Goulash, Graffiti and Strudel
The past week has flown by in a haze of water – lakes, rivers and a decent amount of rain. We started out in Split, armed with 2L of wine, a bottle of sherry and a huge bottle of olive oil from the camp lady we were staying with (most of which is now gone!). She made her own alcohol from the grapes that she and her husband grow, and plied us with about 5 shots each as tasters of her different liqueurs and a huge glass of wine. I think she was hoping that if we got drunk enough we’d buy up large, and I guess it worked! Andrew would like to mention that most of the tasting involved Lisa sticking her tongue in each large shot and then passing it off to Andrew to finish. By the end of the tasting Andrew was well past ‘aperitifs’ and was in need of some 'digestives'. The olive oil is also delicious, and she sells this on behalf of a friend. So we said goodbye to the coast and headed inland towards Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. We made a stop for a day trip at the national park of Plitvice Lakes, a group of about 20 lakes, which are interconnected with heaps of beautiful waterfalls. The national park again was nothing like a New Zealand national park. It cost us about $30 NZ each to go in, but included an electric train ride to the top of the park, an electric boat ride across one of the lakes, and miles of amazing hand built board walks. There were also several cafes and restaurants in case people needed to put up their feet for a while. The whole park was packed, but still managed to wow us. The water was crystal clear and packed with fish; the waterfalls and caves were quite incredible! We spent that night about 50km out of Zagreb, in the midst of yet another thunderstorm, but were thankful the rain held out until just as we left the walk.
Sunday was still rainy, so we went shopping in Zagreb and shouted ourselves some more shoes. The next day, we went into Zagreb. We weren’t that impressed with Zagreb overall, mostly because the coast of Croatia is so spectacular, but we did enjoy the central market. We also went to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which we had read about in the Lonely Planet. It is a museum where people send in relics from their failed relationships as a way to let go and celebrate that part of their lives. There seemed to be a certain amount of irony in the fact that most of the people visiting the museum were young couples…
That afternoon we left Croatia and drove to Pecs, a university town in southeast Hungary. We spent the next morning exploring. Our first impressions of Hungary were a country with a long history, but people seemed hard up, the town needed some love and the people were somehow downcast. The ruins from the medieval university situated there were probably the highlight.
That afternoon we headed to Budapest. It wasn’t originally on our list of places to see but we thought we weren’t really giving Hungary a fair chance without going. We stayed just out of the capital, in a place called Szentendre, a beautiful little town. We had a delicious cheese platter for dinner at a little local wine bar that night.
Budapest is on the Danube river, and is actually made of two cities, Buda and Pest, on each side of the river. We got day transport passes and made the most of them, exploring the place on foot, but also on on trams, buses, trains and boats. It was a great way to see the city! We loved the architecture of the old part of the city, the parliament building is particularly beautiful on the riverbank. We walked up the castle hill for a stunning view of the city (although Lisa protested the walk and was hoping to use the cable car!), went to the market hall, and ate traditional goulash soup. We also saw a poignant statue on the bank of the Danube of 60 pairs of iron shoes. We later learned that this is to remember the Jewish people that were forced to take off their shoes, then line up on the bank and shot so that they would fall into the river.
The next morning we drove to Balaton Lake, Hungary’s biggest lake and since they are landlocked, their version of the Mediterranean. We stayed at a nice place on the lake and had a swim, which was pretty but not spectacular, and packed with chubby/obese Hungarians.
Overall we thought Hungary was an interesting place to visit. It has a really interesting history, and some beautiful buildings, but doesn’t seem as cared for as other places we have visited. The Hungarian people outside of the tourist places don’t speak any English either, which makes it tough. Budapest has thermal baths, which would have been cool to check out, and apparently is home to some amazing music concerts, which bring heaps of young people to the area. It would be interesting to visit again in a few years when times aren’t so hard and see the difference in the people in the rural areas. We left Hungary to head towards Austria, home of the Sound of Music.