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Hungary to the UK 2009 PDF Printable Version E-mail


From Hungary to the UK 2009

The Travel Log of a Motorhome Journey from Hungary from to the UK in the Autumn of 2009

Margaret and Barry Williamson
November 2009

This illustrated travel log describes our motorhome journey through Hungary and on to the UK in the autumn of 2009. We had spent the spring in the south-east corner of Bulgaria, based at the quiet Sakar Hills Camping in Biser. After driving back to England for essential repairs, service, MOT and family visits, we took a ferry from Harwich to Rotterdam. Driving through Holland and Germany, we boarded the ferry from Sassnitz to Trelleborg near the southern tip of Sweden. All this was the prelude to a fascinating 1,300-mile journey through Swedish forest and lakes, north along the western edge of the Gulf of Bothnia.

We entered Finland at the top of the Gulf, over the Tornio River in the neighbouring towns of Haparanda and Tornio. After crossing the Arctic Circle some 50 miles north of Rovaniemi - Santa's home town – we made our slow way south through the centre of Finland to Helsinki on this, our fifth visit to this amazing country of forest and lake.

Making the 2-hour crossing from Helsinki to Estonia's capital city, Tallinn, we made our third visit to the three Baltic Republics. Not least, our interest was to learn more of their progress since out first visit in 1999, now that they are members of the European Union.

Leaving Lithuania after a one-month, 920-mile (1,470-km) tour of the three Baltic Republics, we entered Poland at the border village of Budzisko. Nearly 800 miles of southerly travel took us to the Lake District and through rolling farmland and forest past the remanants of German occupation and rule in the early 1940's.

After visiting Krakow and Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains, we climber high passes and into the Republic of Slovakia. Keeping our conmpass pointing south, after a few days we crossed into Hungary, just north of Budapest. The road on to the UK led through Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, France and an excellent Norfolk Line ferry from Dunkirk to Dover.

Here is our account of our motorhome journey south through Hungary, a land of plains and great rivers.

Click: A full account of our journey from England to Finland
Click: A full account of our journey south through Finland to Helsinki
Click: A full account of our journey through the three Baltic Republics
Click: A full account of our journey through Poland
Click: A full acount of our journey through Slovakia
Click: Galleries and Slide Shows of images of the journey through the Baltics
Click: Galleries and Slide Shows of images of the journey through Poland
Click: Galleries and Slide Shows of images of the journey through Slovakia
Click: Images and a description of our Fleetwood Flair motorhome
Click: Images and a description of our Paul Hewitt touring bicycles

1 November 2009   164 miles   Podlesok nr Hrabusice, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary   Romai Camping   (No charge)  

Over the hills into Hungary and across the Danube

Today is All Saints Day (and a Sunday): a bright frosty morning with a north wind. Returning towards Hrabusice, we turned left after the bridge at 4 miles, then left again (west) at Spisski Stiavnik. At one end of the village a large monastery – at the other, the hovels of the gipsy quarter. The village elders were coming out of church, all in their Sunday best carrying black prayer books or bibles. All the cemeteries we passed today were busy with visitors, the graves aglow with flowers and candle lanterns. Even wayside crosses and memorials to traffic victims had been decorated.

In Hranovnica at 7 miles we met the better though narrow rd 67 and turned south, climbing gently through the forested hillsides. 6 miles later, after Vernar village at 2,500 ft, a steep 2-mile climb (signed 12%) reached 3,445 ft. The road was still frosty where it lay in shadow, with snow at the edges above 3,000 ft. The summit was marked by a crucifix but there was nowhere to park, before zigzagging sharply down for a mile and entering the beautiful Nizke Tatry (Low Tatra) National Park.

Rd 67 forked left for Roznava but we kept south (now rd 66) through high pasture country, where hardy cattle were watched by even hardier cowherds. At 24 miles (still up at 2,640 ft) we took rd 531, turning left under a railway bridge (relieved at the headroom of 4.5 m). Climbing again to 3,100 ft, there was snow on the verges with marker posts planted ready for heavier falls. Rest areas with picnic tables and signs marked the trail heads in the forest, sadly too cramped for us to park under low trees.

Hairpinning down again, the mountain village of Muranska Huta at 27 miles (2,375 ft) preceded another climb. The russet shades of autumn were the best we'd ever seen (including England's Lake District or the American Rockies in the fall). The tall beeches were like burnished copper reflecting the morning sun, the forest floor a golden carpet beneath. Last night's hard frost was bringing the leaves down like showers of gold coins.

Down in Muran 3 miles later we kept right for Tisovec, picking up a local who asked for a lift. He turned out to be a lorry driver ('Camion Chauffeur') who had been to England but spoke only Slovak. Communication was hard work and it was a relief to ease him on his way in Tisovec, once he understood that we were not bound for Brezno!

From Tisovec (at 39 miles and 1,270 ft) the road ran due south and gradually downhill, along the sunny wooded Rimava River valley, beside a railway line. At 45 miles, now below 1,000 ft, Hnusta was a grim industrial town with Soviet-era factories along the tracks and blocks of workers' flats. A large Tesco (open daily 6 am-9 pm) stood opposite the football field, where the lads were having a match.

At Rimavska Sobota, 15 miles later, we parked at a Lidl store to shop and eat (surprised that supermarkets were open on this most holy Sunday). Then it was right (west) on E571, which began as a new dual carriageway but soon deteriorated into a narrow 2-lane road, with no shoulder, grooved by heavy trucks.

In the large town of Lucenec at 77 miles (down at 650 ft), we turned left to cross river and railway, then right onto rd 75. This crossed more hills, briefly reaching 1,000 ft again before descending to Velky Krtis at 99 miles – the last Slovak town before the Hungarian border. We were now looking out for a suitable night halt but had seen nothing – no fuel station, hotel or restaurant with parking space – and the next known campsites were in Budapest!

Turning left on rd 527 it was 12 miles to the abandoned checkpoint, where we entered Hungary at Balassa-gyarmat, at a mere 480 ft. We circled the large town, searching in vain for an overnight parking place. Supermarkets here were closed, observing Sunday (or All Saints Day) more closely than Slovakia, and again graves were decorated in the Catholic tradition. We shall miss Slovakia's mountain scenery - and its Euro currency, as we prepare to spend Forints (£1 = about 290 HUF).

As the sun went down (about 4 pm) we drove south-west on rd 22 for Vac. Approaching the Danube 27 miles later, we kept south on rd 2 rather than turning left onto a new motorway to Budapest that bypasses Vac, since we hadn't yet bought a motorway vignette. We also thought there might be somewhere near Vac to park by the river – we were wrong! Vac (at 143 miles) was extremely busy with moving and parked cars, it was dark and any side turnings looked impossibly narrow. All we could do was keep going towards the capital.

At a petrol station we asked how far to the brand new Megyeri Bridge over the Danube. 'Straight on, just 5 km' said the helpful assistant, omitting to mention that our road simply passed beneath 'Megyeri Hid' with no sign of access to it! It seems it is part of the MO motorway. We continued to the Arpad Hid (bridge) at 160 miles, crossing the Danube here with some relief, knowing that the next chance, Margit Hid, is currently closed.

Safely on the Buda side, we turned right (north) on rd 11 towards Szentendre, past the Roman remains at Aquincum to Romai Camping, 4 miles along on the right (nearer and easier to find than Zugligeti Niche). It's a large site in a leafy park, open year-round, opposite the Romaifurdo (Roman Baths) metro station and next to a modern pool complex. Sounds delightful. It wasn't!

The gates were closed, though not padlocked. The Reception was deserted, with no information. The ablutions block was locked up. A sole caravan (Finnish) was in residence, plugged into an electricity box that was all tied up with string. We cut the string and settled in for the night. We did get a WiFi signal on the laptop but it meant joining a Hot Spot network by credit card to use it, which we didn't.   

2 November 2009   9 miles   Budapest, Hungary   Zugligeti Niche Camping   6,840 HUF (c €27) + every 6th night free   1,035 ft

Settling in at the Niche

Next morning the Romai Camping warden arrived at 8 am. She lowered a barrier to prevent exit at the gate and unlocked the grimiest unusable 'facilities' imaginable, at the back of Reception. After breakfast, attempting to pay for our brief stay, we were asked for almost €25 Euro! The poor woman spoke no English and little German but she did understand Margaret's outburst, especially the word 'Scheisse'. She agreed apologetically that there would be no charge if we left at once. No sooner said than done!

We returned 3 miles south along busy rd 11 on the north bank of the Danube, to (but not across) the Arpad Bridge, passing the ruins in the Aquincum archaeological park. This was a Roman provincial capital in the 2nd-3rd C AD, but the site and museum had closed for winter at the end of October.

At 5 miles, opposite the closed Margit Bridge, we turned right along Margit Korut, then right again at Moscow Square (Moszkva Ter). From here follow the tram lines, and squirrel signs for Camping at Budakeszi, keeping left on Budakeszi Ut after 2 miles and left again on Zugligeti Ut to 'The Niche' itself. Tucked away in the Buda Hills at the old tram terminus, by the bottom station of the chair lift up Janos Hill, at 1,000 ft it's a surprising 500 ft above the Danube!

The quaint Victorian buildings of the former 'number 58' tram station now form the campsite reception and little bar/restaurant, where meals are available. Bus tickets into the centre of Budapest are also on sale. Over several previous visits, we've never seen the site so empty, with just one caravan here – a relief, as it's very crowded when summer groups and convoys arrive.

Free WiFi or use of a computer terminal are provided inside Reception, where the friendly warden lit a gas heater for an afternoon of working on-line. We also made good use of the washing machine, hanging our laundry upstairs in the empty restaurant to dry.

Note that the first price suggested included a 'free' breakfast, though we easily negotiated a discount for not taking breakfast. It is still too much! Visit www.58kisvendeglo.hu  for the little restaurant.

3-11 November 2009   In Budapest, Hungary   Zugligeti Niche Camping  

Heavy rain and good company in Budakeszi

Our good and very kind friends, Ian (Budapest's favourite Yorkshireman) and his Hungarian partner Judit, live only a few miles from Zugligeti and their kettle is always on when we visit Budapest. There are even home-made ginger biscuits! Over a couple of excellent meals at their fine rooftop home, we caught up on each other's news and – as they are planning to buy their first motorhome – we had plenty to talk about. See *** for Ian's preliminary thoughts on the subject.

Ian and Judit also took us for an excursion into the Buda Hills north-west of the city, which reach over 1,600 ft. On a misty Saturday morning, we set off walking from a station on the Children's Railway - a narrow-gauge railway that runs year-round and is actually operated by children, apart from the driver of the (sometimes steam) locomotive. A mile or so uphill from the car park, along one of the marked trails in the dense woodland, was a wooden observation tower from which we had a wonderful view - of dense woodland. Sadly the low cloud and mist obscured what should have been a breathtaking panorama of Budapest and beyond. No matter, it was a breath of fresh air and exercise before enjoying warming bowls of Judit's 'Paprikas Krumpli' – a traditional thick soup of paprika, potatoes (krumpli) and smoked sausage – followed by apple strudel. As the sky cleared in the afternoon, we could at least see the observation tower from their window.

A return match was held in our motorhome, showing what can be done in less space (namely fisherman's flaky pie and crθme brulιe) and demonstrating some of the many accessories needed by the modern nomad. As it poured with rain that day we didn't walk further than Reception, to look at the display of old photographs of the tram depot and the vineyards of the Buda Hills. This was pure nostalgia for Judit: a Budapest lost for ever in the mists of time. Interestingly, the level area of the campsite is made into a skating rink during the winter, once the temperature drops to minus 7 deg C. 'When does that happen?' we asked the warden. 'Soon'!

Most days at the Niche were cold and very wet so, when not with our friends, we were usually to be found either working on-line or making Voipwise phone calls in the cosy cafe inside Reception, where the gentle warden often lit a wood fire. Other campers briefly came and went – Austrian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Swiss – but no other Brits (or Hungarians!) Two ageing campervans brought splendid young people from New Zealand and South Africa on the usual circuit of European capitals and we enjoyed reminiscing with them about our visits to their countries, as well as advising as best we could on their routes and campsites. One couple were heading south (good idea); a trio were heading north (not such a good idea).

12 November 2009   76 miles   Budapest to Gyor, Hungary   Piheno Camping   3,420 HUF (€13.68)

Westward Ho!

After delaying our departure because of heavy rain, today dawned dry and at last we hit the road (almost literally – beware 'traffic calming' bumps in Budakeszi). Returning via Zugligeti Ut to Budakeszi Ut, we turned left and headed south for the M1 motorway. At a Shell station along the way we tried to unravel the mysteries of the vignette or 'matricia' with staff who spoke only Hungarian (though at least credit card payment was accepted). It is now required for all Hungary's motorways, plus some other unspecified 'express ways'. A vehicle up to 3.5 tons (category D1) can buy one for 1, 4 or 10 days; over 3.5 tons (the more expensive category D2 - which we are) the choice is only 1 or 10 days. We purchased a one-day pass for 2,760 Forints (nearly £10). Annoyingly it expires at midnight, no matter what time of day it's bought – that is, it's not a 24-hr pass! What a rip-off. There is no windscreen sticker involved, just a receipt that must be shown at any 'matricia control'.

The next stop was at a retail park (Tesco, Aldi etc) before joining the M1at 9 miles. At least the M1 is a good 4-lane motorway with regular service stations and rest areas. We passed a Hungarian/German military cemetery from WW2 as we headed west, reminding us which side the country chose to fight for - until the Russians approached.

At 52 miles we had lunch in a rest area (complete with cafι and guest house) near a huge wind farm, then continued for 14 miles to exit 107 signed Gyor Centrum. Following rd 19, we met rd 1 at 73 miles, just before Gyor, and turned right towards Komarom for 3 miles. Piheno, a small hotel/restaurant/camping is on the left in woodland and we joined a sole Italian motorhome under the trees.

Gyor (pronounced Jyeur), half way from Budapest to Vienna, is a historic city on the site of a Roman settlement (Arrabona) near the Danube. Piheno Camping would make a good base for visiting the picturesque old centre, which we've explored on previous visits by bicycle and en route to Romanian orphanages carrying aid. On those occasions we stayed at Hotel Klastrom in a beautifully restored Carmelite convent by the river, which is still open. But tonight we are in the familiar arms of our faithful and so far reliable Fleetwood Flair.

13 November 2009   277 miles   Gyor, Hungary to Beroun, Czech Republic    Autocamping Na Hrazi   €10.00

Across Slovakia to the Czech Republic

Away early on a bright sunny morning, following road 1 for 4 miles to Gyor, where the city centre was a surprisingly quiet contrast to the turmoil of Budapest. We continued north-west on rd 1 for another 23 miles to Mosonmagyarovar, where the Kis-Duna (= Little Danube) Motel/Camping, conveniently placed on the right of the road by a bend in the meandering Kis-Duna River, had closed (which does explain why they hadn't answered our many phone calls or our email!)

At 33 miles we turned left to meet the M15, heading north towards Slovakia. At a Shell service station on the way, we tried to put our remaining €55-worth of Hungarian Forints towards our fill of fuel but the assistant was adamant that a bill could not be paid partly in cash and partly by credit card (something we've done near many a border in the past!) How glad we shall be to leave Hungarian bureaucracy to the Hungarians.

The Slovakian border at 41 miles had no passport or customs checks but we had to buy a motorway vignette: €8.60 for one day for our 3.5 - 12 tons category, compared with €4.90 for a minimum of one week for vehicles below 3.5 tons. The same kiosk changed our Forints into Euros, at a less than generous rate.

Continuing north on motorway E65 towards Bratislava, the landscape (at 450 ft) was flat and dotted with wind farms. The high rise buildings of the capital soon came into view and at 52 miles we crossed the Danube, snatching a photo of a castle on the bank to our right before we disappeared through a tunnel and left the blocks of flats behind us.

It was a cool 13°C at 11.30 for an easy drive on a dry 4-lane motorway, past Malacky and Kuty to the Czech border, defined by the Morava River at 91 miles. At the old border post, 2 miles later, the Czech Republic's motorway vignette cost us a swingeing €37 for the minimum one week (cash only, in Euros or Czech Koruna). The 20-Koruna coin given as change bought a Bounty Bar! To add to the feeling of extortion, the smooth Slovakian motorway immediately turned much rougher as we juddered over concrete sections, climbing gradually above 700 ft.

At 128 miles, just before Brno, we took exit 1 and followed the signs round a messy junction for the E50 to Praha (Prague). We lunched on a service station 3 miles later, then continued north-west for Prague. The highway climbed through wooded hills, reaching a maximum of 2,113 ft after the Jihlava exit at 180 miles. Our rear-view mirror fell off as we drove along the washboard surface of the expensive motorway and we vowed to take the alternative route through Austria, should we ever drive west from Budapest again - despite the complication of the Austrian Go-Box!

The road was a little smoother downhill, before crossing a plateau at about 1,000 ft until the next hazard: the Prague Ring Road. From at least 10 miles away, the capital appeared on the skyline - not the dreaming spires of the quaint old centre seen on tourist posters but the much less romantic grey concrete blocks of workers' flats. At 252 miles, before the city centre, we turned off on dual carriageway E48 (signed Plzen), heading west for 3 miles to cross the Vlatava River. It was the Friday afternoon rush-hour and the bottleneck bridge caused long delays with traffic jams until we joined the E50 southbound at 264 miles. We were pleased to leave Prague behind, having visited its historic centre by bicycle in the much quieter Soviet era.

10 miles along we took exit 14 for Beroun, where an ACSI-listed all-year campsite had answered our call. It's an industrial town on the Berounka River, which joins the Vlatava in Prague. After driving over 2 level crossings, turn right and follow campsite signs, left onto Mostinkova Street. The entrance to a simple campsite/hostel is on the left. The friendly warden spoke German, accepted Euros and claimed the weak hook-up was 8 amps, though our low-wattage kettle tripped it.

It had been a long day, driving across 3 countries.

14 November 2009   256 miles   Beroun, Czech Republic to Triefenstein, nr Marktheidenfeld, Germany   Main-Spessart-Park Camping   €21.60

Past Plzen and into German Bavaria

It was less than 2 miles back to the smooth E50/D5 motorway, which took us south-west towards Plzen (Pilsen). After overnight rain, mist shrouded the hills as we climbed through woodlands and past an occasional lake to over 1,630 ft.

At 29 miles, still high in the mist, we paused at a large service station, which would be ideal for an overnight with good toilets and showers. 5 miles later we passed the exit for Plzen (the brewing town that gave its name to Pilsner beer) and continued on E50, climbing into the low cloud. At 71 miles (and over 1,700 ft) we passed the exit for Marianske Lazne.

At the last services before the German border, near Rozvadov at 82 miles and up at 1,800 ft, the sun finally broke through the mist at about 11 am. After another 5 miles we entered Bavaria (altitude 1,680 ft) with some relief - Germany offers free motorways for those under 12 tons and a language we understand. The E50 was now dubbed the 'Via Carolina' or A6 and the sun shone as we passed a photogenic hill-top castle, Leuchtenberg Schloss, at 100 miles. This quiet forested region once bordered the formidable Iron Curtain, which we crossed here for the first time, cycling from England to the far end of Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1988.

7 miles later we crossed the River Naabe and met motorway A93 (still up at 1,450 ft), though we stayed on the A6 heading south-west for Nurnberg (Nuremberg) - a brand new section of motorway, unknown to our GPS or SatNav. At 154 miles we left the A6 for the A3 (E50 to E56), turning north-west past Nuremberg for Wurzburg.

A lunch break at Aurach services at 175 miles was still above 1,000 ft, before a gradual descent to cross the River Main at 218 miles. Taking exit 71, 9 miles later, we followed the south bank of the Main through 2 miles of vineyards to the next bridge. Over the river, we returned for 2 miles along the north bank to access Camping Kalte Quelle (a few miles south of Wurzburg). It was open but looked very bleak - an open field by the river, full of empty caravans - so we regained the A3 after 7 badly signposted miles and continued west towards Frankfurt.

Exit 65 at 244 miles led us onto road B8 for Marktheidenfeld, where we knew of a better site. Turning left at 253 miles for Lengfurt, we followed campsite signs to a large orderly park along the River Main, with splendid heated bathrooms! The Campingplatzfuhrer apologised for the lack of WiFi internet (planned for next year) but let us use the office computer to check emails.

This is the Frankisches Weinland area and the campsite organises Wine Weeks in September, with vineyard visits and wine-tasting. There is also a good restaurant, sadly closed for its annual holiday in November. Visit www.camping-main-spessart.de for more.

15 November 2009   258 miles   Triefenstein, Germany to Bettincourt, Belgium   Motorway Services on E40

Over the Main and the Rhine, into Belgium

On a fine Sunday morning, after more overnight rain, we drove south through the vintner village of Triefen-Lengfurt, crossed the Main to the west bank, then turned right to Altfeld village and the A3 (5 miles in all).

Continuing north-west on A3/E41 for Frankfurt am Main, the motorway was quiet with an absence of trucks as the HGVs were all parked up. As we passed Frankfurt Airport (Germany's largest) at 50 miles the volume of traffic increased, getting ever busier as the A3 turned north at 62 miles towards Koln (Cologne). We lunched at 119 miles on the Urbacher Wald services on the A3, east of Remagen.

At 157 miles near Cologne we took exit 28 from A3 to A4, crossing the majestic Rhine 4 miles later, where it was difficult to photograph the enormous barges through the bridge parapet. Following A4 through the Eiffel National Park towards Aachen, with sun and showers, we scarcely noticed the change of country, slipping into Belgium across a border over which World Wars once raged.

The E40 (or Belgian A3) continued west past Eupen until we turned off at 226 miles for Soumagne, to check on a campsite in the grounds of a stately home Chateau Wegimont. This was a mistake! Although listed as open all year, the reception was closed and the site completely full of statics. The staff running the restaurant could not help, apart from suggesting a night on the car park (with no hook-up, just access to the shower block) and payment tomorrow!

Returning to the E40, we headed north-west, crossing the River Meuse at 239 miles before neatly bypassing the city of Liege on our left, 2 miles later. We turned into the next large services near Bettincourt for the night, saving Brussels for the next morning.

16 November 2009   170 miles   Bettincourt, Belgium to Dunkerque, France   Norfolk Line Car Park at Port Ouest

Across Belgium to the French Channel Port of Dunkirk      

Continuing north-west on E40, we noticed the language change from French to Flemish after 6 miles. It was very windy, the sky grey with the cloud of Northern Europe. Belgium's motorways were rougher and the driving less precise than in Germany, though the services and rest areas had generous parking space.

At 38 miles we met the queue to join the Brussels Ring Road, taking it anti-clockwise round the north of the capital. The 6 lanes of heavy traffic are well signed and after 11 miles we finally joined E40 west for Gent and Ostend. We crossed from Vlaams-Brabant into Oost-Flanderen (East Flanders) at 58 miles, then entered West Flanders at 93 miles, trying (and failing) to take an interest in Belgian geography!

At 110 miles we lunched in a rest area before crossing the flat wind-swept Polders (19 ft above sea level) to exit 1, just before the Belgian-French border. The squalls of wind were so fierce that we stopped to tighten the awning, which threatened to unroll!

Driving west on road N1 along the south side of a canal, we paused at 139 miles at one of several 'duty-free' shops specialising in tobacco and Belgian chocolates. Duly loaded with merchandise (and complimentary cups of excellent coffee), we crossed into France 2 miles further along. At 150 miles we turned off into the centre of Dunkirk, then continued west for the ferry terminal at Port West, with a couple of diversions in search of a supermarket, finally finding to a Carrefour.

With all shopping complete, we finally reached Norfolk Line's terminal. There was a large free car park to the right of the check-in, by the terminal building, where we settled for a quiet night.

We'd driven 1,037 miles from Budapest to Dunkirk in 5 days, which is rushing by our usual standards, and were booked on the 0800 hrs ferry to Dover next morning.

17 November 2009   195 miles   Dunkerque, France to Cheltenham, England   Briarfields Touring Park   £14.00

Home and Dry

Driving round to the check-in at 7 am, we watched our ferry, the brand new Danish-built 'Maersk Dunkerque', arrive. The remarkably smooth 2-hour voyage passed quickly, sitting in the cafι right at the front over a cooked breakfast and talking to another Barry - from north-east England and now living in the Dordogne.

The white cliffs of Dover heralded our prompt arrival at 10 am (or rather 9 am British time), leaving plenty of time to drive via the A20, M20, M25, M3, M4 and A419, A417 and M5 to our Cheltenham base at Briarfields, just a mile from Motorhome Medics - always our first port of call.