Near Vienna, in the Alps. 20th July 2007.

I'm out of Hungary and back in Austria. Hooray! I didn't like Hungary as much as some other places I've been.

But first. In my last email I showed some photos of stoves in a castle, then some photos from the castle. Branko has sent me some photos of the castle, taken from his balloon. Here's my favourite. 

Why didn't I enjoy Hungary too much? I don't know really. Lots of small things.

Last year Eleanor and a girl friend of hers borrowed my van for 6 weeks. It was then just a van, with a mattress in the back, and a few camping things they found in my garage. None of my current refinements (!). They had a great time, even spending a week in Budapest, sleeping parked on the street, mostly going to a week long music festival. Seems they were OK.

But one of the first things I found out is that you are not allowed to park a camper van anywhere for the night, you must go to a camp site. Well, you know I don't like camp sites. I guess Eleanor didn't know, or didn't care, about this! I don't really care all that much, but I do prefer not to be doing things I shouldn't. Of course, the first 2 nights I was here I didn't go to a camp site, either, I hid.......

It was too hot. Some of the girls in an air conditioned tourist office thought the temperatures were normal although when I was on the way back a guide on a monastery tour - who spent half the tour outside - said it was not normal, temperatures were in the 40's, it was too hot for him too, normal temperature was more lake 30C. One time I left the van in the sun for an hour, the air temp was 55C in the van. That's 131F for those who can't work it out. That's too hot for me.

I mentioned tourist offices. In Slovenia the offices seemed nearly all to be manned by young attractive girls. Oh my goodness I should not have said that. Simon will go berserk. I think the mention of words like that does things to him. Young to me. Anyway, these young ladies once they have given you the information you asked for then sort of hang around, in case they can help more. In Hungary they gladly give you the information you ask for, then they go back to studying their computer, or whatever. Subtle difference in the wish to help.

I was in a heavy tourist area, by the lake. Everywhere you looked there were parking ticket machines, or, in the smaller places, a young man sitting at a table waiting to collect parking fees. Every small area seemed to include marked out parking spaces and a young man collecting money. About 1 euro per hour was typical. Oh, Hungary is in the EEC but has not yet adopted the Euro, they still use forets, or something, so it was 250 forets.

Every other private house has a sign outside, room available. The places were packed. I can't imagine what it is like when the place is full.

Even now there were people everywhere. In the towns, by the lake, swimming in the lake, and so on. Now I've no objection to 100's of people having a great time, en masse, none whatsoever, but I just don't want to be part of it, thank you.

Mostly you paid to go in the beach areas - can't have been too expensive, everyone was there. I passed by one spot which was free, I fancied a quick dip, so in I went. There were small bits of you know what floating everywhere on the surface. I stopped. There was a man nearby. I pointed to a larger bit. I don't like the water I said, look at that. Oh it's a piece of, he said, but didn't finish. It's OK out here he said few moments later. I followed and swam a little, but you can be sure I kept my mouth shut. I exited by a more crowded area thinking it might be better. It was. But I don't think it would get an entry in the cleaner beaches guide. I suspect the other beaches are much the same.

Around 60 years ago I would go to Scarborough, in Yorkshire, for summer holidays - my family came from around there - and in the North Bay there was a sewage outfall pipe which went way out to sea, you could tell where it ended by all the seagulls around. But that was over 50 years ago, and in the sea, where there are currents and so on. Lake Balaton is just a shallow inland lake. Yuk.

I guess you've had enough moaning by now. And by all accounts Budapest is beautiful. People said I had to be sure to visit Budapest.

So here is a castle, by the lake. Started in the late 900's, later modified and improved, now being restored.

Here's the view looking towards the lake.

This where I went swimming. No problem for the ducks. I swam over to the crowd in the distance when I came out.

A view over the lake. It could be the Mediterranean.

Just before I visited the Tihany Peninsula, where the above two photos were taken, I spotted a sign on the side of the road, Heisluftballon. Ah, I thought, that's me, and I dived in the field entrance. There were 3 attractive young (young to me) ladies there, in bikinis, but no pilot. The 3 girls spoke almost no English.

He'll be here at 7, maybe 8 pm, I understood. So I checked out the peninsula, bought a beer, had a swim, and returned. He'll not be here until the morning seemed to be the message now. OK I said, can I park here the night. Young (we've dealt with that) lady got on the phone and I spoke with an English speaking friend of the pilot. Seems when he rented the field for his balloon, also his helicopter, flights, he had promised the farmer no camping. So I drove down the lane opposite as suggested. Camping said the man at parking, almost throwing a pink fit, you'll have to go back to someplacename. What's with this camping thing in Hungary? Most countries don't really care where you park your camping car (RV) for the night.

I stopped at a tennis club camping, and got them to reduce to about 4 Euros as I needed no services. In the morning I picked up and read about 50 emails, then went to see the pilot Gyarmati Istvan. Not there. One hour says young lady. Not knowing if that was in 1 hour's time, or at 1 pm, I said bye, and left.

I looked at a few more crowded holiday gardens/beaches, and headed north.

This was the view from a nice castle on the way.

I just spotted this in the distance.

This is a working monastery. I took a guided tour. My guide, I mentioned earlier, was too hot. The monastery originates from 996 and has some of the oldest written graffiti in existence, carved into a stone doorway, saying, basically, Killroy was here, with the date 1578

If I can find the brochure, I'll fill in some details. However, this was the library.

I snuck out of Hungary and settled in an Austrian cemetery car park for the night. During the night I had an urgent need and was very glad I had a portable toilet available. I put the cause of the problem down to either a lettuce I had bought and not managed a good job on washing, or on some water I had got at a petrol station. In the morning I boiled the water before making coffee. There was quite a scum on it. The lettuce has now gone in the garbage and all the water has been replaced with fresh Austrian mountain water. The problem has not recurred.

I earlier showed photos in Slovenia of cemetery candles at night, here it was ablaze with flowers. Real growing flowers in the main, very, very, few artificial. Almost every grave had flowers growing. Family graves mostly, but some with the latest death date of 30 or 40 years ago, all full of flowers.

In Austria you are allowed to sleep in your car even at the side of the road.

Reaching Austria here was a noticeable increase in the quality of life. The houses were better, the roads were better, there were more petrol stations.

I had intended to call on Gerhard Hafner who lived just south of Vienna, and whom I had met at the wine tour. But he had just gone away on holiday, again. I talked with his daughter in law, who lived nearby, and her Mum. I left a bottle of my favourite champagne for Gerhard, and left.

Which reminds me. I left a bottle in the fridge of the previously mentioned balloon/helicopter pilot so we could have an evening drink. Of course he didn't turn up. Cheers helicopter/balloon pilot Gyarmati.

After not seeing Gerhard I headed towards the mountains. On the way I was passed by a car with a trailer marked Cameron Balloons. I followed it a short way, it was travelling incredibly quickly, it turned on to the motorway where I let it get away and turned off at the first exit.

I was now back in the mountains. I noticed a small track running away from the road, into the woods, and followed. It only ran a short distance and stopped in a small clearing, where a new bar had been built. I was amused to notice that the double doors on the right were padlocked although the whole front of the bar was open.

It seemed a good place for the night.

At 7.30 a brass band started out in the distance. They were good, I listened to them. After a few numbers they played Happy Birthday. Ah! They had been retained for birthday celebrations. When I was in the UK the local Silver - in this case - would do functions in the same way. It gave them practice, in public, and helped with band funds.

Best regards

David Barker

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