Summer in Europe Part II: Hungary

After spending a little more than a week in Croatia, our next stop was Hungary. The initial reason for visiting the country was to catch up with friends going to the Sziget music festival. I’d heard Budapest was a great city to visit and with the prospect of baths to cool off from the searing hot temperatures we figured it would be a nice change from the beach life we had been living in Croatia.

But with six days left in the holiday, I didn’t want to spend it all in Budapest. So using Google Maps and Images I found a train stop on the way called ‘Siofok’. A small town by a large lake, it was apparently the party capital for people in Hungary and looked like a good place to break up the seven hour train ride. So we booked our ticket and waited with anticipation for what we hoped would be a ICE (that’s the German fast train), air-conditioned and comfortable style train to take us.

Of course the reality was far different to this dream – if the train from Croatia to Hungary had been operating in the 19th century i wouldn’t have been surprised. Jumping on the closest carriage we could, we quickly found a seat only to be told 20 minutes later that the middle carriages don’t go into Hungary (!). Because that makes perfect sense, for the middle ones to be taken out as opposed to the front or back ones. So i had to bolt to the front to find seats while the boy carried our luggage – eventually all i could find was first class seats and when the woman checked our tickets and didn’t say anything the relief was overwhelming. Then came the excitement at the fact that we’d just snuck into first class. Of course it didn’t last the entire trip, but we only had to stand for about 40 minutes and it was quite good to get a chance to stick our heads out of the window. That air-conditioning I mentioned? Nada. Not even for the rich people. But then again I guess the real rich people wouldn’t be seen dead on this type of train.

Our nightmare train ride – made much better by sneaking into first class!

Arriving in Siofok, we were the only passengers to get off at this stop. It made me feel equally clever at picking somewhere not on the tourist-trail and also scared shitless that i had picked somewhere that was a bit crap. But when we saw the lake, well it definitely was far from crap.

Lake Balaton, Siofok – absolutely stunning

The food and drinks were ridiculously cheap and the nightlife was crazy – it seems this is a little undiscovered Ibiza without the 18 year old English lads on tour. Cocktails were two for one all night, and you could get Jager ‘Booms’ at every second bar. We only got two nights in this amazing place, and the highlight was definitely learning to windsurf, something i’ve always wanted to do. We both picked it up in about an hour and although there wasn’t a great deal of wind it was the perfect way to watch the sunset, and our last ones being ‘beach bums’ as such.

Learning the art of windsurfing

As we waited for the train to Budapest, we expected the worst. And lucky, because it was as horrible as the one that dropped us off in this little piece of paradise. Seats were only available in the sun and the stop start process made us over an hour later than we’d planned. This was soothed by our arrival at our ‘hostel’, which turned out to be an awesome apartment with kitchen, lounge room and beautiful old-fashioned Hungarian furniture (would highly recommend Yep Hostel).

After a quick look around the heat was too much and we headed to the first Baths we could find – Gallert. Meeting my friends there, we did the thermal cycle that takes you from pretty hot baths to a ridiculously hot sauna, then into an ice cold bath. The feeling was amazing, I was cold on the outside and hot on the inside – definitely a weird sensation!

Gallert baths in Budapest – Bliss on a hot summers’ day

While we had planned to head to the festival on the Sunday, i desperately wanted to go on the Saturday, and finally convinced the boy on the condition that we did a walk up the hill on the side of the city which i’d previously been too lazy to do. Compromise is the key to a successful relationship no?

We didn’t make it to the festival until 9pm – I opened the seal far too early and had to pee 5 times on the way and the boy thought it was a brilliant idea to walk to the island on the map as there was surely only one island in Budapest (for the record, there are two. I know this now through experience). But when we made it, Mika was just about to come on and the party afterwards was more than perfect.

Mika live at Sziget – great performance

I went into ‘looking-after’ mode quite quickly after the show – it’s not often my boyfriend gets really drunk but when he does, if you can picture a crazy happy Russian and a crazy German acting like all their birthdays and christmases have come at once, well that’s him on a big night out. But this wasn’t a problem, because after recovering the next day and heading back to the festival for David Guetta, it was my turn to be the one who needed looking after, particularly when I thought it was a brilliant idea to jump on the back of a car while we were walking from one stage to the next.

Comprehending the pain of the flight home the next day

The next day after a hellish bus ride to the airport, we reflected on an amazing two weeks. It was our first proper couply holiday (two Oktoberfests don’t count) and the boy’s first time away where he could only really speak English (apart from in Siofok, where they mostly spoke German and Russian). It was also my first long holiday where I wasn’t just taking a long weekend in a few years and it felt like we had experienced everything in that time – we’d swam in seas, lakes, baths and rivers; we’d traveled by train, bus, car and plane; we’d done diving, wakeboarding and windsurfing; we’d been relaxing, partying, eating amazing food, seeing great friends and spending quality time alone. It was everything I wanted from my holiday and more. And knowing we would be off to Ireland in two weeks made it less painful to get that bus from Frankfurt Hahn airport back to our home. xx

Summer in Europe Part I: Croatia

it has been a while since I’ve posted last, but I feel I have a somewhat acceptable excuse; being an Aussie in Europe, when the summer comes it’s all about finding as many beaches as possible and travelling as much as I can! Since moving to England the summer has been the time to get out of my home and see somewhere new. Or a lot of different new places. And this summer was no different – after visiting 13 cities over the three months and four countries in total, playing with four different currencies and trying to work my way through a jungle of languages, it’s definitely been one of the busiest ones to date.

A lot of people assume that being Australian and in a land-locked city, we must miss being close to the beach. I do, but to be honest I never really went to the beach that much while I had it on my doorstep; I guess it’s that age old thing of not realising how good something is until you lose it. The boy asked me on our trip to Croatia why I get so excited about seeing beaches in Europe when I have much better ones at home. It took me a while to answer the question, but I suppose the main thing is the difference in cultures. You can go Australia-wide and the food will be the same, as well as the accents and the colour of the sand. Here, we go from one country to another by train and with the crossing of the border comes a whole new way of life. And that’s pretty exciting in it’s own right.

So, while I have already written about my experience at Glastonbury and in London as well as my trips around Germany, I’ll begin with Croatia.

I’d been to Croatia once before this trip on a long weekend with my sister and some friends. Thanks to Ryanair it’s very cheap to get from London to Zadar and we went for around 80 euros return to the coastal town. It was amazing, and left a fantastic impression of a European city full of amazing food, atmosphere, beach trips and friendly people. The cocktails being at happy hour prices permanently helped it’s cause too. So when looking at the possibility of going to Turkey (which was going to set us back 300 euros each for flights alone), and finding out some really good friends of mine were travelling through Croatia at the end of July, it didn’t take much to convince me to change our plans.

Starting in Hvar, it was not exactly what I expected but beautiful nonetheless. I’ve heard Hvar is a great party town, but apart from some nightclubs on the docks which to be honest, Frankfurt clubs look better than, there wasn’t that much in the way of nightlife. The beaches, however, definitely did not disappoint.

Our closest beach

One of the things the boy was desperate to do on this holiday was go diving – and in Hvar we found somewhere that took us out to sea for half a day. It took me a while to get the hang of breathing with the scuba pack, and when we swan into a cave I had to find the surface to calm down. But when I relaxed and took it all in, it felt like I was in another world. Swimming along the edge of the reef was stunning and it’s definitely motivated me to get my diving licence when we travel to Australia next.

Heading down under
Underwater view

The diving was relatively cheap, around 30 euros, with Nautica diving school. And our friends were able to come with us and snorkel as well as relaxing on the boat. This day was definitely the highlight of my time in Hvar, and finishing it off with seafood for dinner made it perfect. Which brings me to the food – amazing! I don’t think I ate anything besides fish, calamari, prawns and mussels the whole time at Hvar.

Seafood platter – luckily the boy can peel prawns for me :)

Our next stop was Zagreb which was inland and by the time we got there we were desperate for a steak. Unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant and ordered the steak it was actually a chicken schnitzel with cheese in it. But no matter, because one of my favourite things about Zagreb was how cheap everything was! I’m all understanding of how touristy places are expensive, but for the capital of Croatia to have food available at less than half the price of Hvar was crazy. I was glad Hvar was at the beginning of the trip rather than at the point where we were running out of money.

One of the things I really wanted to do in Zagreb was to see the Plitvice National Park, and my god it was beautiful. The most amazing thing about it was that they have been looking after it in terms of the environment since the early 20th century – despite there being so many tourists it’s heavily enforced that you can’t swim in the crystal clear blue water. Thankfully our tour guide knew somewhere we could swim as by the end of the day, looking at that water and sweating in the sun had left me so desperate for a swim the cold water didn’t even bother me.

The water… perfection
No swimming allowed!

The next day we had planned to go kayaking but that got cancelled (would avoid booking this in Zagreb as the company aren’t very easy to deal with and cancelled at the last minute), so we were at a loss to find something ‘adventury’ to do. The hostel found a lake nearby the city with wakeboarding and the boy was happy with this. For me, relaxing in the sun with my book was equally great :)

This was his second go. It’s so annoying how good he is at sports!!

Our trip to the train station on the last day was filled with anxiety as we sought to purchase a ticket to Hungary – websites aren’t great for telling you how much they will cost and with travelling from one country to another I was sure it would be quite high. But 30 euros each for the ticket left us both with a lot of leftover Croatian money and we decided that the best way to rid ourselves of this was to go on the Chillout Hostel Pub Crawl. At the end of the night, as we stumbled home together, I didn’t want to leave this beautiful country.