Seeing Hungary by car

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My husband, Norman, and I were lured into visiting Hungary by the idea that it was one of the bargains left in European travel. As we found on our trip in September ’04, this proved to be correct. It has joined the E.U. but, for now, is still using the old currency (forint). Nearby Austrian visitors flock there for dental and optical bargains as well as plastic surgery, we were told.

As we usually do, we planned our own itinerary and rented a car, wandering around with lots of guidebooks and local advice when possible.

We flew to the Vienna airport on award mileage because United Airlines is partnered with Austrian Air. The airport is a few miles east of Vienna and very near the Hungarian border. We planned a short drive to Sopron, Hungary, where we could sleep and get over jet lag. We did get lost and slightly confused, so it took four hours.

The Hungarian language is part of the Finno-Ugric family, with no connection to English, French, German or Latin. We had difficulty with communication because there were no English signs and surprisingly few people understood English. The best bet was German or “travelers’” sign language. It was part of the challenge and we were frequently lost.

Costs were modest. Lodging rates for two would be about $50 with breakfast. All the hotels we stayed at were new or recently remodeled, as they’re struggling to come back from behind the Iron Curtain and Russian domination. Meals ran about $25-$35 for two with wine, some good and some bad.

In that area near the Austrian border we visited Sopron and Gyor and the Esterházy Kastély (the Versailles of Hungary). Those towns all have museums and quaint old neighborhoods, as described in our guidebooks.

We went on to Budapest and garaged the car as advised. Bus and trolley worked fine. We used some taxis and found the guidebook warnings to be too, too true — a band of licensed thieves.

One brazen attempt was made on my fanny pack. We noted that many bus tourists at major sights were wearing vests with multizippered pockets. We bought them at the Castle Hill flea market and used them daily through the trip.

Budapest is a fine sightseeing city. We saw the National Museum, Castle Hill across the river, the House of Terror, the Postal Museum and the new synagogue with a Holocaust memorial. We stayed at the Mercure Nemziti at an Internet rate of €70 (near $95) — no breakfast. We ate breakfast at a nearby subway underpass with good coffee and wonderful morning pastries.

We found a nearby restaurant called Articsóka which we liked (entrées $6-$23). We ate at Gundel, famous but overrated, we thought (entrées $20-$40). Budapest has enough to see for three to seven days, depending on one’s taste for museums, etc.

We then drove south to Pécs, which all the guidebooks and Hungarians (correctly) rate very highly. There is a nice Old Town and many museums.

We went west to Keszthely on Lake Balaton. This is a nice town with a good agriculture museum, a castle and a town history museum. We were told not to bother with Lake Balaton because it’s crowded and overbuilt, but we enjoyed it off-season. We next stayed overnight at the Tihany Peninsula, which is a bird sanctuary with good hiking trails.

We headed back up to Gyor to overnight because it was right by the main highway back to Austria and the Vienna airport. We turned the car in at the airport and stayed overnight at a beautiful hotel right across from the terminal until our flight the next day. They had excellent food as well.

On this trip, we chose not to see some good tourist towns in order to cut down on the hazards of driving and getting lost. If anyone wants to plan a trip to Hungary, I have all the contact numbers on hotels and restaurants and will share them.

BETTY YOURISH
New Hyde Park, NY

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My husband, Norman, and I were lured into visiting Hungary by the idea that it was one of the bargains left in European travel. As we found on our trip in September ’04, this proved to be correct. It has joined the E.U. but, for now, is still using the old currency (forint). Nearby Austrian visitors flock there for dental and optical bargains as well as plastic surgery, we were told.

As we usually do, we planned our own itinerary and rented a car, wandering around with lots of guidebooks and local advice when possible.

We flew to the Vienna airport on award mileage because United Airlines is partnered with Austrian Air. The airport is a few miles east of Vienna and very near the Hungarian border. We planned a short drive to Sopron, Hungary, where we could sleep and get over jet lag. We did get lost and slightly confused, so it took four hours.

The Hungarian language is part of the Finno-Ugric family, with no connection to English, French, German or Latin. We had difficulty with communication because there were no English signs and surprisingly few people understood English. The best bet was German or “travelers’” sign language. It was part of the challenge and we were frequently lost.

Costs were modest. Lodging rates for two would be about $50 with breakfast. All the hotels we stayed at were new or recently remodeled, as they’re struggling to come back from behind the Iron Curtain and Russian domination. Meals ran about $25-$35 for two with wine, some good and some bad.

In that area near the Austrian border we visited Sopron and Gyor and the Esterházy Kastély (the Versailles of Hungary). Those towns all have museums and quaint old neighborhoods, as described in our guidebooks.

We went on to Budapest and garaged the car as advised. Bus and trolley worked fine. We used some taxis and found the guidebook warnings to be too, too true — a band of licensed thieves.

One brazen attempt was made on my fanny pack. We noted that many bus tourists at major sights were wearing vests with multizippered pockets. We bought them at the Castle Hill flea market and used them daily through the trip.

Budapest is a fine sightseeing city. We saw the National Museum, Castle Hill across the river, the House of Terror, the Postal Museum and the new synagogue with a Holocaust memorial. We stayed at the Mercure Nemziti at an Internet rate of €70 (near $95) — no breakfast. We ate breakfast at a nearby subway underpass with good coffee and wonderful morning pastries.

We found a nearby restaurant called Articsóka which we liked (entrées $6-$23). We ate at Gundel, famous but overrated, we thought (entrées $20-$40). Budapest has enough to see for three to seven days, depending on one’s taste for museums, etc.

We then drove south to Pécs, which all the guidebooks and Hungarians (correctly) rate very highly. There is a nice Old Town and many museums.

We went west to Keszthely on Lake Balaton. This is a nice town with a good agriculture museum, a castle and a town history museum. We were told not to bother with Lake Balaton because it’s crowded and overbuilt, but we enjoyed it off-season. We next stayed overnight at the Tihany Peninsula, which is a bird sanctuary with good hiking trails.

We headed back up to Gyor to overnight because it was right by the main highway back to Austria and the Vienna airport. We turned the car in at the airport and stayed overnight at a beautiful hotel right across from the terminal until our flight the next day. They had excellent food as well.

On this trip, we chose not to see some good tourist towns in order to cut down on the hazards of driving and getting lost. If anyone wants to plan a trip to Hungary, I have all the contact numbers on hotels and restaurants and will share them.

BETTY YOURISH
New Hyde Park, NY