Nov 17

Langos and Driving from Budapest to Prague

Budapest was beautiful and interesting, and the river views from the hills of Buda were spectacular. We had a nice breakfast at the hotel. I sat and wrote in my Traveler’s Notebook and made a drawing using the handle of my fork as a stylus and my cup of coffee as ink. Drawing in my journal with coffee has been a funny little ritual I began a few years ago as a way to capture my time in a new place.

Speaking of food, Christy had to have real Hungarian langos. Langos is a street food, deep fried bread traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese. There was a shop that sold langos not far away, about a kilometer or so. It was time for us to check out anyway so we gathered up our things, hopped in the car and drove to the store. The directions seemed easy and in hindsight they were but driving in traffic when you don’t speak the language can sometimes be nerve wracking and you tend to second guess yourself. It wasn’t too hard but we managed to find the store and thankfully there was a parking lot next door, it was a paid indoor garage. The garage was kind of cool because it had a car wash on one side, a tire shop on another and seemingly more shops the further and deeper you went. Picking a spot not far from the entrance we hopped out and headed up the ramp toward the sunlight coming in from the street above. A man walked out a doorway to my left and started talking to me in Hungarian. I replied “I’m sorry I don’t understand” to which he started walking toward me gesturing in different directions and talking more earnestly. To this I smiled, nodded my head and said “yes it is a lovely day isn’t it” and headed for the exit.

Butcher. Budapest, Hungary.2017

The shopping center turned out to be a grocery store of sorts, with three levels of small outdoor shops, each selling meats or fruits or vegetables with the locals strolling through buying their supplies for the week. I’ve been to outdoor markets all over the world and they range from horrible and frightening to homey and clean. I’ll never forget the platter of roasted rats in Laos. This market was neat and well kept, clearly falling into the homey and clean category. That’s something I noticed about Budapest in general, for a historic city, it was very clean. We walked up three levels and found the Langos vendor, success! Wandering back toward the parking lot I was a little nervous I might run into my new friend but he was nowhere to be seen.

Getting out of Budapest by car on a weekday morning was a traffic nightmare. We made a few wrong turns and it felt like we were stuck in a labyrinth, nearly an hour later we finally emerged onto the highway and plotted a course for Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava was on the way to Prague and would allow us to check another country off our list, and it was beautiful to drive through.

The countryside in this part of Europe was rolling hills and fertile farmland, you didn’t see many towns or houses, at least not from the highway but there were many signs for historic places to visit along the way. Ordinarily I would have loved nothing more than to stop and explore but it was such a long travel day we just kept moving.

As we got closer to Bratislava, we could see boxy rectangular buildings stacked up in the distance. We’d seen these before, the concrete high density housing known as “Stalins”. You read that right, “Stalins.” These buildings were named after the Soviet Dictator because he was the one that promoted their construction for the proletariat all across the USSR. We had learned about them in Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks were resentful of these buildings and considered them blight. We weren’t surprised to see “Stalins” in former Czechoslovakia but were happy to see the construction of newer more beautiful buildings going up around them.

The rest of the drive to Prague was even more beautiful with rolling hills, pine forests, and cool crisp clean air. Prague itself was a revelation, with Onion domes and old world charm.

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Nov 17

Around the World Part 3, The Grand Adventure

We’re off on our next Grand Adventure. The trip to the airport was uneventful. Along the way we stopped and picked up a new lens, a Fuji 50-140, about a 70-200 equivalent on full frame. More on the Fuji system later.

The first leg of our journey had us flying to Frankfurt, Germany. Our plane was new and beautiful, one of the Untied 777 Polaris jets. I learned that United has retired it’s 747’s and there was a cute little memento celebrating and remembering the 747. The crew was friendly and accommodating. The flight passed quickly and I managed to get a few hours of sleep. I watched a documentary film on the life of the great Toshiro Mifune. It was narrated by Keeanu Reeves, and quite good.

Bistro. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

Next we flew to Vienna and rented a car for our drive to Budapest where we’re spending our first two days. I’d downloaded a copy of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson to celebrate, just like I watched his “Darjeeling Limited” on our way to India last year, I’ve seen all his films before but they are brilliant, entertain and get me in the mood, One of my photography mentors had all the Wes Anderson films on his iPhone. When we were sitting around at lunch or just hanging out he would pull out his phone and scroll to a scene then wax poetic about it’s beauty, complexity and symmetry, such a great experience.

TukTuks. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

The drive from Vienna to Budapest wasn’t too bad. I like driving in Europe as the drivers seem much more “with it” than drivers in the US I don’t know why, maybe it’s because they seem to have fewer distractions and driving seems less like a chore. There was no traffic and we had a “never lost” so it was easy, and after leaving the Vienna airport only one main highway and here we are. It was kind of funny, we had to buy road stickers, kind of like local tax certificates to drive in Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic was easy since we were able to buy it when we picked up our car, the sticker for Hungary had to be bought at a gas station on or near the Hungarian border. We kept our eyes peeled for the Hungarian border, guessing where it might be. We weren’t sure what to look for since most of our long distance overland travel tended to be by train, and that’s easy, you just give your passport to the conductor, kick back and relax.

River Danube. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

So what does the Austro Hungarian border look like? It looks like a truck stop with a dozen little shops lined up selling paprika, and the surface of the road changed from smooth blacktop to something rough and bumpy for the first kilometer or so, then back to a nicely paved road. Crossing the border we found a gas station, purchased our sticker and continued on our way. As we approached Budapest, the “never lost” did a great job of keeping us on the right path. There’s always the fear that the computer will take you the wrong way and you’ll end up lost. Not this time. I was so happy to see the Danube and the bridges as we wound our way through town.

Danube at Night. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

What is the goal of the European portion of our trip? First and foremost we want to have fun and continue our exploration of this part of the world, for myself I’m excited to see the cities in a historical context and continue putting the pieces to gather, I’m a student of western civilization and I want to understand more, the long view and context, that’s my thing. Christy loves to explore, be curious and enjoy new experiences and food, and she’s always doing research for her grand science fiction novels.

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