Mike and I have just spent 10 days in a couple of towns in southern Hungary. These are towns that we drove past on the way to Romania and came close to bypassing on our way to Croatia. We are really glad we stopped and took our time. We spent 4 days in Szeged, which is probably the nicest town we have visited in Hungary. We also spent a week in Baja. It had great boating, biking and walking. The campground was in-town and it was relatively inexpensive. You can’t get much better than that.
Not everything is great. Hungary is the first country we have ever run into in the entire world where it is illegal for a tourist or business visitor to buy a SIM card for their telephone. The only people who can buy these prepaid SIM cards are Hungarians and they don’t need them as they can sign up for cheaper long-term plans. We are told that the government wants to make sure that immigrants and terrorists don’t get access to cell phones, so they cut off everyone but Hungarians. Even other EU citizens are cut off. This is absolutely insane and has to upset a lot of visitors these days.
It is nice to see that Mike and I are actually learning as we travel. When we were in Hungary three months ago, they asked if we wanted the menu. When we said yes, we thought that we would get a list of items for sale and instead Mike got a bowl of soup, followed by a full meal. Now we know that they are really asking if we want the combo of the day which is usually a great deal and what 90% of the locals all eat. The “menu” meal always starts with a soup. If you look around the restaurant you will see that almost everyone there has the daily soup in front of them. The latest menu included breaded chicken, deep fried cheese and lots of mashed potatoes. We were smart enough to order one “menu” between us. The full meal, that actually served two, along with one coke and one cappuccino came to $9 Cdn.
The first city that we spent time in our way back through Hungary was Szeged. Szeged is known to be the sunniest city in Hungary and the university here is rated the best in Hungary. University towns often have a more vibrant atmosphere to them which is nice to see. Szeged is possibly the most bike friendly city that we have visited. They have changed a lot of the roads in town into one-way streets with one lane for cars and one or two lanes for bicycles. There was a really convenient campground right in town, but we were too big to fit in. Europe has a lot more campgrounds than we do in North America and many of those are right in the city centres. They are a great idea for most European campers, but they are often crowded with very tight turns from city streets. We tend to avoid them even though their locations are super. In Canada we almost never see campgrounds in such great locations. Think of Toronto? The single campground within Toronto’s large boundaries is near where we used to live, almost in Pickering. This is nowhere near downtown Toronto.
Szeged has lots of areas marked on the map as “squares”. Many are your traditional town squares that Mike and I love but quite a few are also in-city parks. It is quite amazing how many parks are found in these older European cities. Outside of Szeged was an interesting walk in the woods. There was an elevated walkway built in the canopy of the trees. They call it the Tree Crown Promenade. It isn’t that long, but it is quite interesting. The picture at the top of the page is from this walk. You can use the stairs to get down from the top of the walkway or you can slide down a tube. The tube made for an interesting descent.
Driving across southern Hungary we often saw teams of people mowing or clearing the grass from the sides of the road. In all cases that we saw they were using weed-snippers (aka weed-whacker, weed eaters). A lot of things that we have seen in Hungary and Romania are more labour intensive than they would be at home.
After Szeged we came to the town of Baja. We were quickly told that we were pronouncing it quite wrong. We could easily have spent a lot more time in Baja. We are in a campground that sits on a river which enters the Danube about 1 km away. Mike and I got our boat out for the first time in over a year. Mike had problems starting the engine and we decided that it was probably the old gas and the oil coating the spark plugs. We did manage an hour or two of boating after replacing the fuel, but the engine still wasn’t running right. Mike took it into a marine shop and they told him that our engine was over 35 years old and they didn’t have the spare part they thought we needed. Mike encouraged the mechanic to use some ingenuity and he came up with a work around (scavenged a replacement choke diaphragm from another Mercury outboard). Our engine is a two-stroke outboard which they don’t sell in Europe or North America anymore. In runs like a clock again. Mike and I cannot use the more modern four-stroke engine because we lay the motor on its side in the trunk of the car and you can’t do that with the newer 4 stroke engines as easily. Hopefully this engine keeps running for another decade or two ?. Although we didn’t get out for too long in the boat it felt really good to be able to say that we had been boating on the Danube! In addition to boating this small town has nice bike trails and the main town square is a short walk from our campsite. We can see it right across the river and the bridge to the square is just outside the campground gates.
It is interesting how different people can feel about the same place. This campground has tents down at the far end, largely filled with university aged campers. Our end of the campground is for the “old fogies” mainly in campers. Mike and I thought that it was quite quiet where we are camped and yet we could still walk over and watch the students playing volleyball and frisbee. The campers next to us where complaining about how busy and crowded it was here, which we didn’t understand at all. The difference turned out to be that Mike and I don’t use any of the facilities that belong to the campground. Our neighbours were in a smaller camper and made use of the general washrooms and showers. The university students were all using the same facilities and I gather they got somewhat crowded and noisy.
For the last two nights we have had two very small tents next to us. One was a gentleman who is biking across Europe on his own. It was just amazing what he managed to unpack from his bicycle. It was like one of those magician shows where they keep pulling and pulling and pulling different items out of a hat. Our other new neighbour, Robert, is kayaking down the Danube from Austria to the delta where the Danube empties into the Black Sea in Romania. He started in Salzburg and kayaked over to the Danube. He said that the river in the north was running quite quickly and that he was traveling 60-80 km a day. That is more than we often do. Where we are now, he says that the river is quite sluggish, and he is barely getting 40 km a day. Usually he kayaks 6 – 10 hours a day. Today Robert took a well-deserved day off. He will be kayaking for about 10 weeks. What a great experience. Robert: Good luck and have a great time.
As I write this it is Saturday night. The plan is to leave Hungary tomorrow and drive into northeast Croatia. There aren’t many campgrounds for us in that part of the country. I think we will spend the next night or two at a large truck rest stop and then head to a campground as we get further west. The plan is still to meet our friends in Zaton by July 17.