. Selfie time !  

 Returning to river level we checked out the location of the thermal baths at the swanky St Gellert hotel for the morning and used the metro like old pros to get back to the washing machine. 

The baths opened at 6 but there was no persuasion that could convince my fellow traveller to rise that early. In fact after deciding to go by boat we arrived at the river at 8 to discover they don’t start till 8.30. So we walked,again, only to watch the boat go past us as we neared the hotel. Still it was a nice riverside promenade past the river cruise ships that come and go from Switzerland to ? Don’t know where the Danube ends.  

   

Anyway the baths were well worth any walk. The whole grand edifice was an architectural wonder full of light and colour. The lobby alone contained huge vaulted ceilings  

 and ornate stained glass 

 And fantastic detailing on the plaster and tile work.  

 

A labyrinthine system of tickets, lockers, cabins and corridors took us finally to the Art Deco splendours of the multiple pools. Indoor  

 and outdoor  

 and a half dozen of various temperature from oooh to aarrh. Whatever minerals were in it felt very good and floating about gazing at the mosaic ceilings seemed like the best kind of sightseeing.  

     And then there were the steam rooms with different scents and the series of ever hotter saunas and the icy cold plunge pools for when you couldn’t take anymore. We were getting seriously clean, at last a match for our freshly laundered clothes, but to finish things off I couldn’t resist the bidet room with industrial style equipment to ensure total hygiene inside and out. Now I know why we need a new bathroom. 

After a successful boat and tram ride back to camp we got the washing in and drove through and out of the city centre with Serena guiding us to Memento Park, a bizarre collection of gigantic statues from the communist dictatorship set up in a parkland in the suburbs. Displaying the might and worthiness of the Soviet worker and party member, the heroism of the Red Army fighter, these testaments to the collapse of the Iron Curtain now seemed rather pathetic.  

   Some were undeniably powerful pieces of art.  

  

  

 And some , like Stalins boots, are an ironic symbol of freedom from oppression.  

 The boots are all that’s left of Stalin after he was pulled off his pedestal during the Hungarian Revolution of 56, a sad affair that saw thousands dead, imprisoned and exiled in the Soviet retribution that followed. We learnt a bit about it in a gloomy barrack building next door that featured a plaster cast  

 and showed a movie put together from Cold War spy training films. The Hungarians are reputedly the gloomiest of nations and the more we find out about the history the more we have to sympathise. 

We’d heard there was an agricultural museum near by and being the thrill seekers we are we programmed Serena to take us there. It took a while to find the wrong place but we finally did it. Turned out to be a crumbling old Manor House/ castle that now housed a collection of furniture from the 17th to 19th century. Ok on a limited scale but this place  had room after room and we were outnumbered by attendants desperate for visitors by about 6 to 1. It was spooky the way they gathered and followed us and we felt it was impossible to escape until we had “enjoyed ” every room. 

A sigh of relief as we studied the final exhibit and fled to the van and 100km later Lake Balaton. 

Everybody in Hungary goes to Lake Balaton this  weekend apparently. Traffic jams, no dog signs, pay to enter beaches and hordes of people aren’t really our thing so after been turned away from two campsites we headed for the hills and forests again and found a nice little park up on what looked like a tank training area. Much more our style.