Archive for August, 2007

Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

There I was peacfully sleeping and John came down stairs, woke me up and said that if I wanted to go to Copenhagen he was leaving in 10 minutes. Well I’m getting practiced at packing and 15 minutes later I was ready!! I wonder what a Smorgasbord is? Here is part of the hotel we arrived at – apparantly a converted warehouse. Why do they need canon – to keep me away?
Admiral hotel, Copenhagen
John was on the phone as soon as we arrived, in the taxi and whilst checking into the hotel – I was thinking that we would never get to see anything. Then at about half past five he says “I’m going to see Den Lille Havfrue – The Little Mermaid”, well I was in his pocket before you could say Hans. Here I am looking up at this statute – I don’t really see what so many people see in her, John says she gets over a million visitors a year! She was 94 years old just a week ago!
Den Lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid)
We then wondered back through the harbour area, I saw some swanky yachts. I wanted to go on board but John just carried on and ignored me.
Yacht in Copenhagen harbour
The spire on this church looked stange, but it was a long way off over the water so I couldn’t get any closer.
Church with spiral spire
The we went past the Royal Palace – there were guards outside – lookd very menacing with knives on the end of their guns. John said they were bayonets and that if I didn’t get a move on they would use them against me.
Royal Palace Copenhagen
So we went back to the hotel. The next day John had meetings all day so I will had to fend for myself. It was raining so I took advantage of John’s absence and had room service – you can get anything you want by dialing 7. They had some good programs on the TV all about the Little Mermaid and other attractions. I’m going home again tomorrow – I will hide in the luggage to keep out of John’s way – he hasn’t seen the bill yet.

Dinosaurs!!!

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

After a leisurely morning we set off for the drive back home.  Claire decided to take a scenic route through the Brecon Beacons – apparently there’s a whiskey distillery she was hoping for a glimpse of (what is it with them and alcohol?).  Once there we followed the signs to the Dan-yr-Ogof caves as she wanted a break (she’s got no stamina), and look what we saw!!!

Dinosaurs

They had dinosaurs!!!!  Claire was very disappointing and refused to take me round the show caves as she wanted to get home tonight, but we did have a quick browse around the shop, a listen to a brass band that were playing in the grounds, and a look at the various dinosaurs dotted around the grounds.  There was also a Shire Horse Centre as part of the attraction.  We didn’t see any Shire Horses (Claire being stingy still and not buying any entry tickets), but we did see some llamas and ostriches walking around.

Llama 

John’s off to Copenhagen in a few days.  If I can get all my washing through I might try and sneak off with him!

Down on the farm

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

I’d only just unpacked from the epic drive back from Hungary, when Claire offered to take me to Wales with her to visit some friends.  After driving across 7 countries in the last week a jaunt across the Welsh border held no fears (and Claire looked lonely) so I packed up again and we set off.

We were meeting up with Caroline and Ruth, who Claire went to university with.  Caroline is now a vet, and lives on a farm in Pembrokeshire.  I lost no time in asking her about some funny twinges I’ve been getting in my paws, but Caroline informed me that she doesn’t have any experience with bears!  Call herself a vet – she’s obviously nothing more than a quack.  Last night we settled in and met Caroline’s three cats.  Two of them are just kittens, and were clearly overwhelmed to meet a cosmopolitan and well-travelled bear such as myself.

Meeting the kittens

We were got up this morning at what Claire refers to as ‘sparrow-fart’ and the rest of the world calls ‘mid-morning’.  Our hosts had been up for hours for the milking, but as guests in the cottage we get to lie in.  After breakfast we set off for the beach at Newgale and some reminiscing on Claire’s part – when she was young (many years ago) the whole family used to come camping here at least once a year.  The campsite is still there, along with the tea shop selling buckets and spades and surfboards.  Once I heard that this part of the country is known for surfing, and I’d learnt what boogie boarding, was I started looking over the surfboards and picking out a suitable one.  As soon as Claire realised what I was up to she pulled me away quickly, muttering that she’d been warned what I was like – cheek!  Instead we went for a stroll and a paddle along the beach.

Strolling along the beach

After Newgale we went for a drive along the coast road through Nolton Haven, Solva, Little Haven and Broad Haven (an awful lot of Havens in this part of the country), all places that Claire had visited when she’d stayed here years ago (she’s as bad as Maria for wittering on about the past), before heading back to the farm for a lovely roast dinner with home grown veg.  After a quiet rest in the garden after stuffing ourselves we hit the road again, this time heading for St. David’s.  I was promised a fun little touristy town, but quickly realised I’d been conned when we headed into the cathedral to look around Yet Another Church!  An interest in old buildings is clearly inherited in this family.

Cathedral at St Davids

Having been dragged around the building I reminded Claire that I’m used to a certain standard of living – in particular snacks in the afternoon – so we repaired to a local chocolate and ice cream shop. 

They call this ice cream?

The others seemed to enjoy their ice cream, but I have to say it wasn’t quite up to the standard I’m used to after my jaunt across Europe.

One final stop today, so we headed off to the Blue Lagoon.  It’s an old quarry that’s connected to the sea, and the water is a bright blue green which is unusual in this part of the world.  It’s a very popular area for coastal sports and we saw costeering, sea kayaking and diving there – and Claire wouldn’t let me try any of them!  Some rubbish about safety regulations, diving with a partner, and not getting my fur wet.

The Blue Lagoon

It was getting late, so we headed back to the farm so Caroline’s fella could drive us into Tenby (apparently the hen and stag capital of Wales!) for fish and chips.

Robbed!!

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

We said goodbye to the Hortobagy yesterday morning and set off on the hunt for dinye (watermelon) and peppers. The dinye was reasonably easy and we bought three nice big ones, but there was no sign of any roadside pepper sellers. So in the end we decided that since we were passing through Budapest anyway, we’d divert a little and go to the Grand Market where we knew there was good peppers to be had. Maria was not best pleased since she was driving at this point.

We have a running joke that she daren’t drive in Pest ‘cos they’ll shoot her. Well they didn’t try to shoot her but an idiot in a van certainly had a good go at killing us. He turned suddenly and sharply into the road in front of us from a side street, it had been raining so the road was slippery and he did a beautiful spin right in front of us, missing us by inches.

Once all our hearts had settled down we made our way to the market and found a place to park close by. We then went to our usual pepper seller and bought 20 kilos, Maria’s going to regret it when she’s chopping it all up. Since we were there we also topped up our palinka stores and bought 3 slices of cake. John didn’t want any, so Maria and I shared one piece in BUdapest, one in Austria and one in Germany. The weather was much nicer and so the journey was much more enjoyable. We eneded up at a small town hotel near Nurenberg, that John had found by trawling through the internet. It was lovely, very little English spoken or understood, so we ordered our tea by guesswork but it turned out deliscious.

This morning the weather was rather miserable, especially when Maria was driving, but we made it to Brussels without incidence. Thankfully we are staying at a Crowne Plaza rather than a Holiday Inn. There are still niggles but nothing major, Maria rather fancies the in room massage on offer, but only if they will guarantee it will be carried out by Sven (??)

After a quick wash and brush up we set off for the Grand Place and the Manniken Piss. It was one of John’s “it’s only a quick five minutes away” type walks. More like 20 mins and most of it on cobbles. I thought the name Manniken Piss sounded rather rude, and it was. Why would anyone want to erect a statue of a small boy peeing? And why would lots of people want to see it?

Manniken Piss

There are some lovely buildings around Brussels but lots of them are being worked on, we were rather taken by this painting up the blank wall of a building. Apparently the name Tin Tin should mean something?
Wall painting

Street theatre is alive and well, this Ompah band seemed particularly appropriate, what they lacked in skill they more than made up for in enthusiasm.
Belgium Oompa band

We made our way back the the Grand Place, buying Maria a scarf and all of us some chocolates and then it happened.

At the bridge fair John bought Maria a new handbag, very nice thick leather with a pretty safe looking fastener. It was pretty big but not big enough for me to ride in, so I was in John’s camera bag. We were walking along the side of Grand Place when Maria thought someone was pushing her bag, so she looked down as a man pushed past her and found the flap undone, her wallet was missing and she shouted to John but it was too late, the man had pushed past him as well and was off, presumably with her wallet. He must have walked along beside her in the crowd and worked the fastener loose, it was only because it was such thick leather that she felt the flap being lifted. He was kucky I wasn’t in the bag or I’d have bitten him!

This put rather a dampner on the day, luckily there weren’t too many cards in the wallet (we phoned up and cancelled all of them immediatelly) but there was £70 in cash, and it does leave Maria without any means of getting cash (other than John) for  a few days. It just leaves a nasty taste behind and makes you feel cross that there are people who seem to have no feelings for others. It’s lucky it happened right at the ened of the holiday rather than the beginning. We went to the police station and reported it, not that they will be able to do anything of course. And then we went to have a beer to cheer us up.
Willbeary drinking again

Tomorrow it’s back home. It will be nice to be back in familiar surroundings, although Claire has asked me if I fancy going to Wales for a couple of days. I’m considering it.

Last day on the Hortobagy

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Last night we watched the fireworks from our patio, very pretty. They were rapidly followed by fireworks of a different kind. There was tremendous thunder and lightning followed by the heavens opening. The thunderstorm lasted for ages, John still managed to get to sleep and sleep through some of the loudest claps of thunder.
This morning dawned (wonder if Maria will continue to wake so early back at home, bet she won’t) bright and cool but with a promise of heat later. We decided to go back to the fair early, while it was cool and not too busy. We were parking before 8.45 but it was already starting to get busy.
There were some new stall holders and it was a great mix, including elderly gents who had made a few whips to sell (Maria still wouldn’t let me have one) and some ladies who had some antique pieces of weaving and embroidery.
View of the Hortobagy brigde fair.
Maria bought a couple of pieces, the prices were incredibly cheap, the ladies were apologising for how much they had to charge while we were feeling guilty about how much work had gone into the pieces and how little we were paying.
We did a bit more shopping, including a lucky horseshoe for me, which was just the right size to fit in my rucksack and which we watched being made, and some pottery for Maria from a potter we had tried to visit yesterday in Tiszafured, but found he was away (‘cos he was here of course). It was getting very busy by now and the heat was building up uncomfortably so we decided we’d had enough. We’d heard there were trips onto the puszta in horse drawn carts every couple of hours from 10 onwards. John decided he could cope if he was careful (he’s allergic to horses) so we decided to go for it.
I was lucky and got to sit up front with the driver.
WIlbeary takes the reins
It was very interesting; we had a long drive with pauses to see various animals etc. We saw a cart drawn by 6 white oxen,
Hortobagy Grey bulloks with an ox cart.
tremendously strong; we later saw a herd of them.
The horsemen are very talented and agile. Standing on the back of 2 horses while controlling others with reins is a particular trick of theirs (the world record is for 24 horses!!).
Puszta horseman showing off
They are also good at cracking their whips as they ride and the horses don’t flinch at all (bet I could do it if Maria let me have a whip),
Puszta horseman
There are some very isolated homesteads which look lovely at the moment but I beat it’s bleak in winter.
Cottage and wells on the Puszta
I love the characteristic wells.
We also saw some wild pigs, with rather cute piglets, and water buffaloes. A very enjoyable trip and John only wheezed for a while.
There is another storm forecast for tonight, in fact in some areas there have been enormous hailstones. Interesting weather,

Snippy day

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

We had a cool night, with the patio door open we even needed a cover on the bed. Bliss. We had breakfast out doors and even felt a little chilled, mind you the sun was trying to break through so the prospects were for things hotting up later.

Tomorrow is August 20th, St. Stephens day, he was the first Christian king who united Hungary over 1000 years ago, so basically it’s the countries birthday and a national holiday. We still had some shopping to do and since tomorrow everywhere would be closed and Tuesday we have 9 hours driving to do, today seemed our best chance. We thought we’d have a go at Debrecen, idealy we wanted one of those roadside pepper sellers or alternativelly a market. Things started well, the guide book said there was a market which was open on a Sunday 4.00am ’till 11.00am. We got there about 9.00ish to find they had pulled down the market hall recently and we had no idea what had happened to the market.

Things went rather down hill from there. The weather started to heat up and we all got rather snippy. We had to go and do our shopping in Tesco, a store we usually boycot due to their policy of selling live turtles in their Chinese supermarkets. So we all felt rather guilty, but at least we managed to get the cucumber slicers, paprika, vinegar, salami and some more wine(??). Their peppers were not too great and Maria was whining about how she’d had enough and was ready to go back home to England there and then, so we just bought a few and John said we could drive around for a bit. One, the car is air conditioned, two, we might come accross some roadside sellers and three, if worst comes to the worst we can always pop into another Tesco on our way on Tuesday.

A good idea, after a couple of hours in the car we all felt a lot better. No sign of any roadside stalls until we came to one village, where every other house seemed to have stalls. Mostly selling baskets, garden gnomes(?), watermelons and onions.We seem to be a bit early  for peppers, but we managed to find a few kilos of very nice ones, rather expensive (only half the price of those in England) but still.

The day was further improved when we found a lovely cukrazda and had cake and ice cream.

Wilbeary has another ice creamn with cake!!!

We’ve had a nice tea, outdoors, rather plaugued by wasps, and are now contemplating whether we want to watch the fireworks at the Bridge Fair in about an hour. Tomorrow is our last day and we think we might spend it at the fair again.

Heat on the Hortobagy

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Moving on again. We packed up and said goodbye to Eger, although we did seem to be taking quite a lot of it (in the form of wine) with us.
The first place we were heading for was Tokay, a famous wine growing area (!!)
The journey was a rather pleasant one, we followed the river Tisza a fair bit of the way, passing some lovely fishing, boating and picnicking places.
Boats near the river Tisza
At one point we had to cross the river on a ferry, well they called it a ferry but it seemed more like a raft someone had cobbled together in their back yard, still we made it across safely enough. We got to Tokay, rather an attractive little town, producing some very famous wines. We found our way to the cellar we were looking for and in a spirit of martyrdom Maria offered to do the rest of driving. This meant John could taste away to his hearts content. We left the place with our wine stock increased by a few bottles and some palinka added as well
Then back across the Tisza and on to Hortobagy. The temperature meanwhile was steadily rising and by the time we got there it was 35 degrees (in the shade). All we could do was collapse in a coolish room and wait for evening. We wanted to go to the bridge fair, so we did a quick recky trip to find out about the possibility of parking close by, the prospect of a walk in temperatures as high as 35 did not appeal.
We got up bright and early this morning, still warm but not unbearable and a little bit of cloud around. We set off promptly and so could park very close.
We took the day easy, stopping for a rest frequently and drinking plenty of water. It was very interesting, a real mix of things for sale, from complete rubbish to some beautifully crafted items.
Maria kept on hankering after a bogracs
Cauldren known as a Bogracs
( a cooking pot you use on an open fire outdoors) but as John said, how were we going to get it back and just how often does she need to make stew or soup for 40?
I really wanted a whip like some of the horsemen had, Maria claimed I’d only make a nuisance of myself with it. I disagreed and discussed it with a nice horseman called Attila,
Horseman with Wilbeary
who gave me his name and address and told me to look him up next time I was here and he’d organise some horsy activities for me.
 I got a kulacs (a sort of flask to carry drinks in) to keep me going, I just hope John will give me some decent palinka to put in it…
We did a bit more shopping and stayed until the end of the folk dancing
Folk dancing girls
and then John said we’d better go back so he could check if Maria had bankrupted him yet.

Eger

Friday, August 17th, 2007

(Written Thursday August 16th)
The weather has certainly turned hot, thank goodness for air conditioning in the car. We left Budapest without any incident, even the traffic wasn’t too bad, heading for Eger via the town of Mezokovesd.
This is a town famed for it’s folk art, embroidery, costume, painted furniture, pottery… if it’s possible to decorate it, they do.  We started at the Folk Museum and marvelled at some of the costumes in particular. There was a lady called Kis Janko Bori who was famous for her embroidery designs (she designed 100 different roses) and her little village house has been turned into a memorial to her work and life in her time.
In the houses around hers a small folk art community has grown up, so despite the heat of the mid day sun we went for a stroll.
Kis Janko Bori Utca
John thought he was doing ok; we’d only bought a tablecloth and some honey cakes, when we came across a furniture painter. Apparently he was 4th generation; he learned furniture painting from his dad and egg painting from his mum. He obviously loved his work and it showed, the quality was superb. I think John did pretty well to get away with only 2 eggs, a little chest and a little stool, (mind you Maria did also get the web address). Luckily the doll maker was shut.
We made it to Eger safe and sound and found our hotel in the Valley of the Beautiful Woman, right in the middle of the wine cellars. The room is lovely, light airy, nicely furnished and with balcony overlooking the wine cellars. IT HAS NO PHONE? Also, although it is supposed to be in an internet Hotspot, that seems to be broken, however it does have fully functioning air conditioning. So we decided to take a siesta until the cool of the early evening and then explore the wine cellars.
Wilbeary enjoying a taste of wine
We had a lovely time working our way along and sampling wines and eating bread and dripping (to clear the palate), I was a bit of a hit with some of the girls offering the wines. John made copious notes and we intend to come back tomorrow (with the car) and load up.
It will have to be in the afternoon ‘cos it’s harvest time and a lot of people are busy with the harvest in the mornings. We saw grapes being delivered by the skip load and being pressed.
Pressing grapes
The hotel has a lovely vine covered courtyard with a gipsy band, so we had a lovely leisurely meal before retiring for the night.
Breakfast on Thursday was lovely and then we headed off to Eger before it got too hot. We had a nice stroll round had a look at a church and the town centre streets,
Street in Eger
stopped for some cake and drink at a cukrazda, then headed back to the hotel for a quick siesta.
Wilbeary sleeping it off
I like this idea of spending the hottest part of the day snoozing under some vines with a nice cold glass of frocs (wine and soda). At the end of the afternoon we drove around our favourite cellars and picked up a few (!!?!!) litres of wine. We’re now looking forward to another nice meal (with wine) in the courtyard and then tomorrow it’s on to the Hortobagy (via Tokaj, apparently another wine area, in fact apparently the best and most famous wine area). Hopefully there’ll be internet access and I can post this.

Holloko

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Woke up to another beautiful morning. It’s lovely before it gets too hot, there’s something to be said for the European idea of getting up early in the morning, having a little siesta during the hottest part of the day and then out and about late afternoon and evening.
We were going out for the day to a village called Holloko, somewhere between here and Eger. Maria found out about it on the web, apparently it’s a World Heritage site for it’s preservation of folklore. None of us were sure exactly what to expect.
We had to drive out through Pest, an experience John did not enjoy, the Hungarian drivers are nuts, courteous with it but nuts, lane markings, traffic lights and rules of the road in general seem to be taken as for guidance only.
Once we were out of Budapest it was a pleasant drive and when we got to Holloko it was lovely. The weather was hot (27degrees) but not unbearable, and the village very attractive. A lovely old church
Church in Holloko
and some nice old cottages.
House in Holloko
Maria went all dewy eyed. A lot of the houses have craftworkers living in them, woodworkers, potters, embroiderers, doll makers etc.
Garden ornament in Holloko
One of Maria’s highlights was the doll museum, full of dolls in costumes from various parts of Hungary. It was strange, it looked like the dolls were mass produced dolls acquired from where ever they could, the dolls were then dressed with tremendous care and accuracy, with very detailed and intricate embroidery etc. There are only a few doll makers left and Maria had a lot of difficulty choosing a doll to buy, she wanted about 3, John’s wallet is certainly taking a battering.
Doll in Holloko museum
Maria drove us back into Pest, which she claimed was very brave.
 We decided to eat in the Brasserie tonight so we could say hello to Zolti, he was very pleased (and surprised) to see us. It seems that the hotel has a new manager (apparently English) who seems to be taking a new broom approach to the job. He has in Particular been getting rid of older staff, so Feri Bacsi (who was the head waiter in the restaurant) has been given early retirement (somewhat against his will) together with various others. General morale seems rather low, we hope this doesn’t mean the Gellert will lose its unique qualities and become just another Hilton or Crowne Plaza. We’ll have to wait and see.
Off to Eger via Mezokovesd tomorrow, hope the weather isn’t too hot.

What no Zolti!

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Well, yesterday, we set off from Papa in good time and in rain. We were going to call in on Pannonhalma on the way, a priory with a superb library and monks who make and sell wine and liqueurs. It rained all the way, as we came in sight of the priory we realised how spectacular and imposing it would have looked in decent weather. It stood on top of a hill totally dominating the countryside around it. Shame it was wreathed in mist and cloud.
Visiting the priory and the winery would have involved an extended walk and since it was chucking it down, we decide to give it a miss and just go to the gift shop where John bought some drink and Maria bought some Christmas cards (a touch early I’d have thought). We then went to the café and tried the drinks John hadn’t bought and decided to go back and buy some of them. That’s when John discovered he was a credit card short. The last time he could remember using it was when we checked out of the hotel in Papa. So back we went to Papa. Hungarian drivers are appalling!! We were coming up to a bend in the road when round it came 2 vans and a car overtaking them, ON OUR SIDE OF THE ROAD. There was nowhere for us to go, John and I closed our eyes, luckily Maria (who was driving) didn’t. She pulled over as far as she could and braked, the van at the back did the same and luckily the car missed us. It did however hit the car following us. Y then everyone has slowed down sufficiently that while the cars were damaged there were no major injuries. It was however a close thing.
We made it back to Papa in one piece and found John had left his credit card there, so that was ok, and eventually we made it to Budapest. Back to the Gellert, our favourite hotel where we are known by all and sundry.
We have a nice room with a balcony, overlooking Gellert Hill and the Danube.
Wilbeary looking acroos the Danube
We unpacked and then we were off. We had tickets for a show of gipsy music and folk dancing. It was performed by the Rajko Ensemble, a group we had not seen before. They were very good but I think our favourite is still The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.
Dancer with wine  Kalocsa dancers
We went back to the hotel restaurant for a meal and our favourite waiter wasn’t there!
Still the others know us as well and Maria had seen Zolti’s head from our balcony so we knew he hadn’t left
Today the weather had taken a definite turn for the better, too good if anything, the temperature was soaring. We planned to spend the day messing about in Budapest. First we visited another of Maria’s cousins, Ili. Apparently Maria and family used to stay with her on visits to Hungary in years gone by. She was looking well and very pleased to see us. She gave us a prezzie of some wine to take away with us, not I might say the first person to give us wine.

Ili
Then we moved onto a big book store Maria had found out about, the biggest in Budapest. John parked himself in the café while Maria had the staff running around finding her obscure books she remembered from her childhood.
They were very good to her, mind you she spent enough..

Alexandra bookshop
After that we traipsed around the Herend shops looking for this Matyo Madonna, Maria is so keen on. We only found a large one, so we’ve ordered one to pick up at Christmas, so I assume we’re coming back for the Christmas market. In the meantime of course, Maria had to have a small figurine to keep her going.
We were all wacked by now and grateful to stop at the Gerbeaux cukrazda for some well deserved refreshments.

 Wilbeary ar Gerbeaux

It has been very hot, I feel truly sorry for the little old ladies in black begging on the streets, first because they’re begging and then because they must be so hot dressed all in black.

Old lady begging
The gipsy band were playing during tea and they remembered us, which was nice. In fact we have our bedroom window open and we can hear them, which is lovely.
However we have had a disappointment. Zolti has transferred to the Brasserie (and they call him Zoli!!) so do we go and have our tea there and miss the band or do we stick with the restaurant and miss Zolti?? .