Bratislava, Budapest, Eating and Marty

Hungary, Slovakia

The trip to Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) was unfortunately too rushed and too hot. Most of us in the group decided that it’s not really worth the detour – we had only three hours to see the old part of the city. There is actually a bit to see in Bratislava, contrary to what we were told by a 16 year old local girl on the train.

It was 40 degrees when we arrived at midday – hardly the climate for running around. So we did a bit of walking and then found a spot that served fresh lemonade and massive pizzas (not exaggerating).

20120921-143816.jpg

Bratislava is trying hard to attract tourists and has much of what the other popular Central European cities has to offer. It’s also very easy to get around and it isn’t swamped by tourists. Probably an up and coming destination… Plus great statues and street performers.

20120912-233426.jpg Rubberneck, who has had his head knocked off three times by bad drivers

20120912-233744.jpg

Tour leader Viv was particularly excited about showing us her home city of Budapest. We arrived by train from Bratislava around 7pm on Friday night, checked in (nothing flash, but ok), and went for dinner. Viv had picked the retro and buzzing Menza Restaurant, serving tasty Hungarian dishes. The food in Budapest turned out to be the best of the last five countries. I had the popular Hake fish and Em had trout. They also did their own beer which was very good. (We came back to Menza by ourselves on our last night and had their stroganoff, which is in my top 5 meals of the trip).

20120912-233952.jpg Best stroganoff ever

In the morning, Viv took us on her walking tour. Over about four hours, we saw most of the city, often jumping on the underground tube or a tram to get around. We didn’t see much of Buda, except from the river, but we saw lots of Pest, where the action is. They are gradually doing up many of the old buildings that were destroyed either in the war or during the post-war violence with the Soviets. The idea is that they do a really good job of each one – do it once and do it right.

20120912-234136.jpgBullet holes from the 1956 uprising

That evening was our last night with the group and another excellent restaurant choice – renown for its crispy skin goose.

20120912-234544.jpg

Dinner was followed by a river cruise, showing off the best bits of Budapest at night, although it was a little pricey.

20120912-234403.jpg

Six of us then headed out to taste some Budapest’s Saturday nightlife. It turned out to be mostly entertaining for people watching in this part of town which is a park by day, and a series of bars at night. There were some real sights, and we were entertained by a local guy, who we nicknamed Marty cause he liked to party, and who took a particular shine to Em. (I didn’t feel threatened, as we later saw him unintentionally use a drinking fountain as a bidet).

20120912-234700.jpgMarty on the left

A very late finish meant a pretty slow day afterwards. We tried unsuccessfully to cover off the not-so-glamorous bits of travelling – laundry, next bookings etc. In the late afternoon we made it to the House of Terror, which was highly recommended on Trip Adviser. It canvassed the horrors of the Soviets in Hungary and the 1956 uprising, but we were disappointed by the lack of good information in English in favour of strange artistic displays that didn’t seem to have any real purpose.

It would be great to spend more time in Budapest – certainly one of our favourite cities, along with Krakow.

More blogging to come on Austria, hiking in the Dolomites and Venice… Slowly catching up.

Mountaineering

Slovakia

When we set out for a hike in the Carpathian Mountains, Slovakia, we were expecting a leisurely walk rather than the rock-scaling/mountaineering day we had. We arrived late the night before, after a long afternoon in a shuttle bus. There seemed to be a noticeable change in the landscape as we neared the Polish border with Slovakia, and as we crossed over we saw more lakes, darker greens and most noticeably the awesome jagged mountain ranges.

Our accommodation was a hotel in Tatras Lomnica that dubbed as a tennis centre – Dominic Hrbaty, who was pretty good once upon a time, was cruising around coaching some kids. A ski town, it was mostly made up of accommodation to service the ski area located smack next to the village. It cost about €15 to get up the mountain in a gondola. From the top of the gondola, some of the group were going to dine and head back, and eight of us headed off on the ‘trail’.

20120902-215952.jpg

20120902-220446.jpg

Naturally, I was designated group leader and given the map (our tour leader had a cold, so didn’t join us). Within minutes of this designation, there was discontent in the group and we became scattered all over the mountain like disobedient llamas. Two turned back shortly after we scaled the first hill, then started traversing the large wobbly boulders. Another turned back after we reached the peak. Despite these defections, I was still confident, as we still had the team doctor around (although she had a dodgy ankle). Em was back to being the pretty mountain goat.

From the peak, we could see a jade green lake and small hut – our target for lunch. We naively thought the way down looked to be more of a kept path – not so…

20120902-221707.jpg

20120902-222031.jpg

The descent started ok, but we ran into our first problems when one of our number, who was totally deaf, got quite far ahead and disappeared down the wrong track. Given we couldn’t yell at him, I thought about throwing stones to get his attention, but you’re not really supposed to throw stones at other people.

Soon after this, we came to a nasty bit of rock face that required grappling with a dodgy chain to clamber down. When it was apparent that our deaf friend hadn’t made it to this point, I retraced our steps to try and find him. The path he had taken disappeared at a steep waterfall. As the marked trail involved using the dodgy chain, we figured he probably hadn’t found an easier way down by getting himself lost.

With no choice but to keep going, we clambered down the chain and headed towards the hut for lunch / calling Slovak search and rescue. To our relief, our lost comrade was waiting for us there, apparently having found a better way down?! I drafted up an angry message on the iPhone for him. I was mainly grumpy because it meant we were an hour late for lunch.

All this was partially forgotten in the hut, where we were served piping hot cheese Pirogi. Excellent hearty mountain food. Would be even better on a cold skiing day.

20120902-224135.jpg
View from the hut

The rest of the hike went smoothy – the hardest bit of navigation turned out to be finding our hotel once we were back in town. Total walking time was eight hours, so we were all pretty knackered.

The next day, a local on our train to Bratislava informed us that there had been three deaths from bears in that area this year. Pretty glad we didn’t come across these hungry Slovak bears.

20120902-223803.jpg
In mountaineering circles, the higher your pants, the more competent you are