We left behind central Budapest, slowly making our way out through the sprawl of the outer suburbs. It seemed to stretch on and on, until we were suddenly in a rural setting. The Danube Bend was said to be one of the most scenic areas of Hungary, so we thought it worth a short deviation – since we’d basically skipped the rest of Hungary so far.
We found a free park near the attractions we wanted to see tomorrow in Visegrad. It just turned out to be less than flat, and the water that we semi-desperately needed had been disconnected. Plus, it was freezing up on the hill, and the winds howled through the night.
But, we had Stranger Things 2 to watch, and that was all that mattered.
It somehow felt significantly colder today than it had in Budapest, even though we were less than an hour’s drive away – and not all that much higher. But, I guess that’s weather – it’s probably also colder in Budapest today, too. It was once again clear, but the skies were filled with a strange smoke-like mist.
It was but a short drive from our overnight location to the castle of Visegrad. At least I thought it was only a short drive. We couldn’t quite understand the (non-English) signage, and followed the other drivers into a giant car park – which at €3, was more than we paid for three nights in Budapest!
Long story short, we’d stopped at the wrong hill. The other people stopping here were visiting the adventure centre, with a small luge, and series of flying foxes making their way down the hill. We didn’t know we were in the wrong place yet, so climbed to the top of the hill, only to find a small ruined tower. At least we had great views across to Visegrad Castle, and of the Danube River.
Rather than move the van (which was a daily rate), we walked to the castle. It wasn’t far on the map, but the trail seemed to disappear and take unexpected directions. We gave up and walked on the side of the road, flinching every time a car came flying around the blind corners.
It was more expensive than we had expected it to be, and in the end, didn’t bother paying to enter. Instead, we followed one of the walking trails around the hill to get a view of the Danube, and the hills in the distance. Risa continued on the trail back down to the town below, however, I ended up inside the castle, beyond the ticketing gates – winner!
I’m quite glad that I didn’t pay to enter, as there wasn’t all that much to see. The ruins themselves were OK, as was the small armoury collection. But, the highlight were the views.
The other major attraction in this region is the small town of Esztergom, right on the Slovakian border. But, the real attraction, which is visible long before arriving in town is the ENORMOUS cathedral on the hill.
We attempted to get some lunch, but it seemed that every restaurant in town was full with other tourists trying to do the same. We could have stood around and waited, but we opted to just complete the sightseeing, eat some muesli bars, and eat something cheap once we get outside of town.
Approaching the basilica, it seemed even larger than it had from afar. The columns were monumentally large, but since it was all in proportion, only when viewed with people could the scale truly be understood.
It was free to enter the basilica, and the same sense of awe and insignificance washed over me. The domed ceiling was huge, and way, way, way above us. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, I’m amazed at the effort that takes place in the name of religion – and would love to know what else could have been done had it been channelled in different directions.
We hopped back into the van, and started on our long drive to Vienna. It began as smaller roads, filling me with a sense of dread every time a truck, or other larger vehicle approached. This only got worse as the light faded, taking away my ability to accurately judge where they, and the side of the road are.
It wasn’t a journey free of incidents, either. We stopped in a small supermarket to spend the remainder of our Hungarian currency before returning to the Eurozone. We managed to spend most of it, but Risa wanted to go back and get some extra souvenirs for friends. She took our Revolut card, since currency fees are at market rates. Somehow she managed to drop it inside the fridge at the delicatessen, sliding down the glass counter, and inside the belly of the beast. The staff were incredible, doing all they could to help us, but it required major disassembly – which wasn’t going to be possible for several more days. We’d been using this card exclusively for the past seven months, saving us many hundreds of Euros in foreign transaction fees, but it was to be no more. We gave up, and continued on towards Austria.
Now, it’s my turn to make a mistake. The fuel light had come on, but I wasn’t happy with the price, so continued on to the next one, and then the next one. And, then there were no more next ones on the map before my estimation of when the tank was due to run out. I made a desperate exit from the motorway, and searched for a fuel station, only to find that it wouldn’t accept my credit/debit cards – only the fuel cards for this particular petrol station. There was another nearby, but we arrived to find it well and truly closed for the day – it was after 9PM on a Sunday night, in rural Hungary after all. I returned back to the first station, which was 24-hour, hoping to find a way to buy fuel with my card, only to run out on the approach to the driveway, rolling to a stop half way towards the bowser. I was yelled at by an approaching truck, since it was an exit that I’d just rolled into – but my attempts at explaining the situation were pointless.
The night duty manager at the petrol station took pity on us, and tried to help. First he spoke with some of the truck drivers that were refuelling, asking if they’d accept some cash from me for a little fuel. But… here’s the most awesome part – we’d just spent all the cash we had.
Partly due to pity, partly due to us blocking his driveway, the man working at the petrol station grabbed a small jerry-can, told me to grab my credit card, and got me to jump in his car with him. He firstly took me to an ATM, then drove some way away to a petrol station that was only minutes away from closing. I anxiously filled his 5L can, and sat like a foolish child in the passenger seat while he drove us back to our van. I gave him €10 worth of local currency as a thank-you, since it did take nearly an hour of his evening… I know he wasn’t just doing it for the money (though, no doubt was expecting compensation), and was feeling a huge amount of gratitude for our saviour.
Of course, 5L of fuel wasn’t going to get us very far. In fact, the next petrol station was nearly 40km away, which was going to leave us with a little more than 1L in the tank. This time I wasn’t fussy, and bought fuel from the first station I came across.
It was a night of unneeded drama, which had meant that we didn’t arrive in Vienna until after 10PM. I was mentally drained from the stress and anticipation of watching the fuel gauge, but thankfully our camp for the night was dark, flat, and incredibly quiet.