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Biking Hungary

Exchange rate: Rand 1 (R1) = Hungarian Forint 18,43 (18,43 Ft)

31 July 2023 - 5 August 2023, Budapest, 54.75km
Camping Arena 10,395Ft [R563]

Our accommodation budget has morphed on this trip from 200 Moroccan dirham to 100 Polish zloty to 540 Czech crown to 22 Euro to 8,700 Hungarian forint*.
Getting our heads around a new currency is always a brain-teaser during the first couple of days in a new country. Shortly before leaving home on this trip, I discovered the best ever currency converter app, Currency Plus. It displays several currencies of your choice at any one time and makes conversions and comparisons super easy. Try it next time you travel.
*"Forint (HUF) has been the local currency in Hungary since August 1946. It was named after the city of Florence, where golden coins had been minted since 1252."  
Instead of continuing along the Eurovelo 6 cycle route into Budapest, we opted to take the road (routes 11, 111, 117 and 10) thereby cutting 30km from the distance.
We crossed the Danube twice. Once over the river border between Slovakia and Hungary, and once at the northern end of Budapest. From the border bridge we had wonderful views of the Esztergom Basilica (Primatial Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Adalbert). Having visited the Basilica in 1999, we chose to admire it in passing only. Having subsequently read more about it, we are sorry to have done so. It is the largest church in Hungary with a "reverberation time of over 9 seconds", and it has the largest painting on a single canvas in the world.
Having crossed the river again into the capital, we avoided the killing zone and did the last 11km on city cycle paths, some with dedicated mini traffic lights!
We stink! Our shoes and socks were still wet when we forced our reluctant feet into them shortly before crossing the bridge into Hungary. Add a humid day and lots of footwork, and things tend to get smelly…
It was late afternoon when we arrived yesterday at Camping Arena in the eastern suburbs of Budapest. We were tired and hungry and very disturbed to find their price for the night was half again as much as our accommodation budget. As we need to spend several nights in the city, I asked for and was granted a discount. The price is still over our budget, but is mitigated by a couple of things. Firstly, using the washing machine is free and they will even provide washing powder if you don't have. Secondly, it seems that all public transport is free to those over 65, so we can commute without putting a strain on our finances. Thirdly, there is an excellent Spar supermarket 800m away with enough variety to make self-catering an affordable pleasure.
I assume every sensible person operates on a budget, whether at home or travelling. In some cases the budget will be magnanimous, in others parsimonious. At home, we live carefully but relatively well. In Europe, coming in on budget is an interesting exercise in humility. We currently shop with a calculator in hand, deducting from our food budget each item as it goes in the basket and revelling at having sufficient in hand for a Bounty chocolate. Charl shops for beer exclusively by price, bringing him a variety of makes and strengths depending on the country or shop. That we can afford beer and Bounty tells you we are doing OK!
Last night we found and set up camp on a nice corner site. This morning, we discovered a bench and table and firepit next to an open site and decided to move home. As we were placing our tent on the site, the groundsman arrived with bags of soil and grass seeds and a rake intent on revamping our chosen spot. He knew no English except "no-no-no, no-no-no". To emphasise his point, he went away, returning with red and white chevron tape and taping off the area. He did point us to a nearby alternative where we placed the tent and strung a long wash line for our freshly-laundered clothes and sheets. (Washing by hand simply ain't the same as washing by machine!)
Shortly after our morning nap (!), people departed the only other site next to the bench and table, so we moved home yet again. Somewhere to sit and our very own electrical charging point and all within a very short walk of the ablutions, kitchen and laundry. Fab.
Camping at an official campground is an oddly intimate experience. One is packed close enough to hear others snore and fart in the night (and presumably vice versa) and one arises to see other sleep-sodden campers getting up to pee and brush their teeth. The smell of other people's cooking is enticing (or off-putting - last night our neighbour cooked Bully Beef; I may be alone in this, but I hate the cat-food smell of Bully Beef) and they know, should they choose to look, exactly what mustard you are spreading on your roll! And yet there is a culture of giving people their space by not staring, while still somehow being open to friendly greetings. A bit of an art form.
It has poured with rain the last two nights. We have managed to stay dry (ish), but others have stepped from their campers into or found their tents in ankle-deep water. Last night a branch broke off a tree and fell on the tent of a dad and his son in town for a judo championship. Luckily they had a car to transfer to. The photo is of our in-between site…
Romanian VISA saga...
We're going nowhere slowly and getting there fast!
Remember that we were turned away in Prague and told we had to apply online for a Romanian visa? Remember that once we had entered our place of residence online, we were given the option of applying via Pretoria only?
Pretoria does not answer the phone or respond to emails that initially asked them to forward our application to Bratislava.
Remember the Bratislava embassy has stopped issuing visas?
Later emails to Pretoria were about them forwarding the application to the Romanian embassy in Budapest instead.
When Pretoria finally responded it was not about forwarding our application elsewhere, but to say "Acording to the Romanian law, you must prove the accommodation for the entire period of stay". This is simply not possible on a bike, as I had explained, using the same letter that had bagged us a Schengen visa.
Having written a lengthier explanation than that first supplied, I found that the visa application site had an internal error which allowed me to update Charl's application but not mine.
When we decided to bypass the online / Pretoria process and go direct to the Budapest embassy, it was to find a note on the wall outside the gate saying the embassy is no longer issuing visas!
We finally got someone to open the door in the wall, who said we need to apply in Szeged, a town in Hungary near the Romanian border.
We begin the three-day trip there tomorrow.
Here's the problem. We have to resolve departing Schengen Europe before our visa expires August 26. If we can't get a Romanian visa, we have two options: Bosnia or Serbia, both of which presumably require visas…
Budapest revisited…
We did not do much while in beautiful Budapest; here is what we visited for the first time or revisited post our 1999 trip.
We sadly discovered that public transport is free only for “seniors” of the European Union persuasion. While this makes sense, it was an expensive disappointment.
We did make use for the first time of the Google Maps public transport option and were blown away by it. If you type in your destination and say you want to get there via public transport, Google lists all the options for doing so. This includes bus, tram and Metro and the distance and time to walk between these if your routing requires a change. It includes times and whether the vehicle departed the last stop on time and whether the vehicle is full or not. I honestly do not know how we managed to cope in foreign cities in the past. It was like getting a fax machine for the first time!
We revisited Memento Park. Wikipedia: “Memento Park is an open-air museum [that] deals with the presentation of the memories of Hungarian socialism. In this historical exhibition space, there are 41 public works of the years of socialism created in the style of socialist realism, which were removed from the streets of Budapest after the political system change in 1989-90. Many of the museum's sculptures are valuable and unique works of art, the works of sculptors known and recognized throughout Europe.”
Here’s what I wrote following our 1999 visit: “So we took the bus back to Moskva on our travel pass. And asked a tram driver how to get to Szoborpark (Statue Park): Gigantic Memorials from the Communist Dictatorship – also advertised as Tons of Socialism, this park contains communist-era statues removed from Budapest’s streets after the “change”. He radioed someone to make enquiries and then got out to direct us onto a tram and bus. He also looked at our brochure of the park, pointed at Stalin’s statue and said with disdain ‘idioot’. When Charl laughed he looked to him to confirm his assessment. Amusing. Tons of Socialism is a great idea (which would work well in post-apartheid South Africa where statues of past oppressors, along with road names, are being willy nilly removed), but too far out of town to be effective. Despite a pretentious, pompous design and huge entrance gate as gung ho / intended-to-be-stirring as the various statues, the statues themselves are too spread out to make the desired en masse impact, unfortunately. However, each statue in its own right was pretty impressive. We could not afford the guide book so did not get as much out of the experience as we would have liked, but thoroughly enjoyed the collection nonetheless. Huge and emotionally appealing / stirring.”
Budapest was originally two cities: hilly Buda on the west bank of the Danube; flat Pest on the east. The cities were officially combined in 1873.
We spent some time on Castle Hill, admiring particularly Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, from the outside only.
Shoes on the Danube Promenade
A very poignant reminder of the horrors of WWII.
Atlas Obscura: “A trail of iron footwear stands as a monument to the thousands executed along this riverbank during WWII… In October of 1944, Hitler overthrew the leader of the Hungarian government, Miklos Horthy, and replaced him with Ferenc Szalasi.
Szalasi, whose ideology closely followed Hitler’s, immediately established the Arrow Cross Party - a fascist, anti-semitic organization that brutally and publicly terrorized the Jews in Budapest by beating and killing them. Nearly 80,000 Jews were expelled from Hungary in a death march to the Austrian border and approximately 20,000 Jews were brutally shot along the banks of the Danube River. The victims were forced to remove their shoes at gunpoint (shoes being a valuable commodity during World War II) and face their executioner before they were shot without mercy, falling over the edge to be washed away by the freezing waters.
Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a haunting tribute to this horrific time in history, created by film director Can Togay and the sculptor, Gyula Pauer. Installed along the bank of the Danube River in Budapest, the monument consists of 60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes, true to life in size and detail, sculpted out of iron.
This memorial is simple yet chilling, depicting the shoes left behind by the thousands of Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross. The style of footwear - a man’s work boot; a business man’s loafer; a woman’s pair of heels; even the tiny shoes of a child - were chosen specifically to illustrate how no one, regardless of age, gender, or occupation was spared. Placed in a casual fashion, as if the people just stepped out of them, these little statues are a grim reminder of the souls who once occupied them - yet they also create a beautiful place of reflection and reverence.
At three points along the memorial are cast iron signs with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.””
Statue of Imre Nagy
Atlas Obscura: “A much-loved sculpture depicting the hero of a 1956 anti-Soviet uprising… Imre Nagy was hanged in 1958 for his role in the uprising. A pro-reform communist, he had sought to free Hungary of hard-line communist rule, but in 1956 the revolt was crushed by Soviet tanks and Pro-Moscow hardliners were reinstalled in power.”
Other odd sods…
We strolled the Great Market Hall built 1897; walked across the Danube along a green cantilever bridge originally named after King Franz Joseph (Wikipedia: “After World War II, it was rebuilt as the first of the destroyed bridges, in 1946. For this reason, it was called the Freedom Bridge.”); and had a drink in City Park beside the stunning House of Music.
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