Hungarian Calamity [Part 1]

Budapest. Full of Eastern promise; the streets lined with ornate statuary, outrageously opulent architecture from myriad eras and cultures. Onion-topped, gilded, tiled, carved, stuccoed and frescoed to within an inch of its life. Every corner housing a kebab shop yet room for a ‘Tesco Express’.

This is grandness on the top of the scale, except that the opulence falls short at the campsite gates, where a ‘refurbishment’ [something we’ve seen a lot of, this trip] meant porta-cabin showers and no functioning washing machine. The women’s showers, complete with flimsy curtains opened on to a car park, offering no privacy to those groping for a towel. Ho hum-

After some deliberating we navigated by Metro to the centre of the city, where ‘hop on hop off’ awaited, touristy but acceptable to anyone who has a great deal to see and not much time to see it.

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Budapest is made up from two cities-‘Buda’ on one side of the Danube and ‘Pest’ on the other. ‘Buda’ houses the opulent palace and the castle, ‘Pest’ accommodates the glitzy shopping streets, the cathedrals, the buzzing restaurants and cafes and the outrageous parliament building, like a fanciful wedding cake on speed.

After an afternoon of sightseeing, hopping on and off, we were left waiting for the last bus up at the area of Heroes’ Square, where there is a zoo and the old Thermal Baths-an amazing sight in themselves, both the outside and the interior.

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We’d only nibbled the edge of Budapest’s sights, nevertheless as we relaxed on the top deck of the bus [relieved to have caught it] we felt ready to move on. Palaces, castles, monuments and statues are delightful but there are only so many iconic structures anyone can cope with in one visit.

Since Budapest is choc-full of Turkish-style cafes and restaurants we opted for a self-service kebab house, where a plethora of delicious looking concoctions lay behind the counter and judging by the popularity of the place it was a good decision.

One leisurely beer later we made our way back.

Next day, with grocery shopping in mind we set off towards the ‘bend in the Danube’, stopping off at an ‘Auchan’ supermarket [of which Hungary has many] to stock up. Once we’d swung out of the car park and located the correct road an ominous ‘thump’ became audible, seeming to emanate from the passenger side wheel arch. Horrors!

‘It’s the road surface’ bluffed Husband [more confident than he felt, I assumed] and ‘No’ from me [not confident]. Having managed to secure a safe place to pull in we conducted a brief examination which revealed…nothing. The noise persisted, prompting us to find yet another safe place to stop-a car park at the next ‘Auchan’ supermarket [as I said, there are many].

I struck out to ascertain our whereabouts before phoning the roadside rescue arm of our insurance, then spoke at length with ‘Adam’ who dithered with a blithe lack of concern whilst scrutinising Google maps to search for us. I scrambled out of the van to provide him with a list of the stores surrounding us: H&M, Bauhaus, Auchan… ‘Is there a cinema complex?’ he interjected. I sighed. ‘There are no leisure facilities, Adam. It’s a shopping centre’. He deliberated some more while I cast around. ‘There’s a MacDonalds’ I told him. ‘Bingo!’ he said. ‘I’ve got it!’

To be continued…

 

 

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The All-inclusive Trap

Searching for winter sun, an escape from the dreary, grey drizzle or the bitter winds of this UK winter means travelling long-haul. The options are: far east [Thailand etc], Africa [tried, tested and now not tempted] or Caribbean. We’ve sampled a few islands in the West Indies now, with pleasing results, Barbados and Antigua having proved particularly lovely destinations. Mexico, last year’s experiment boasted beautiful weather but was less fun in that there were few options outside of the hotel.
And here’s the difficulty. In choosing a Caribbean or most other long-haul destination you are stuck in the inevitable groove of ‘all-inclusive’ deal, as after intensive research we have found it to be cheaper than either flying and booking hotels separately or B&B. An all-inclusive deal is likely to mean a vast, corporate hotel sprawling on a coastal strip and boasting several restaurants, bars, pools, terraces, a spa, a gym, shops, ‘entertainment’, beach with loungers and umbrellas and the ubiquitous ‘buffet’.
Hotels like these are betting on the hunch that most guests prefer to stay within the confines of the hotel complex and couldn’t give a cow’s udder about setting foot outside the gate to meander in the environs and hobnob with the locals. And it is true for many, who like to get up, sling their beach towels on their preferred loungers, wander into breakfast, order a cocktail and slump then slump on their sun bed until a member of staff bearing a tray offers more refreshment. There’ll be a further stint of slumping followed by lunch…
For some with a more active schedule in mind there might be a short session of aquarobics or pool volleyball-but then it’s back to the more serious business of slumping, punctuated by propping up one of the many bars.
We can manage a day or so of this, given sunny weather and a beach walk. But after a while some ennui creeps in. This is when we need to get out.
On our recent trip to Cuba the few days in Havana was perfect. We had breakfast in the hotel, we were within walking distance of the delights of the city and had the remains of our days free, at liberty to explore. Once we’d moved to the beach hotel, however there was a short stretch of beach to walk and everything else required a taxi or a bus ride-both of which we did. In one direction lay a sterile and uninspiring marina; in the other the town yielded more sightseeing and entertainment and it was there that we avoided incarceration.
One of the reasons for avoiding cruises is the enforced imprisonment aboard a floating, all-inclusive hotel, with nothing to do but eat and drink.
Our next expedition, already in the planning stages will be very different, involving an extensive road trip by camper van. On our journey we’ll stay where we want for as long as we want, moving on when we’ve had enough of a place and opting to explore by foot or bicycle. What a pity we can’t take the van to winter sun destinations!