Monday, June 9, 2008

Gyor and Sopron

Two towns in Hungary that are fairly close to Budapest and recommended in the Lonely Planet guide are Gyor and Sopron. I already wrote some about Gyor: how I got stuck at a cafe in the rain with a bunch of people under an awning (first picture), and later stormed out of my hotel's restaurant because they wouldn't give me non-smoking seating (it was reserved).
That pretty much summarized my 24 hours there, but there's a bit more. My arrival was rather interesting-- like in Budapest, I got off the train without a clue as to where I was going to stay (because I only decided to go 24 hours before, so too late to email, and I couldn't figure out the weird Hungarian city-to-city dialing), but unlike Budapest, which has a nice tourist office which helpfully found me a good hotel nearby, Gyor's tiny station had zilch. Luckily the station is right in town and I walked a block, lugging my bags behind me, and saw a sign that said something with the word "Tourismo" in it, but it was closed. But a bit past it a little sign pointed to "tourist info" or something like that. It being a saturday, I wasn't too hopeful that it would be open, but started heading that way. A bit past that another sign pointed to "hotel", so I went THAT way, and a block later walked into a rather nice hotel!
So things have a way of working out. And I noticed the bathroom had a very large tub. I had been noticing that all the previous hotel rooms ony had showers, and not that I take many baths, but it's when you don't have something that you miss it, and as it rained that afternoon, and I was tired, chilled, not feeling well, grumpy and just needed to recharge, I took a long, hot bath. It was wonderful! I read several chapters of Bill Bryson's Made in America, a book I picked up in Tokyo but haven't had much chance to finish yet. Feeling much better I went downstairs and discovered to my delight that I could get internet in the lobby without having to go back into the dreaded smokey restaurant. At the same time, though, they were having some sort of very loud concert right outside my window (sans audience), so I had to switch rooms (see video at bottom--you can see how tired I am!).

The next morning it was raining again, but as usual my "weather luck" held out and it stopped just before I stepped outside to walk to the train station. I think the hotel clerk felt bad about my having to switch rooms because of the concert and asked me where I was going next. Sopron, I informed him, whereupon he told me they had a "sister hotel" there, and reserved me a room, which was a good thing, as this time there were no handy hotels that I could see anywhere near the station.
But the town was even prettier than the last one. Lonely Planet says Sopron is sometimes called "Little Prague", a rather ambitious nickname, but it does have a very nice walled historic center, and the tower was a fun little climb with great views of the whole area and beyond, almost to the Alps (Sopron is very close to the Austrian border; for those of you who like to look up the places I've been, just look to the left of Budapest). The photos show some nice churches and cute little old streets, but I'm afraid you're going to get very tired of these after a while, so I've tried to take some closeups to catch some of the local details.
As usual I've been incredibly lucky with the weather: the days have been glorious, sunny and warm and it almost always seems to rain only at night. I've also had most of the sights to myself; I have yet to wait in line for anything. The tourists are few (only a few German ones to be seen lately) and yesterday I had a nice wine-tasting with just me and the sommelier. There were a few Americans in Budapest but only around the downtown tourist areas. Sometimes I almost wish for some company! Even the trains have had plenty of room; I can sit in first-class whenever I want and nobody cares, so few seats are taken. I do, however, see that the children commute by train as well; I'm not sure if they're going to & from school or what-- they don't seem to (or want to with me, anyway) speak much English around here. (I've heard that many Europeans are embarassed to try because they're afraid their English isn't good enough.)
Anyway now it's on to Vienna (Austria that is, not my home town in Virginia), and in case you're wondering, I plan to go from there to nearby Bratislavia, capital of Slovakia, then Krakow, Poland, then back west to Prague in the Czech Republic. I'm trying to make up for the extra time I spent in Romania and see as much of Eastern Europe as I can before my eastern railpass runs out, and it'll be time to check out the glories of Spain, France, Italy and the rest of the western countries. When it gets too hot in midsummer I plan to head up north to the U.K and Scandinavia.
P.S. In case you're wondering what I've been seeing on these train trips through eastern Europe, it's been pretty much the same as you would see anywhere: mostly fields, woods and occasional towns. I haven't even bothered to take pictures (until now, on right), the views have been so ordinary. Nary a castle, walled hill-town or palace to be seen anywhere. I could almost be in America, the differences are so slight.
Well, see you in Vienna!

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