Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

September 20, 1999

Budapest, Family, and Prague

-- Story by Erin --

We entered Hungary with a "bang", so to speak.  If you read chapter 14 about the Transdanubia Ride then you know how we breezed through the border crossing between Hungary and Slovakia accompanied by our new Hungarian police officer friend, Jozska, and another Hungarian friend, Zsolt, who is the president of the BMW motorcycle club in Hungary.  We left all the other riders in our dust at the border.  Since you can read about the rest of our first week in Hungary in Chapter 14, I won't start there.

When the Transdanubia Ride ended on Saturday, August 28 we packed up our tent and headed to the Buda side of Budapest (Buda and Pest are separated by the Danube River) to see our friends Andrea and Kati.  These two are sisters and their parents are the lovely people we stayed with twice before on this trip in Augsburg, Germany.  Kati owns a wonderful house in Buda and has designed it with touches of Transylvanian style, like a very ornate front gate (called a szekeley kapu) and a rooftop that has little tips that turn up in each corner of the roof.  Kati offered to have us stay at her house while we were in Budapest and we jumped at the chance.   We had just finished camping for the last week and a half and having a nice house to stay in sounded wonderful----and it was.

Parliment overlooking the Danube River

After 2 days of doing nothing but lounging around the house, doing laundry, a visit from the local masseuse for $10, catching up on reading, and working on the computer, we decided to venture into downtown Budapest.  I had been here 4 years earlier with Chris and his family for a family reunion.  To me the only thing that seems to have changed is that more of the old, historic buildings had been refurbished, like the Opera House which had scaffolding all around it 4 years earlier and the Dohany Street Synagogue.  The people are still very nice and not so jaded from the increase in tourism.  Of course it helps if you try to speak a little bit of Hungarian, which, by the way, after 3 weeks in Hungary my proficiency has gotten much better!

On Thursday, September 2 my mother arrived for a visit and we decided to surprise her by picking her up from the airport on our motorcycles.  We borrowed a helmet from our friend Peter (a pilot for Malev Airlines) and emptied our saddlebags to make room for her luggage.  When she saw us pull up on our bikes she was thrilled.  I think she secretly wanted us to bring the bikes!   So, we loaded her and her luggage on the bikes and off we drove to give her a quick, scenic tour of Peter and Judit on their BMW R1100GS Budapest before going to the house.  The next day we met Peter and his wife Judit to go for a ride to Szentendre.  (Szentendre is a beautiful old town, only 20 kilometers or so from Budapest, that still looks like it did in the 1800's or earlier.)  Peter drives a BMW R1100GS (his son also drives a BMW F650).   My mom jumped on the back of Chris' bike and off we went on a very scenic 100km ride into the mountains of Buda and along the bend of the Danube River to Szentendre.  Peter knows the back roads so well that we even managed to find one that was recently washed out from heavy rains!  Lucky for us we were on motorcycles and not in cars.  We ended that day with a lovely dinner and wine tasting in the wine cellar of the Wine Museum in Szentendre.

Erin's mother, Linda -- Can I come with you guys?

The next few days my mom and I spent exploring the sites of Budapest.  In one day (Saturday) we managed to see the covered marketplace and the Gallert Hotel and Spa, climb Gallert Hill to the Citadel, walk to the Dohany Street Synagogue and St. Stephen's Basilica, walk across the Liberty Bridge and the famous Chain Bridge (two pretty bridges that connect Buda and Pest across the Danube River), and have a traditional Hungarian meal complete with live Gypsy music in the background. 

Saturday night we were exhausted but we managed to get up the next day and go to the Var, the castle hill district on the Buda side.  At night, this whole area on the hill is lit up and is a The Varbeautiful sight.  The Var is home to the Mátyás church where royalty have been crowned and married, the Fisherman's Bastion monument, and many museums among other things.  There are numerous old homes that still exist along the Var's narrow little cobble stoned streets, and we enjoyed a traditional Hungarian meal in one of them.  You also get one of the best views of Pest from the top of the Var.  To get to the Var you can walk up the hill, but mom and I opted to try out the Funicular, or cable car, instead.  I'm not sure it was worth $1.50 for a 2 minute ride up the hill but we were a bit weak from the day before!

Mom at the Var Hero's Square

The fourth and final day of my mother's visit was spent shopping for gifts and introducing her to Chris' family.   Monday night we went to dinner with Chris' grandmother (who is 92 years old!) and we had a wonderful Mediterranean style meal.  Chris' grandmother doesn't mind experimenting with new types of food so she and my mother split an assortment of tapas -- not very traditional, but it was good!

After four (too short) days of sightseeing and catching up with my mom we bid a teary farewell to each other at the airportThe Ratay family hug when she left.  Before we had a chance to get homesick however, Chris' father (Robi) arrived the next day.  We wanted to surprise him too by picking him up from the airport on the motorcycles.  I think he was a bit more surprised than my mother though, but he hopped on the bike with a smile on his face.

We spent much of the next few days with Robi visiting and getting to know other family members some that we had never met before.  The first full day (Thursday) of his father's visit we were interviewed for the local television news channel, TV2. 

 Why are 2 Americans not riding Harley Davidsons?

It was a pretty exciting thing for us as we had never been on TV before.  The interview was arranged by Chris' cousin Viktor who is a film editor at the news station.  The reporter had arranged for the some of the interview to take place at the BMW dealership in Budapest while the bikes were being serviced.  We spent about 4 hours with the reporter, cameraman and soundman.  Chris' father surveyed everything from behind the scenes and took some great photos of the whole thing.   It was pretty cool at the end of the day to watch ourselves on the evening news!

After the interview and a few days of family-hopping we took off on September 14th (with Chris' father on-board) for Prague (Praha).  Prague is a good day's drive from Budapest which takes you through Slovakia, past Bratislava, into the Czech Republic, and finally to Prague.  Chris' cousin Anita helped to arrange a lovely apartment for us to rent through her business contacts. 

Interesting Fact:   A 2-hour ride from Prague takes you to the historic town of Budęjovice.  It's real fame is the local brew Budvar, better known under it's German name = Budweiser.

The Charles Bridge

I had always heard that Prague was one of the, if not THE, prettiest cities in all of Europe.  I can say now that it is true.  Of all of the cities I've seen this summer it is the loveliest and most well preserved cities.  Prague is separated by the River Vltava being somewhat flat on one side View from the Charles Bridgeand rising up a steep hill on the other side.   Connecting the two is the famous Charles Bridge, lined with sculptures and full of pedestrians, street performers and souvenir vendors.  The mixture of these makes for nice strolls from one side to the other, and especially beautiful at night.  The steep side is home to the famous Castle and Old Royal Palace.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner on that side at a river-side restaurant and watched the small boats go by, not unlike what you might see in Venice or Brugge.

The other side of the river is one can find Staromęstské námęstí, a big square where you can find the famous Astronomical Clock, the Jan Hus sculpture and the Tyn church.  At night, all of these are lit up and makes for a surreal, medieval scene.  Of course you are then snapped back into reality by the hordes of tourists that hang out in the square at all hours, eating in the restaurants that surround the square and waiting for the "glockenspiel" to perform on the Astronomical Clock.  If it weren't for the throngs of tourists, the expensive hotel rooms, and shady taxi cab drivers, Prague would be my favorite European city.  The people in general are exceeding nice and the other costs such as food are actually quite reasonable.

See you next February in ThailandChris' father bid farewell to us from Prague as he boarded a train back to Budapest to spend his last few days with his mother, brother and brother's family.  As we watched the train depart the station at night it finally hit me that this would likely be the last time, at least for the next 6 months, that we would see our family members again.  The first pangs of homesickness hit and we walked back to our apartment in silence.

Before we left Prague we stopped by the BMW dealership there to meet Jakub, a motorcycle salesman and also a person we discovered on the GS motorcycle registry on the internet (you can find the registry on our "Links" page).  Jakub welcomed us to the shop and showed us around.   He drives an new R80GS Basic with several modifications.  We immediately felt Jakub from BMW Prague comfortable with Jakub and he shared some photos with us from his off-roading adventures through Romania.  While we were there some of Jakub's riding friends, who are also BMW motorcycle club members, stopped by for a chat and gave us there special club calendar which has pictures of many of their bikes.  When we left the dealership to get on the road Friday afternoon, Jakub and one of his friends gave us a motorcycle escort to the motorway and said goodbye to us.  What a great bunch of people they are!

When we left I had the feeling that we had not given Prague it's due and we should definitely return in the future to spend more time.  I think it is a city with many layers and many faces which takes more than a couple of days to uncover.  We must return when we are not so tired of big cities.

We departed Prague on September 18th, and arrived in Berlin the following evening.

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