Kiri and


Slovakia, we meet again

June 24th, 2014 (by Steve)

We didn’t really want to leave Lake Balaton, but we realised that as we wouldn’t be able to stay there forever, we should probably move on. Now as I may have mentioned before, you can’t go to Hungary without visiting a spa – it’s a bit like going to Serbia and not having pljeskavica. We’d already missed two opportunities and we weren’t going to miss a third. Well, actually, our third opportunity was the Heviz Thermal Lake, but as we’d been swimming for free in Lake Balaton for the previous few days, we didn’t really fancy paying to swim in a different lake. Instead, we headed up to the town of Papa where there’s a campsite with an adjoining (discounted for campers) thermal spa. Not just any spa though, this one has jacuzzis, rapids and flumes. Now that’s our type of spa!


After exhausting the flumes, it was time to say goodbye to Hungary and move back into Slovakia. We’d spent some quality time in rural Slovakia before Hungary, so this time we set sail for Bratislava to see what the urban side of the country is like. Our campsite was about a 20 minute tram ride out of the city on a low-key Butlins-type lakeside resort, which we would probably describe as at the rustic end of the spectrum. It was a good location for seeing the city though and we had a great time exploring the area of the old town. There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging when we arrive in a new city; we seek the high ground so that we can see the big picture; in this case it was the castle providing the vantage point. We didn’t go to any museums or sights particularly, but just enjoyed wandering around and noting the penchant the Bratislavans seem to have for bronze statues…


By mid-afternoon, we could feel the call of the lake back at our campsite and we didn’t resist it. As it’s part of a resort, there were all sorts of water sports going on at the lake including a cool wake-boarding / cable car mash-up, pedalo boats and kayaks, but we were more interested in some giant inflatables near the swimming area. They were obviously just setting up for the season, as we were asked to return to shore after about 5 minutes of playing on the inflatables and come back in an hour. At this stage, we got chatting to another couple who had been relegated to the beach area; Dan and El who are 3 weeks into a 4 week Interrailing adventure around Europe. As we’ve said before, it’s great talking to fellow travellers to appreciate other people’s viewpoints of the same places. An American girl joined in the conversation temporarily, but was obviously a little inebriated, offering gems of wisdom such as “Prague is totally my favourite city in like the whole of America” and lamenting “I’m from Florida, so don’t have a cute little accent like you guys”.


After returning to Bertha for dinner, we had a great evening with Dan + El next to their barbecue, chatting further about each others travels and aspirations for the future. It was hard to believe at times that they’re 10 years our junior and its further proof that age is just a number. When it was no longer light enough to see each other, we decamped to Bertha and played cards until well past all of our bedtimes.


We think we deserved our lie-in… in fact we might have stayed in bed a bit longer if we knew the challenges that we’d face today… but that story’s for another time!

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A language barrier and a lake

June 22nd, 2014 (by Steve)

Up until now, language hasn’t been a barrier for us in our communication and everyday life on the trip. We’ve made sure that everywhere we go, we can say the basics (“hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “1-10”, “where is the toilet?”, etc) in the local language and for everything else, we’ve either been in a situation that needs few words (like a supermarket), or a place where people speak English. OK, our pronunciation might not always have been great (I’d like to especially apologise to the Dutch here), but we’ve been able to communicate.

However, all this was to change this week as we left Budapest and made our way to Lake Balaton. We’ve got a Hungarian friend back in the UK (incidentally one of the people who had a go at soldering Bertha’s previous water heater) and when he found out that we would be travelling through Hungary, he said that we must visit his Mum. A great idea… only she doesn’t speak English, and we don’t speak Hungarian. Having received text message instructions on how to find her house and that our host would “probably try to feed you”, we arrived, not sure what to expect at all. What followed was an incredibly warm welcome with lashings of pork goulash and home-pickled vegetables. Our verbal communication left a lot to be desired, but with the help of a map and pointing and a few odd words of English / Hungarian here and there, we vaguely understood each other (maybe?!). There was clearly a barrier though, as we would have loved to have asked her about herself and her experiences of living through communism, as well as sharing our adventures… but we couldn’t. Some things don’t need words though, such as our appreciation of the Trabant in her back garden!

I’ve been aware of our reliance on other people speaking English in order to have any meaningful kind of conversation on this trip, but maybe not quite the scale of it until this point. Obviously, in an ideal world, we would have tried to be fluent in the languages of every country we’ve visited, but it’s just not possible when we’re spending so little time in each one, and it’s even harder with a language like Hungarian that’s so different from the surrounding countries. At least with Poland and Slovakia, we’ve been able to rely on what we picked up of Slovenian and Serbian to help prompt us (as they’re all part of the Slavic family). I’ve enjoyed observing the origins and commonalities between languages, which seem to remain as lingering shadows of past politics. I’m sure it’s no coincidence, given the history of Europe in the last 100 years, that German has proven a very useful language to converse in where the local language and English have failed. I’m so grateful for the basic language skills that I picked up at school!

The other area of language that I’ve observed with interest is that of late 20th and early 21st century words. There is no doubt that we live in an international world these days, so as new “things” enter the vernacular of a culture, they don’t appear to be constrained to a region. Internet. Email. Blog. Emoticon. OK, they’re pretty big “things”, but it’s interesting that the same word is used in multiple languages… is this a tiny step towards the start of language convergence?

I think what I’m trying to say through all this is that I’ve only just realised how much the etymology and history of languages fascinates me. Maybe one day we’ll move to a country where the first language isn’t English and I’ll have an excuse to dedicate proper time to learning a new language. Maybe Wales?

Anyway, after all of those words, I’ll let pictures speak about our last few days (where we stayed for free!) next to Lake Balaton:

Lake Balaton is incredibly beautiful, no matter what the light is doing

We were about 500 metres away from this sign and the police didn't seem to mind we were there

With no showers, the lake provided a great place to keep clean... as long as you ignored the dead fish

We had a slight break away from the lake to be bitten by mosquitoes as we watched England lose to Uruguay

We had some awesome sunsets with cracking light

We really didn't want to say goodbye at the end

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Budapest BOGOF

June 18th, 2014 (by Steve)

I’ve always been a fan of “buy one get one free” offers and maybe this is why Budapest is so appealing; you get two cities for the price of one (Buda and Pest united in 1873… somehow I can’t see this happening with Liverpool and Manchester!). Add to the fact that our campsite had an offer of four nights for the price of three and you’ve got a good deal on your hands (eight for three?). Anyway, we decided to check out Pest first.

I’ve been to Budapest once before; back in 2009 and it’s interesting to see how much it’s changed in just 5 years. Whilst managing to retain a good clout of its character it appears to now be slightly more westernised than it used to be and one of the saddest victims (in my view) is that the Paprika museum is now a hairdressing salon. On my last visit, this little room-sized museum held someone’s lifetime’s dedication to the national spice of Hungary; pictures of paprika, memorabilia in the shape of paprika, paprika recipes and the history of paprika, plus a free shot of paprika vodka. Just as you thought you could take no more paprika, as you left, there was a little shop selling… umm… paprika. Alas, no more.

Anyway, paprika aside, we spent a sunny morning wandering around the streets of Pest, taking in the atmosphere before buying a hat for Kiri and settling down to eat our packed lunch by the chain bridge across to Buda. The afternoon was to take a slightly more sombre note as we visited the “House of Terror”; a building occupied firstly by the Fascist Arrow Cross Party, then the Communist Hungarian secret police and now housing a museum dedicated to the memory of those people tortured and murdered there. The things that struck me the most were the parallels between the Soviet and Nazi missions. Both had a vision of a utopia that they tried to bring into being, but both disregarded human life in their quest for fulfilling the “bigger picture”. They aimed to get rid of those who didn’t fit their mould; destroying diversity. Surely there must be other ways of achieving a utopia? Maybe Jesus and the Beatles were onto something when they said “all you need is love”? I’d like to think so…


On our return to the campsite, Bertha had a neighbour; a motorbike with a British numberplate and a tent. The owner of them was a great guy called Matthew, who (with his friend, Steve) were touring Europe at a much faster pace than us on their bikes, whilst raising money for Alzheimer’s disease. After munching on a barbecue (our second within three days!) we were joined by Matthew + Steve for the rest of the evening, who obviously weren’t put off by us pulling fish bones out of our teeth! We exchanged stories of the road until way past our bedtimes, fascinated by the challenges they face on bikes and their experiences of countries that we’d been to (as well as those that we had to miss out; especially the Balkans coastline). Just hearing about the sheer pace of their travels (16 countries in 16 days) left us feeling a little exhausted and they expressed that they were a little tired too as they decided to stay a second night at the campsite.


The following morning it was the turn of Buda, so we crossed the Chain Bridge and walked up the hill just in time to see the changing of the guard. Unlike the British Bearskins, these guys get to wear sunglasses on duty, but they’re still incredibly good at keeping their cool when tourists want to pose with them! After a short wander around the castle area, we headed down the hill, then up another one; this time the citadel, which gave cracking views of how flat Pest is. As we returned to the flat lands in search of icecream (I ended up with a scoop of camembert and a scoop of dark chocolate and chilli), we saw a lot of English football “lads”… from their singing and merriness it remained questionable whether they’d last until the England match at midnight. We certainly didn’t… after another great evening hanging out with Matthew + Steve, we crashed into bed just before midnight.


Our final day in the city happened to be Sunday, so we ventured to the International Church of Budapest. We’d been attracted by a line on their website saying that they welcome all, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. There we met people from different countries and backgrounds, but they were united in their welcome and love for Jesus and each other. We appreciated visiting such a real, sincere and unassuming church and we also appreciated being taken out for a Chinese lunch by Daniel (one of the leaders) after the service. We were both really encouraged by the conversations we had over the meal.

Our plan was to go to the Szechenyi Baths in the afternoon – you can’t go to Hungary without visiting a spa – it’s a bit like going to Spain and not having tapas. Oh, wait, we didn’t have any tapas when we were in Spain… bad analogy! Anyway, we weren’t really feeling it, so instead we just enjoyed the afternoon sunshine in a park. The journey back to the campsite was our last one on the metro and I was excited to read that when on the metro you are permitted to carry (amongst other things):

“one bundle of wrapped tree saplings”

No prizes for guessing what I intend to do next time I come to Budapest!


Our last evening on the campsite was accompanied by a concert next door with all of the favourites from the musicals… in Hungarian. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard We go together totally in Hungarian, whilst watching some random other campers waving lightsabers around!

Monday morning came and with it, our cue to leave Budapest. At a speed that Matthew + Steve would have been embarrassed by, we left Budapest to wend our merry way towards Lake Balaton. Maybe we’ll find a spa there?

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Hello Hungary

June 16th, 2014 (by Steve)

When we arrive into a new country, we don’t really expect a big welcome, but Hungary pulled out all of the stops. We had hardly settled down for our first night, when our host (the very welcoming Peter at the Zonnebloem Palais warned us that a storm was on its way and it would be a big one. The first clue was ominous black clouds, darkening the sky. The next clue was the wind that whipped up from nowhere, slamming one of our windows shut. And then the incredible fork lightning started across the whole sky, accompanied by almost simultaneous thunderclaps as sheets of rain battered every side of Bertha. The inferno continued for a good half hour as we nervously ate our tea and then… it was all over. Bertha was still in one piece with no leaks. Wowsers. What a welcome. Thanks Hungary!


After a good night’s sleep, Peter encouraged us to pilfer his raspberry and strawberry patches, which we did gladly, before heading off towards Miskolc Tapolca where we planned to visit the thermal baths. Now you can’t go to Hungary without visiting a spa – it’s a bit like going to Italy and not having an icecream. Oh, wait, we didn’t have any icecream when we were in Italy… bad analogy! Anyway, the baths in Miskolc Tapolca are unique in that you can bathe in natural caves within the baths; sounds kind of cool. Well, actually, not so cool really, because they’re thermal… apparently 30 degrees celsius. Now this was a hot day and once we arrived at the baths, the last thing we wanted to do was jump into hot water, so we vowed to go to some baths when we were in Budapest instead. Without further ado we headed to a campsite on the way to Budapest that turned out to be great on two counts; firstly it had beautiful flora and fauna and secondly it permitted barbecues… and we had meat!!! Happiness ensued and we even marinated some asparagus and threw that on the barbie too.


We didn’t really want to leave the campsite as it was so idyllic, but Budapest was calling us (we think… as we’ve really struggled with the language, it might have been telling us to keep away) so we hit the road. The road promptly hit us back. The motorway in Hungary has a really good quality surface, as do several minor roads which have recently been re-surfaced. The minor roads that we had to take hadn’t been recently re-surfaced, so it was a little bit of a bumpy and slow journey, but with the promise of free washing machines at our campsite in Budapest, we persevered. A momentous occasion happened en route; Bertha’s odometer passed 40000 miles (even though we’re driving in kilometres over here)… not bad for a 24 year old!

The temperature had constantly been above 30 degrees for the last few days and as it was showing no sign of letting up, drastic measures were called for. Scissors in one hand, razor in the other, I headed to the shower block. 20 minutes later, I emerged with a naked face and realised that being clean-shaven doesn’t really contribute to body temperature. Add to this that my flat cap looks silly when not paired with a beard plus it takes a lot of effort to shave each day, and you may be pleased to know (or, more realistically, you will be totally ambivalent) that the beard is on its way back.


Time to explore Budapest!

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