Szia Magyarország – Hello Hungary
From the Romanian border I first went to Debrecen via small country roads.
From there I drove on through a part of the autumnal Puszta to the capital Budapest.
And finally to the Slovakian border in the northwest. A total of around 450 kilometers through Hungary.
However, I have already been to Hungary twice before. The first time was in 1982. At that time I met friends from East Berlin at Lake Balaton. And the second time I was in Budapest for 3 days on business at the end of the 90s.
To Debrecen in Hungary
On small country roads I drove 40 kilometres through the forest to Hungary’s second largest city.
I was careful not to get on any major road here, because I didn’t have a sticker for the road toll yet. I could not buy it at the small border crossing.
Up to Debrecen it remained also so foggy, as it had become already before the border. The first thing I met in this remote area was a “Google Car”. With impressive technology on the roof to film the roads for Google Maps. By the way, this car came from Wiesbaden/Germany.
I had booked a small hotel in Debrecen. Four kilometers outside the center to avoid parking problems. It was probably more of an accommodation for package travelers. Anyway, two buses from Austria arrived in the evening.
I got into conversation with a driver and later asked about suitable hotels in Vienna. Because of the parking facilities for the Landcruiser. He named me two, but unfortunately they were fully booked.
In the evening I started walking towards the city center. At the main road there should be stickers for the road toll at the gas stations. That was no problem at all and a little later I was able to put a new sticker on my windshield again.
Now all roads in Hungary were open to me!
Hungary’s second largest city
Debrecen itself is not really a tourist town. But rather a starting point for tours in the surrounding area. Or for a visit to a spa and adventure pool. Outside the inner city area there is therefore not so much to see.
The most famous is the Great Reformed Church from 1823. Protestants and Calvinists already settled in Debrecen in the Middle Ages. Quite in contrast to the rest of Hungary. Because that is rather more catholic.
It was in the church that freedom fighter Lajos Kossuth proclaimed Hungary’s independence from the Habsburg monarchy in 1849. Austrian and Russian troops, however, took it back very quickly at that time. However, from then on Hungary remained the second main component of the Dual Monarchy Austria-Hungary. Until it became fully independent in 1918.
Of course I went to see the church. And you could even go up to one of the towers. And there you could look at the bells very close. From a gallery you also had a good view over the city.
Besides the church, there are a few other pretty nice buildings in the city center. And in the summer you can certainly sit outside in front of the cafés and restaurants. But it was already too cold for that at the beginning of November. At least the weather had become sunny again.
New currency and new time of the day
So I limited myself to exchanging some cash and buying a new SIM card again. Hungarian Forint and Fillers now replaced Romanian Lei and Bani. Whereby the fillers do not play a role. Because for one US dollar I got at that time about 280 Forint. Today it is probably already 300 Forint.
And something else had changed in Hungary. The time of the day. If I was one hour ahead of the German time in Romania, I was now in the same time zone again in Hungary.
I had now crossed nine time zones on my trip with the Landcruiser since Vladivostok. Mostly I noticed however only in the evening in the respective accommodation that I had to set back the clock once again one hour.
And if you look closely at the videos, you will see that the displayed time cannot be correct in most countries. I only set the time in the dashcam once when I started my road trip. Later I didn’t update it anymore.
On the one hand, I had assumed that this would work automatically. After all, the dashcam has a GPS module and uses it to calculate the displayed speed.
And on the other hand, I felt the setting so fiddly already the first time, with the four small multiple-assigned buttons on the dashcam that I probably would not have done it even if I had known it.
Through the Puszta
I wanted to drive the 220km to Budapest on small country roads through the Puszta. Through the most famous nature reserve of Hungary near Hortobagy.
I started in Debrecen therefore quite early to avoid the tourist crowds later. Now, at the beginning of November, I would not have had to do that at all. Because there were only a few tourists on the road even later in the day.
The Puszta is a wide lowland plain. For the first time on my trip I saw no mountains anywhere in this grass steppe. When the weather is clear, you can look all the way to the horizon here. But at first it was so foggy that I could hardly see anything of the landscape.
In summer there are many herds of animals in the Puszta. There are horses, sheep, oxen and water buffalo here. But now they were probably all standing already in the warm stable.
Also in the tourist center of Hortobagy I had no luck. In the early morning no café or shop was open yet. And there were also no bus tours offered (yet) through the national park.
Nine Arch Bridge and Draw Well
So I parked the Landcruiser and visited the famous Nine Arch Bridge in Hortobagy.
It was built already in 1833 and it was Central Europe’s longest public stone bridge at that time.
Before that, there was already a wooden bridge here, over which animals from the Puszta were driven to Vienna or even further for sale.
When I returned to the car, the place was still sleeping. I also had no luck with the old customs and service station (Csárda) for a coffee. So I drove on to one of the old draw wells.
In the past these wells were used to water cattle. Today they have only a touristic meaning.
But it is quite interesting that in those days they also served as orientation markers for the shepherds in the wide landscape. And for the transmission of messages their position was changed in each case.
To the Hungarian capital
In the late morning the fog disappeared and I stopped again at one of the many viewpoints along the route. These are platforms made of wood in a few meters height.
From there you can watch the herds of animals in summer. Well, that morning only a group of cranes(?) came by. Because the Puszta is also a popular area for bird watching.
But that day I realized that from now on my road trip would be more of a city trip for the rest of the route. Or a drive through the countryside. Because now it was simply no longer the season of year for major excursions into nature. Only seven more weeks until Christmas.
My driving days got shorter too. Because I still had the “wrong” headlights on the car, made for the left-hand traffic in Australia. During the day, I therefore only switched on the parking lights when driving, so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic. In the evening, however, that would not have been worked at a police check.
Good value accommodation on the outskirts of the city
In the afternoon I reached Budapest, the capital of Hungary. But it still took a while until I had crossed the city once and reached my accommodation.
There were maybe 15 parking spaces in front of the hotel, but they were all taken when I arrived. Towards evening, a car drove away and I could park the Landcruiser.
Because of the parking spaces, I had consciously booked a hotel 12km outside the city center. This was located on a main road, but it was also cheaper. And there was a subway station nearby for going downtown.
However, when I booked the hotel, I didn’t know that the subway line was under repair. And that’s why there was only a bus instead of the subway. But I didn’t care, because I had time enough.
Stay in Buda and live in Pest
Three cities were merged in 1873. The hilly Buda on the west side of the Danube, the little village Óbuda a bit north of it and the city of Pest on the east bank of the Danube.
The result is the beautiful city of Budapest. By the way, Buda means “mountain” and Pest means “flat”.
I cannot tell the long history of the city here. Maybe just this much: Buda has always been the center of the rulers and the residential area of the rich and powerful. Pest, on the other hand, was the city of craftsmen, traders and poorer parts of the population.
This has remained so to this day. In Buda, behind the Old Town and the castle, the residential areas of the villa districts begin.
And trade and industry, workers and students have settled on the edge of the lively city center of Pest with its department stores, boulevards and theaters.
But one thing has stayed the same all this time: The entire city faces the Danube, which flows with a gentle bend between the two parts of city.
First of all to Buda
Already early in the morning I was there. But that was not a really clever decision of me. Because especially in the evening you have a great view over the Danube from there. So it would have been better to come here in the afternoon. So I had to do the walk twice.
I started my walk in the very south on the Gellert hill. There is a monument to Bishop Saint Gerard (Gellert). He came from Italy and did missionary work in Hungary around the year 1000. However, it is said that he was thrown into the Danube in a wooden barrel for that…
But from here you have a great view to the castle hill a bit further north.
The castle district has been already destroyed twice. Once by the Turks and once at the end of the Second World War. And it was rebuilt twice. You can spend a whole day only here, because almost every house has its own story to tell.
But I didn’t have that much time. And I walked on the castle hill only once through the alleys and the courtyard of the castle palace. By the way, if you like, you can also visit various museums and the Hungarian National Library there.
A bit further north behind the castle I finally came to the Matthias Church. It’s been around for 1000 years here.
It was repeatedly expanded, rebuilt and adapted to the respective times. And finally, the coronation of Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth (Sissi) as the Hungarian royal couple took place here in 1867.
Panoramic view over the Danube river
My walk ended at the Fisherman’s Bastion. It was built just a good 100 years ago on the medieval fish market in Buda
In memory of the fishermen’s guild, which had to defend this section of the city wall here.
The strange towers are supposed to be reminiscent of the tents of the Magyars.
But from here you have a great view over the Danube river and the opposite bank. You can also see this well on the cover picture. And that’s why I came here again in the evening.
Parliament House and Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The next day I went to see Pest.
First the parliament building. It stands on the bank of the Danube river since 1904 and is one of the landmarks in the capital of Hungary.
It is huge, 268m long, 123m wide and 96m high.
The model for its construction was the Palace of Westminster in London.
Very close to the Parliament, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge crosses the Danube river.
Chain Bridge because iron chains run through its supporting pillars.
It is the oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest.
Both are illuminated in the evening and then look beautiful from the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Monuments and memorials
When I visited Budapest, there was a very beautiful and fitting memorial very close to the Parliament House. Of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian President in 1956.
He wanted more freedom from the Soviet Union for his country Hungary. But he failed with this request and was executed in 1958.
The small monument shows him standing on a bridge overlooking to the Parliament House. A very dignified monument in my opinion.
Then in December 2018, the monument was dismantled there and placed somewhere on the outskirts of the city.
Why? Imre Nagy no longer fits into Viktor Orbán’s Hungary (Orbán is the current prime minister of Hungary). His offense? He was a communist…
There are also quite a few other monuments on the Pest side. In memory of some old kings and heroes. With a horse and without a horse.
But two newer monuments are more interesting. The first one is the Soviet Memorial.
It was built here in memory of the fallen Russian soldiers in the Second World War.
And a statue of the American President Ronald Regan.
He never visited Budapest during his term in office.
But he is thanked for his support at the end of the Cold War. (In Berlin, Regan gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate that time, saying: “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!“)
The arrangement of these two monuments is striking. Regan looks and walks in the direction of the Soviet Memorial.
Squares and Boulevards
Probably the most famous boulevard in Budapest is Andrássy út.
It runs nearly 2½km dead straight from downtown city center to Heroes’ Square to the northeast.
There are many beautiful old houses along the boulevard, as well as public buildings such as the Opera House, the Operetta Theatre, the Academy of Music and the Liszt Museum.
The Heroes’ Square forms the end of Andrássy út.
It was inaugurated in 1896 with the Millennium Monument marking the 1000 years of the Magyars’ conquest of the country. And it is supposed to remember the heroes of Hungarian history.
However, in 1945 the sculptures of the Habsburgs were replaced by Hungarian freedom fighters. Whoever is allowed to be a hero is still decided by the respective rulers 😅
Injustice and Terror
On the way back I passed an old house with a noticeable roof. The “House of Terror.”
The fascist party of Hungary used it as a prison until 1945. Then the State Security Service during the Stalinist period used it in the same ways.
Since 2002 it has been a historical museum in which both regimes are contrasted. In the basement you can also visit the cells of the prisoners.
Then I went back to the bank of the Danube river. About 300m from the Parliament House there is a rather silent memorial to the Holocaust in Hungary. About 3,000 Jews were shot and thrown into Danube river at that site in early 1945.
Today 60 pairs of metal shoes over a length of 40 meters remind of the injustice. At first glance, however, you cannot understand why these shoes are here.
They seem more like simply left over. To decipher the memorial you have to study the history.
Then I went back through the old Jewish quarter to the city center.
Unfortunately, for financial reasons, not so much has been renovated here.
And the walls of the ghetto from 1944 can almost no longer be seen. To this day there is no exact mapping and the remains of the wall are in ruins.
Vasarely Museum und Margaret Island
The graphic artist and painter Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was born in Hungary and later lived in France.
In the evening I walked back to the city center across Margaret Island. It is located in the middle of the Danube and is a local recreation area. With parks, swimming pools and restaurants. But of course everything was now closed at the beginning of November.
Summer is definitely the best time to visit Budapest. But then you should spend there four days at least. Maybe even more if you want to see the many museums.
From Hungary to Slovakia
It is only 180 kilometers from Budapest to the Hungarian border. The next day I drove straight through. Because I had not found anything worth seeing for this stretch on the Internet.
Shortly before the border you have to decide. Either you drive the last 14km in Hungary towards the Slovakian border. Or you drive 7km to the border between Hungary and Austria. I still had some time left and so I drove to Slovakia for two nights.
Between Hungary and Slovakia the checkpoints were deserted. Both countries belong to the Schengen area. But I was able to pay the Slovak road toll right at the border.
12 US dollars for 10 days. That was the shortest period of validity I could get.
Here there was no sticker for the windshield but only a receipt. You then have to show it in case of a police check.
Dashcam Video Hungary
Finally, here is my dashcam video from Hungary (2m 37s, 433 MB; Music: A New Beginning – Bensound, www.bensound.com).
- Romania – Hungary border
- Border to Slovakia
In my next post I will tell you about my one day stay in Slovakia.
Cheers, Ruediger 😎