June 13, 2010 Szentendre, Hungary

3 08 2010

We got up today for for our last full day of our vacation.  It has been a long vacation with a LOT of travelling and walking and some wacky weather.  I’m ready for this to be the last day.

We all skipped breakfast this morning and headed out to catch the metro down to the Urban train station.  We got off at Batthany Ter.  The urban train to Szentendre was about 1500 HuF but since part of the ride was covered by our Budapest card we probably only paid about 900HuF.  We had more or less just missed a train so we had a little time to look around.  There was a bakery selling little mini danishes.  We bought 10 or so and I think it probably cost us about $2CAD. Cheap.  Finally – something cheap :)  The little danishes were quite tasty.  Some had apple, while others had strawberry or blueberry.   A quick bite on a Sunday morning. They were selling quite well too!

We hung out on the platform and waited while another train was getting ready to leave.  Some helpful local guy wanted to make sure we didn’t take that train.  He tried very hard to explain that it wasn’t the train to Szentendre.  We already figured that out but thanked him for helping us as he got his train and away they went.  Not long after that, our train arrived at the station.

The train runs every about every 30 minutes so it arrived quite soon.   The whole ride on the train is only about 40-45 minutes so we arrived at our destination around 1000.  We disembarked and it took a little bit to figure out where we were going.  It was easy to follow the rule of thumb and “Follow the masses”  If you weren’t meeting someone that was picking you up by car or something you were going to be walking into the main “village” area.  We walked with everyone else, into the village.  The sun was sizzling already.  This early summer weather is HOT!

The village itself was quite quiet at this time.  I think it only really wakes up, businesswise, around 1000.  Some vendors were setting up their displays at their shops and talking to each other, probably about the thing neighbours talk about.  I imagine the weather, business and what so-and-so did last night 😉

One of the few places open early was a “Marzipan museum”.  The line to enter wasn’t very long and the cost was reasonable so we went in.  Upon entering, we discovered that it basically felt like someone’s cramped 2 floor home that had been converted to a factory/store/museum and the second floor was all these marzipan figures.  They had a life-sized Princess Diana, a whole fish pond scene, dogs and various recreations in marzipan.  It’s not too surprising when you consider it.  marzipan pretty much has the consistency of soft clay and is just as moldable.   While the museum was interesting, even at this early time in the day the upstairs was becoming a sweat lodge.  We hastened our visit and headed down to the exit – coincidentally through the store section.  The store part was a madhouse.  You’d have thought that the last almonds had died and that no more marzipan would ever be made.  People were buying KILOS of the stuff and many of them were buying pre-made marzipan sculptures… It was crazy.  We squeezed through the teeming throngs and managed to get out of the store.

By the time we got out of the “museum” it was closer to 1100 and we wandered down the one “touristy” street.  EVERY store had souvenirs, crystal or some other thing that they were hoping you’d plunk down your forints for.  If there had been only 10% of the stores, the variety would have been no less.  Wow – how many people can sell the same thing for same price???  I felt like I was trapped in some twilight zone episode where a new Hell had descended upon a pretty little village and Satan was lengthening the street as I walked.  It seemed that it would never end. 

There were a few little side streets that gave a glimpse into the locals’ lives.  Streets that weren’t crowded with tourists that had fun coloured shutters and neat window boxes down one while another had a place with broken windows and long forgotten gates and doors.  This was the interesting part of the village for me.

Back to the main drag…   There was a town square with the obligatory statue, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a good angle in the harsh midday sun.  Down at the end of the street we found out where all the other tourists came from… It was the drop off point for the tour buses.  There must have been 15 coaches there.  So much for the “little village away from the crowds” 😦

As we wandered the streets we stopped for some danishes and then at a little outdoor place that sold “lemonade” by the litre.  Just the thing, we thought.  It turned out to be REAL lemonade.  They took lemons, limes, and oranges and crushed them in with some ice and sprite.  It made for a wonderfully relaxing drink on the hot afternoon!

We wandered a bit more but we really had seen the whole town, so it was time to head back home.  One last stop along the way… there were about 3 Serbian Orthodox churches in the town.  There was one along the main drag but it wanted 300HuF to enter. The others had had enough churches, I think, so I was the only one to go in.  It was probably a very pretty little church in its time, but it has aged poorly. I was glad that I had paid to go in, as I hoped the money would go to helping restore the church.  It’s unfortunate to see the hard work of people from the past slowly deteriorate.

We took the train back home and I think most, if not all, of us slept on the way back. The heat was tough.  We went back to our hotel and freshened up.  We were heading for our last afternoon/evening in Budapest.

After refreshing ourselves, we headed in two groups down the main shopping street “Vaci Utca”.  The street is about 10 blocks long and lined with souvenir shops, t-shirt vendors and restaurants.  Personally, having seen the first block, I was pretty sure the other 9 blocks would be the same… I was right.  After having walked all the way to the Great Market Hall at the end of the street, we turned around and headed back. Mrs Dragonspeed was having a great time checking out the different shops.   We stopped into one little t-shirt vendor and bought matching “Hungary” T-shirts.  There – I finally bought a souvenir.  I had held off for so long, but they finally broke me 😉

We met up with the other three as we were on our return and we all ended up looking at stores together and Mrs D showed the others some of the places she had found and vice-versa.  I wandered a bit ahead of the shoppers, I really was tired of the whole shopping thing.

It was because I was walking ahead (alone) that something interesting happened…

As I was walking, these two women approached me and asked if I knew where an air conditioned bar was along the street.  They said they were from Hungary, but not Budapest so didn’t know the area well.  Well, I’m not exactly a “prize fish” so I was doubtful about their story… Why would these two young women be hitting on me?  I think it was a “come, let us take you to a bar and slip you a little something in your drink” sort of plan.   Well, I turned down the offer to help them find a bar ;)  Funny how your senses just say “This is SO WRONG”.  I saw the same two women about 5 minutes later seemingly selecting their next “friend”.  Well – dodged that one.

We had dinner at a cafe/restaurant that was along the road.  We watched the Montreal Grand Prix and some World Cup action.  It’s too bad our trip is ending as the games are starting.  It could be really fun to watch over here… Europeans are more interested in soccer than North Americans.  The food at the restaurant was “OK” but it was nothing exceptional. It WAS expensive.  We did the group share thing and it helped keep the costs down a bit.

With dinner finished and our shopping complete, we headed back to our hotel.  Mrs D and I had an early flight out in the morning, while the others were leaving at 1800.

After much packing and repacking we got it all fitted in the suitcases.  We went up to the other room and talked with the others and said our good-byes.  It was likely that we wouldn’t be seeing them in the morning.

We went to bed with the mixed happiness and sadness that you often feel at the end of a long vacation.  Our trip to Central Europe was complete.

Thanks for following us through the journey.  I hope you enjoyed the trip with us through the blog and the pictures.

May 31, 2010 Cesky Krumlov, CZ to Salzburg, Austria

3 06 2010

The day began like the previous departure days.  We got up and packed, then headed down to have breakfast with the group.  I made sure I got my OJ early as yesterday they ran out.   Yesterday’s eggs had seemed powdered so I wasn’t going to venture forth and try them today.  Francis was a bit more daring and told me that they were good.  I decided to pass still :)  They were out of flavoured yogurt so I tried the plain yogurt.  Last time.  Ick.

We were to catch our minibus down by the bridge at 1000 so we bumped along the cobblestones out to the meeting point in time for 0950.  It was cold.  About 10 degrees C cold.   Wow – nice summer vacation ;)  The minibus showed up about 3 minutes late.  It was a nice sized bus that could hold about 13 people, and there would be 11 on the trip to Salzburg.  Our luggage went into a little steel box on wheels calling itself a trailer.  I had visions of our luggage spewing forth on the highway.

I don’t know if I mentioned it previously but the original plan was to take the train to Salzburg.  For 6 of us it would have been included (as they had purchased their Eastern Europe rail pass) while for Mrs D and I, it definitely made more sense to take the shuttle.  The pickup was much closer to our hotel and the cost was actually about the same or less than the train.  The others had decided to join us on the shuttle because for the $20 they were going to have to pay, it was worth the convenience to not have to drag their luggage back UP the cobblestone streets!

Well, back to our shuttle.  The driver was a really nice guy and relatively talkative.  He asked about where we were from and what things are like back in Canada.  We talked about the Olympics and hockey.  The Czechs having just won the worlds this past week – it made the national paper front page.  There are many Czechs that are as hockey crazy as Canadians.   After our discussions about the weather, environment etc, I slowly nodded off.  I probably managed to grab about an hour’s sleep on the three hour trip.  The others in the back of the bus seemed to just live in a state of sleep.  Every time I turned around I saw 10 people with their eyes closed.

As we approached Salzburg, the weather took a definite turn for the colder.  It was cold, windy and at times the rain came down HARD.  Oh goodie.  Just like winter back home.

The minibus dropped us off at the train station despite my plea to drop us off a kilometre down the road at our hotel.   My pleading skills seem to have fallen off as I’ve aged.  We found ourselves at the train station and really no idea as to where we had to go next.  Francis and I ventured forth to find some information.

We came upon a booth with a big “i” on it (like one you’d find on an info booth)  and figured we’d go in to get some information.  Once inside, I read a sign that loosely translates to “No tourist information” and I could here a woman repeating it to some poor traveller.  Yikes.  I approached the other person at the desk and decided to take my chances.  Apparently street directions are OK.  He pointed out that we were already on the street that I was looking for and that we simply had to walk down about 1km.  Excellent.  We bundled up against the rain and the wind and headed down to our hotel for the next two nights, the hotel Stiegelbrau – a Best Western hotel.

The hotel was surprisingly busy for 1400 and we were told that we’d have to wait for a while before we could get into our rooms.  That was find for us, we were hungry so we popped into the hotel restaurant for a bite. Wow… sticker shock!  8 EUROS for a club sandwich!!!.  We shared 4 club sandwiches among eight of us and put some food in our stomachs. 

We returned around 1500 to get our rooms and were disappointed to learn that two of the rooms were ready and that our room would take a while longer again… “Perhaps 30 minutes.” said the clerk.

I explained that I had already waited 30 minutes up to this point and that this is what the LAST clerk said.  He seemed fairly unfazed and offered his apologies but no deviation from when the room would be ready.  Since the other two rooms WERE ready, we left our luggage in one of them and then as a group we headed down to the old town.

The old town basically is a piece of Salzburg that sits in the shadow of the fortress of Salzburg, and is comprised of very narrow streets, churches, cemeteries and historical buildings.  Today we would find ourselves doing some window shopping and then deciding to purchase the “Salzburg” card, 24 hour version for 25 Euros.  We promptly started using it at 1630 for a visit to Mozart’s birthplace.

The museum was nice and showcased various historical aspects of Mozart’s life.  It was interesting, but I don’t know if it was really worth the 7 Euros that they wanted for admission.

Next we went shopping.  Wonderful.  It was cold, wet, rainy and we were shopping.  What more could I ask for?  Interestingly, all the shops along the street had little signs that hung outside their shops much like in the olden day.  The cool thing is that even McDonalds had one!  After shopping for what seemed to be an eternity, we stopped for dinner at a place called “NordSee”.  It was all about seafood.  I was really tired and probably more than a bit dehydrated.  My only desire was for a rest.  While the others determined what dinner would be, I sat upstairs and enjoyed some peace and quiet.  The actual food was quite nice, but I just was so tired it was hard for me to enjoy.

After dinner, Mrs D and I walked back to the hotel while the others shopped some more.  It turned out to be about 7C on the way home.  Man was it cold.  I was so happy to get back to the hotel.

Finally, our hotel room was ready!!!  We took our stuff from the other room and moved into ours.  It was quite nice and quiet despite the construction going on just outside our window. We settled.  I got myself logged into my laptop and had planned to get my photos copying.  4000ms pings and dropping 2 out of every 3 packets meant that any dreams I had of using the internet just vanished in horrendous latency.  Damn.

I gave up on the Internet and Mrs D and I headed out to find a Laundromat to wash our clothing from the past week.  The hotel clerk said it was just across from the train station… Off we went.  Shouldn’t be too hard we thought.  Upon arriving at the train station, we realized that “across” could mean many different things and none of them seemed to be what we we expected.  Bummer.  I asked at a “sports bar” (basically a sports betting establishment with TV’’s showing different bettable events) and they didn’t know.  We tried to ask two women and they actually started running from us.  I was beginning to wonder if we’d EVER find the Laundromat when we asked at the Burger King.  The young man working there didn’t know either but he asked his colleagues and one knew where and gave us directions… Saved by BK.

The Laundromat was located in a mall complex with a group of cinemas being the dominant feature and the Laundromat being off to the side.  There was NO way we would have stumbled upon this place.  We went in and stared somewhat dumfounded at the machines.  It all seemed much more complicated than “put your money here”.  Luckily a family from Winnipeg was there doing their laundry and had already learned the laundry routine through trial and error and walked us through it.

4.50 Euro for the wash and 1.40 Euro/10 minutes later we had clean, dry clothing and had enjoyed a good conversation with the Winnipeggers.  Even more strange – we ran into a Singapore couple that we had met on the Train to Cesky Budejovice (actually during the bus shuttle between stations).  It was nice to talk to them again and see how their vacation had been going for them. It really is a small world (cue the music)

On the way back, the rain had subsided somewhat and it was good to get back into our warm hotel.

Little did I realise that it would STAY our warm hotel, despite setting the thermostat to 14C.  The room stayed warm – very warm.  Sleep came happily, but also with great warmth.  My watch was showing the room temp as 26C.  Morning would be coming too soon, so I didn’t fight the temperature, I just passed out.

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