After Budapest we wanted to get out into smaller places and some nature. Therefore we decided to drive up the Danube bend. This area is not huge but nice and scenic. The first place we stopped at was Szentendre. It used to be a small artist village. Nowadays it is still small and a popular day trip from Budapest. It is a bit run down and not as pretty as it used to be but still nice. The center consists of a main square, two main streets running through it and a promenade along the Danube. Judging by the flood preparations they seem to get some severe flooding every now and then. Visitors can see a few art galleries, a Serbian orthodox church and enjoy a nice few from the top of the hill with another little church. We did not go into any of said places but enjoyed good quality ice coffee in a little street cafe. After around 2 hours we conitunued our journey.
It was not long until we reached the town Visegrad. This small town lies just a short distance downstream of the Danube’s cut through the hills. The place is marked on our map with two stars meaning it is worth a journey but like a few places before we failed to see why. The most noteable sight was a castle ruin overlooking the river.
Considering we were running a little bit late and still wanted to see the basilica in Esztergom we drove on.
Esztergom is bigger than Visegrad and also marked with two stars on the map as it used to be a royal seat. Shortly after entering the town it was impossible to miss the reason for it and our last and best sight along the river bend: Hungary’s biggest basilica. It sits on top of the hill in the centre dominating the area. We went straight for it and were overwhelmed. The church is not as colourful or gold covered as the runner up (St Istvan basilica in Budapest) but it uses the size and huge open space inside to take visitor’s breaths away. In order to make the most of our visit and the location we opted to pay the entrance fee to climb up the bell tower and the dome. On our way up we stopped in the gallery cafe to enjoy the views over the town and across the Danube into Slovakia. The views from the top gallery of the dome were even more impressive and totally worth walking up super tight spiral staircases. This time the rating of the town is justified.
Around the basilica was the royal palace of which only a few buildings remain. They have been re-built and now house a museum and event spaces. Ruins of other former buildings can still be seen all around the basilica. We would have visited the palace interior, but the most interesting sections i.e. the royal private rooms could only be visited as part of a tour. With only half an hour left before closing tours were not an option and we had only hardly enough time for the museum so we left. Walking around the town it turned out that there is hardly a center worth mentioning. We strongly recommend to make the effort walking up the outcrop of the hills opposite the palace to a small chapel. The main perk of this walk were the best views of the entire basilica and the palace on eye level.
Now that our sight seeing mission was complete we had another desire: pizza. After buying an electrically heated pan in Budapest, almost solely to close this hole in our kitchen arsenal we had to put it to the test. Armed with two frozen pizzas we arrived at Dömos campsite halfway between Esztergom and Visegrad and set up camp. We were able to use power in the communal kitchen and produced two yummy pizzas. From now on, this favourite of ours will feature more often on the menu and we might even try to make them from scratch.
We also made a last minute change of plans and decided to visit Hungarys biggest open air museum called Skanzen on the edge of Szentendre. Here they have collected and reconstructed all types of buildings from all across Hungary. Some are as old as 200 years! There is also Europes longest normal gauge museum railway with 2.2km of tracks. Entry costs 2000 HUF per adult plus 900 for parking a car. The added bonus of visiting on a summer weekend is people bringing history to life in some of the buildings like the watermill, the blacksmiths or the boot makers. In addition some normal buildings are used to show traditional crafts like needle work or baking. The only issue we found with this was only the boot maker did his presentation in English. All the other actors and actresses either really struggled with another language apart from Hungarian or couldn’t speak any. Like in the past we felt that we missed out on a lot of stories and information.
We turned up half an hour after opening and found the place almost empty. This it one of the advantages of the vast space. Buildings are arranged in eight villages based on their region of origin. A few bigger buildings in the museum are used for special exhibitions; both permanent and temporary. We liked that sort of arrangement but found the type and setup of the buildings leaving a bit to be improved. Halfway through we only went into every other house as the majority were rural dwelling houses with the interieur layout pretty much the same. All rural ones had a living room and one sleeping room with the kitchen inbetween and maybe pantry. Differences between regions were marginal and we found the most noticable variations between rich and poor as well as time period. Again the shops and boot maker stood out in terms of equipment and set up. We felt there were opportunities wasted if they described as house for example as a coopers house but then not presenting a workshop, tools or info about the profession at this time. This did not help the increasing monotony of looking at similar houses.
Don’t get me wrong: it is a great museum and we enjoyed this educational trip into Hungary’s past (we spent 6h there) but it could have been more exciting. Skanzen is well worth a visit and if you can you should visit it at a weekend just for these extra reenactments. Two things that made our day were the bakery cafe and the big farm with animals including the special hungarian grey cattle and two lovely dogs.
After a quick coffee in the restaurant accompanied by folk music we set of to make the most of the sunny Sunday afternoon and make some good way towards the next country.