Eastern Europe: The Great Plains of Hungary and Chy-Kara Camping

First stop after crossing the border, a cash point. I haven’t mentioned it since publishing the “Our First Three Months Motorhoming Across Europe: What did we learn” (bullet 7, "financials), but we mostly (99%) pay our transactions in cash as it is cheaper (after paying transactions on cards for a few weeks and paying different currency conversion rates by each retailer, we learnt our lesson). As we enter a new country with a new currency such as Hungary, which uses the Hungarian Forint, we quickly work out the equivalent of £1 or 1Euro and £10/10Euros and withdraw the equivalent of 200Euros for a week. We noticed early on that withdrawing the equivalent in pounds was often too much. In Hungary, we withdrew a little more as we were staying ten days. Our Lonely Planet guidebook also have a handy key price guide to use as reference including the cost of; petrol (1L), coffee (a cup), bread (a loaf) and taxi ride (one journey).

Armed with money, we looked for a “Matrica” (vignette):10-days one for 2975Ft (approx. £7 or 9,50Euros). Vehicles driving on motorways in Hungary such as Slovakia and Czech Republic need to display a vignette (sticker) on their windscreen. We knew we’d only stay in the Central and Eastern parts of the country, but weren’t sure if we’d use many motorways or if we could avoid them. Rather be safe than sorry! We bought ours at an OMV Petrol Station in Sátoraljaújhely. A lovely man in his coffee-burger-snack van outside the Tesco supermarket told us where to get one in town. Yes, as mentioned in our post; “Motorhoming with Family in South Germany and Czech Republic",Tesco can be found in Eastern Europe. This may change due to its recent financial turmoils.

With new country comes new free camping rules. Our Camping Card ACSI book didn’t have any mention, but the Caravan Europe guide by the Caravan Club had the following note: “Casual/wild camping is prohibited”. Jamie had read on forums that motorhomers had wild camped in quiet places without being moved or even fined. Not wanting to break the rules on our first night stay, we parked at the lovely Köbérc Pension in the village of Bozsva. During the time of our stay (1 & 2 July 2014), the pension only had three hook-ups for “homes-on-wheels” circled by traditional bungalows. Luckily we were the only one there which meant we could use one of the bungalows to shower and had all the space we wanted to wonder around.

Here, we had our first and only taste of traditional Hungarian food. An early dinner (the kitchen shut at 8pm), it was. With a little patience and Google Translate (luckily Jamie had downloaded the Hungarian language pack to use it offline; there was no wifi), we managed to work out the Hungarian-only menu and order our dishes. Fresh, local and generous portions at a very good price and served by lovely people; it was perfect. After a couple of nights, we decided to move on as we only had ten days (i.e. Ten-days vignette).

Walking through Bozsva.

Happy Jamie.

Enjoying simple, nice food at the Köbérc Pension in Bozsva.

A panoramic view of the camping space at the Köbérc Pension.

We free camped without any problems for the next two nights. En route, we visited the ruined castle, Boldogkö literally meaning “Happy rock”. It had a couple of dark cave rooms with displays of tools and equipments and torture instruments of the time. A slick modern upper area contained miniature model representations of battles that happened during the castle’s life (between 13th and 16th century, after that the castle started to fall into ruins). One of the best parts, for us, was its long wooden walkway to the castle’s watchtower where we enjoyed a 360-degree view of the Zemplén Hills, the Hernád valley and vineyards. (The visit costs 2,400Ft: 1,000Ft parking fee and 700Ft each to visit the ruins)

The next morning, Jamie and I were looking forward to a nice sauna and, maybe, massage at Júlia's Fürdö (baths) in Nyíregyháza. Unfortunately, massage slots were all booked, its big sauna only opened in three hours time (1pm) and swimming was out of the question as swimming caps were mandatory! Some things do need a little more planning than others, don’t they? We still enjoyed the steam room and hot baths and made full use of its shower. (It costs  5,600Ft: approx. 18Euros or £13).

Our wild camping spot (click on the link to read our brief review under "Slovakia") that evening, on the edge of the Hortobágyi National Park, was nice and peaceful. We were parked off a narrow road/track between two big fields; hay on one side and sunflowers on the other.  We were right in the Great Plains region of Hungary; very flat landscape with huge farmlands. It reminded us both of the Great Plains of America.

Walking up the path to Boldogkö castle from the car park.

Inside the lower part of the castle.

Entering one of the dark rooms displaying tools and torture equipment.

The best part: the long walkway to the watchtower.

Watchtower selfie!

The amazing view.


The next day, we walk to Júlia's Fürdö (baths) in Nyíregyháza.

Farmlands en route to our wild camping spot.

Our free camping spot on the edge of the Hortobágyi National Park. Parked on a track off the white road linking Rd 33 and 34.

Inside the van, updating our spending and camping log spreadsheets.

Our travelling journey is dotted with special places we stayed at; places we’ve loved and enjoyed the most whilst being on the road. Most of these “special places” are so-called “special” not just because of their surroundings, but of their owners. Chy-Kara Camping (click on the link to read our review) was one of them. After reading its review on Google maps, we decided to give it a go. Half way through its dirt track, desperately trying to avoid the unavoidable branches and big stones, we wondered if we had made the right choice. As soon as we made our approach, Jay; one half of Chy-Kara, came to help Jamie park whilst I got a glimpse of its beautiful small farm. We knew then we’d made the right choice.

We were in Yorkshire-hands too! Jay is from Sheffield (UK), his partner; the other half of Chy-Kara, Annemieke from The Netherlands. They showed us around their farm and lovely “tanjas” (traditional Hungarian farmhouse) and price list. Even though the price was a little bit higher than what we would usually pay if staying at a campsite, we already had fallen in love with the place and its people. We only stayed three nights, but made the most of it.

On Jay’s recommendation, we cycled to one of the region’s popular “beaches” on the river Tisza. After a long ride (about 1h30 to the free ferry and another 30minutes to the beach) through Pusztaszer and Ópusztaszer in the Summer heat (the hottest day we experienced that Summer), we joyfully dunked ourselves in the cool waters of the river. The sandy banks were very hot too reminiscent of childhood Summer days in the South East of France where one had to run in the water to avoid burning their feet. It really was Summer, the traditional bungalows on stilts were opened, their occupants airing bed sheets and carpets on washing lines, the few cafes were busy with local tourists and kids buying ice creams. (Access to the beach is not free, it costs 100Ft each; approx. £0,50 or 0.64Euros)

Being the only ones staying at Chy-Kara meant we got Jay and Annemieke’s full attention. It almost felt like they were looking after us. We spent our last night talking and drinking (wine and beer) until the wee hours of the morning. Annemieke and Jay told us about their lives; living in Hungary, building their bungalows/traditional “tanjas” and opening their B&B/Campsite, their families and travels. It was nice to hear about their love and passion for their farm, Hungary and its people. It was inspiring to hear their story. Hungover, it was even harder to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts. As a good luck travel gift, Annemieke gave us a basket-full of her own farm-grown vegetables. If one day we were brave enough to open and run our own place, Jamie and I both would want to make our guests feel at home like Jay & Annemieke made us feel.

Chy-Kara Camping and B&B.

Late afternoon walk to the nearest village, Pusztaszer.

Farmlands separate Chy-Kara with Pusztaszer.

Next day, setting off on our bike ride to the river Tisza "beach resort".

A lovely common sight in Eastern Europe; poles or lamp posts adapted for storks' nesting.

Much needed water after a few kilometres riding in the 40 degrees heat!

Riding selfie!

Waiting for the free ferry to cross the river Tisza.

On the other side, an abandoned river-crossing-boat.

A flood marker...

... Hence, houses on stilts!

The river Tisza "beach resort". Not many people sunbathing, it seems...

... Over the dune, it's a different story! The sand's so hot that people are sat with their feet in the water.

Very refreshing!

We preferred setting camp in the shade!

Local artworks displayed along the river bank, next to the "beach" entrance.

Once cooled down, we walk part of the shaded path lined with stilt houses along the river bank.

Not too bad for a holiday bungalow.

Time to go already to catch the ferry and cycle back to Chy-Kara before it gets dark. (It took us about two hours to cycle to the beach.)

Waiting for the ferry.

Time for pictures as we say goodbye to our wonderful hosts, Jay and Annemieke.

We loved our time in the Great Plains of Hungary. Our time was short, but we had decided to explore Romania before coming back home for the van’s MOT.

It didn’t seem not so long ago that we’d done our last MOT (December 2013). Technically, we didn’t need to go back home until December 2014. However, after thinking hard about where we wanted to go in the next year, we realised that we were best stopping in the Summer to have a full year ahead. Our aim was to visit Turkey and Greece; two big countries to explore. Too hot to visit in the Summer, we concluded that we’d only have about three months (September to beginning of December) to explore them. If we were to go in September, however and not go back home in December, we wouldn’t feel so rush and have time to enjoy living in places for longer periods of time. The only thing was that we wouldn’t come back home for Christmas.

We didn’t rule it out at first. We thought that I could fly out if we’d find a nice place for Jamie to stay somewhere. But leaving him in an unknown country for Christmas didn’t feel right. We’ve always spent Christmas apart since we’ve been together (12 years) so the idea to spend it together for the first time was very appealing. We decided to take the decision later and concentrate on what we needed to do; contacting family and friends and make necessary bookings and appointments (ferry, garage, dentists, etc.)

For the moment though, Jamie had read nice comments and stories about camping in Romania on online forums. So we decided to spend two weeks to discover Romania before heading back home. It wasn’t long enough to go in the Eastern parts of the country, but enough to explore areas of the Western and Central regions; Crişana & Banat, Transylvania and Wallachia.

To be continued...