Click on photos to enlarge them.

We gave all of Hungary just 6 nights – Budapest alone deserves that many; the under-treatment due to being rushed by fall weather on a motorbike. Started out with a long-day 400 km freeway drive from Prague to Gyor Hungary [map] in chilly rain.

Gyor [link] is very old European, goes back to a Roman occupation history, a nice town and the most important in the Hungarian northwest – but we just drove through it, spending but one night. Hotel Klastrom is an excellent converted monastery, reasonable, great old hotel wi-fi, a charming two-story room, parking for bike in a the courtyard, loved and highly recommend it.


Budapest: Spent 3 nites in Pension Kalvin Haz, [link] it's just OK, on the Pest side (there are the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube,) 3-stars, wi-fi in room, about €70. Central, but with difficult street parking and horrid breakfast. Likely better is worth finding.

Budapest is of course a famed stunning old city, one that has been well written up by many [link] so will keep it brief. Lonely Planet says in the link provided that it's more beautiful than Prague. Perhaps so, it has not been our limited experience, but may well be others'.

Here's some Budapest photos [link.]

Confession; our visit, and our memory of a great city, was tarnished by massive road and other construction almost everywhere – beyond merely frustrating. The main bridge, countless one-ways everywhere, detours, it was poorly organized, no arrow signage, several half-hour detours stole much of each day. But this investment phase is likely to have passed before your visit. We wanted to ride the town, but possibly should have tried taxis.

That aside, much of what we saw is remarkable and places it high on the must-visit cities list. We need to re-visit and give it a fair chance when the construction has slowed down.

Indicator: Our hotel and many others were sold out in late September, the crowds were there for a reason.

One skip-it to mention: We've been to various hot springs and found (of a mind with many also-lost strangers we met there) the famed Gellert Baths to be badly run, poorly maintained, TMT, rude staff, water is luke-warm at 38˚, they falsely claimed 44˚ (my home hot tub is 41˚.) It's expensive, then they charge $6 for a towel? Neither of us understood its appeal, although the building itself is vast, high-ceilinged, old-world.

Construction and bath house aside, the city has neighborhoods galore, each with their own character. The tile roofs, neoclassical, baroque architectural styles, great variety. Excellent walking districts.

People-wise, we encountered an unusually high incidence of attitude issues among alleged 'service providers', not just at Gellert baths; aggressive, too often an unjustified edge we did not comprehend.

E.g. in an otherwise empty crafts store with two staff, when Thao asked to see a $250 pillow in the window display: "Do you want to buy it or not? I do not get it if you do not buy it first" the manager-cow stated verbatim, and sternly, as if speaking to lower beings. We turned and walked out. Against my protests Thao went back in and bought it, she liked the pillow too much.

Oh well, a few jerks, but met a few of the other kind too. It may be a case of big city TMT. We encountered a couple arrogant commie-raised pigs in Prague too.

Hungarian cuisine is often superb, but pick restaurants carefully, quality variances were large. We had good and bad experiences in costly places.

One great 'local resto' experience: Tabani Kakas restaurant. On our last nite in Budapest we really wanted goose, hadn't been able to find any in Czechland. So in Lonely Planet (find it, a goose-specialty little place) we found a memorable winner. Excellent red cabbage, mashed potatoes, goose so tender that no knife was needed, goose liver hors d'oeuvre. And we shared a crepe maron with chocolate sauce, a half litre good wine. A memorable feed, very traditional authentic Hungarian.

Another most memorable dining experience: Café Miro [link] up on Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube, is superb in its clever, tasteful Miro-inspired decor. The owner had some cohones to risk this concept, it wasn't cheap to design nor make, could be awful; but someone(s) with fine artisan skills and taste made it work just beautifully (I love Miro and have one); it's one of the nicest cafés anywhere. We just had a lunch of goulash, bread, coffee, cakes – everything was truly excellent, and reasonably priced, especially being in a tourist area. A must-do in Budapest!

Castle Hill [link] is great. The gothic Matthias Church is stunning inside and out, even for the church-weary traveller, to us most memorable is its intricate colored tiled roof, an art form never previously seen at this level. The enormous Castle itself, where Hungarians kings once lived; large statues overlooking the city; cafés, shops, even a Hilton. It's a fine walking district with great views of the city.

The Parliament buildings, viewed from across the river.
The Great Synagogue from the 1850's is the largest synagogue in Europe. Actor Tony Curtis funded part of its restoration in the 1990's, including funding the beautiful Tree of Life aluminum sculpture below. Here's a [fine link] to a 360˚ panorama of the stunning interior. Hungary today is 0.01% Jewish, down from 5% pre-war.
The Tree of Life, memorial to those lost in concentration camps.
The name of a victim is embossed on each aluminum leaf.
Outskirts of Budapest is largely cheapo 50's communist construction, under-maintained, some people still live back in the bad old days. But renovations of the central old historic parts proceeds full steam, the best places are packed with tourists speaking German, even in late September. So they are doing something right.

Spent much of a day driving to and walking around the artists/crafts town of Szentendre, [link] 20 km from Budapest. Actually the arts/crafts were 90% tourist scheise being pedalled: Made-in-China Russian nesting dolls, bulk-made for-tourist Hungarian crafts. Found no art, fine crafts or anything close – we looked, hoping to buy some gifts to send home. Even so, a zillion Austrians and Germans are walking around on a cold rainy day, something is bringing them there.

The weather and timing pushed us towards the south. We'd have stayed a few more days to experience Budapest more deeply but ... right now we had Turkey on our minds more than central Europe.


Heading south, Kecskemet [link] is a charming town worthy of a visit, with its own special style of architecture, and close enough to be a run-out to the horse show (below) in the Kiskunsag National Park. Pension Fabian [link on town with hotel mentioned] is one of the nicest places we discovered anywhere on the trip, a very nice family of well-travelled English-speaking folks run it, great rooms at reasonable prices, lovely garden courtyard, internet, breakfast, superior hospitality – everything just excellent.

Writing up a supermarket meal? Yup, it was that good. Stopped at Kecskemet Tesco (a British supermarket chain doing well in East Europe) on our way into town, being famished, thinking we'd just grab a few things for later. Then we saw the wide-variety, excellent looking deli counter, had some styrofoam plated meals assembled, ate at their stand-up tables. Wow, gourmet 'peoples food', so special we remember it months later; the most perfectly tender brilliantly spiced pork ribs, turkey cabbage roll supreme, dumplings, rice, veggies, all of high restaurant quality. Plus we picked up good $7 Hungarian wine, Ballantine's Scotch, peanut butter. All in one perfectly organized modern supermarket. So damn civilized. (BTW Tesco has become our favorite reliably good European chain, they are all over.)

Bugac & Kiskunsag National Park. We heard much about the horsemanship show in the midst of this important-to-Hungary national park, with a tradition Hungarian-style costumed show for tourists, so we went to see it en route south. Lonely Planet gives some details. The park itself evidently has environmental value, but we frankly didn't get it. Flat, sandy, some small dunes, a native juniper grove; you ride in on a horse-drawn wagon with other tourists; there's a ranch/corral, a museum/hut, you sit on bleachers to watch the half-hour show done in traditional costumes.

The Calgary Stampede is not losing sleep over the horsemanship. The best rider, and he was good, stands on two horses, out of the five he rides at once, and gallops quickly by a few times; a few whip tricks, horses kneel, a horse herd is corralled. But it's no big deal and the discipline of the bored done-it-too-often horsemen is lacking. We'd recommend a miss unless you are there anyhow. I gathered that two busloads of Dutch and Danish tourists who shared the wagons/show with us, were similarly underwhelmed.

What was fun was we ended up staying nearby for an unplanned night because the park/show do not do Mondays, at least not this Monday, due to that day's non-audience. What was handy was a 'workers' motel 2 km down the road from Park entrance, Pension Javos really grassroots Hungarian, actually a farm with a basic structure for boarding rooms, shared bathrooms down the hall and worth every penny of the $20 we paid. We got beds, a window looking out on a cow corral, that's it. Thao was the only female plus twenty or so Hungarian farm laborers. Dinner and breakfast were communal, large no-choice feeds brought to the table. Quite good food in enormous quantities that cost more than the room; but it was an experience we will remember in a good way.

Post-Park, to
Romania. Drove the M5 south, a 4-lane perfect freeway. Now, obviously am doing this trip hence not a total road-sissy, but have never before been terrified by passing cars while doing 120 k/hr: We were passed by three drivers within a couple hours (one of them on a bike), just a meter away from us, at I swear on a stack of Bibles, Torahs and Korans – at 200-220 km/hr (120-130 mph) almost double my reasonably fast speed. Whoosh, like we're standing still. A little distration, you're dead. Not watching the left mirror constantly, they appear out of nowhere, a couple feet away, at double your speed; hyper-macho-nuts and at $2 per lire.

Hungary's GDP per capita (purchasing power adjusted) was last year around $20,000 and was pre-recession growing at around 5%, all of which is good. To compare communist recoveries in the area, it's almost tied with Slovakia, 20% less than Czech Republic, 30% higher than Poland. In the larger Europe context, UK, Germany, France etc. are about triple Hungary's per capita gross production.

Romania next door (with about half the GDP per capita), is quite another matter, on all other fronts too.


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