Tallinn, EST to Vienna, AS
August 12 to September 14, 1999
27,077 miles (43,674 km) cumulative
What affects men sharply about a foreign nation is not so much finding or not finding familiar things; it is rather not finding them in the familiar place.
The horrendously ugly old Soviet buildings were summed up perfectly by the Tallinn tourist guide. "A less likely attraction (of Tallinn) is the vast, ungodly Lasnamae apartment district, which captures the Soviet version of suburban paradise in all its horrifying glory." Yet what we found so horrifying was not the fact that these buildings exist. It's the fact that they exist so prolifically. After all, don't we have something similarly so ugly, a place called "The Projects" in New York. Throughout all the former Soviet states we've found these buildings absolutely everywhere. The smallest town of just a few hundred will have at least one blaring concrete scab. At least the slums of Mexico have some chaotic, yet messy character. These concrete blocks are just nameless, faceless, giant gray monoliths broken only by plain black windows or tattered balconies. It's a sight we will surely not miss.
What to say about Tallinn. Well, not a whole lot. It has the usual "old town" which resides inside a good portion of surviving old city wall as well as a castle built on top of what seems to be the one and only hill in all of West Estonia. Several of the original 30 plus town wall towers still stand and many are used for restaurants, museums, or houses. Winding cobble stone streets are meticulously maintained in far better condition than they would have in the middle ages. Buildings from the 17th century to the early 20th century line the roads and most have been carefully restored. A park surrounds half the castle and the rest of old town is surrounded by a new city that has almost no interesting old world character. Tourists, mostly from Finland, crowd the narrow streets of old town. But, only a small minority seem to get beyond shopping to venture into the different small museums scattered about.
Yet, we found the city to be less magnificent than we had expected. Unlike Riga, which has fantastic old Jugensthil architecture scattered well beyond the limits of the old town and a real unusual central market housed in former blimp hangers, Tallinn's quaint areas seem to exist only within the old town which is not that large to begin with. The city beyond is just a normal, somewhat ugly, former Soviet city. Exploring much beyond the old walls just leads to shopping districts for the local residents. It's fine for finding food supplies, but it's not very interesting . Within just a few hours we had completed the town walking tour and started to look for more to do. There wasn't much. A town history museum housed in one of the old towers, called "kiek en de kok" which means peek into the kitchen in German, took no more than 3 hours to view all 5 floors of displays. Another Estonia history museum housed in a nobleman's former mansion took perhaps another hour. So we looked for things to see beyond the city.
We decided to take the train out to the coast to the city of Paldiski. It's a city that until very recently had housed an elite Soviet nuclear submarine base. The last of the 10,000 soldiers based there turned out the lights on the nuclear reactor, actually decommissioned it, and went back to Russia in 1995. Since that time the former base and several of the ugly former housing buildings have been left to slowly crumble into the sand. It was horribly depressing. The town has been in an economic slump ever since and the remaining inhabited buildings show it. If there could be a contest for the most shabby of all old ugly Soviet concrete block buildings we think these would win hands down. We walked through the mish mash of horrendous buildings, those that were abandoned had all their windows broken . Their structure was only slightly more dilapidated than those buildings that were still occupied. Here and there a pile of concrete is all that remains of a building which had become such a hazard the local authorities had to dynamite it. It was a place that reminded me of just how lucky we in the US are, and just how spoiled as well. Try as I might I couldn't imagine what it would be like to spend my entire life living in such an awful place.
We sat on the bus for one final trip from downtown Tallinn to our campground. To my rear sat 2 very, very drunk Russians. Speaking with slurred voices that were not quite a yell, they harassed the other passengers. A woman who looked like a picture perfect old Russian matron, sat across from them and tried to ignore them. Much to the relief of the other passengers they finally got off, but not without leaving a smelly reminder behind on the floor. It's a trend we noticed throughout Tallinn and many of the Baltic large cities. There are a lot of young Russian men standing around smoking and drinking at all hours of the day. Due to 50 years of the Soviet's policy of trying to eliminate the native population and replace them with their own Russian kind, the large cities generally have a large proportion of Russian residents. Tallinn, for instance, is over 50% Russian and Narva is more than 90% Russian. Although they may have been the more "elite" citizenry in the past, for various reasons the Russians of today haven't been getting as much benefit from the new market economy than the Baltic citizens. It may be due to discrimination, it may be due to the Russian work ethic, or there may be other factors. But the result seems to be a lot of unemployed, drunk, Russian men gathering in the streets. It does leave one feeling just a tad uncomfortable in some spots.
We also noticed that the Russians tend to be a very aggressive and, by our US standards, rude people. They'll purposefully run into you while walking down the street, I suppose in an attempt to start an altercation. Or they'll party loudly all night in a campground in complete indifference to anyone else who may be trying to sleep. In one instance a woman with a baby in a wheeled baby chair came over to a table we'd been sitting at. In her hand were two balloons. I suddenly found these two balloons sitting right in front of my face, one having bopped me on the head. She proceeded to shove our belongings aside and move in, this despite the fact there were several other vacant tables already available. A few minutes later she demanded a light for her cigarette. One is continually feeling the impact of a very aggressive population, pushing, shoving, trying to move into your "personal space." But, that seems to be the way Russians are. The Baltics people are far more polite. So it's easy to see how this large group of overbearing, egotistic, people managed to overrun and rule a far more peaceful Baltic population for so long. It's also easy to see why the Baltic and other former Soviet peoples do not like Russians and are not overly anxious to ensure they receive equal, fair treatment. But, the question remains, do two wrongs make a right?
We have concluded that the Baltics were interesting to ride through once and only once. One might compare it to riding through Ohio or across the plains of the US. You do it once to see what's there, but never again. In fact, if someone were to ask if we'd recommend the Baltics for a bike tour we'd have to say only if you're looking for flat, no scenery, not much historic value, boring riding. Let's just say there are a lot of other places in the world we'd put on the list first. But, we simply cannot tell what a region will be like until we actually ride through it. At this point I can safely say the Baltics will not be a place we'll be returning to anytime in the foreseeable future. And getting back out proved to be one long ordeal. It took over 48 hours, two 10 hour overnight bus rides, one 3 hour train ride, and 2 taxi rides for us to finally make our way back south and west to the city of Krakow, Poland. And this was for a total distance of just around 600 miles, just the distance from a bit north of San Francisco to San Diego. Now, in the US such a trip would be done in a rental car for about 1/2 the cost and 1/2 the time. But this is Eastern Europe and it seems such long journeys will forever be ordeals.
Krakow might be considered to be one of the gems of Poland. At least it certainly gets enough tourist traffic to be considered so. A legend claims that "The death of a dragon gave birth to this city: its bones reside in the castle to this day." Certainly the old castle sitting upon the hill just south of town is worthy of having a good dragon residing within. It's an imposing structure perched upon an small hill within the bend of the river. Towers, spires, tall block walls reach into the sky. Within the walls is the beautiful cathedral with its brick and white stone walls highlighted with green and gold gilded roofs. The cathedral's interior is packed with tombs, sarcophagus, alters. For over 2 centuries the royalty of Poland resided in Wawel Castle and many were crowned and subsequently buried within these walls. There are other notable people entombed within the cathedral as well, including one with whom we have become very familiar, Tadeusz Kosciuszko the US Revolutionary war hero. Poland's largest bell weighing over 2 tons resides within the tower. A major attraction for folks of all nationalities is to climb the tower steps to have your photo taken while touching the bell clapper. I just wouldn't want to be inside the tower when the bell rings.
Visits to the Royal Chambers, treasury, and armory are an exercise in patience. Entrance for unguided visitors is restricted to a total of 10 tickets per 10 minutes and there's always a line, a long long line. We arrived just before the ticket window opened and wound up waiting a full 1 1/2 hours. The chamber rooms are all huge, usually with stuccoed walls but occasionally painted leather. They are sparsely decorated with furniture, bowls, statues, paintings, tapestries, and other odd assorted items that were gathered from all over Europe. Since the castle had been used for various purposes, including military barracks, since having been a royal residence nothing of the original furnishing remains. Only the ceilings and frieze paintings seem to be original. It was a bit of a disappointment. But the ceilings were fabulous. Each one was a chessboard design of wooden beams, the squares of the chessboard filled with paintings, carved gold floral shapes, or even in the audience room a series of heads facing the floor. Imagine being told to present yourself to the king and then finding yourself in a room where a group of faces stared at you from above. The ceilings date from the 1500s and some of the paintings were redone in the early 20th century.
The treasury contains a variety of silver and gold items originally belonging to or having been given as gifts by several of the Polish royalty. There weren't any "crown jewels" as I suspect they disappeared long ago. There were some interesting chalices, beakers, candle sticks, paintings, robes, and horse trappings. And the armory, similar to the castle, contained a wide collection of swords, sabers, daggers, guns, cross bows, lances, drums, and armor. None of it original to the castle, most of it from some other country in Europe. One gets the impression that Poland is trying to recapture a lost aristocracy through the trappings obtained from others. Well, it does seem to draw the tourist crowds and that's where the money is today.
We wandered down a tree shaded wide dirt road. Neatly lined up on each side were sturdy looking 2 story brick military style barracks. At the end of the road was a tall barbed wire fence. No not 1 fence, 2 fences and each was designed to carry 6000 volts electrical current. At first glance this would seem to be a peaceful and rather nice military post. It was hard to imagine this was the scene of the largest mass murders in history. It was Aushwitz and each of those barracks once housed hundreds of men, women, and children condemned to a long, slow painful death.
Aushwitz was conceived by the German SS as the ultimate solution to their "problem" of how to completely eliminate all Jews from the European continent. It actually consisted of several camps, Aushwitz I which housed a few thousand people, Birkenau, which held up to 200,000, and several smaller installations attached to various industrial complexes in the area. The procedure for collecting and then exterminating the Jews was fairly simple. They started by forcing them into what they called ghettos around the major cities. These were usually overcrowded slums contained within barbwire fences. When starvation and rampant disease did not take enough, the Germans started herding everyone into the concentration/slaughter camps. The Jews were told they were being relocated, a ploy to get them to bring their most valuable possessions. In some cases the Germans even sold the Jews fictitious farm plots. They were then herded into cattle cars and sent on the long journey to Aushwitz. People were gathered from all over Europe, from Oslo, Paris, Rome. Needless to say after several days packed into the car with little food or water many people were dead on arrival or close enough. They then went through "selection". Those strong enough for hard labor or those deemed necessary for their inhumane medical experiments were stripped of their belongings, issued paper thin striped pajamas, and sent to the barracks where they begin a living hell that usually ended in death. It is estimated that only some 10% of the prisoners were selected.
Death was perhaps a bit easier for those not "selected", at least it was quick. They were sent to an underground building where they were told to undress as they were to be given a bath. Nude, they were lead into a room that looked much like a huge communal shower house. Two thousand people stood in this one small room waiting to get washed. But, the small shower heads on the ceiling weren't attached to any water. Instead the SS poured a poison called Cyclon B into a large overhead chute and 2,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes. Pretty efficient in a German sort of way. From there the bodies were taken to a preparation room where the hair and gold teeth fillings were removed. Some bodies were burned in the large crematoriums working round the clock and many were buried in mass graves just outside.
Today, with the peaceful environment surrounding this former scene of horror it's hard to imagine the numbers of people subjected to this death and torture. The SS did their best to eliminate much of the evidence. While in operation belongings of the dead were shipped to the "fatherland". Suitcases, glasses, clothes, even artificial limbs were scavenged and shipped west. Even the hair cut from women was sent to a textile company to make hair cloth. Witnesses said that despite constant trains shipping stuff out, the store rooms were constantly overflowing and piles of belongings sat between the buildings. As the Red Army approached from the east the Germans hastily packed what they could and shipped it off. But, much remained. Carefully preserved and displayed within one of the former barracks are some of the things the Red Army found. In one room about 40 ft long and 20 ft wide lies two huge piles of shoes with a narrow corridor down the middle. The pile starts at a height of just 3 feet by the center path and ends at over 6 ft tall at the back. It's all filled with thousands of shoes. The Red Army is said to have found over 40,000 pairs of shoes. And this didn't even scratch the surface of what the Germans took.
We were particularly appalled by one typical tourist behavior. What is it about people that makes them want to take family photos of some of the strangest things. Inside the one surviving crematorium and gas chamber building the Poles have carefully reconstructed one of the crematoria using the original metal parts obtained from the site. People were actually getting family members to pose in front of them, in some cases kids would have their heads stuck inside. We fail to understand why anyone would want a family portrait of such a horrific thing. We saw Aushwitz and bypassed Birkenau, one death camp was more than enough for us.
Far more enjoyable were the salt mines in the town of Wieliczka. Under a small town located just 10 km from Krakow is a huge underground salt mine that has been in operation since the 1300s. Over the centuries it grew to a 9 level labyrinth of tunnels carved into solid gray, yes that's gray, rock salt. It's 95% pure salt and if you simply grind it up it'll become perfectly acceptable white crystal table salt. I was surprised. I hadn't known that rock salt was gray. Some 3 million years ago the area under the town of Wieliczka was covered by a sea, hence the origin of the salt. Legend says that a Hungarian princess engaged to a Polish king knew that Poland did not have its own salt mine. So she asked her father to give her one. She wrapped her engagement ring in a cloth and threw it into one of the Hungarian salt mines. Then the very first shovel dug out of the Wieliczka mine contained her engagement ring. Her name was Kinga and she became the patron saint for the salt mine. Within the mine itself there is a set of life-size carved statues representing this legend, all carved from salt rock.
There's a lot of rock salt carvings throughout the mines. There are the 7 dwarves, a couple of gnomes, a bust of King Stanislaw, and even 3 complete chapels. The most impressive chapel can seat several hundred people and has an amazing set of salt reliefs carved into the walls, all representing stages in the life of Christ. Even the altarpieces, chandelier crystals, and plaques honoring the artists are carved from salt. A new statue of Pope John Paul II is currently being created and will likely be the last item added to the chapel. The artists were just ordinary miners who happened to have an artistic talent and the unique ability to carve salt. With its fissures and cracks, salt is evidently not an easy substance to carve which is why it's not normally used as an artistic material. That and the fact that it dissolves in water.
Back in the 1300s salt was an incredibly valuable commodity. It is said that during Roman times salt was worth its weight in gold and it's value hadn't decreased all that much by the 1300s. The mine at Wieliczka was so large it's production represented 30% of Poland's total economy. The miners were paid in salt and were paid by the amount of salt they extracted. When they became fairly well-off they would hire their own load bearers who carried their excavated rock to the top. Thus the miners could make even more money. But their time underground was limited to 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. A wax candle burning to its end was their time clock.
Mining operations were originally performed by hand methods using age old drilling techniques. Old wooden lifting machines run by horses lifted the large 2 ton blocks of salt from the lower levels to the surface. Only in the later years were explosives used. At its height the mine was producing over 2 million tons of salt annually. Not just table salt; epson salts, salts for animals, industrial salts, etc. In the 1950s the mine was declared a World Heritage site and all excavation operations were banned. But that didn't mean the end to the mine's production. There are several water seeps scattered about. Water is collected, boiled, purified, augmented with iodine, and the product sold. Even through this inefficient means the mine still manages to produce over 20,000 tons of salt per year. So, everything you ever wanted to know about a 600 year old salt mine can be found at the salt mine in Wieliczka.
Ah, the end of summer. Backpackers begin their long trek back to where ever they came from to begin the school year. Families pack up and head home. The campground at Krakow got quieter and quieter, until the Russians showed up. The Russian trial bike motocross team that is. They had a huge white van plastered with various sponsor logos. A workshop was in the back and beds for the racers in front. Out of it they pulled three odd looking seatless dirt motorcycles. The frame was almost an inverted chevron shape as the tailpipe extended up over the rear wheel underneath the rear fender. It looked like the riders stand up for the entire race. We thought, "they must be headed either to or from a race".
The next day the Italians showed up with smaller vans, large tents, and a bunch more of those strange motorcycles. Then teams from Latvia, Czech, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Andorra, basically all over Europe. Some had just a simple van, carried one or two bikes, and had just a couple of sponsors. Others had huge trucks complete with the workshops, tents for the side, and lots of deep pocket sponsors. For such a tiny country, Andorra had some of the best equipment. Easily a 30 ft long truck with an equivalently long and wide tent, automatic lift at the back for raising and lowering the bikes, and five brand new bikes. The riders' and team manager's names were carefully painted on the side as well as their 1999 season schedule on the back. Their shop, complete with air compressor, would be the envy of any motorcycle tinkerer. Boys as young as 15 to 16 up to men in their late 20s strutted around in motorcycle leathers and helmets, every square inch of which were covered with company logos. Someone even erected a ramp with a "start" sign over it and a 3 tiered first, second, third place platform box. Gradually our little yellow tee-pee tent was completely surrounded by large and small mobile motorcycle shops. The motocross race had descended upon our nice quiet campground. It was scheduled for Sunday, would start at the campground, and somehow wind its way around the countryside to some nearby village. We had already purchased bus tickets for Budapest on Thursday, otherwise it may have been fun to stick around to see what happened.
Brian's wrist simply was not healing from that accident in Latvia. As long as he didn't have to shift he could ride. But to ride through the mountains requires a lot of shifting and there was nothing but mountains between Krakow and Budapest. Thus to give him more time to heal we decided to skip Slovakian riding for this year and catch another bus to Budapest. We boarded at 11:15 AM for the 10 hour ride through the spectacular Tatry mountains. The Tatrys are a very small mountain range in which the Alpine looking part is only some 70 km long and 15 km wide. But, after the flat lands of the Baltics they appeared absolutely magical. Rugged peaks bearing that familiar glacier carved, knife edge greeted us at each and every turn. After crossing the mountains we spent the next several hours crossing the country of Slovakia. With rolling hills and lots of rural farms and small towns it looked like a bike tourist heaven. We will definitely plan to return sometime.
Getting dropped off after dark, 10 PM, at a bus station in the middle of an unfamiliar city is not exactly our idea of ideal timing. It was especially worrisome knowing that the bus and train stations of Budapest are besieged by lout taxi cab drivers and a taxi would be our best option for getting to a campground. We sat on a bench by the sidewalk, luggage piled up all round, when up pulled one of these lout cab drivers. Telling him we wanted to go to Camping Romai he immediately quoted a price of 3000 forint. Yeah, right! Having done our homework in advance, thanks to tips from our Lonely Planet guide, we already estimated that the price should be somewhere under 2000 ft. "2000", Brian said. "It's 25 km." the cab driver lied. We already knew it was only around 10 km. "My best price, 2500." he said. "What do you think?" Brian asked me. Suffering from a headache I made it clear I didn't want anything to do with this cab driver. Shrugging off the cab driver Brian said, "Nah, we'll just go over there." He pointed to the "official" cab stand. Finally the cab driver agreed to the 2000 ft and we were on our way. We probably did overpay a bit. But, it was worth not having to drag everything across the parking lot. Lesson learned, always do your homework before taking a cab ride in Budapest.
That wasn't the only rip-off attempt we had to avoid. Several days later we had day packs loaded with groceries, a large frozen pizza in hand we were headed for the Betthany ter (ter means square) train station to catch the local train back to our northern campground. A rather chubby dark complexioned man dressed in an odd colored suit coat came up to us carrying a map. "Do you speak English?" he asked, his English so heavily accented he was almost impossible to understand.. Hesitantly Brian says, "yes." "Could you help me. I am lost." "Where do you want to go?" we asked. Now the story got really strange. "I'm looking for an Italian restaurant. I need a weschel, change house." we think he said. The combination of the two made no sense. We were about to direct him across the bridge to the tourist area where there were dozens of change houses when up comes two more, very similarly looking men. One quickly flashes some sort of leather wallet that was supposed to look like a policeman's badge. "Passport control." he says, "Why are you talking to this man?" Immediately we knew it was a scam of some sort. They either wanted our money, of which I had absolutely none, or our passports, which were safely locked in a cabin in the campground. Brian waves his hand in disgust, "It's just a scam. Let's get outta here." They made one attempt to try to stop us, but we made it quite clear we weren't biting. They left us alone after that. Another lesson learned, never, ever show your money or passport to anyone on the street. What bothers me is knowing that they'll just try the same scam with someone else who may take the bait.
When I think of Hungarians I think of large men with long moustaches wearing white fur coats and black pants riding bareback horses and sporting jeweled sabers. It's a strange image that has absolutely nothing to do with reality. I think it may be due to the fact that Hungary has had a significant amount of Turkish influence and my image of Turks is similarly distorted. The people of Hungary actually have a history that would bring Celt, German, Jewish, and Turkish blood into one big mixing bowl. It's history is perhaps best exemplified by the history of the city of Buda. Nomadic hunters first appeared in the area some 12 to 8 thousand years ago, again around the time when nomadic tribes made their way across the Bearing Strait to what was to become N. America. Eventually they settled into small, scattered communities and began limited farming.
Somewhere around the 3rd century BC the Celts conquered the area. We finally found out where the Celts came from and why they today wound up in Wales. Their earliest origins seem to be a pre-Celtic peoples from the region of Spain. These tribes migrated into what today is known as the Bohemia region of Germany. They were an aggressive, warlike people and they rapidly expanded their population conquering and occupying much of what we now know as central Europe. Their population numbers continued to grow, outpacing the capabilities of the land. Soon they needed to expand beyond central Europe and they migrated into England, Turkey, Italy, and beyond. In the process the central European area was depopulated due to either internal strife, environmental conditions, or some other reason. By the time the Romans appeared around the beginning of Christianity the region of Hungary was virtually unpopulated.
The Danube river was the most northeastern limit of the Roman empire. They had posts all along the west bank of the river intended to keep the barbarians to the east away. Budapest was one of the larger of these outposts, or at least the town later known as Obuda (old buda) located just a few km north of the main city. It was a town of 50,000 people and in typical Roman fashion included some incredibly advanced public works structures including an aqueduct, open air theater, baths, and sewer system. Remains of the old city are still visible at the Aquicum museum. Their relationship with the barbarians to the east, who happened to have a settlement located on the east side of the river, waxed and waned depending upon the political climate. At times they were at war and at other times they were trading partners. It is theorized that the town on the east bank may have even helped the Romans protect that side of their border.
Attila the Hun ousted the Romans in 451 and began a short 150 year occupation. This was followed by the Goths, Lombards, and then the Avars who were eventually ousted by Charlemagne in 796. The people considered to be of true Hungarian blood take their heritage from the Magyars. Seven Magyar tribes under the leadership of Arpad came from the Volga river in 896 and occupied the Danube Basin. Today he's considered to be somewhat a hero among the Hungarians. There's a very large and rather opulent statue to him and his barbaric looking hoard complete with fur coats and large dear antler helmets at the entrance to the city park. Their reign of terror upon the rest of Europe was finally brought to an end at the battle of Augsburg in 955 and they were finally civilized, or at least made to convert to Christianity which was considered to be civilized. The first king of Hungary, St Stephen I was crowned on Christmas Day of the year 1000 which marks the foundation of the Hungarian state.
Throughout medieval times Hungary with its seat of royalty in either Estergom or Buda was a powerful state that ranged from Romaina and Croatia to Slovakia. The richness of these times can be seen in some of the remains of the large castle that now sits under the Royal Palace of today on Buda hill. But these good times were not to last. In 1526 the Turks invaded from the southeast, finally overrunning the castle on Buda in 1541. Thus began a 140 year span of Turkish rule which also left its mark upon the architecture and landscape. Interestingly, prior to the Turkish wars much of the Hungarian plain to the east of Budapest was covered with forests. The wars resulted in extensive deforestation which remains even today. The western region of the country then converted from an agriculture based economy to one based on beef cattle. The grass lands left behind were ideal for grazing. Also, one would think that the years of the wars would have brought poverty to the region. But, in fact, the population flourished with a neuveau riche earning money from raising wheat for the troops. Standards of living actually improved and peasants previously restricted to one room cottages with chimmneyless ovens now graduated to 3 to 4 room houses, ovens with chimneys, and even a "best room" set aside to display all the goodies accumulated from their new found wealth.
A combined army of Austrians, Hungarians, Polish, and even some English finally managed to expel the barbaric Turks, as they were considered, on September 2, 1686 and the entire region now came under the domination of the strong Habsburg dynasty. Despite several attempts at independence, they remained under Habsburg control until the 19th century. In 1866 an agreement between Austria and the Hungarian landowners created the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy with seats of government in both Vienna and Budapest. It was this monarchy that became a major opponent against the western alliance during W.W.I. After W.W.I, as part of their punishment, Hungary was stripped of 68% of its territory and 58% of its population. Its desire to recover its territory drew it into W.W.II on the side of the Nazis, another bad choice for the Hungarians. After 3 years of war Hungary decided it wanted to make peace with the allies independently of Germany, so Germany decided to take Hungary in retaliation. The Germans took Budapest castle and tenaciously clung to the city throughout 1944. The war took a heavy toll on the city, much of the old architecture destroyed or heavily damaged and all 8 bridges crossing the Danube were brought down.
As with many Central European countries, Hungary came under communist control just following their "liberation" by the red army. The large estates were communized and industries nationalized. Large scale student demonstrations in 1956 resulted in the killing of 3000 Hungarians and another 200,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. Hungary remained under strict communist control until October 1989, although it was allowed to maintain a more or less market based economy, unlike many of its neighbors. The removal of the communists came easily for Hungary. No real demonstrations, no Soviet soldiers, no deaths or violence. The communists agreed to give up their control of power in October 1989, democratic elections were held in 1990, and in 1991 the last Soviet troops pulled out. Since that time Hungary has enjoyed both the good and bad associated with a free economy and government. It has also enjoyed a huge upsurge in tourism.
Hungary can make you feel both rich and poor at the same time. The national currency, the forint, has a value of around 240 to the US dollar. It's no big deal to go to a bank machine and withdraw 50,000 in one shot. You find yourself carrying 1000, 2000, even 5000 denomination bills. It's easy to be a millionaire. However, your euphoria quickly disappears when you go to the store as a 2 Lt. bottle of soda costs 199 ft, a meal in an inexpensive restaurant over 1000, camping 2500. You really have to have a strong constitution to buy a new car as the price can easily exceed 5,000,000 ft. Some countries, Yugoslavia and Mexico for example, have addressed this discrepancy by simply printing new currency with a few zeroes lopped off. As of yet Hungary hasn't seen the need.
We spent over a week in the city of Budapest. It's a great city to visit, having lots of interesting museums, fantastic architectural gems on nearly every street corner, great tourist facilities, and not nearly the prices of western cities. It seemed more relaxed and easier to get around than Prague. In Prague we always felt a little uneasy. Perhaps because of the enormous amount of graffiti, or the black pollution stained buildings, or the size of the city, or the lack of public parks, or maybe just because we arrived in Budapest just after the summer tourist onslaught had ended. Whatever the reason, Budapest just felt a lot more comfortable. Originally the city was actually 3 separate communities. There was Buda with the royal palace on the hill overlooking the western bank of the Danube. There was Obuda just north of Buda. It was the first location of the royal palace and Buda city as well as the location of the earlier Roman fortification. On the east side of the Danube was the more industrialized Pest. In 1873 the three cities merged to form the city of Pestbuda, later changed to Budapest.
Buda hill is crowned by the fabulous Matthias church with it's multicolored tile roof, steeples, and dome. As we approached the church we saw a recently married, or soon to be hitched, couple getting their photo taken in front of the fountain in the square directly in front of the church. The bride wore the traditional long white gown with a full skirt trailing to a long train in back, a short shoulder length veil, short gloves, and carried a small bouquet of flowers. The groom was in a black tux. We wandered around to the back of the church to get a view of the odd looking Fisherman's Bastion as well as taking a peak inside the church. With an opulent interior and beautifully painted frescos we could see why this would be a great place for a wedding. Much to our surprise the couple were still waiting outside when we went out. Her long veil, no wait wasn't it a short veil? Didn't the groom have on a black not gray tux? Wasn't the bride's hair dark brown shoulder length, not tied up in a bun? This was a completely different wedding party. In fact, in the short time we wandered around the hill we spotted no less than 4 separate brides and grooms each waiting their turn to tie the knot. It's an assembly line of weddings the likes of which I've only seen in Las Vegas. So I wonder, if the groom from one party shows up at the appointed time for another party and visa versa, will the couples wind up switched. I can see it now, the groom lifts the veil to take his first kiss and "Wait a minute. You're not Erica."
Behind the church is a bastion called the Fisherman's bastion as it was the duty of the Fisherman's guild to protect that portion of the wall. The Fisherman's bastion was built more for display than for defensive purposes and it looked rather artificially contrived when compared to the surrounding structures. It has far too many towers and turrets. A steep price of 200 FT (about $.75 USD) was charged just to go up and look from one of the platforms. Too steep for our blood. The palace up on Buda hill is a glorious building that looks much like a domed house of government. It interestingly contrasts with the country's parliament building across the river which looks more like a fairytale castle of flying buttresses, spires, and statues. One would almost like to think that parliament should meet in the royal palace and the king should have lived in parliament. Today the Royal Palace houses several museums including the very extensive and well organized Budapest History museum. That's where we found out where all those Celts came from. The rest of the hill is covered with houses dating from a range of past centuries laid out on a street pattern that was established back in the middle ages. Many houses have an interesting niche in the doorway which is completely unique in all Europe and whose original function is still unknown. Some say it was a place for doormen to sit, others say just decorative. I say they were put there just to give us 20th century folks something to talk about.
Forget finding anything cheap up on the hill as this is a big tourist destination and prices in the cafes, restaurants, shops, and Hilton hotel are sky high. There is one and only one place to get cheap eats and that's in a small, second floor self serve cafeteria restaurant above the far more expensive Fortuna Passage restaurant. It's one tough little place to find and is open only during lunch hours on weekdays. But it's well worth looking for. We figured this cafeteria must exist only to support the employees working on the hill as there's no way they could afford daily meals in the other places.
Cross over the Chain bridge and you find yourself in the original city of Pest. The chain bridge is a suspension bridge built in a very unique manner. At the time of its original construction, 1849, the cable industry of Hungary did not have the technical capability to make cable sufficiently strong to make a traditional cable suspension bridge. So instead they made a huge chain in place of cables. It's not a link chain such as we'd see used for boat anchors. It's more like a bicycle chain with links and pins. The links are enormous, about 3 ft in width, 8 ft long, and 1 to 2 inches thick. There are several parallel links attached to each pin, probably around 10 or so. And there are 2 such chains on each side of the bridge making it for one very strong and redundant structure. It's quite an imaginative structure and as the story goes:
"When the bridge was ready, its English creator was so proud of it that he declared he would drown himself if anyone could find any faults in his masterpiece", begins an old anecdote. "So the people came and examined every little part of it, but in vain. They could not find anything wrong with the bridge. Then one day an apprentice cobbler discovered that the lions at the end of the bridge had no tongues. And Clark committed suicide..."
There actually are tongues in the lions, if you look close enough you can see them, and the lions were added to the bridge after it was constructed. So if Clark did commit suicide, we don't know if he did or not, it would have been for another reason. At the Buda side of the bridge is a tunnel that crosses under Buda hill from one side to the other. This is where the Budapest city officials store the bridge when it rains, or so the locals will say. Actually traffic is funneled to the other side underneath the hill.
If Buda is the place the tourists go to look, Pest is the place they go to stay or shop. Along the fashionable Vaci Utca pedestrian mall and the promenade along east bank of the Danube are the fashionable hotels, restaurants, and tourist trinket shops. You'll find lots of embroidered lace table ware, dolls dressed in regional costumes over embellished in beads, traditional Russian wooden stacking dolls, Ukrainian painted Easter eggs, Bohemian crystal, leather goods, T-shirts, postcards, anything and everything a tourist could possibly imagine. And if you're on a budget and need a quick bite to eat there's also a McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut nearby. What else could you possibly want.
Looking beyond this tourist's shopping paradise there are plenty of more interesting sights that are not quite so commercialized. There's St. Stephen's Basilica. Actually it's really just a Basilica Minor as it doesn't have enough naves to be a Basilica proper, if that makes any difference. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the church, it was undergoing a major renovation both inside and out when we visited. It was rather difficult to enjoy the structure when it was decorated with scaffolding. However, it was quite amazing to see the difference between the old and renovated ceilings on the inside. The old ceiling paint was chipped, the gold paint tarnished or gone, and the last color applied was an ugly dark brown. The new background color is a lighter and much brighter tan which makes the newly painted gold highlights really stand out. It was only about 1/4 finished when we visited but it should be quite a spectacle when done. Oh, and as with the Matthias church there seemed to be a steady stream of wedding parties headed into the Basilica on summer Saturdays as well.
Budapest is a city of firsts, believe it or not. It has the European continent's first operating underground subway. Built in 1896 for an international exhibition that resulted in the creation of the city park. It was recently renovated for its 100 year anniversary. Budapest was also the sight for the world's first telephone exchange. The exchange still exists, still works, and can be found in their Museum of Telephony.
Well, so much for Budapest. A week was just enough time to walk our feet sore and get the briefest taste of some of the museums. There's so much more, but with September upon us, the leaves turning brown, and cold fronts headed our way it was time to head to west into Austria and finish our northern riding. We reassembled the bikes, having packed them into the suitcases for the bus rides from Tallinn, and made ready to leave. It was our 16th wedding anniversary and I was anxious to get back on the bikes. It was not to be, however. Something in that hot dog that Brian ate the night before just did not sit right. He spent the night running to the bathroom and the rest of our anniversary lying in bed. Well, I guess we'll celebrate later. Happy 16th, Brian.
"Well, what are you supposed to do?", Brian moaned. "I dunno. Ride it I suppose." I replied. We'd quickly found that riding through Hungary using just a simple road map for the country was fraught with missteps. It was easy to leave Budapest, a bike path took us a good 15 km north of the campground along the Danube river and good roads continued from there for some time further. But, after leaving the area where the river makes a sharp bend to the west, cutting across some low lying hills, the roads suddenly became difficult. Not hard riding, not too much traffic, just signed for no biking. In Europe a "no bike" sign consists of a red circle on a white background with a black representation a bike in the middle. This is far different from the US version which would have a red bar running diagonally across the bike as well. In Hungary these red circle signs are often broken into 3 pieces, indicating no bikes, no farm tractors, and no horse drawn wagons. Yet we found again and again a paved, separate bike path would suddenly end leaving us staring at one of these signs guarding the remaining road. Avoiding the "no biking" sections was nearly impossible. Pulling up next to one of those horse drawn wagons bearing a load of hay I asked the man, "To Gyor?" He waved his hand to the left indicating the road bearing one of those triple "no anything slow" signs. Giving up, we finally just rode these routes anyway, keeping our fingers crossed hoping the cops didn't stop to give us a whopping fine of some sort. We soon discovered many of the locals seemed to ignore these signs as well, so maybe we wouldn't get into trouble after all.
The riding from Budapest to Wien (known as Vienna to us English speakers) is flat and, for a good distance, about a interesting as riding through the farm fields of Poland. Around the Danube bend is perhaps the prettiest, scenery wise, and has the most historic buildings. King Stephan was born in town of Estergom as well as having been crowned there on Christmas day in the year 1000. Consequently for many centuries it was the primary seat of the Hungarian government. Eventually the royalty moved to Buda as they found the Estergom site was not very defensible. The small hill on which they had built their palace and church was just that, far too small. They wouldn't be able to house a large government as well as the necessary arms to protect it. So they moved south to Buda and the bishop moved into the castle. Very little remains of the castle today as it was pretty much destroyed by the Turks. However, on that hill, dwarfing virtually everything else in sight, sits Hungary's largest basilica built in the 1800s after the Turks were removed. You can't miss it. It's got a pale yellow stone structure with large green domes on top and it sits high on the hill overlooking the town. The interior is splendidly filled with frescos and statues, but it seemed rather open and empty as compared to other basilicas and churches. I suppose the architect wanted it that way.
We stopped for one last inexpensive nearly gourmet lunch just before the Austrian border as we knew prices for the next few weeks would be real heart stoppers. I dined on fried cheese, tasty dill spiced rice and a chicken smothered in a delicious cream sauce. Brian opted for the fish soup, rizi-bizi which is a rice/peas combination, and a sauce covered steak. All served at an outdoor table at an empty small restaurant in the middle of a tiny town called Level. The price, a whopping $10 for the two meals. How much would such a meal cost in our next destination, Vienna. Perhaps $30 to $50. Well, so much for restaurant life, it'll be dining from supermarkets from now on.
There are definite advantages to traveling in the east, prices being a whole 50% less or more. However, there are corresponding benefits to riding in the west as well. We crossed the border at the Austrian town of Nickelsdorf and headed north along dirt roads through some farm fields. The first thing we noticed was the size of the cultivated lands. The huge amount of acreage under cultivation puts anything we've seen in the east to shame. Even the fields just across the border in Hungary are mere shadows of these fields. The machinery was all nice, well maintained, and brand new, of course. We marveled at the first town we entered. Houses were all impeccably maintained, lawns carefully manicured, new cars in excellent condition lined the street. Even the buses were brand spanking new. Everything was just a bit more modern, a bit newer, a bit in better shape. Certainly it's not the contrast one sees between the US and Mexico. But the difference is evident nonetheless.
Coming to the Danube river we headed west along the bike path. Austria, like its neighbor and close cousin Germany, is one of the most biker oriented countries in the world. Just a look at the number of maps in the book store covering the hundreds of radwegs, bike paths, throughout the country and you quickly get the idea. Once we got on the Danube bike path we started encountering the steady stream of bike tourists we'd seen along the Main in Germany. All day we pass bikers with bags on the rear and/or front headed in one direction or another for a weekend or even week long trip. People of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds make use of the radwegs. In Vienna there are marked bike paths throughout the city, separate from the roads and separate from the sidewalks. You can go anywhere on a bike path. Bikes can be and are taken on the underground, on trains, trams, or buses. Bikes are everywhere. Bike rental is also a big business. Nearly every train station in the cities will have bike rentals. However, the strangest bike rental location we saw happened to be at the Doneau Campground just northwest of Vienna. In their parking lot rests a huge metal box, just about the size of the box of a semi-truck trailer. It's painted white with purple, yellow, and green triangles and circles sporadically spaced. Bold black letters proclaim, "RENT a BIKE" and the black silhouette of a happy biker waving his hand give some indication as to the box's purpose. At first we thought it was a manned bike rental station that had closed for the fall/winter season. That was until I spotted a woman standing outside looking at the small electronic display box mounted on the wall. She inserted a credit card, pushed a few buttons, and then waited. Loud clunks and bangs emanated from inside the box for several minutes. When all had quieted, she opened the door, pulled out a bright yellow bike, adjusted the seat, strapped her purse on the back, and she was off. Now we've seen vending machines throughout the world hand out some of the most amazing products. In Japan they have everything from hard liqueur and pornography to clothes, books, and toiletries. But never, ever had we encountered a bike rental vending machine. This was truly unique.
Among the countries of Europe, Austria has had perhaps the most profound impact upon not just European but new world countries as well. As with all Central Europe countries its early history involved a succession of invaders; the Celts, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Huns, Avars and Slavs all made their mark and then faded away. It was Charlemagne who established the first Germanic settlements in the Danube valley in 803 and the region quickly became Christianized. There was a brief period of Magyar (AKA Hungarian) rule, but Germanic influence was reestablished in 955 under the rule of Otto 1. It was in 962 that Pope John XII crowned Otto as the Holy Roman Emperor of the German princes and a long line of German oriented Emperors began.
Otto was born of the family of the Babenbergs who retained control of the area now known as Austria through the year 1246 when the last Babenberg died without an heir. Power then fell into the hands of the Habsburgs who retained control until just after W.W.I. Through war, marriage, and other acquisitions the Habsburgs eventually gained control over all central Europe ranging from high in the Baltics to Croatia and Italy, from Spain to Vienna. The Spain connection came through the marriage of Maximilian's son, Philip, to the Infanta of Spain in 1496. This lead to the Hapsburg control of all Spanish territories in the new world which happened to include Mexico. This explains why the original headdress of the last Aztec leader, Montezuma, now resides in the Vienna museum of Ethnography. The museum in Mexico city has only a copy. They also managed to inherit one of the seven electorate positions who determined who the Holy Roman Emperor would be. Consequently they not only controlled their regions but the entire Holy Roman Empire as well. Vast, vast territories in Europe and abroad. This also explains why the coronation vestments and articles for the Holy Roman Emperor are now housed in the Vienna Imperial Treasury. You can see them for a sizable entrance fee of 100 ATS ($8) per person.
Defeat in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 lead to Austria joining with Hungary to form the dual monarchy and a brief period of prosperity followed. However, Emperor Franz Joseph's nephew, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 and one month later all hell broke out. Now, tensions had been building between all the royal families for some time. So whether or not this particular assassination happened probably would not have made any difference in the eventual outcome. The monarchies were facing off for a European wide conflict that simply needed one small spark to ignite the fire. Soon millions upon millions of soldiers and civilians were all caught in the middle of what was basically a quarrel between the ruling families. One major outcome of W.W.I, in addition to redrawing the map of Europe once again, was the complete collapse of most of these monarchies. The peasants and other world powers had had enough. Almost every monarchy still in control of their governments at the start of W.W.I were eliminated at the end. The final Habsburg abdicated in 1918 and the new Republic of Austria with significantly smaller territory was created.
W.W.II once again threw Austria onto the losing side of the battle. Hitler managed to assassinate the current Chancellor and manipulated the new Chancellor into increasing the power of the Nationalists Socialists party which happened to favor Hitler's regime. Consequently he met with little or no resistance when he incorporated Austria into his Third Reich in 1938. At the end of the war, in 1945, Austria was redrawn with its 1937 boundaries and it became a zone of many forces, US, Soviet, UK, and France. Fortunately free movement between the 4 zones of military control allowed Vienna to avoid the fate that befell Berlin. It was not until 1955 that the ratification of the Austrian State treaty allowed the foreign forces to be withdrawn and the Austrian state could once again have self rule. Since that time Austria has become a major factor in the European economic and political scene through its involvement in the EU. It has also gained some of the highest standards of living among European countries. Unemployment is under 7% and inflation a mere 2%. Costs are high, but people seem to be able to afford anything their hearts desire. It no longer wields the power it had during the height of the Habsburg dynasty, but it certainly is a strong, vibrant country with an enormously rich past.
A trip to Vienna is an experience of unequaled artistic value. Not only are there architectural treasures lining virtually every street, but the buildings are filled with museums housing some of the finest treasures of the world. The Habsburgs were great patrons of the arts, either acquiring great art pieces from throughout the world or commissioning great pieces directly. Many of the most famous composers found a living right in Vienna, Mozart being one. The Kuntshistoriches museum is one of those museums housing a fabulous array of paintings and object d'art. We spent hours looking at some of the finest gold, silver, wood, precious stone statuary I've ever seen. Many objects dated even from the 1100s AD. As I compare these works with what was being produced in the new world at that time I realize there simply is no comparison. The skill of the artisans of the old world were centuries beyond the new world. In the Imperial treasury we found both secular and religious treasures used during the Habsburg rule. There were mantles, specifically robes and capes, bearing the finest gold and silver embroidery. Many of the capes were adorned with thousands of pearls and precious gems. Yet as I looked at the vestment attire worn by the Holy Roman Emperor during his coronation ceremony I had to wonder just how much it all weighed. I suppose he must have had a pretty muscular set of legs to carry it all. Such fine embroidery just doesn't seem to get executed anymore, except perhaps for the Pope's robes.
A wander through the Imperial chambers at the Schonbrunn Palace gives one the unique opportunity to peek into the private lives of the former Emperor's family. The last Emperor to live in the palace was Franz Joseph who died at a ripe old age well in his 80s in the year 1916. His consort, Elizabeth, lived with him until she was assassinated many years earlier in Italy. Despite the opulence of the state affairs and formal functions they actually lived a very spartan lifestyle. The rooms are elegantly attired in white plastered walls with gold rococo trimmings. But the furnishings were quite ordinary. The Emperor's study had a set of ordinary looking overstuffed chairs, a small desk, a few bookshelves, many photos of Elizabeth and other family members on the walls. Not much more. The Emperor slept in what looked like a plain cotton robe, almost like a hospital gown. He arose at 4 AM, conducted a morning ritual of cold water baths called ablutions, and then began his long work day. He stayed at his desk, getting small meals at lunch, until late into the night. He had a most interesting custom, on Tuesdays and Thursdays absolutely anyone of any class or rank within the dynasty could request a private audience, held in the only slightly more fancy audience room. Imagine being able to do that with the Queen of England. I don't think so. His motto was work, work hard until you drop. He called himself "the first public servant" of Austria.
Empress Elizabeth lived an entirely different life. I've concluded that being a woman of royalty back in the "good old days" was not all it appeared. It was a life of luxury, at least it appeared so to the outside world. But, it seems that in the private affairs it was not so fun. Women had 2 functions in life. The first and most important was to produce a male heir. The second was to be not much more than an ornament, a decoration of the Emperor and Empire. Her day started with a series of exercises and a tiny breakfast. Elizabeth was on a constant starvation diet trying to keep her slim, trim figure which was difficult after bearing 4 children. She then went through hours getting dressed. She had incredible ankle length hair that took her full time hair stylist hours each day to wrap, twist, and tie into some exorbitant pile of curls and braids. Beyond this her duties involved attending civic functions. She was not involved with affairs of state, did not produce laws, did not have authority to pass spending issues. Yet everything she did and everything she said was rigidly defined by the rules of the court. Basically it must have been one boring, monotonous, restrictive life. Yet she was an intelligent woman who wanted very much to be independent. So after spending just a few years at the palace, she began a life of travel leaving the emperor home alone for months at a time. The court never seemed to quite accept or understand this lifestyle of hers and she suffered from severe depression. In fact the heir apparent, Rudolf, committed suicide which might indicate an inherited tendency toward depression. She was and is adored by the emperor and the Austrian people. But, what an awful lifestyle.
Family mealtime around the royal table sounded like a real torture. Family members expected to attend these meals included the dukes and archdukes, which I guess are children and nephews or nieces of the Emperor and Empress. They were dull affairs, no stimulating conversations, in fact almost no conversation at all. The meals were supposed to be 7 courses long, 7 courses of pained silence. Despite this the family members often went away from the table terribly hungry. The Emperor tended to eat very fast and not even finish courses. He'd be signaling the end of a course and the start of the next often before some of the family members got served. Having the empress around did not help the situation either as to keep her weight down she ate even less than the emperor. A local hotel across the street from the palace had a temporary increase in prosperity as the dukes and archdukes would promptly rush from the palace to the hotel restaurant after the family meal in order to get something proper to eat. I'll bet the servants dined on some great leftovers.
So the question is, is life as a royal prince or princess that much different today? Not from what Princess Di and Fergie have to say. I recall seeing an interview between Fergie and Barbara Walters. A few of the comments that stuck in my mind was the fact that the royal kitchen is on the opposite side of the palace from their chambers. When mealtime came they were expected to order from some predetermined menu. Sometime later the meal would arrive, cold. When asked if she could simply order out for a pizza, Fergie just laughed. Even in the 90s with all the changes in women's roles throughout Europe and the US the royal women still seem to be not much more than what they've been for centuries. Would I want to be a queen or empress? Not on your life.
Vienna is so wonderful to see, but oh is it expensive. To visit just 3 museums in 3 days cost us 290 ATS each, which is about $23 USD. With over 100 museums each having startlingly high admission prices one must be very particular in selecting those to see. Transportation costs to get from our campground into the center of the city via trains and subway was $6 USD per person per day. A cheap hot dog at a stand up counter costs $2. An ice-cream cone $3, a menu meal at McDonalds $4.60. Don't even try to get into the higher priced restaurants for under $10 to $15 for just a main course. Hotels, we didn't even ask. And the tourist office has the gall to hand out a "10 reasons to visit Vienna" booklet that specifically states as its 10th reason "Vienna is dirt cheap." HA! Is that an outrageous statement or what? The one annd only thing we've found to be free or at least cheaper than the east are toilets. Austria is the first country in Europe we've found to have a preponderance of free toilets.
Like many of its western European neighbors, Austria has over the years adopted a very liberal, socialist form of government. Many of their laws are heavily pro-labor resulting in one of the strangest laws we've seen. Store opening hours are strictly limited by law. They can't be open beyond 6 PM Saturday and must be closed on Sunday. Late hours are unheard of. The only exceptions seem to be in the tourist industry or those stores providing services for the traveler. So, there is a grocery store, called Billa, that has several locations throughout Vienna. Two of these locations happen to be in the long distance train stations and one is in the airport. Those stores not located at the station or airport have to be closed on Saturday evening and on Sunday. But, those stores located in the transportation hubs can be open, sort of that is. Now being "in" the station means quite literally in the same building. Not across the street, not even connected by an enclosed tunnel. It has to be physically located in the same building. Also, on those off hours, between 6 PM Saturday and 7 AM Monday they are permitted to sell only items that could potentially be used during travel. For example, you can buy tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and packages of pre-prepared salad mix but not bottled salad dressing or heads of lettuce. You can buy sausage, sliced lunch meat, bread, smoked chicken, cheese, and packages of frozen potato dumplings but not uncooked chicken, beef, pork, frozen vegetables or pizzas. You can buy shampoo, tooth paste, hair color, vitamins, shoe polish, but not house cleaning supplies. Just where do you draw the line as to what is used for travel and what isn't. It makes about as much sense as California's ill fated snack tax where a bag of walnuts bought at the candy counter was taxed while essentially the same bag of walnuts bought from the bakery department was not. We mentioned this to one man standing in line and he says, "There's a lot of talk about changing it, but it seems to stay that way. It's considered bad for the workers to be open on Sunday. Maybe with the new election." But somehow I doubt it. There seems to be a lot of people who want the stores open on Sunday, but not that many who want to work on Sunday. In any event, those few stores that have managed to find a loophole in the law by positioning themselves in the train stations are doing a booming business. The stores are madhouses every weekend.
Appendix A - Route
Bus Tallinn, EST to Krakow, PL : Bus to Budapest, HU
Sept. 5, Rt 11 and bike paths from Budapest to Estergom, (61.25 km). Flat riding with hills bordering route along Danube riverside.
Sept 8, (cont.) Bakcroads to Deutsch Jahrndorf and Pama, Rt 50 to Kitsee, Berg, Wolfsthal, and Hainberg
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
August 12, 13, 14, 15, Hotel Peoleo and camp
August 18 - 25, Camp nr. 171, Krakow
August 26 to September 4, Roamai Camping north of Budapest
Sept 8, Field by Hainberg
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.