Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Hungary  , Nógrád,
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Today was a light day visiting the rural reaches of northern Hungary. Specifically, I spent the morning visiting the village of Hollókő. Hollókő was a village with a small collection buildings in traditional style from the 17th and 18th century that landed it on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There was also a castle overlooking the town that had been ordered torn down by the Hapsburgs in 1711 and rebuilt in modern times, but in a more traditional style than some of the other Hungarian castles.

Hollókő got mixed reviews in the guidebooks. I thought it was adorable, but not a must-see for everyone. I certainly think it helped that I got to the town early on a Sunday, so there weren't many other tourists around. I was afraid from some of the criticisms it would be like Hungaro-Disney, but I didn't think it was tacky. There were certainly plenty of "museums" fronting for shops with traditional craft items for sale, but they were just in cottages like the rest of the buildings and they didn't stand out.

It was probably a good place for doing that sort of shopping. My favorite was a woodworking shop with a variety of clever wooden toys and puzzles. I bought one, but I can't describe it because I intend to surprise someone with it. Maybe I'll come back and edit this entry when I'm done. I was attracted to the store by an "exhibition" on the making of wooden spoons, and the store also had a sizable selection of wooden housewares.

I enjoyed the castle as well. It was lacking in the tacky faux-Renaissance shops and actors that annoyed me at Sümeg and Eger. It did have some silly wax figures in a few of the buildings, but they were easily ignored. The castle was basically in the form of a tower, and many visitors had brought binoculars with them. The surrounding area was primarily countryside with a mixture of pasture and woods. It was easy to imagine the castle residents looking out on a similar view a few hundred years ago. The day was sunny but cool with a pleasant breeze, and I could have spent a few hours just staring down from the battlements if there were more seats.

On my way out, I did pass a Renaissance actor. He was giving a presentation on medieval history to a group of Hungarian kids, so he was okay. In the part I saw, he got one of the kids to dress up in a child-sized suit of chainmail armor. What the volunteer didn't expect was the actor then did a demonstration of how the chainmail would prevent the wearer from being cut by a blade. He also showed how the helmet would protect the head from strikes. I'm pretty sure the sword wasn't sharp, and it was hilarious. The kid had such good looks on his face, but he stood there and let the actor do his show.

My hotel for the night was also in the middle of nowhere. On top of that, it was the most expensive hotel I had booked. I have no idea why I chose it, but there weren't a lot of lodging options in the vicinity of Hollókő. I should have just driven the extra hour and gotten somewhere inexpensive on the outskirts of Budapest. There weren't any grocery stores nearby so I had to eat in the restaurant, which was good but the portions were small and they were out of my first choice from the menu. Also, the wifi which was supposed to be in "all public areas" was actually only in one of the two buildings, not the one my room was in of course. And no A/C, but it isn't too hot right now. Lesson learned.

Tonight was the exception, though. Most hotels in Hungary were a great value. I usually paid around $35 a night for a room with parking, wifi, a 10-minute walk to the old town and (half the time) breakfast. The rooms were clean and the beds were good. In Slovenia and Croatia, the average was probably up around $60 for similar quality. In Switzerland, the prices were insane, but that went for everything Swiss, not just hotels.

Slovenia and Croatia were definitely more focused on tourism, though, than Hungary so they had higher demand for rooms. I was just thinking the other day that I hadn't seen any large tour groups in Hungary since a Japanese group in Szentendre. I did pass a mob of school children from China in Debrecen, but that was it. The farther east and south I went, the more it seemed they were targeting locals, rather than trying to draw in visitors from other parts of the world, which Slovenia and Croatia definitely worked at.

After today, I've just got one more day in Hungary. My next stop will be Slovakia. No, I haven't already been there, that was Slovenia. My next destination is the country that was half of Czechoslovakia until 1993. It seems a little weird that I've got an entire country left to visit since I've already been traveling for so long, but that's kind of how I felt when I got to Hungary, so I should be up to it.

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