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Trip Report Hungary: Trip Report 2007 with Vienna & Warsaw

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Blanca & Ian's Travels
Hungary - Trip Report - 2007

Hungary 2007: Budapest, Eger, Gyõr, Sopron, Vienna with lunch in Warsaw

This report can be viewed with pictures:

http://members.rennlist.com/imcarthur/hungary.htm

or on travelerstogo.com:

http://tinyurl.com/ywf5zj

This trip was a homecoming for my Hungarian wife. She left as a child - hay wagon over the Austrian border - and her only trip back had been 33 years ago during the dark days of Communism. This trip was a combination of plain ole touristing mixed with family visits in various towns & villages sprinkled over northwestern Hungary.

June 13 - Depart Toronto via Frankfurt - Lufthansa
June 14 - Arrive Budapest
June 15 - 17 - Budapest
June 18 - Drive to Eger
June 19 - Eger
June 20 - Drive to Gyõr
June 21 - 22 - Gyõr
June 23 - Drive to Vienna
June 24 - 25 - Vienna
June 26 - 27 - Sopron
June 23 - Drive to Budapest
June 29 - Depart Budapest via Warsaw - Lot Airlines

We booked Aeroplan Reward flights with Star Alliance partners & used Hilton Honors Points for some of the hotel stays. Planning was started a year in advance with flights & hotels booked at that time. Our surprise trip to China in February (see ) had threatened to to derail this one, but we decided to follow through.

Hilton Budapest - Var District - Hess A. ter 1-3, Budapest, Hungary
Free with Hilton Honors

Accommodations: Very nice king-bedded room on the 3rd Floor - the Executive floor. Very nice 'American-style' room. Comfortable couch & chairs. Bathrobes & slippers. Shower stall & bathtub. The usual TV with channels from throughout Europe - (including my trusty BBC Europe), Safe, mini-bar, ice machine down the hall, in-house restaurants X 3, concierge. Very nice. The staff were excellent.

Superbly located beside the Matyas Church on the Buda Hill. The view from our room was breathtaking. We looked over the Fisherman's Bastion with the Danube River & Pest as a backdrop. Many restaurant choices were within walking distance but you have to remember what the locals say: "In Pest you will get double the portion at half the price of Buda".

The Negatives: 15 minute cab ride from Pest (1600F to near-river locations). To use public transport you must grab the bus in the square & it drops you at Ter. This is a major transit hub on the subway line. Remember if you use tickets - as opposed to a pass, you must get one stamped by the machines before every leg of a transit run.

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    Day 1 Thursday June 14

    Arrived in Budapest in the late afternoon after a late departure from Toronto, which made us miss our connection in Frankfurt. We opted for Business Class on this Lufthansa flight & the seats on the trans-Atlantic portion were great. Lots of space & almost completely reclining. We slept across the ocean quite comfortably. We got a taxi from Ferighey to Buda - 4200Ft via Zona Taxis. They have a booth right outside the baggage exit & give you the cost upfront. In Buda, all cars must take a ticket at the bottom of castle hill & it means 370F per hour parking fee unless you get it stamped by a hotel which makes it free. There is a second gate amid the tourist madness that you feed the ticket into to open. But get the ticket back!
    Day 2 Friday June 15

    We leapt up full of energy & meandered down the hall to the Executive Lounge for breakfast. It was good & free & a slight Magyar twist on an American breakfast buffet. Non-members pay 30€ which is not a good value needless to say. After rush hour traffic abated, we taxied to the Parliament to start walking Pest. We decided to walk Pest first since we could do the castle hill anytime.

    Now to most tourists, Parliament is a very impressive building in a city with many. But to a 1956 refugee, it is a major focal point of the revolution. On Oct 25, 1956 the State Police fired on the massed protestors in the square behind the building. An empty grave with a Hungarian flag with the center cut out commemorates this event & the failed revolution.

    My wife bought a flower to lay on the 'grave'. She was five when her mother & father left their home in a small village near Gyor (more later) in early November 1956 & traveled by wagon over the Austrian border to start a new life. Her mother butchered some geese she was fattening for the Communists to take as provisions for the trek. And as a personal 'middle finger salute' to their hated Soviet masters.

    After that emotional moment, we walked to the north side park which has a valiant statue of Lajos Kossuth. As a hero of the 1848 Revolution, his greatest contribution has been to lend his name to a major street in every town & village in Hungary. Kossuth Utca. Ka-shoot oot-sa. You'll see one everywhere. And there's always a Fo Ut, utca or Ter too.

    Btw ut & utca mean street & ter is an open place or piazza if you like. The address names are on white plaques affixed to the corners of buildings on most corners. Very easy to see as you're driving by the turn you just missed because your navigator couldn't find it fast enough. And Btw once more, at times I will give you some language cues & write some Hungarian words in my own personal version of English-speak. And I stress the 'own personal version' part so don't criticize. Hungarians call their language Magyar. Mud-yar. My wife speaks Magyar surprisingly well (surprising to her too) & she was frequently complimented on her grasp of this difficult language. In Budapest, we found that most tourist-industry people spoke a little English. Hotel staff, wait staff in restaurants, taxi drivers & just random people were common. But I could always see an instant 'change' in them when she turned on the Magyar.

    But back to our travails. We flipped around to the north front of the Parliament which offers some great Buda Hill photo opps but no route around the building. And did I mention that the south wing is scaffolded. As is the Matyas Church. Scaffolding - the curse of the amateur travel photographer.

    We meandered the streets near the river amid the expensive real estate in this mixed business & ritzy condo area & popped up to St. István's Cathedral. Our first hit of the flag-following tourist groups (aka cattle) at this site. I guess it's obvious I don't like tour groups. Sorry if I offend, but they are often loud & often obnoxious in their hustle to see all of the sites in half a day & blindly follow their leader, blocking views & bowling over anyone in their way.

    About this time we started to feel hunger pangs & jetlag calling, so we made our way to the Gerbeaud. We sat on the terrace outside in the 30C + temps. Coffee & snacks dented our wallet 2610Ft. Service included. Make sure you always ask, because there is no predicting when they will add it.

    We walked south on the pedestrian Vaci Utca with it's proliferation of tourist shops & cafes. Great people watching here, but try to resist the urge & just enjoy the street show. At the end of Vaci on Vámhàz krt at the Szabadsag bridge there is a great market that we wandered into. Food, clothes & stuff galore & a shopping area for locals so not touristy goods or prices like Vaci. It is closed Saturday afternoon as we found out when we went back the next day.

    After browsing the market, we headed up Vámhàz krt which turns into Muzéum krt to the National Hungarian Muzeum. Free admission btw. Not a big collection but of some interest with the coronation robe, roman relics etc. We passed on a special exhibit of Genghis Khan - just one of the many invaders of Hungary. We were getting tired & the heat was wearing us down.

    We taxied back to the Hilton & collapsed until dinner. Heading out to dinner we coughed up the 300Ft for the Fisherman's Bastion. We discovered later that night, that it is free after 9PM until 9AM as the staff open the turnstiles when they're not there. A nice freebie for picture opps here.

    We walked down the hill via the steps by the Bastion & a route that translates as Drunken Stairs according to my wife. I chose a posh place for our 1st dinner called Kasca (Kawtcha - duck in Magyar) in the northern part of lower Buda on Kasca Ut. It's about a 20 minute walk from our digs. The area was just OK & not encouraging for late night walks but early evening was fine. The restaurant was really, really good with a pianist & a violinist for background. We ate well & enjoyed a bottle of Pinot from Villányi. A big group of Russians came to dine & they were entertaining as well as one jumped up to help with the salad & he unscrewed the salt lid & poured the salt in. I always laugh about my wife's excessive salt intake. 31950Ft but that's with a 12000Ft bottle of wine- Kasca Étterem at 75 Fð Ut

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    Day 3 Saturday June 16

    Here we take a different turn. We invited my wife's second cousin (who she last saw in 1974) & her husband to the Hilton for a one night get-away. I used more HH points so it was free for them & they were thrilled. Erika & Ferenc live in Gyor with their three almost-grown boys & don't come to Budapest that often & certainly don't stay in Buda at the Hilton. Of course, we wouldn't be either except it was free. They got a corner suite (better than ours) on the 6th floor with a stunning river/Parliament view (better than ours). But we didn't begrudge that a bit since we were so happy to spend time with them & get to know them. Of course, we got some fabulous tour guides in the deal since they both know Hungarian history well. We started with a coffee at a local tourist trap. A tour of the Buda Hill seemed in order so we set off with them leading & explaining things. Erika knew some English so I wasn't completely adrift.

    First up was the Palace. With the nation's symbol - the eagle - overlooking the Danube at its gateway, it now is the Hungarian National Gallery. It's a good way to kill an hour or so perusing the collection. With enough art in our bellies, we made our way through the castle & down one hill & towards another:

    The Gellért Hill. And it was climbing to mid 30C. And they were in far better shape than my wife & I.

    The climb starts at the base of the hill right in front of the Erzsébet Hid. Steps take you up to Level 2 where there is a waterfall. Ahhhh. Nice & cool here. Then more steps - many more - take you up to a bridge thingie on top of the falls. But you haven't even started at this point. Side note: an Italian student fell to his death here the day before. He was out on the ledge fooling around.

    So we valiantly climbed to Level 4 which is the structure you can see partway up the hill with a semi-circular column structure. Then the real climb begins.

    Through a combination of forested paths & steps you climb to the top. Your reward is the statue that overlooks Budapest. It started life as a Communist tribute & was altered & re-dedicated after 1989. I don't think Hungarians are too enamored with it. The views of Pest & the Buda Hill make it all worthwhile. We skipped the arms museum in the Citadel., but we ladies did snap a photo of us an the anti-aircraft gun which I thankfully won't reproduce here. There were very interesting photos of 19th century & early 20th century Budapest on the Citadel walls as an exhibit. That was a pretty cool bonus.

    At the top we fortified ourselves with cold water & an ice cream - not gelato though. Walking back down was a breeze. We then headed across the Erzsébet Hid for a brief walk in town. The market - our destination - was closed Saturday afternoon so we wandered on the Vaci Utca briefly. Not wishing to face the hot walk home, we chickened out & took a taxi back to the hotel for a rest before dinner.

    Dinner was a frustrating affair as we walked up & down the streets looking for a decent restaurant on Buda Hill. They were all fully booked. There were weddings all over the place & we even watched one ceremony in the monastery courtyard beside the Hilton. The bar provided an excellent view. We finally ended up in the near-vacate Apetito right across from the Hilton. We were avoiding it because it didn't seem full enough & I mean, it's right in front of the Hilton so it can't be good. It actual ended up not bad at all, except for sullen wait staff. 24416Ft for 4 with a 4200Ft bottle of Teleki Villányi Pinot Noir. After my broad sampling (2 bottles) I decided that Villányi Pinots have a after-taste - almost a burnt woody taste - quite unlike their French cousins. A walk on the Fisherman's Bastion completed the evening.

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    Day 4 Sunday June 17 - The last full day in Budapest

    We all arranged to meet at 9 to plan the day's activities. Feri & Erika had to catch a train home at 6 PM but were happy to continue their guiding duties. The area around Hðsök tere (Heroes' Square) was chosen & we were off once more. Erika knew the surface transport systems well & led us the the bus pickup beside Matyas Church. It went down to Moszkva Ter & the subway link there. Then under the Danube to Deáke F. Ter & another line to get us there. It was actually very easy. We stopped at a coffee house for a refuel near the subway exit at Caffè Pertè. And kav-vey seemed to work for coffee.

    Then it was into the square to admire the flanking buildings & the statues of Magyar's founding tribes & the colonnaded Hungary's Kings & leaders. Hungary does statues really well. They are not just the static, rigid standing whoever's that you see in North America, but they are often fierce moving scenes. I chose one statue of a Magyar founder as my wife’s relative. I said that he looked like their family. Hahaha. Actually Erika & I agreed laughingly that there seemed to be some Italian genes in the family which the others fervently deny. Feri led us through the Kings with a brief history of all.

    It was going to be another scorching day so we headed into the park. School was just out (see the graduation picture above), so the park was filled with kids & their grandparents (that's nagymama & nagypapagoing - nud-yeh-mama) to the kid's area & the zoo. It is a tradition for many & judging from the throngs, one well observed. We walked by the Széchenyi Baths & then sauntered to the impressive Vajdahunyard Castle area & it's pleasant lake. I envied the ducks paddling in the water. The water areas of the park serve as popular ice skating rinks in the winter. And summer concerts are held in the arena area. The park is well used.

    The castle is a collection of buildings representing different architecture styles from different parts of Hungary. Sorry, I couldn't get a picture of Anonymous but he was busy with a kid's group. Anonymous = the unknown chronicler of the fuzzy King Béla in the Middle Ages.

    Well baked by this time, we ducked into the Museum of Fine Arts for it's paintings & it's shelter from the sun. They have a great collection with some very fine pieces. We spent our time on the 2nd Floor with its superb Spanish & Dutch art. I also quickly walked the lower level Egyptian gallery while the ladies hit the WC. If you are in need, the universal word Toilette gets you pointed directions from everyone. Or you can grab yourself & dance but that just looks foolish. Since you can only take in so much art in one session, so we left in search of lunch.

    We walked southeast on Dózsa Gyðrgy & it's selection of stately homes - many of which house embassies. Our Hungarian cousins pointed out the modern clock - some memorial or other - that broke the day after it was installed & hasn't worked since. And they definitely give the thumbs down to the recent Uprising Monument. Both are in the parking area on the north side after the square. Further along the street were some less fortunate mansions that are in need. Erika explained that after the Communist government collapsed in 1989, people could claim their original properties if they could prove pre-Communist ownership. It was good for many but others could not afford the houses or repairs were overwhelming etc. The 'lawyers' got rich buying properties for a song & flipping them. A governmental change that drastic can be painful.

    But once again, I digress. Lunch was superb. We ate very traditional food at the wonderful Paprika Vendeglo - 72 Dózsa Gyðrgy Ut. I had the schnitzel which was massive & all the dishes were great. 9310 Ft for 4. As above, half the price of Buda & double the size. We then walked a bit down to the Kelerti Pályaudvar train station which is Erika's favorite. It's also a subway hub. Many condos new & old were visible on the side streets.

    A quick subway/bus run back to the Hilton & our farewells to our cousins. We would stay with them later in the week in Gyor. Just as they were leaving, Istvan's son, wife & son's girlfriend from Steve's Rent a Car rolled up to the Hilton with our steed for the next 10 days. A mighty Ford Focus 1.8L - gas & automatic rental for 400€. We called to arrange the rental a couple of months earlier. English & Magyar is spoken, so it's easy. They dropped & picked up the car which also helped. The only mild surprise was the need for €s as payment. We thought a credit card payment was OK but he said that was just the refundable security deposit. But I would certainly recommend them. See http://www.steverent.com/

    After our huge lunch, we only needed a top up rather than a full meal, so we had an appetizer & a glass of wine at the Cafe Peirrot in the Buda Castle area. It was good. Café Pierrot www.pierrot.com 7571 Ft for 2.

    Now it was time to pack for Stage 2 of our Hungarian adventure. Eger.

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    Accommodations

    Senátor-Ház Hotel - Dobó tér 11. Eger
    http://senator-haz-hotel.internettudakozo.hu/indexen.htm

    Accommodations: OK double-bedded room on the 2rd floor facing Dobó Ter. Well, two twins shoved together as is common in Europe. With dual comforters. We had dual comforters everywhere in Hungary. Strange. Bathtub with hand-held shower thing. The usual TV but it didn't work - mind you, we didn't complain either, Mini-bar, ice available from the restaurant, the in-house restaurant is very good & breakfast is included. Nice. The staff were good. English & German spoken too.

    This 18th Century inn is superbly located a small square that is attached to Dobó Ter via a wide bridge. The castle looms one street behind the hotel & their parking lockup is against the castle walls. Many restaurant choices & lots of shopping were within a 5 minute walking distance.
    The Negatives: Finding it. We drove around for an hour & asked at least 4 different people for directions. Finally, we parked & walked to the hotel & asked them how to get to it. And no one knew. The area is a maze of one-way streets & pedestrian-only streets. Hint: get to the hospital & park near the Turkish Minaret. Then walk to the hotel & ask.

    The other negative is noise. We slept with our windows open & you can hear the morning noise - church bells, people cycling by etc. And especially the very loud American couple who parked in the same lot used by the hotel. They were blocked in & woke the entire neighborhood at 5:30 AM bitching about it. This lasted for an hour before the hotel staff arrived & solved their problem. I can sympathize but they WERE loud & obnoxious.

    Day 5 Monday June 18

    We were up reasonably early, finished packing & grabbed breakfast in the lounge. Then, with the car packed & maps at ready, it was time to go. We didn't see every site in Budapest but we didn't try. We came to see, feel & taste the city & we did all of that. More Budapest commentary will follow in the conclusions at the end of this report. If it ever ends . . .

    I have driven in France, Italy, Spain, Cuba & all over Canada & the US. For work, I fly into a city, rent a car & go. So, suffice it to say, I am very experienced at driving in strange places. I found Hungary fun to drive. Budapest is busy but it actually flows well & the drivers aren't crazed. Naples still tops my list as the most crazed drivers I have experienced & this was mild in comparison. People mostly follow the rules & signs, so it was business as usual. As always, round-a-bouts require some attention but once you figure out that the car going around has the right of way & you should signal your exit, they work well. I did run into some multi-laned round-a-bouts which require you to choose a lane & stick with it for exiting. You have to know the towns in the direction you wish to go but this wasn't hard either as everything is well marked. The M-Series toll ways were fast & efficient but note: they require a windscreen pass that you can buy at gas stations. As in all European countries, stay out of the left lane unless you are passing & watch your mirror carefully.

    Small roads were good to fair depending on where you were. Many of them were crowned with bumpy sides, so just drive in the middle with caution. Note that you must slow down to 50 km through towns & villages & this is not marked. You just have to know. People tended to signal when zipping around the numerous bicycles you will encounter.

    In towns, finding the street names is the biggest challenge. As I pointed out above they are plaques attached to the corner of buildings on corners. Just assume you'll miss some. Street names can also change if there is the slightest bend in the road or for no apparent reason actually. And of course, asking directions can be a challenge I'm sure. Even if you find a good English-speaking person, the Magyar pronunciation will have you mystified since they often sound quite different then how the word looks to us on-ga-lules.

    And a big note: Hungary is 0 tolerance & they mean it. So skip that glass of wine or that beer if you intend to drive. No, not even one. Everyone we met respects this & you should too.

    And no, I didn't get an International Drivers License. Probably should have but I didn't. Stone me now, but I never do anymore. I doubt if it's translated into Hungarian anyway.

    Anyway . . . we left the Buda Hill without incident & went through the tunnel underneath which exits into the round-a-bout in front of the Chain Bridge. Sounds scary after only 5 minutes of driving, doesn't it? But it wasn't. Then it was over the Chain Bridge & into the Centrum or belváros (as the center of every town is called & signed). We then followed the M3 signs through downtown Budapest, through Heroes' Park & out through the 'burbs when we finally got on the start of it. You see, Budapest does not have any ring highways & the M-Series roads die at the 'burbs & dump you onto surface roads. More on this later. But overall, heading out was easy.

    Eger (eh-gair) is only 90 kms or so from Budapest but we decided to cutoff earlier & make our way through some villages & better scenery. We exited at Gyðngyðs & headed east to pickup a small road aiming towards the village of Kisnána which had some historic structure. It turned out to be a tower & it was closed on Monday. The drive through the small villages made it worthwhile anyway. One road was marked strangely on my Michelin map with arrows pointing both ways. It turns out that this means a single lane road. It was paved & wound through the forest & up & down hills & we didn't see a soul for 10 kms. The approach to Eger was beautiful with lush, rolling hills mostly planted in vines. Well worth the extra time it took to drive.

    Eger is not a big town but the core is a frustrating maze for driving. As I mentioned above in the hotel negatives, we drove in circles for an hour before finally arriving in the side street behind the hotel to unload our luggage. With the car parked however, the world was rosy once more. All in all it was 3 hrs or so from our start in Budapest but we meandered & then circled.

    Lunch was our 1st task. Since we knew we probably eat dinner at our hotel, we went to the place beside next it for something light. I had a wild boar cream soup concoction & I don't remember what my wife ate. Berecz Andras is on the bill but it's straight out the hotel's front door on the right. 3190 Ft for 2 Just OK.

    After this late lunch, we wandered the Dobó Ter & the shopping streets that run off of it. This is the center of the town & it's main shopping area & therefore not just tourist stores. Very attractive & clean with a few Romas that hang out for the cops to hassle. Just like a typical Italian piazza, the people gather at night in the Dobó to socialize & observe. This was a lazy day & we didn't even take any pictures. Since it was Monday & the majors were closed we just relaxed.

    That night, continuing with our lazy mood, we wandered to the Senátor-Ház's restaurant terrace in front of the building. There were no tables available but a woman was just leaving & offered us her's. We sat down & she didn't leave for over an hour. Her name was Katherine & she was an expat from England & was currently living near Tokaji. She had lived in Eger for a while too. Kind of an earth momma type if you know what I mean but very nice to talk to. I ordered a good bottle of Bikaver - 2003 Sike Tamás for around 5800 Ft which we shared. A small combo was playing pleasant mood music in a gazebo that the local restaurants in the tiny square must finance. The waiter finally came up just before 10 PM & said it was last call for food, so Katherine went on her way & we ordered. I don't have the bill but it was around 4800 Ft for 2. And very good. A nice evening.

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    Day 6 Tuesday June 19

    We woke to church bells sounding the hour through our open windows. I didn't mentioned in yesterday's report that it had been another scorching day. Mid-30C again. But it always cooled at night. The Senátor-Ház has portable AC units that sit in the room but are vented outside. It seemed to work well. The bed however was very hard. Didn't bother me at all, but there were complaints from my travel mate. It was downstairs for the breakfast buffet on the terrace. Typical Continental although there were eggs the 1st day. The public places of the Senátor-Ház are decorated with nice art, photos & knick-knacks. Well done. It's just a small place with only 12 rooms or so & the location can't be bettered.

    Our 1st task was money. Getting some that is. Our ATM card was rejected the night before so we were starting to dream up contingency plans. A visit to a bank was unrewarding. They said to use the machine. Maybe some begging in the Ter might be in order. After a call to the bank later in the day, it appeared that we had forgotten to increase our weekly withdrawal limit. Daily was fine, but weekly was the issue. They increased it & solved the problem, but don't make the same mistake!

    The castle looming above us was beckoning, so we made this our 1st destination of the day. We had driven around it a dozen times the day before, so we were eager to see the inside. A 5 minute walk brought us to the entrance. As with many sites, there are a couple of ticket options. You can get on the grounds for one price & the tour is another. We opted for the whole enchilada & rushed up to attach ourselves to the next tour.

    It was a disinterested group of Hungarian teenagers. Our guide was a similarly disinterested woman. The tour was in Hungarian so I didn't get a lot out of it. And since I had read the history previously, my wide didn't bother to translate. Brief synopsis: Bad Turks come in 1552. Siege. Good guy Dobó István (first names are last in Hungary) & his buds drink wine & hold them off. Womenfolk help them by throwing laundry or something down on the invaders. The Turks leave. Instant hero & instant wine trivia: the invention of Egri Bikavér (Bull's Blood), a blend of various local red wines. Unfortunately, the Turks returned in 1596 & bulldozed the place. But the incident produced a true Magyar hero & the main square in Eger - Dobó István Ter - and many other things are named after him. The tour took us to his tomb & down into the fortifications, complete with a pretty hokey cannon firing & other AV spectacles. But it was nice & cool in the depths of the fortress.

    We then strolled the walls of the castle & took about a thousand pictures from this great vantage point.

    After descending from on high, we walked some of the backstreets & the Dobó István Ter. It's a very attractive square with the 17Th Century Minnorite Church dominating the south with a wonderful Baroque building attached. In our minds though, it is the statues that are the stars. The principle one is Dobó of course but one of the other two is a graphic scene with the vicious Turks.

    Slightly further a field (but only by a block) the Cathedral sits above the street. We timed it perfectly to catch an organ concert that takes place at 11:30 AM most days. For a pittance we relaxed & listened to some Bach. From the steps of the Cathedral, you get a great view of the Lyceum - a school - across the street.

    Lunch beckoned & we settled on a café near the end of Széchenyi Utca which is the main pedestrian shopping street. EgriEst Cafe at #16. I had pizza & B had a sandwich. It took so long to get it, we knew that my pizza must have been baked fresh. 1960Ft for both with drinks. After lunch we spent more time just wandering the twisting streets & alleys of this small town.

    Late in the afternoon, we hopped on the seriously dorky 'train' that leaves for the much-ballyhooed Szépasszony Valley (Valley of the Beautiful Women) with its wine caves. The 'train' has no suspension & it is painful to take the bumpy circuitous route to get there & the surly operator was a real charmer. I think he enjoys torturing his passengers. After reading so much about it the wine valley in trip reports, I must admit that I thought this 'must see & do' was a letdown. It's a small area in a bigger valley where caves have been built into the earth & fronted with patios & interior spaces for quaffing mediocre wine. We stopped in one & the wine was cheap at 100 Ft. About what it was worth too. The barman & father-in-law of the owner was pleasant though. The only partying we heard was one cellar that had some boisterous Germans singing drinking songs. There is lots of parking for tour buses & there is construction ongoing to beautify the area. The whole thing is some tourist board's idea of fun. We ate dinner in one of the restaurants & it was as forgettable as the price. We walked back since it's only about 20 minutes, although the first bit was uphill. It was nice to see more neighborhoods of Eger, though. But 2 nights was enough for this small town.

    We then called it a night. The next morning we were headed to Gyõr to see some family.

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    Day 7 Wednesday June 20 - Day 10 Saturday June 23

    We left Eger just after breakfast around 9 AM. As I mentioned above, we had had a very early wake-up with that very loud couple whining about their car at 5:30 AM. Once again we decided to take a slight detour rather than just a M3 scream. We headed west from Eger aiming towards a ruined castle that I found in my Rough Guide. It is just outside Sirok which was only 20 km away. The road to get there wound up & down through the big hills of the Mátra range. Very beautiful country. From the town of Sirok, we followed the Var (castle) signs to a parking area. We could see the castle on the hill above us. The 20 minute climb up was easy, on a paved pedestrian-only road with the last bit on cobbled stones. Once again, the heat was rising, so I'm glad we were doing this in the morning.

    Wow. A view for miles in every direction. And the ruins would warm any romantics heart. A 13th Century castle that has been in ruins since the Turkish occupation. On a crag of rock with a view for miles. There are some carved passages with ladders to get to the remaining heights so you could poke around. I loved it. And there were only 2 or 3 other people wandering around so it isn't on the tourist path. There are no services except in the town below.

    We then meandered down to the M3, gassing up the beast (with 'benzene' as they called normal gas - 95 Grade - 294.50 Ft per litre) & buying a toll pass (under $10.00 CDN) at the same time. From there, it was an easy run into Budapest. Our goal was to go straight through Budapest. On surface roads of course, since as I mentioned before, there aren't any highways that loop around or through. Well, goals aren't always attained that easily. I missed one crucial ramp heading left that I saw as we zipped by & then we were dumped into traffic heading towards the Margit Hid - rather than the Erzébet Hid which had been my preference. We crossed into Buda & then just followed the cars in front of us who seemed purposeful. Maybe purposeful but certainly not going where we were. We were map challenged for this part of town & we kept driving & driving until we realized that we were lost. No streets were on our map & no signs were visible for the M1 which is the highway west.

    Time for help. A stop at a gas station revealed that we were way out of our way. Thankfully we got great directions & with only 3 or 4 street combinations we found our way from outer Pest, into a forest, through Budkeszi, past hookers in bathing suits standing in remote driveways to our destination: an M1 onramp. Whew.

    Once on the M1, it was smooth sailing. The hills around Buda continued west until Tata which made the drive quite scenic. But it was just like driving in any country on any highway. Like elsewhere in Europe, people drive reasonably fast. My 130 km/hr was average on the M-Series. But slower is OK too, just expect to be passed by everybody.

    As we approached the first of the Győr interchanges, we could see a line of big hills (Sokor) to the south including the one with the Pannonhalma Monastery - very visible 20 kms away. We exited off the M3 & found our way to Győr - Ménfőcsanak, our destination. This is a southern rural suburb of Győr.

    For this part of the narrative & for the next couple of day's descriptions, I will take a different approach & I won't have a blow by blow. This was family time. We ate family meals & not in restaurants. We stayed for 2 nights with Babi (bub-by) & her husband Béla (bay-la). Babi is a cousin on my wife's mother's side & they went with us to visit that side of the family with some site seeing thrown in. Then for another night, we stayed with Feri & Erika (our Budapest guides) in their flat right in Győr & rushed around visited my wife's father's side. With a little sight seeing also. But I have never, nor would I have ever thought it possible, kissed so many men's, women's & children's cheeks in such a short period of time.Here's the deal. Hungarian style. You call ahead that you will be visiting. When you arrive, you go through a round of kissing & handshakes & hugs. Then you are ushered into the kitchen or sometimes the living room. You sit. The host instantly brings out a silver platter with drinks & glasses. Since we were heat wave summer time, it was always a cold or cool fruit drink and/or pop & water. Always. And then they ask if anyone wants coffee (kav-vey) or wine (bor). I'm sure that pre-0 Tolerance days, the wine & shots of fiery Pálinka flowed often. Kind of like we used to do the same with beer. And of course, food arrives instantly too. Most often just pretzels & similar munchies but sometimes cakes or strudel etc. That is considered the minimum in Hungarian hospitality. For any guest. When you leave, you repeat the round of kissing & handshakes & hugs. With everybody. This was family.

    Since I usually sat there in a stupor, I smiled & nodded & hand signed (charades style) with everyone. I started to get used to: yes = e-gan . no = nem , good = yol , thank-you = kis-eh-nem , thank you were more enthusiasm = kis-eh-nem sea-pen . Those are the basics in English-speak. And of course, cheers = aggie-sheg-a-dra - the subtitle of this literay mess. These are close enough to the pronunciation to be understood. Oh & while I'm at it, castle = var = var , downtown area = belvaros = bel-var-rowsh . You might also note that I added the double accents to the O in Gyõr. And it's dyur (not di-er). Sorry about that earlier faux pas. It gets confusing.

    So, for this part of my narrative, I will highlight the sites we saw that were of touristing interest & throw in some observations of normal Hungarian life.

    Around Gyõr: Pannonhalma

    Pannonhalma sits on a large hill, the 'Sacred Hill of Pannonia' & was founded in 996, according to the brochure. A Benedictine Monastery, winery & school, it's about a 30 minute drive south of Gyõr. We arrived en mass including my wife's mother's 85 year old sister. I was the driver for all of our expeditions. We parked near the front gate & walked in. Slowly, since we have an 85 year old in tow (the delighted & delightful Mag-da-nini). And it's still about 1000 degrees out. We were politely told to go to the visitors center partway down the hill. Back in the car, down the hill & to the visitor's center. Getting nicked for parking along the way too. It seemed that there was a tour (necessary for entry) starting in English in 10 minutes. Good for me, but not for others, but we decide to go for it rather than wait another 1 1/2 hrs for a Magyar version. As it turned out, we had to walk back to the entrance via a forest walkway after a brief video. Lots of stairs = bad. However, Mag-da-nini persevered although we sure slowed down our group - about 15 people including us.

    The monastery/school is actually quite stunning. The views are spectacular. You can see for miles. The tour takes you into the gothic abbey church (my photos are blah), into the library & other areas - including the gift shop of course. They are setup for tour groups but there were none in evidence mid-afternoon. I didn't write down the admission price but it was expensive at 2000Ft each or something I seem to recall.

    See http://www.bences.hu/en

    Towns & Villages

    We toured many small towns & villages around Gyõr during our visitations. Almost all houses are close to the road & fenced with a gate for the car. Garages are usually in the back. As well as the garden. Hungarians love gardening & often supplement their groceries by growing some of their own fruits & vegetables. Of course in Communist days, it was necessary. The authorities are trying to phase out poultry & livestock in the more citified areas. In the towns, soviet-era apartment blocks are common. Often, they are flats that people have purchased. They too have window ledge gardens & the plants often creep out into the hallways & stairwells. We ate well btw.

    In the rural areas, storks are common found nesting on platforms built for them on hydro poles. Pretty neat stuff.

    One village we visited was Jobaháza. This is the village my wife's family left in 1956. The house was torn down at some point & is now just a field. While we were there we ran into numerous people who knew our family or who were related in some way. It was a great experience for me & something that my wife needed to do.

    Gyõr: The Belvaros

    One of the real surprises on this trip was Gyõr. From the investigations I had done prior to the trip, it sounded like it had a few sites to see but the town did not sound like it was terribly tourist 'useful'. It is known as an old city, but one that is primarily industrial. Audi is a large employer with its plant (and with its own tollway exit) where they make the TT. If fact, Babi's son makes doors at this plant. 100 a day is his expected output. He doesn't particularly like it, but it's a job.

    So it was a nice to find out that the Belvaros - Gyõr's downtown sector is actually very nice. At the confluence of 2 rivers, it has remains of the town fort, numerous great churches & a pedestrian shop area that sports gorgeous baroque architecture. The rivers have great parks for leisurely strolls & picnics. So, if you're coming to Hungary, don't just blow by Gyõr on the toll way. It would be worth a night or 2 to enjoy the downtown area. There are some nice hotel options & lots of restaurants & shopping. And no, I don't work for the Gyõr Tourism Board. I've included a lot of pictures because I am sure that few readers have even heard of the place.

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    Vienna

    Hilton Vienna Plaza - Schottenring 11, Vienna, Austria A - 1010
    Free with Hilton Honors Pointswww.hilton.com

    Accommodations: A suite. On the business floor - the 7th. Very nice king-bedded room. Very nice 'American-style' room. Comfortable couch & chairs. Bathrobes & slippers. Opulent bathroom with bidet, shower stall & bathtub. The usual TV x 2 with channels from throughout Europe - (including my trusty BBC Europe), Safe, mini-bar, ice from room service, in-house restaurant, concierge. Very nice. The staff were excellent.

    Located on the 'ring' - tram stop Bõrse - just across the road. Subway link at the side of the hotel. Parking 27€ per day - ouch. But the check-in staff told us to park on the road until Monday morning for free & we did. And they also told us the ticket was only 21€ but I moved the car in at 8 AM & we paid 36€ for parking until Tuesday morning.

    The Negatives: I can't really think of any. Okay, here's one - not many restaurants nearby.

    Day 10 Saturday June 23

    This part of our trip was a vacation away from family visits. When I was planning the trip, I figured after 3 days of intensive family time we would need a break. Good plan , Ian!

    We bid our cousins a fond & tearful farewell & promised to return. A bit later than planned of course, but we were able to get a 3 PM departure which would get us there in daylight - a big pre-requisite for me. I hate arriving in a strange city in the dark & trying to find places. So, we set out toward the M1 for the short drive from Gyõr to Vienna. It was a no-incident easy drive. Ditto crossing the border. Approaching Vienna - now on the A4 - we realized that our maps sucked. I had Michelin point to point directions but then I remembered that the hotel address confused them so . . .

    The highway turned into city roads (#227) & we paralleled the Donaukanal. The streets are marked as in Hungary with corner plaques on corners, so of course you can't see them. All was well however, until we crossed the canal & got into the maze of streets that make up the inner ring. Everything was one way - the wrong way & so we looped around but none of the streets were on our silly map. After 15 minutes of looping & cursing we got onto 227 heading south & found a gas station to ask. Well, he gave us directions to the Hilton & after more frustration we gratefully pulled into the hotel's turn-around. No doorman was in sight, so we helped ourselves to the luggage cart & went in to check-in. We waited for 10 minutes while the 2 counter girls diddled - one was on the phone & one was looking up an address - for 10 minutes! I know, impatient North Americans. The icing was when a women walked up to the HH area & a new staff member literally ran out to service her. I blew a gasket at that point. But of course, as these things always work out, after venting my rage, it turned out that we were at the wrong Hilton - this one was on the south end of the ring & our's was on the north. When we asked how to get to the other Hilton, he told us it was difficult & that we should take a taxi. Hmmm. Kind of hard to fit our rental into a taxi. He gave us mediocre directions, we repacked the car & off we went again.

    After 15 more minutes of looping, we finally found the Schottenring & our Hilton. Schottenring is one way heading out & you have to access the north side buildings via a parallel access road. I don't know if Hilton #1 phoned Hilton #2 to warn them about the rabid customers on the way, but they could not have been nicer. And the room . . . was a suite. Ahhh. With a hallway! We collapsed & poured a drink. A little later we wandered down to the hotel's restaurant for a quick bite. Yikes. The prices are a wee bit higher than in Hungary. Almost double. Even more than the inflated Buda prices. But we didn't care. We ate. We collapsed.

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    Day 11 Sunday June 24

    I was up early the next morning & realized I had done almost no research on Vienna other than a few restaurant suggestions. I dove into my Rough Guide & came up with a plan. We had decided to relax in Vienna, rather than run around like demons & try to see all of the sites. We were on holiday not a marathon & this museum-rich & palace-rich city would take a week to see properly. It was also still 30C + every day which tended to slow things down. So I focused & picked a couple of must-see highlights to form a very lackadaisical itinerary to keep us amused for the 2 days we had. Since Vienna is a popular destination, I won't post as many pictures as I have for the Hungarian portion. Many of you have been there/done that so I will just go with our highlights.

    After a pleasant breakfast on the 10th floor rooftop Executive Lounge, we bought Vienna Passes from the concierge for 16.90€. Then it was to the tram for the short hop to the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

    Just a quick note of praise for Vienna's fabulous transportation system. We traveled around town on trams & used the subway for a trip further out. It works tremendously well & is very easy. And on time. The drivers even wait at stops so they will arrive at the next one on time. This was a bit painful at times since it was still swelteringly hot & no air moves unless the tram moves, but it was efficient.

    Now the Kunsthistorisches. Certainly one of the world's best museums. The building is stunning in its own right - especially the vast interior staircase & the 2 level dome. And the collection? Wow. Hats off to the curators because I have never see art so well displayed. The Egyptian art was superb & the Roman bust collection is beautifully displayed. One of the best I have seen. Bravo! So if you're in Vienna & you want to see something truly outstanding, head to this museum. The rest of their collection was also great - I mean, who else has 3 Rembrandt self-portraits hung side by side?

    After several hours, we were arted out & we headed for a walk through the Hofburg complex. On the way, we stopped for a quick bite in a restaurant in the park in front of the Hofburg Palace. Certainly not a hotbed of culinary delight, I had soup & B had a sausage (really just a hotdog). 12.90€ with a cold drink each.

    After that we just wandered. Through the various courtyards of the Hofburg & around the exterior. We toyed with seeing the Crown Jewels at the Schatzkammer but lack of energy & the 10€ admission dissuaded us. My comment was that for that price, we should get to pick a jewel to take home. We meandered over to Graben & down to Stephenplatz. After watching some break-dancers do a routine, we went into the Stephansdom. The spire is scaffolded (of course). Nice church. We listened to a bell & choir routine from a group from Wisconsin that was performing & took pictures of this impressive structure. They kicked all of the tourists out & we headed through more of the maze of the Innere Stadt before hopping on a tram back to the hotel. For dinner that night, we went to Plachutta. B had one of the boiled beef things & I had schnitzel. Very good. 93.10€ including a 39€ bottle of Prieler Burgenland red wine (the wine I'd rate as just OK btw).

    Our 1st full day in Vienna was rated a success.

    Day 12 Monday June 25

    Opera day. When I started planning this trip, the one thing I wanted to do was see a Mozart Opera in Vienna at the Staatsoper. And not just any Mozart opera, I wanted to see Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). It was only playing 2 or 3 times in the entire season & June 25 was one of them. I booked our seats on-line last October at www.cultuall.com. I then booked our whole Hungary tour around that date. And tonight was the night. The opera started at 7 PM, but we had the day to fill.

    Let's got to Schönbrunn like everybody else! So, wishing to see some nice palace interiors, we hopped on the subway & made our way out. The heat was already building as we arrived & walked to the ticket office. After a 10 minute cranky lineup, we bought the Classic Pass for 16.90€ & commiserated with the ticket seller about all the people who wait until they're at the wicket before they start a family discussion about which option to get. In hindsight, the Lite one would have worked. Our allotted time wasn't for 40 minutes, so we wandered back to see the fountain & to take some pictures. In 4 of my pictures, the same bald, fat guy is front & center. I couldn't get rid of him, but Photo Shop will. Haha.

    The free English Audio Guides made the tour interesting & painless & just long enough. One German group was a bit of a problem but we sped ahead so we could actually see the rooms & not just the back of a crowd. Very nice interiors - especially the Oriental-themed rooms & it was good to see there was still furniture to make it more alive. That's a problem for other palaces we have seen - Versailles, Chambord, Hampton Court etc all beg for some furniture. Well worth the visit.

    By the time we had done the interior, the heat made us decide to skip the maze & walking back to the Gloriette. Just looking back there made me reach for a cold water bottle. Instead we trudged to the subway & zipped to Karlspatz & then we walked over towards the Stadpark. A stop at a sandwich shop gave us lunch which we took into the park to eat under a nice shady tree. Refreshing. After a meander around the park we went back to the hotel to rest before our big night.

    Now to the opera. Dressed in our 'going out' duds, we trammed to the Staatsoper - only a little out of place amongst the trammies. Ticket pickup was easy & we milled around looking important like everybody else. Most were dressed up. Suit & tie for many - I saw one man in an Austrian dress jacket - just like Captain von Trapp. We made our way to our seats. 4th row Orchestra. Center aisle seats. Perfect. For 314€ (for 2) they should be good. And they were. The building & interior are wonderful of course & it was packed for this sold-out performance.

    Stunning is the word that comes to mind. I know the music very well but I've never seen it performed. We were close enough to see & hear everything. Every expression. Every word. I was riveted. The Queen of the Night arias were breath-taking. All of the vocalists were superb. And the orchestra was wonderful. The set? Hmmm. Costumes? Certainly not period. But it didn't matter. The music was there. It's nice to fulfill a fantasy one in a while. Such a rare treat in life.

    After we spilled out onto the wet street, it became apparent that the weather had finally broken & it had rained during the 2nd Act. Relief! We had had hot scorching weather every day. Blue sky & sun is never a problem, but the heat was. Thankfully, middle Europe doesn't seem plagued with high humidity, but it had still been unbearable at times.

    We went down the street searching for food. An Italian place was open & numerous opera goers indulged. The name & price have disappeared - but it was not memorable anyway. Somewhere around 50€ for pasta carbonara & a split parmesan/arugula salad including a glass of wine each.

    Another day done. We trammed back & collapsed.

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    Day 13 Tuesday June 26 - Thursday June 28

    A cloudy day. Yes, that's right a cloudy day. And cool. This is different. We have had a continuous heat wave since we arrived in Budapest almost 2 weeks ago. It has always cooled at night for some relief, but the days have been brutal.

    We had planned to go the the Belvedere this morning, but we changed our minds & decided to head for Sopron a little earlier. The 1st task was to get an Autobahn sticker. When we drove in & passed the border, I wondered why everybody seemed to exit at the roadside plaza just inside Austria. It completely slipped my mind that we should have too, to get a pass. Now we needed one again. A 10 day sticker for a 1hour drive. But finding one was a challenge. The concierge sent us down the road in search of a 'Tabac'. The 1st one didn't sell them & the 2nd only had expired ones. So we aimed the car toward the gas station on 227 where we had asked for directions. No dice again. Down the road a couple of kms we stopped again at a gas station. No. This was not easy. But they suggested an Audi dealer next door who was sure to have them. And they did. For 7.60€, which was a euro or two more than the Tabac that had the expired ones, but at least we got one.

    Now legal, we followed the signs for Linz, then Graf & then Sopron. A23 - A2 - A3. Another easy drive. One thing I noticed was that Austrians seemed to drive slower overall that the Hungarian drivers. I didn't expect that with all of the Autobahn stories you hear.

    At the border the disinterested Austrian guard waved us through, but the Hungarian guard took our passports & wandered over to the other side of the car to stamp them while having a loud conversation with 3 other guards who were just standing around. We were the only car treated to this show.

    After the border, a short drive on the 2 lane Hwy 84 brought us to Sopron. Once again, I'll deviate from the play by play since this time was spent with another cousin - Etus & her husband Imre. The difference here was that I parked the car & they drove us around to see all of the local sites. I actually got to look around rather than trying to drive & look around. And much to our consternation, they wouldn't let us pay for anything.

    I'll confess here that I loved Sopron. It somehow just felt very comfortable. It is not a large town & it has maintained it's small town luster. A couple of industries are based there - Soproni Beer for one & a brick plant - but it also relies on its proximity to Vienna for tourist income. Wellness hotels are sprinkled all around the outskirts - in the hills & small villages in all directions. Dental clinics abound to feed the Austrian need for cheap dental work. And the lower stretches of the hill that rises to the east are dotted with their vacation homes. Most of the hill is a national park & from the lookout on top, you can see well into Austria. Since it survived the Mongol & Turkish scourges, it has a wonderfully old feel & its belváros is a maze of twisty streets with wonderful Baroque buildings. Of course there are also modern touches like supermarkets like Tesco, a football stadium & car dealers etc etc.

    We drove up through the houses & hotels in the hills & had lunch at one of the restaurants that cater to the wellness crowd. Expect menus in Hungarian & German but they sometimes have an English one. We cheated & drove up to the Károly Lookout & admired the vistas. You can see snow-capped mountains in Austria in one direction & the Fertö-Tó beyond Sopron in another. We visited the old quarry at Fertörákos that started life as a Roman quarry & provided stone for Schöbrunn in Vienna along the way. Concerts are held in a massive underground gallery inside the quarry. We also went to the buffer zone between Austria & Hungary. When the Russians were around, Hungarian border patrol restricted access to this whole area. The Russians weren't allowed with 5 km of the border due to agreements. But nobody else was either. Nearby we passed the 'Communist' school & then stopped at an old miner's bar in the bottom of the local church for a beer. It certainly was a rural area. I started humming the banjo music from Deliverance.

    In Sopron, we walked the downtown (belváros) & it's Baroque center. Wonderful old churches & buildings. Many are used as municipal offices and the residential ones are in high demand & price. A stone in Fö Ter marks it originally as the Roman Forum Scarbantiae, so it's seen its share of history. There are museums & cafés in Fö Ter & several shops sprinkled amongst the churches & buildings. Not a big area but a delightful one.

    The main retail drag is just the other side of the old city wall & it's just as pretty with colorful old buildings. Watch for the parking cops, because they are diligent.

    A couple of restaurants we went to around Sopron. Both were considered 'special event' restaurants by Etus & Imre:

    Panoráma – Fürdó sor 25 – Balf 8180 Ft a great lunch for 4 - all Austrian clientele

    Fehér Rózsa Fogadó – Pócsi u 21 – Sopron 8400 Ft very good dinner for 4 with ½ l of wine - German & Hungarian menus only - this is the one we walked to & from so Imre could drink.

    Fertöd

    About 20 kms from Sopron lies the village of Fertöd. It was the service village for the Esterházy Palace which is off the highway in the east end of town. We took a tour - in Hungarian - of this once-upon-a-time playground for the rich & famous. Haydn stayed here for 20 years amongst other luminaries. It is slowly being restored after years of abuse. The main ballroom was used for agricultural storage after WW2 & tractors drove right in. The paint is peeling & the gilding is mostly worn off, but it is a magnificent building & grounds. I wanted to grab a paintbrush & dive in. Well worth a visit. We had the 1st rain of our trip when we came out after the tour. We didn't mind at all. We passed by the Széchenyi Mansion in Nagycenk on the way back but didn't have time to stop since more relatives beckoned.

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    Budapest Take 2

    Accommodations

    Hilton Budapest - Var District - Hess A. ter 1-3, Budapest, Hungary
    Free with Hilton Honors Points – Again . . .

    Day 15 Thursday June 28

    Back to Budapest. After one last blast of relativing & a nice lunch from Etus, we packed the car & drove out of Sopron heading east just after noon. Another easy drive although it raining for some of the way. It's two lane until Gyor, so that slowed it done since 84/85 is a busy truck route. We were warned that this road is also considered somewhat dangerous due to a high accident rate. Lights on. please! And remember to slow to 50 km/hr when you enter a town or village. We saw one major speed trap in Enese with over a dozen police in evidence on both sides of the road. We drove by legally. We reached the outskirts of Buda at around 3 PM. The Hilton on the Buda Hill was our destination again - I know, how boring! We were leaving Ferighey at 9:35 AM for Warsaw so we just needed a bed & HH Points came through again.

    All was going well until the highway turned into a city street & then we came to the decision point. Up the ramp towards Erzsébet Hid or straight into city traffic. Of course, we went with the ramp & then had to exit just before the bridge but heading the wrong way. We passed the Gellért & turned around with mild difficulty. Then we found our way to the castle hill without any problem & parked the car.

    After check-in - we got a room 2 doors from the one we had - we walked next door the the Matyas Church since we had skipped it last time. After a brief visit, B went shopping & I wandered the Buda Hill looking for photo opps & a restaurant to book for our last Hungarian meal.

    Istvan's son came to get the car as arranged & I surrendered the keys to him with pleasure. For dinner, we decided on Alabárdos - Országház utca 2 - Buda see http://www.alabardos.hu/, just a block from the hotel. It was certainly upscale & turned out well. The staff was a bit stiff & pretentious & yet they shake your hand when you leave. 6900 Ft for wine & similar for food. Typical high-end food sizes too.

    Day 16 Friday June 29

    While waiting for B, I snap one last picture out of the window. Then we taxi'd to the airport. We paid more than Zona fare when we arrived, so we should have ordered one the night before. But we got there & checked in with LOT Airlines for our hop to Warsaw.

    Since our connection to Toronto was 6 hours & in the middle of the day, I did a wee bit of research & decided to taxi into Old Town in Warsaw for lunch & to poke around. It was not on our destination list & this was a chance to see it. We exchanged our Forints for Euros at the Budapest airport in anticipation of another exchange in Poland. The flight to Warsaw was painless & my window seat gave me some views of Slovakia & southern Poland.

    We arrived on time & exchanged 200€ for 700 Polish Zlotys. The cab ride to Old Town (Stare Miasto) was about 20 minutes & the traffic was quite bad. On the way the driver pointed out a few sites & slowed down at the President's Palace but we were shooed away by a guard. We were not impressed by the drabness of the part of the city that we drove through. There were some modern buildings & some other nice ones mixed in, but much of it was Communist drab. 35 Zlotys got us to Plac Zamkowy - the main square & good entrance to Old Town. I brought some restaurant info & a net map but left it on the desk at the Hilton in Budapest, of course. The taxi had some free map guides in a pouch which was sufficient.

    We jumped out & started wandering & snapping pictures of the square as the sky grew more ominous above us. The rain started after about 5 minutes & we ducked into a convenient restaurant for lunch. Some German place, but it was good. In Poland eating German food? I don't know. The rain only lasted 10 minutes & by the time we were finished it was sunny again. 12:30. Still lots of time. We perused the area, up & down the streets & through the lovely Old Market Square with its decorated buildings & multitude of cafés. We even walked outside the wall & completely around the 'new' old city wall to see the Vistula below. You can see rocks imbedded in walls in many buildings just outside the wall. In memory of the events that transpired here. It's hard to believe that it's a rebuild. But the same could be said for most of the areas we visited this trip. Only the castellated wall with the cones at the north seems contrived & but the rest is amazing. It is a small area & a couple of hours was enough. We didn't go in the castle which had some weaponry exhibit on.

    1:30 PM. Time to start thinking about going. Our flight was at 4:55 PM but there was customs & security etc. We had been warned about taxis by the flight attendant. She said the ones with 9191 (or 1919?) were the cheap ones & some would whack you with fares. The only taxi waiting at Plac Zamkowy was one of those - 80 Zloty to the airport. More than double what we paid. So we walked 2 or 3 blocks into the city in search of another. "No, I'm waiting for the president" from the 1st. "No, waiting" from #2 "No. I'm city taxi" from the #3 & #4. Each taxi took about 1 block to find. We were starting to get anxious as 2 PM rolled around. #5 just shook his head. Of course, we were asking in English & many of the drivers couldn't. But airport - aeroport was pretty universal.

    Finally, I waved down a taxi & asked his rate. He said: "I don't know. What on meter." We jumped in. Again, the traffic was horrendous on the way back to the airport. The driver ducked through numerous back routes to get us there. There seemed to be a closure due to some construction on a major east-west road. 37 Zlotys. And a 5 Zloty tip since we were so relieved.

    Now Warsaw's airport is not one of the best. There's a brand new terminal but it's not open yet. We went through passport control & into a duty free area. We bought some chocolate & cigarettes but we were way over on liquor already since I had 2 x 2l of Imre's wine amongst other liquor gifts. I didn't mentioned Imre's wine but it's pretty good. He grows his own grapes etc. Then off to currency exchange again for Zlotys to CDN $s. Forints to Euros to Zlotys to CDN $s - all in one day!

    We hit the LOT lounge, but it was small & cramped & not much fun. Then 1 hour before flight time we went through the humorless security into the gate area. A flight to Paris was boarding & ours was on the board as the next. That was the last we saw of the flight for many hours. Of course, it was delayed & we didn't leave until 8 PM. All this time we were trapped in the duty free security zone unable to get out. We could walk through security, but not out of the passport zone area. We were not amused. And LOT's passenger information? A joke. There were completely unintelligible PA announcements in Polish & English but since they were completely unintelligible . . . Asking at the desk was little better.

    Anyway, we finally boarded & we were off for the haul home. Just as a side note, LOT's meals were fairly disgusting too. A prune wrapped in uncooked bacon as a main course? In business class? Hmmm. And the Lufthansa seats embarrassed the LOT ones. I won't be flying them again. On arrival in Toronto, Custom's waved us through despite our over-abundance of wine. We were home.

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    Great trip report! Thanks for the details. I enjoyed all the information. Both my parents are Hungarian so I can relate to the relatives and all the kissing. Am going to take my husband there for the 1st time next year...should be fun. Thanks for the info on Eger, I plan to go there.

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    I'm glad you enjoyed it. We certainly had fun on the trip & we do plan a return at some point.

    gregeva1: A suggestion if you're going for relative visits. Plan an on again/off again itinerary with touristing breaks in between the relativing. Your husband will thank you - assuming he doesn't speak Magyar . . .

    I was the DP - Designated Photographer for the family part.

    Ian

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    This was a great trip report, and I loved your photos. I'll be in Budapest in less than 2 months and will be taking a side trip to Eger, so your report was very helpful as well as interesting. Thanks for posting it!

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