Euro Roadtrip (Part 3) – Plitvice Lakes and Budapest

Our trip was moving along quicker than we liked and before we knew it, it was Friday. We had one last stop in Croatia before heading back to Hungary and as hard as it was to leave Baška, I was excited to see more of the country. The drive to Plitvice Lakes was the longest we had done and the windy road through small Croatian towns was slightly monotonous and boring. We were both impatient to get to the Lakes and having to slow down in each town that were so small, by the time you slowed down you were through but eventually we got to Plitvice, just as the rain started to come down. We ate some snacks in the car and waited for the rain to cease but eventually got our Dutch on and braved it. With our luck though, by the time we bought our tickets the rain has disappeared and we were set for a perfect afternoon.

The natural phenomenon that is Plitvice Lakes is the oldest national park in South East Europe. Close to the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Plitvice Lakes are famous for their sixteen lakes that cascade down each other. The water is remarkably clear, and depending on the quality of the minerals and organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight, the water colour can range from azure to green, or grey and blue. Its forbidden to swim in the lakes, which help keep the water clean and in their natural state. In 1979, the Plitvice Lakes National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, as one of the first natural sites registered worldwide. It is one of Croatia’s most popular tourist attractions and as IB and I learned, filled with tourist groups all flocking to see this natural wonder.

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We spent the first part of our walk through the National Park playing tag with a Hungarian tour group of about forty people. It was a slow process with the narrow wooden planks they use for paths being held up by people wanting a perfect photo with the lakes. We managed to pass them eventually enjoying the serenity and peacefulness that surrounded us. The water is incredibly clear, to the point of being transparent. There has been little development to the area, the paths were wooden planks that actually overflowed with water at times and there are no high tech railings to stop you from going in. I can only imagine the amount of people that fall in the water each year, especially with pushy Euro’s trying to get past each other. In the busiest parts, it was every man for themselves. Unlike the friendliness you receive in Australia, not so much as a smile is given when you let people past, let alone a thank-you here in Euroville. Apart from pushy Euro’s the whole place was beautiful I could have spent a lot longer there. Funnily enough, my Mum actually travelled to these same lakes back when Croatia was called Yugoslavia. She always told tales of how her and her sister illegally camped with some Swedish men at these beautiful lakes, it was only when I showed her photos that we realised it was the same place!

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By the time we walking around the lakes and getting slightly lost, we reached the car and set out finding a bed for the night. It was nearing 8pm when we drove out and we were not only homeless but starving. Again our good luck came through again and we found a supermarket that had five minutes left to closing time so we raced around grabbing food for dinner and starting stuffing our faces as we pondered where to stay. The windy roads to Plitvice Lakes are littered with little home stays and camping grounds so we had a large choice. Vila Hodak was our chosen place for the night and we knocked on the door still with our mouths full of muesli. A little Croatian woman who seemed to be fluent in every language except English answered and with IB’s rough German, we scored a room for fifteen euros. We must have looked like total ferals, with our frizzy hair and chewing loudly on muesli but I think the lady took pity on us as she was more than helpful with giving us everything we needed. We settled into our room and laid out a picnic on the floor and watched television until passing out in the comfiest bed I’ve slept in.

Waking the next morning to pouring rain, IB and I reluctantly got ready to leave Croatia and head towards Hungary. We said goodbye to the little Croatian lady, thanking her for her home and jumped in the car bound for Nagykanizsa. It was a slow trip, with the heavy rain and windy roads but once we reached the motorway we were in Hungary before we knew it. Pulling up at IB’s mothers house around 2pm, we were greeted by her Mum who was so relived that we had survived the past week. IB’s Mum didn’t speak a word of English but she was the sweetest lady in the entire world. She had cooked us a Hungarian feast, complete with delicious biscuits to have with our coffee. She insisted we eat everything so IB and I rolled out the door with food triplets when we had to catch the bus back to Budapest. Before we leaft, her Mum gave us a little present and told me I was welcome back anytime. I was sold. Totally overwhelmed by her generosity and hospitality, it made me realise not every European is pushy and rude. If I could have fitted IB’s Mum in my backpack I would have, she is an absolute gem. We said our goodbyes, (mine in very terrible Hungarian) and she waved us off as the bus departed from the station. IB and I slept most of the three hour journey back to Budapest and reached the beautiful city around 7pm. We bought some wine and caught the bus to IB’s friends house where we got ready for a night out in Budapest. The last time I was here, I didn’t really have a big night out so I was eager to suss out the nightlife as I had heard it can get pretty crazy.

We met with IB’s friend B and our first bar for the night was tourist hotspot Szimpla Kert. Known to foreigners as the best bar in Budapest, Szimpla Kert is a pretty fantastic place. It is the messiah of ruin bars, with walls scribbled with jottings from people passing by, old furniture, mismatched decor and most of all, its located in an old run-down building. Being a first time ruin bar go-er, I was amazed at the place, it was just so cool. Though IB told me its mainly for tourists, the best bars were the ones you only find locals in. Intrigued, we downed a few Hungarian speciality shots known as Pàlinka, which was like drinking medicine and moved onto our next place. Kolor is the exact opposite of Szimpla. A much classier establishment, this bar seemed to be popular with very important and very good looking people. Another one of IB’s friends joined us and we had another Hungarian shot and mingled with some Germans on a bucks night. It was past midnight when we moved onto our next bar and Kuplung was a cool outdoor bar with colourful lanterns hanging through the trees. An old car repairs shop, Kuplung is actually Hungarian for ‘clutch’ and IB knew some of the bartenders there. We grabbed a drink and chatted for awhile before deciding it was time to visit Instant, which I must admit, is the coolest place I’ve ever been to. Another ruin bar, Instant is a crazy kaleidoscope of madness. There are twenty-three rooms in this abandoned residential building, with six bars and four dance floors. I think we only saw a quarter of what Instant had to offer but it was insane enough. Sweaty people dancing to techno that pulsates at your temples, with a herd of plastic bunnies floating above you, or a giant disco ball in the shape of a pig. Drinks are ridiculously cheap and flow freely. Needless to say, once we stepped into the bizarre world of Instant, our night because very foggy. We emerged from the building when daylight hit and if I could have repeated it again, I would have. Budapest certainly lives up to its reputation for incredible nightlife.

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Our intentions of having a full day sightseeing around Budapest were crushed due to our extremely late night(well, morning) and it was about 2pm by the time we faced the world again, albeit with a ripper hangover. Having already seen most of the big things in Budapest like Castle Hill, the Citadel and Chain Bridge, I was more than happy to wander the streets and just enjoy being in this ancient city. We walked towards St Stephens Basilica which is jaw-droppingly beautiful and grabbed a coffee from Starbucks, which would hopefully bring us to life. We continued walking through the city until we reached my absolute favourite building, Parliament House. This enormous piece of architecture just sits beside the Danube River, all cool as casual. Its like the Morgan Freeman of architecture. Effortlessly cool, no matter how old it is and you can’t help but like it. For a big white piece of stone, its pretty bloody badass. And I love it. We walked across the Margaret Bridge to Margaret Island where we laid on the grass under the sun and watched the water fountain dance to the music that played every hour. Summoning up enough energy we walked through the park to a little animal farm where we saw some cranky ponies, peacocks and crazy looking chickens. IB told me she had a secret spot to show me with an epic view, so me being big on views, happily agreed to go there. We stopped by a shop to pick up some cheese and bikkies before trekking up the steep, rocky path on the Buda side of the Danube and eventually made it to a small lookout with an awesome view of the Pest cityscape. Timing it perfectly with the sun beginning to go down, my good pal Parliament was a sight for sore eyes as we munched on our biscuits. Perched on top of that hill I had another one of those “What is my life?” moments. Seriously, I can’t believe I’m ten months into being in Europe, and my second time to this city. Even the me in my dreams is amazed at what I’m doing.

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As the sun dropped lower we walked down the hill towards Batthyany tér for a final look at Parliament House and the view that I have grown to love. We headed back over to the Pest side where we had some homemade lemonade at another funky cafe, Csendes, which is just another reason why I love this city so much. Similar to the ruin bar theme, this run-down cafe is chock-a-block full of random things, writing on the walls and a bath used as seats – and this only describes one corner of the place. You could visit Csendes a hundred times and still find something different. Two of IB’s friends joined us and I wasn’t fazed over them chattering in Hungarian because I was mesmerised by the decor and crazy things people had drawn and written on the walls. Still knackered from our mammoth effort the previous night, we retired for home around 11pm. Both of us were flying out tomorrow and truthfully, not wanting to go back to Holland is the biggest understatement of the year but unfortunately au pair duties were calling and we had a real life (sort of) to attend to.

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The following morning we woke early, said goodbye to IB’s friend who had kindly let us crash in her apartment and had coffee at Fekete, a hole in the wall cafe just around the corner from Csendes. Enjoying our last moments in Budapest IB and I walked past the Szabo Ervin Library, which IB says is a must visit when I return. Having Googled the place I could only agree with her statement. We continued towards the Museum of Applied Arts which is a wonderful green roofed building that is almost like an Indian Temple. It was here that I said my goodbyes to IB and jumped on the metro to the airport, with much regret that our road trip had come to an end.

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I returned back to a surprisingly sunny Den Haag a few hours later and as usual the post holiday blues kicked in before I even walked into the house. The past week I have spent in cities I can’t pronounce with people I can’t understand. Things I’ve seen on my computer screen came to life and I ticked off several more things on my bucket list. It was an awesome week and I feel so fortunate to have made a friend like IB who was generous enough to show me her part of the world (and drive me around!). The one thing I have learnt from this trip is to not underestimate the kindness of others. The world might seem like a big, bad scary place, but if you give it a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


From the girl who wants to live in Budapest’s Parliament House and go to Instant Bar every night.

J. x

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