A Travellerspoint blog

Budapest

Touring the city on top of a bus.

all seasons in one day 19 °C
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My improvised bed worked pretty well - thanks to Redmond. It was fairly comfortable if not a little lumpy!
Another slowish start to the day, we left home around mid morning and bought two tickets for our first ever Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. There are heaps of them around Budapest, this one was good value. The tickets entitle you to 48 hours of hopping on and off, plus a River Cruise and a Night Tour. For around $30 AUD each.
The weather was a bit iffy, but no rain thankfully. We sat on top of the bus and made our way up Andrassy Avenue to Heroes Square. This Square is one of Budapest's largest and is rich in history and politics. From there we drove past the House of Terror, The State Opera House, St. Stephen's Basilica, the Great Synagogue, across the Danube River via the Elizabeth Bridge and up to Gellert Hill - the home of the Citadel. The views on top of this hill would have to be the best in Budapest - just stunning, so much to look at.
We got off the bus here and had lunch in a restaurant overlooking Budapest. We chose dishes that were unique to Hungary - a beautiful meal, and while we were having lunch the weather improved by the minute. After lunch we were able to take some brilliant photos of the city with the sun shining - what a difference. Budapest is a unique and beautiful city!
We walked around to the other side of the Citadel and as well as more lovely views of the city - we found the Liberty Statue - just awesome. It's dedicated to the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom and prosperity of Hungary. The statue is that of a woman holding a palm leave above her head - and is visible from many parts of Budapest.
Our timing was perfect and a bus arrived just as we made it to the bus stop. We continued on our journey - back down the hill, past the Chapel in the Rock, the Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Fishermans Bastion - simply astonishing buildings. At this stage the dark clouds gathered and the weather took a turn for the worse. We drove past the Parliament Buildings, over Margaret Bridge and back towards the main part of the city. It started to rain and it was at that point that we decided to vacate the bus and head towards home. We stopped on the way and had a coffee in a cafe on Andrassy Avenue - and watched the locals passing by for half an hour or so.
Back on to the Metro and here we are - home again. We were going to go on the Night Tour tonight, but the weather dictated otherwise. I think that will have to wait until we return to Budapest. Three days here is definitely not enough - we want to come back!
Our station on the Metro in Budapest. Beautifully maintained.

Our station on the Metro in Budapest. Beautifully maintained.

Close up photo of the Parliament Buildings - Budapest.

Close up photo of the Parliament Buildings - Budapest.

Entrance to the Chain Bridge across the Danube River - Budapest.

Entrance to the Chain Bridge across the Danube River - Budapest.

St. Peter's Basilica - Budapest.

St. Peter's Basilica - Budapest.

The Liberty Statue - Gellert Hill - Budapest.

The Liberty Statue - Gellert Hill - Budapest.

Statue at the foot of the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill in Budapest - displaying dramatic motion.

Statue at the foot of the Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill in Budapest - displaying dramatic motion.

Close up of the Liberty Statue - Budapest.

Close up of the Liberty Statue - Budapest.

Budapest and the Danube River.

Budapest and the Danube River.

Red at the lookout on Gellert Hill - Budapest.

Red at the lookout on Gellert Hill - Budapest.

Selfie - Gellert Hill Budapest.

Selfie - Gellert Hill Budapest.

The Chain Bridge across the Danube River - Budapest.

The Chain Bridge across the Danube River - Budapest.

Red and a brown beer - lunch on Gellert Hill - Budapest.

Red and a brown beer - lunch on Gellert Hill - Budapest.

The Great Synagogue - Budapest.

The Great Synagogue - Budapest.

The Royal Palace - Budapest.

The Royal Palace - Budapest.

Street Stall in Budapest.

Street Stall in Budapest.

A common sight in Budapest - a statue in a park.

A common sight in Budapest - a statue in a park.

Heroes Square - Budapest.

Heroes Square - Budapest.

Posted by Gibbo54 11:10 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Budapest

A city of striking architecture.

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Yes, this is a great apartment. But! The bed is THE HARDEST BED that we have ever slept in. I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that Red had evacuated the scene and was asleep on the lounge - which was actually really comfortable. A shame that the lounge doesn't accommodate two! Tonight I will sleep on an arrangement of pillows, cushions, doonas etc. - on top of the mattress - so that hopefully I'll get a decent sleep.
We had a really quiet morning - catching up on some down time. We left home around mid-day looking for a supermarket to buy a few supplies for the next couple of days. We had a bit of trouble getting our bearings in the area ie. we went the wrong way! Heading back in the direction from which we came, we finally found a supermarket and fresh food market.
After lunch we walked the short distance to the Metro Underground that runs underneath Andrassy Avenue. We bought a 24 hour ticket each for about $8 AUD which allows us to jump on the Metro as many times as we want in a 24 hour period - good value. Budapest's Metro System is the second oldest underground railway in the world. Running since 1896 it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2002. It's full of character and efficient. Trains run every couple of minutes.
We caught the train and travelled about 4 stops to check out the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. They are apparently the best in Budapest. We weren't able to go inside without purchasing a ticket, which seemed pointless when we were only going to have a look and not a swim. But we did go inside the main entrance - a very ornate foyer indeed - beautiful!
The weather this morning was average - threatening clouds coming and going. But this afternoon the sun shone, which made our walk through the parks and gardens in the area - really pleasant and relaxing. We passed some beautiful buildings - unique architecture. We also passed some sort of a trailer being ridden by a guy on a bike, and the trailer was a bar with guys sitting around it drinking beer. It was hilarious! Brilliant if dangerous idea! It was called "The Beer Bike". I've included a photo below.
Back on the Metro to our apartment. We got changed and went back out again to meet a friend from our Croatian Tour for dinner. Melanie is from Canada and is in Budapest for a few days before she moves on to Poland for a week. It was great to catch up with her and chat about all our travels since Dubrovnik. After dinner we walked with her back up Andrassy Avenue until we parted ways - wishing each other safe and happy trails.
Magyar Mezogazoasagi Museum - set in beautiful gardens - Budapest.

Magyar Mezogazoasagi Museum - set in beautiful gardens - Budapest.

Beautiful facade of a church in Budapest.

Beautiful facade of a church in Budapest.

Striking architecture - it's which ever way you turn.

Striking architecture - it's which ever way you turn.

The Beer Bus - Budapest.

The Beer Bus - Budapest.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths - Budapest.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths - Budapest.

Impressive foyer in the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.

Impressive foyer in the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.

Part of the walls and ceiling in the Thermal Baths - beats Joondalup Arena hands down!

Part of the walls and ceiling in the Thermal Baths - beats Joondalup Arena hands down!

Anne, Red and Melanie in front of Budapest's Opera House.

Anne, Red and Melanie in front of Budapest's Opera House.

The Opera House - Andrassy Avenue, Budapest.

The Opera House - Andrassy Avenue, Budapest.

Posted by Gibbo54 11:06 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Budapest

From Croatia to Hungary - via train.

rain 16 °C
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How to describe today's weather? Dismal - pretty much sums it up! We woke up at 6am this morning - raining. Now 1pm - still raining. Good thing that it's a travel day today.
We had our last hotel breakfast for this trip and went and said goodbye Mirjana who was organising her next tour group in the foyer. A car picked us up and drove us to Zagreb Train Station - about a 5 minute journey.
We had to wait around a bit but then got on to the right platform to catch our train to Budapest. These tickets were really cheap - and now we know why!
The train was 20 minutes late. Information was in very short supply - consequently we got on the wrong end of the train for the destination of Budapest. There were people and bags everywhere - everyone trying to get on to the train at the same time. The corridors were narrow - aaggghhhh! At this point I thought that we'd be standing for 6 hours - all the way to Budapest! The conductor advised us that we'd need to move forward - 4 carriages - a physical impossibility! I asked him in broken English if we could get off at the next station, move along the platform and get back on the train in the right section. That's exactly what we did, with the conductor pulling one of our bags. It was quite a sight - the conductor with his hand up holding up the train while running along with one of our bags, and us 2 crazy people running along behind him dragging bags in the rain. He helped us up the steep steps on to the train - we thanked him and went on our way, finally finding spots for our luggage and a 6 person compartment with only 2 people in it. At last!
After about half an hour those 2 people got off the train, so we now have the compartment to ourselves. There is water on the floor in the compartment - swishing around. I really hope that it's rain water!?! I'll leave the toilets to your imagination :-( !!
We had a visit from Hungarian Border Patrol, Customs and have now crossed the border into Hungary. Still raining. Actually, we're quite enjoying this train trip. Believe it or not, this is the first extended period of time that we've had to sit and talk quietly about what we've done so far, where we've been etc. It's quite relaxing.
We've had lunch in the Dining Car - it's actually quite nice here, but the meal time is only 40 minutes - so now we have to vacate!
We passed through some very pretty countryside coming closer to Budapest - a beautiful lake with really nice holiday homes dotted along the banks. This is apparently the place to visit if you're coming to Budapest for a rest. The wildflowers that we past were quite unexpected and right along the train line. A sea of purple and white, and poppies absolutely everywhere.
We arrived at Budapest Deli pu station just before 5pm - not the prettiest part of the city, that's for sure. We needed some local currency - Forints, so I minded the bags while Red crossed one of the huge roads to find an ATM. Forints are in huge denominations, so we have to take off two zeros and then halve it (roughly) ie. 10,000 Forints = $50 AUD.
We rang a taxi (instructions from Andrea - who we are renting the apartment from). The taxi arrived quickly and after about 20 minutes of wrestling the peak hour traffic, we arrived at our apartment in the 6th District on the Pest side of the city - just off Andrassy St.
Andrea was there to meet us - a lovely young Hungarian lady. She showed us how to work this and that in the apartment - it's really good (room to move), and left us alone to unpack and get settled. We're here for 4 nights.
We had a very easy tea - and did some washing (long overdue). The place now looks like a chinese laundry.
No photos today!

Posted by Gibbo54 08:50 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Zagreb

Back to where we started.

semi-overcast 19 °C
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This morning we woke to another cloudy day. We had breakfast and met outside the hotel at 8.15am. The one night stopovers are really tiring. We've only had two places since starting our Croatian Tour where we've been in one place for more than a night. However - from now on, and for the next three weeks we're on our own (self catering in apartments), we'll actually be able to unpack our bags - and start eating normally!
Miriana was our English speaking guide today and they brought in a French speaking guide for the Belgian team. We went on a walking tour through Osijek and our first stop was the main square. Again - bullet and shrapnel damage everywhere. We went to Osijek's beautiful Cathedral, also in disrepair on the exterior. It was shelled 100 times by the Serbian Army who attacked the city from the other side of the river - about a hundred metres from where our hotel is. Inside the Cathedral was just breaktaking. There is just one frescoe of Jesus that hasn't been repaired, but all of the others have. Every leadlight window in the church was destroyed but they have all been replaced, and funded by different countries around the world. Each window displays the year that it was replaced and by which country. Wonderful to see. From the Cathedral we walked to the Fortress - and had another history lesson there.
Back on the bus and drove out of Osijek to the Vina Belje Winery - established in 1697 - in the Baranja region. We were taken in to the wine cellars (literally hundreds of years old), and then sat down to a wine tasting - two whites and a red. All beautiful wines - with an alcohol percentage of 12, 14 and 16%. We would have bought a couple of bottles but weight is an issue with us obviously. Our Belgian travelling companions made a few purchases - they don't have too far to travel.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on a property called "The Kormoran Restoran". The property is actually in the Kopacki Rit Nature Park. Cormorants are one of hundreds of species of birds in this Nature Park. We had a traditional Croatian dish for lunch - Goulash. It was really tasty.
Now - here we are - in the bus and heading back to Zagreb. We leave for Budapest by train tomorrow morning.
Before I finish today's entry, I thought I'd pass on some snippets of information that I've learned on our travels throughout these countries.
Two years after the war ended 70% of the city of Sarajevo had been rebuilt/cleaned up/repaired. Since then it's been a slow process removing the scars - it will probably never be completed.
Of the 4 million original inhabitants (prior to the war in 1991) of Bosnia & Herzegovina - about 2 million have moved abroad. Many of these people work and send money back to their families (which is good for the country), they're able to save money to buy or build a house in B&H, and eventually return home to retire hopefully with a new car.
The unemployment rate in Croatia is 20%, and 15% in the Summer season. The average wage is 700 euros per month.
The unemployment rate in Bosnia is 43%. The average wage is 400 euros per month.
Croatia will join the European Union on 1st July 2013, but will retain their currency of Kunas. There are no plans yet for Bosnia & Herzegovina to join the EU.
In the aftermath of the war - the people are moving on - and despite their past, they have a sense of humour.
We've really enjoyed our time in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Both countries look after their tourists very well. Our guide Mirjana (I finally got the spelling right) - pronounced Miriarna - gave up her own personal time to help us - she was wonderful. The countries are beautiful - with absolutely stunning scenery, intriguing and at times tragic histories - the list goes on. We were here for 8 days only, but these 8 days will not be forgotten.
Cooking Bosnian Goulash the traditional way.

Cooking Bosnian Goulash the traditional way.

Anne in a wine barrel in the grounds of the Kormoran Restoran - part of the Kopacki Rit Nature Park.

Anne in a wine barrel in the grounds of the Kormoran Restoran - part of the Kopacki Rit Nature Park.

Inhabitants of the Kopacki Rit Nature Park - frogs exist in abundance.

Inhabitants of the Kopacki Rit Nature Park - frogs exist in abundance.

Our Belgian friend and translator Raymond - taking a walk on a charming little bridge - Nature Park - just out of Osijek.

Our Belgian friend and translator Raymond - taking a walk on a charming little bridge - Nature Park - just out of Osijek.

All the ladies in our group - just prior to the wine tasting at Vina Belje Wine Cellar. Mirjana to the left, Anne to the right, Belgian friends in the middle.

All the ladies in our group - just prior to the wine tasting at Vina Belje Wine Cellar. Mirjana to the left, Anne to the right, Belgian friends in the middle.

Wine barrels holding 20,000 litres of wine in the Vina Belje Winery - established in 1697.

Wine barrels holding 20,000 litres of wine in the Vina Belje Winery - established in 1697.

Fortress at Osijek - in the northern part of Bosnia.

Fortress at Osijek - in the northern part of Bosnia.

The interior of the beautiful Osijek Cathedral.

The interior of the beautiful Osijek Cathedral.

Kopacki Rit Nature Park - the largest remaining wetlands in Europe.

Kopacki Rit Nature Park - the largest remaining wetlands in Europe.

Osijek Cathedral on a beautiful spring morning.

Osijek Cathedral on a beautiful spring morning.

Posted by Gibbo54 08:27 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Osijek

Our time in Bosnia & Herzegovina - short but unforgettable.

overcast 17 °C
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The city of Sarajevo lies on a plain surrounded by hills on parallel sides. During the Serbian - Bosnian War the citizens were attacked by Serb forces from the hills on either side. The main street in the middle of the city was known as "Sniper Alley". Snipers would shoot at anyone trying to get from one side of the street to the other. There's a tram line running down the middle of the street, trams were "parked" on the tram line end to end so that people trying to cross would at least be given some kind of cover during their dangerous dash.
The feeling that I have after spending such a short period of time in this city is that it's living under a cloud that has been formed by it's devastating recent history. Wherever you look, there are houses and buildings still bearing the scars of Sarajevo's war torn past. There are houses that have been destroyed, still lying in rubble. It is chilling. The hotel where we stayed last night was completely destroyed during the war. There are photos in the foyer depicting the hotel in ruins and then it's reconstruction. The people of Sarajevo buried their dead wherever there was green space.
We left the hotel this morning at 9am and our first stop was the War Tunnel.This tunnel is in suburban Sarajevo about 10 minutes drive from our hotel. It was built by unofficial soldiers - the local men - friends, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles. One of these men lived in the house where the tunnel actually started from. It was 800 metres in length, 1.6 metres high and 1 metre wide. It took just over 4 months to build. The tunnel was well known by the Bosniaks but thankfully the Serbs didn't find out about it.
No-one escaped Sarajevo using this tunnel, it wasn't used as an escape route. It was used to transport the injured away to get medical assistance and to provide provisions for those who were held siege in this city. It was in operation for just over 2 years and during this time up to 4,000 people per day used the tunnel. Thank God for the bravery and the spirit of these men of Sarajevo - and for this tunnel.
We were shown a 20 minute video which was a combination of how the tunnel was made and footage of the attacks in the city. Stunned into silence. We then walked the only section of the tunnel now open to the public - just 25 metres. The tunnel was situated in a demilitarised zone, went under the airport runway and came out the other side in Bosnian free territory. It was only 5 metres below the ground and years later after the war ended it eventually caved in - in the middle. We were shown the little museum which displayed a list of all names of those killed in Sarajevo - over 11,000 of which about 1,600 were children. I couldn't look at it.
We left the city of Sarajevo and headed in a northerly direction towards Osijek and back into Croatia. Before we arrived at the border we entered the Republic of Serbia - a self proclaimed area of land that's inhabited by Serbians. In this area we drove for about 40 kilometres through an area where back in the war, the Serbs not only shot at homes, they either set them on fire or blew them up. These homes have been left as they are - abandoned and in the state that they were left. This used to be an area of beautiful forests where families came to have picnics - pick mushrooms and strawberries etc. Now it's a jungle that no-one wants to know. Part of the reason for this is that there are still land mines all through this area, so it's too dangerous for people to go in and reclaim their land and homes. Some have, and in a few instances we saw a newer home built right next door to the old ruined one. An absolute tragedy.
Since we've been in Bosnia I haven't seen an area that was not affected by this war which ran from 1991 - 1995. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of houses and buildings which were on the receiving end of bullets, bombs, mortar shells. I'm absolutely horrified by this, and I'm sorry that back 20 years ago, we were so busy with our lives and bringing up kids - that I was not more aware of the situation - other than watching coverage on the nightly news. It's the same with Syria today - we are helpless to do anything, but we could take more of an interest, and be more informed.
It took us almost 1.5 hours to cross the border - Redmond was not impressed! But you don't mess with the officials at the border crossing - it takes as long as it takes. After that we had a really late lunch in a city called Slavonski Brod and arrived in Osijek at about 5.30pm. This is a nice place in the north eastern corner of Croatia - the fourth largest city in the country, with 800,000 residents. It lies on the banks of the peaceful Drava River.
We had a short walk through the town and then met up with our Belgian friends for dinner - giving the game of Charades a whole new meaning!
A destroyed home - one of so many - in the northern part of Bosnia. It will not be demolished or rebuilt - it will just be left as it is.

A destroyed home - one of so many - in the northern part of Bosnia. It will not be demolished or rebuilt - it will just be left as it is.

Welcome to the Republic of Serbia.

Welcome to the Republic of Serbia.

Fortress in the hills of northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Fortress in the hills of northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

War Tunnel Museum - map displayed showing the location of the tunnel. It's the white area in the middle of the map - to the right.

War Tunnel Museum - map displayed showing the location of the tunnel. It's the white area in the middle of the map - to the right.

The War Tunnel - used by up to 4,000 people per day for over 2 years.

The War Tunnel - used by up to 4,000 people per day for over 2 years.

The War Tunnel was built under this home. Scars are evident, as with countless other houses and buildings in this country. Our guide Mirjana is in the foreground. Her family home was burned to the ground during the war.

The War Tunnel was built under this home. Scars are evident, as with countless other houses and buildings in this country. Our guide Mirjana is in the foreground. Her family home was burned to the ground during the war.

An unbelieveable sight - we drove past this house just down the road from the location of the War Tunnel - Sarajevo.

An unbelieveable sight - we drove past this house just down the road from the location of the War Tunnel - Sarajevo.

One of the photos in the War Tunnel Museum - a wounded soldier being taken to safety.

One of the photos in the War Tunnel Museum - a wounded soldier being taken to safety.

Sarajevo morning - taken from the 15th floor of our hotel - through a tinted window.

Sarajevo morning - taken from the 15th floor of our hotel - through a tinted window.

Posted by Gibbo54 08:14 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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