Day 228 Stara Lesna, Slovakia to Szentendre, Hungary.

During the night, as forecast, the rain really set in. By the morning, the campsite was sodden, and our hoped-for final glimpse of the High Tetras Mountains never materialised. Packing up in the rain is no fun! The external topper and windscreen covers were soaking, and much too wet to pack away – so we ended up just shaking them, and leaving them in the footwell of the van to dry as we drove. Most of the campsite, like us, had decided call it a day and leave, also. Unusually, the majority of people here were campers in tents, away for the weekend to walk or cycle in the mountains. One chap, who decided early on that the day was going to be a right off as far as the weather was concerned, had decided to have a bottle of beer with his breakfast in the cafe. No-one with any sense would go walking in the mountains in weather like this!

We set off south eastwards, towards the Hungarian border. First, though, we paid a visit to the small city of Kosice, Slovakia’s second city after the capital Bratislava. With a population of only 240,000, it is hardly large, but it does date back to the 12th century, and in 2013 was joint European City of Culture. We had earmarked it just as a place to stop for coffee, but I was really impressed when we arrived with the characterful old town. First we stumbled across a giant painted shoe on the pavement leading to the city square. It was entitled, ‘Andy Warhol in the Streets of Kosice’. Walking on, we came to the Cathedral of St. Elisabeth, a stunning gothic affair, which dominated the skyline. In the courtyard outside, was a large 5 tonne bell, which had once stood in the ‘Urban Tower’, the bell tower adjacent to the cathedral. Leading on from there, was the city’s main square – containing a leafy park area, and by far it’s star attraction – the ‘Singing Fountain’. It was built back in 1986 by Russian experts. Although it is called the ‘Singing Fountain, to my mind, it is more of a ‘dancing fountain’, which squirts jets of water up in the air to recorded music. As we turned the corner from the cathedral, we first heard wonderful classical music paying, and then set eyes on the fountain, which really did appear to be dancing in time to the music. It was acquiring quite an audience, and rightly so – it was brilliant! At night, it is even more spectacular, and it is lit up with multi-coloured lights – a sight I would have loved to have seen.

We went and sat on one of the cafes round the outside of the square, and enjoyed our morning coffee listening to the music, and watching people’s reactions to this innovative piece of public art.

As we left the cafe, the music changed from classical to orchestral and piano music playing some more popular tunes. I watched as a family with five children sat on the stone stools by the fountain, watching the water and listening to ‘Love is All Around’, made famous by Wet, Wet, Wet – quite appropriate on such a rainy day.

We had a quick walk around the centre. Many of the buildings were baroque or Art Nouveau in style – all very attractive. At the other end of the square from the cathedral was the domed State Theatre, which apparently inside, has paintings of scenes from Shakespeare on the ceiling. 

By now, we were soaking wet, so decided to head back to Oscar. As we turned to go back, one of my favourite pieces of music started playing from there fountain – an orchestral version of Dire Straits ‘Local Hero’. I left wishing that Dundee would install such a wonderful fountain in Slessor Gardens – the only trouble being – it would probably be programmed to ‘sing’ to the Proclaimers or Paolo Nutini. Come to think of it, what a brilliant idea?!!!

Our drive into Hungary was very wet and tedious. Approaching the border, we noticed field after field of sunflowers, sadly all gone over by now. They must have made such a picture, though, when in full bloom. We also noticed one field with at least five birds of prey hovering. We looked it up, and think they may have been Sakar Falcons, but couldn’t be sure. Crossing into Hungary, we saw fields of pumpkins, all laid out to dry.

The roads in Hungary seemed to get bumpier and bumpier. At one point, we saw a triple warning sign for bicycles, tractors and horse-drawn carts, although we never spotted any of said carts.

We arrived at our campsite late afternoon. It is situated on the banks of the Danube, just north of Budapest. A pleasant enough spot, but the campsite itself is underwhelming, to say the least. The wash blocks wouldn’t go amiss in a Soviet Stalag!

We cheered ourselves up by going for a walk into the nearby town of Szentendre (or St. Andrew). It turned out that this thriving art community were celebrating their annual summer festival this weekend, so the whole town had turned out of the streets (despite the persisting rain), to enjoy stalls and live music. Appropriately, one way they had decorated the town, was with overhead brightly coloured umbrellas, and also large lampshades. It really did look a pretty little place, although by now, the light was so poor as dusk approached, that any photos really don’t do it justice. If we have time, we may pop back in the morning to take a better look.

We stopped for a quick pizza on the way home. Our waitress, it would be fair to say, was quite brusque, but I will try not to judge an entire nation on one person. Then it was back to our stalag toilets and showers, before settling down for the night. I’m hoping Howard isn’t going to make me do this for the next two weeks!!

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