Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day #11: Budapest...

Frans wrote:

14 Nov '09: We drove out of Austria and into Hungary without any fuss, the highways in Austria are as good if not better then in Germany, perhaps that has something to do with the fact that there is an extra tax on vehicles travelling on the highways. We also had to buy a 'Vignette' or sticker that I placed behind the windscreen which allowed us to travel legally over the Austrian version of the 'Autobahns' although here they have a speed limit of 'only' 130 km.
It was on this leg of the tour that Evonka absolutely blew us away with another one of her 'Gems' but as that is another story in itself so I'll get back to that in Evonka's Gems Part #2...

To my dismay our TomTom would not give us any route directions as soon as we crossed into Hungary. that might have something to do with the fact that Hungary is not considered part of Western europe but rather of Eastern europe and I had not purchased, downloaded and installed that particular map. Thankfully our loyal Mercedes Benz comes with a build in navigation system and although insuperior to the TomTom in my opinion it worked quite well.

With the experience of the 'Vignettes' of Austria we now realized we had to get another one for Hungary so this time we actually got one at the border which we should have done when we entered Austria the first time and not in Salzburg after waking up to fact what this 'Vignette' business actually was.

The highway in Hungary were pretty good and we made good time to Budapest until we reached the outskirts, at that point of time we were getting a bit worried because the buildings looked pretty drab, most of the men wore black leather jackets and there was very little colour about, in short, this was not a place that stood out and made you smile. On top of that it became obvious that a particular bridge we had to take to cross the Danube river to the other side where our hotel was situated was closed off and we had to go looking for the next bridge to get to the other side.
After some travelling to force the Benz's navigation system to work out a route for us but using another bridge we managed to get to the right side of the Danube and followed the directions to the hotel but when the voice had spoken the famous words: 'You have reached your destination' there was no hotel in sight! We enquired with a few locals for the whereabouts of our hotel and after calling the reception for some directions we realized we just had to be near it.
As it turned out the hotel was only a few hundred meters behind us but this navigation system has not quite the edge of the TomToms that recognize oneway streets a bit better, I think.

When we arrived at Hotel President Budapest we were immediately impressed by its new and modern interior and I was equally impressed byt its security arrangement. I actually think that this newly opened hotel is still working out its bugs but that in the near future it will only be used for highly ranked visitors who require a great deal more security then 4 BMW travellers dragging their own luggage into the hotel lobby from a very dirty and far from shiny Mercedes Benz...

The rooms were quite a surprise, it had a big mirror behind the bed and mirror on the sealings. this brought on a lot squals from my travelling companions but I still don't know whether this was from surprise, delight or disgust. I did ask Maxine what she thought about it though... :


Although we had arrived quite early in the afternoon it was already dark around 4 PM. The prevailing fog mixed with the local smog had definetly something to do with that.
After another quick exploration of the streets surrounding the hotel and a quick view of the Danube river we had a few drinks at the hotel bar and planned the evening.

We decided on partaking into a local city tour that culminated in a dinner in the upper part of the city (=Buda-) where we were promised a local three course meal with authentic Gipsy music and Dance.... we were not dissapointed....

The meal was great and I think I speak for all of us that we thoroughly enjoyed the local music and dance that was performed live! When the leader of the band discovered we were from Australia he immediately started to play 'Waltzing Mathilda' and entrusted me with the news he would really like to go to Sydney! I'm sure sydney woud welcome him and his band, they were very good. Obviously the small orchestra received a tip and our by now famous Koala award!

When our dinner adventure was completed we were taken back to our hotel that is actually situated at the lower end of the city (=-pest) and together the two parts form now the capital of Hungary, Budapest.

The next day we enjoyed a sumptous breakfast in the hotel where everything was on offer from muesli and fruit to bacon and eggs on toast....I wondered what the poor ... o, never mind!!!

We had decided the previous evening to take a 'Hop on-Hop off' tour of the city so we could take in all the sites and from there decide whether we wanted to spend more time in any particular place. After some searching we finally discovered the bus stop where the Red Bus was elaving from and we took off. On the bus were head phones for each passengers and I shuddered to think what sort of desease I could pick up from these contraptions having visions from ear infections to lice!
Having not my own headphones in my pocket there wasn't much to it other then to inspect them closely for anything immediately visible that could play havoc with my general health and put them on. There was a selection of about a dozen different languages to choose from and at each stop we were given a brief description of each particular inetersting item along the way.

We got off the bus at a stop near the palace and after our customary coffee or tea stop I just had to take a picture of the Danube river below us that was indeed blue! The mixture of fog and smog that had hung over the city on our arrival the day before had lifted and we were pleasantly surprised with a full day of sunshine!

After satisfying my need to take some pictures and short movies we hopped on the bus once more only to get out again at the next stop at the citadel. Karen wanted to walk down the hill and have a look at the local spring fed baths whilst the rest of us decided that the walk down the hill was a great idea but the getting back up bit of that same enourmous mountain wasn' we left Karen to it....

Amongst the citadel was an old bunker that had been extensively used in WWII and now it housed an exhibition of the war and its aftermath. the exhibition was pretty graphic in particular what happened to the local Jews towards the end of the war and as a balance to the people that had perputrated those atrocities. It did make a considerable impression on me....
On top off the hill supporting the citadel we tried one of the local 'Gluh Wein' or hot wine but it made us cringe a fair bit with its very sweet taste and only drank a bit of it..


Karen returned a bit dissapointed from her exploration of the local baths, it wasn't quite what she expected and we hopped on the bus again only to get off 2 stops later near a gussed it... shopping area for a pot of lunch. Lunch turned out to be a local McDonalds hamburger that everybody had a go at except for Karen who despises the food there. after eating another Bic Mac we all concurred with her, I think.... We wandered down a street without traffic for a change but flanked by shops on both sides and even came across the local casino where we went in for a curious look and to have Maxine put two Euros worth of local coins into a slot machine only to come out again about half an hour later....

We came upon the Danube again and we came across this rather bizarre display of metal shoes that certainly gave me the creeps somehow. Whatever the original artist that had created this monument wanted to achieve it certainly worked on me.... As there was no sign or plague explaining what these haunting shoes represented we decided to Google it when we came back to the hotel....

We had dinner at the Hotel that night and we discussed where we were going to go next. I had looked how far we were from Vienna and I expressed that we shoudl visit there considering we were only 2.5 hours away from it. After a brief discussion we all agreed that Vienna was going to be our next stop and we went on the Internet to book our next hotel.... what a dissapointment that place was...

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