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Memories from North-Eastern Hungary

Posted: 2006-09-06 02:01:15, Categories: Travel, Hungary, Cycling, 186 words (permalink)

I spent the last eight days cycling through the North-Eastern Hungary, stopping in a few places. The landscape was hilly in Eger and Miskolc, and then turned into great plains when continuing towards Debrecen. Here are a few nice memories from the area, this time written only as short notes:

  • Climbing up the very narrow stairs to the top of the minaret and tasting local wines in Eger
  • Enjoying delicious pörkölt (a meat stew) in Sajoszentpeter (near Miskolc) at the home of Gabi, a friend from the Hospitality Club
  • Looking down to the green Bükk plateau from the Tar-kö peak in the Bükk national park
  • Listening to the wind while camping wild by the Tisza river
  • Watching snakes wiggle on the ground and cranes fly across the sky in the Hortobagyi national park
  • Meeting the Balogh family in Bocskaikert
  • Taking a peek inside the impressive university main building in Debrecen

Tomorrow (or actually today, as it's already past midnight) I plan to reach Oradea in Romania. From there I'll continue towards the mountains again. New country, new adventures coming up.

(Slighly edited 2006-09-06 22:00)

Caving, bathing and partying in Budapest

Posted: 2006-09-02 13:03:32, Categories: Travel, Hungary, 752 words (permalink)

A truck spreading soap-suds on the crowd in the Budapest parade In Budapest I skipped a few museums and went for some activities instead. The first one of them was a trip to Matyas-hegyi cave under the hills of Buda. It was a labyrinth of tunnels in the limestone. My earlier visits to caves on this trip often consisted of walking behind a guide who turned on the lights in different chambers and pointed to stalagtites. The Matyas cave didn't shine in the number of stalagtites but the tour was much more fun. It was still a guided tour but in a small group with our own lights, climbing and crawling through narrow passages for two and a half hours.

The best part was in the end when we were already coming back towards the entrance. Following the suggestion of our guide we turned off our lights to stand in the dark for a while. However, our group wanted to continue forwards without the lights to experience caving blind. It was quite interesting. After a while I had impressions of vaguely seeing some of the walls but several times it failed — I couldn't fully trust my vision. And in any case it was completely impossible to see anything of the other members of the group even if we were just centimeters apart. The guide knew the cave quite well: he only took the wrong turn very shortly once while navigating without light.

Budapest is also home of a couple of famous thermal baths. I went to check out Szechenyi Fürdö. It was a huge building filled with different baths, most of them inside but some big pools outside too. As a Japanese onsen fan I would have preferred still some slightly hotter pools (the warmest one in Szechenyi was 38°C). They also didn't have a clue on how to build saunas. A few free hints: you don't warm up a sauna using metal electric heaters with no rocks to throw water on, you don't use dark-coloured ceramic tiles to cover the floor and leaving an opening under the door or next to it would help in air circulation. Nevertheless, the bath was worth going to, and the impressive almost 100 year old building contributed to the athmosphere.

My funniest day in the city was Saturday Aug 26th, when the Budapest Parade was held. The idea of such parades is to load a number of big trucks with sound equipment and drive them slowly along a big street closed from traffic while the crowd around is dancing and having fun. The Budapest event was smaller than Love Parade in Berlin but still one of the biggest in Europe. Year 2005 estimate was 600 000 people attending. I don't know the estimate for this year, but the number of trucks playing music was 34. It was a lot of people but not too many: there was still enough space to dance and move around.

The parade wanted to diverge from the original Love Parade idea and not only be a techno music event. Thus there was a samba dance show (which I missed) and many trucks playing disco hits rather than trance or other purely electronic tunes. Still, the one gathering the most enthusiastic crowd behind was a techno truck. Another particularly good one was the last of the lot which was equipped with a big soap-suds cannon. It was fun to dance under the white rain, see the picture. Most of the people, however, had come just to stand by and watch the procession, only a small percentage really joined it in any way. There was also less eye candy in creative costumes than in some other parades I've been to. The Street Parade in Zurich in 1999 was the best in that respect.

The afterparty of the Budapest parade featured plenty of DJs plus a couple of live acts of international fame and I had fun there too. A pleasant surprise in this age of increasingly paranoid security checks and stupid regulations was the lack of any in the afterparty. There wasn't any queue to get in, nobody wanted to go through my pockets or even my backpack at the entrance, and taking photos in the event was permitted.

The best part of traditional sightseeing in Budapest was a walk from the top of Gellert hill to castle hill and further to Moskva Ter in the evening. The view of the city lights over the Danube river was fascinating. Now I'm already in North-Eastern Hungary, enjoying the last days in the EU before crossing the border to Romania.

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