Hungary, November 2019

When I am travelling somewhere, I usually try to find some interesting things to do there.

And while sometimes plans don't work out for various reasons, in most cases there is something else to do.

I don't want to promote the tired cliché of "When one door closes, another opens." (Which is not only stupid, but doesn't make any sense, unless you're in an airlock. And even then only if it's fully automatic.)

Especially this time.

Because the 'failure rate' of initial plans was higher than on any previous trip.

It started with a zipline.

There seems to be a fun zipline at Zemplén Adventure Park. That is near Sátoraljaújhely, which is in the northeast of Hungary, right next to the Slovakian Border (and about 50km from the Ukrainian border).

The zipline isn't that long - a bit more than a kilometer, but it runs between two mountains, so there's a good view over the valley below.

There also is a convenient system for doing multiple rides - the zipline runs in parallel to a cable car, so you can zipline over to the other mountain, hop into the cable car, drive back and ride the zipline again.

So I booked a hotel along the way to Sátoraljaújhely and wanted to drive the rest on the next morning to be there in time the zipline opened.

I had checked that the zipline would be (with the usual caveats about stormy weather and thunderstorms) operating all year round, so everything looked fine.

Until two days before I left for Hungary - then they had put a notice on their web site that they were doing their annual maintenance on all cables (zipline, cable car, chair lift), so they would not be operating for a week.

So it didn't make much sense to drive the remaining bit to Zemplén Adventure Park, since most of the other things to do there were either already closed for the winter or accessible by chairlift - which was undergoing maintenance as well.

So I decided to go to Miskolc instead for some go-kart driving.

That was another side-effect of something not working as planned.

I had been looking for an hotel somewhere in the middle between Szeged and Budapest due to another plan I had (which didn't work out either).

So I did find one in Kecskemét and that looked interesting.

It's the Gokart Hotel and, not surprisingly, it's named that way as it is right next to a large go-kart track.

I had booked and afterwards checked the website of the kart track. And found out that the kart track had closed for the winter since November, 4th, which was two weeks before I went there.

It didn't matter much, as I had selected the hotel for price and location, so I would have stayed there even if they weren't a Gokart Hotel. But as I knew already that there would be no go-kart driving there, I wanted to do some go-kart driving somewhere else.

So I looked up two go-kart tracks in Miskolc.

The first one I didn't find. (Entirely my mistake - I later noticed that I had it in my navigation systems two streets off. No idea how that happened, as I entered the destination by street name. But no go-kart where I was looking.)

So I went to another one, which I did find.

The track looks nice, but just on that day, they had some event going on and I wouldn't be able to have a go for another two hours.

Since I had to drive another 400 km to my next booked accommodation that day, I decided not to wait, but to drive on. (Also because I did see the karts going around the track. The have electric go-karts on that track. Not an issue in itself, as they can go fast - the ones they have can go up to 60 km/h - and electric go-karts can accelerate better than fuel powered go-karts, but those were evidently turned down to kiddie-ride levels. Of course, everyone might just have been on a slow lap when I was watching, but I could have jogged along beside the go-karts on the track.)

So I drove down to, basically, the middle of nowhere, west of Szeged.

If you look at a map, there's a large area along the Serbian border that doesn't have any significant towns. That was where I was heading.

Not so much to do something there (although the activities I did there were the only ones that went as planned), but mostly due to the accommodation.

A yurt.


Though pretty much the luxury version of a yurt.

It's as much a yurt as a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow is a gasoline-powered four-wheel vehicle.

Technically the description is correct, but there are a large number of things that fit the description and this is about the upper end of the scale.

On the inside, the yurt was unexpectedly roomy.

Especially since it had three 'levels' inside.

There was the normal ground, but there also was a 'pit' in the middle, about half a meter down that has a couch corner.

Yurt minibar Yurt seating corner

And on the upper level, reachable by a short staircase, was the bed.

Yurt couch and bed above

Above the bed was the canopy that had a small skylight, which could be opened remotely.

Bed in Yurt Skylight above bed

A comfortable place to spend a night or two.

Yurt from outside

Next morning, it was time to go on an activity - horse riding

Not necessarily something I am comfortable with, but worth a try.

In general, I am not fond of riding. If the horse goes at a speed where I am still sitting comfortably (a walk), it's a speed at which I can equally well just walk beside the horse.

And once the speed picks up and a horse becomes useful (at a trot), I haven't yet found a way to comfortable sit on the horse. (And on anything faster, like a canter, it feels more like on a mechanical bull and I am no longer riding, but trying to stop it before I fall off.

On the other hand, the last two times I had been on a horse, I had enjoyed it, especially in Sweden, back in 2014, where it was more about steering the horse than going fast.

So maybe it would be fun this time and maybe I would find out how to sit on a horse properly and not being bounced all over the place.

So I had a three hours 'beginner level' ride.

I had a calm and friendly horse, which had been used for teaching how to ride, so it didn't expect an experienced rider. And I also liked the saddle, which had a proper 'grip' on both ends, so you could really hold onto it.

Break on horse ride The horse I rode

But I never figured out how to move the body in a way that even roughly corresponded with the way the horse walked. Everyone else seemed to sit on their horses, while I bounced around in the saddle.

In the end, I mostly kept standing in the stirrups, so the saddle wouldn't hit me that often. That way, I could go at a trot for a decent time (I only did a canter for about three seconds, two of them spent trying to stop the horse - I was flung up in the air and getting worried about getting separated from the horse for good).

But everyone else was properly sitting on their horses and I must be doing something basic completely wrong, but the advice ('keep your hip supple') didn't help much.

In any case; it was interesting being on a horse again and worth a try (after all, sometimes you figure things out by trying) and we rode for 22 km, so I got the feeling that I gave horse riding a fair chance. And am happy to skip a few years before I do it again.

Riding in Hungary Riding in Hungary Riding in Hungary

(Stereotype would have it that I couldn't sit down for a couple of days afterwards and felt muscles ache that I didn't know I had, but it wasn't nearly as exhausting as I assumed. Slightly tired muscles in the lower leg, but that's about it.)

As I am usually more relaxed around dogs than around horses, I went to pet the dog for a while afterwards.

They have an interesting 'cattle dog'. Not sure what breed, if any (though probably a border collie), but behavior clearly said 'herding dog'.

The moment I arrived at the place and tried to park my car, the dog was right behind the car, moving from side to side. I was a bit worried for a moment, as I had to reverse to get into the parking spot and couldn't see the dog in my mirrors, so I had to wait until the dog came into view again (running over the dog is generally not a good way to start a visit) and I had a distinct feeling that the dog was not chasing the car, but trying to herd it into the proper place.

As most herding dogs, the dog is very friendly and likes to get belly rubs.

At least most of the day.

It is slightly different at dusk when the horses come in from out in the field.

Then the dog is very alert just outside the paddock and checking on the horses.

I have no idea what the dog thinks he is doing - after all, the horses come in on their own and the dog is not out there bringing them in - but he's really 'on duty' and acknowledges you walking by, but belly rubs are out of the question.

Dog on duty Dog being watching horse

They also have an enclosure with sheep. And in the evening, when I was walking from my yurt to the main building for dinner, I wondered where they had gone, as I didn't see them in the enclosure.

It didn't make any sense that they had been moved somewhere else (after all, that was the sheep enclosure - where else would you put the sheep) and after looking more closely, I did see them, but I never noticed before how camouflaged sheep can be in a pile of hay.

Semi hidden sheep Semi hidden sheep

They had settled down as a group right in the hay that evening and with limited light, they were surprisingly difficult to spot then.

After the horse ride I did a much easier tour in the evening - an 'animal spotting' ride in an old Russian jeep. (Well, technically, it wasn't a Jeep, of course, but probably a UAZ 469 - not because I would recognize one, but they're that ubiquitous that anything Russian that vaguely looks like a Jeep has a good chance of being a UAZ-469.)

It was fun to be driven around in it around dusk (on and off-road, although in a flat terrain like the Hungarian Puszta, it doesn't make much of a difference) and we spotted red deer, fallow deer and a few pheasants, but it was too dark and often too far away for any pictures.

But more interesting and comfortable than horse riding.

Next morning it was time to leave and look for some more go-kart tracks.

There were, supposedly, some in Szeged, so I drove there.

I did drive to the first one, but found a shopping mall instead.

I looked around in the shopping mall for a bit, looking for any go-kart signs, but didn't see any. I then walked through the underground car park, in the assumption it might be there, but didn't see it either.

Later I looked at their web site again. They have a few pictures and it looks like it is in the car park - you can see that there is a brick surface instead of a concrete one and you can see some painted on parking bays. But there also seems outside light, so if it's a multi-level underground car park, it is on the ground level - and I looked there.

Supposedly it is operating all year and I was there during opening hours and they don't use electric go-karts, so I should have been able to at least hear them.

But I didn't find them, so I moved on.

I did find the next one, but there was nobody there and the track also looked fairly neglected.

When I looked later, it turned out that they had posted a picture of some kid driving on that track, but that looked more like the child of the owner having some fun than a regular customer - all visible buildings shut and no other cart visible anywhere.

In any case, there was nobody around when I was there, so I got into the car and left - four out of four attempted go-kart runs failed so far.

Some of them surely my mistakes, but I rarely had such a high percentage of plans not working out.

Next stop was Szolnok, which doesn't seem to have any go-kart tracks.

But it has a surprisingly neat aviation museum.

I like to visit aviation museums.

Although they are sometimes a bit dull, I still like visiting them.

And I had expected that to be one of the duller ones, due to the MIGs.

Many aviation museums in the East European countries have MiGs.

Lots of them.

And after a while you get the impression that it kind of went like this in the early 90s:

  1. East European country becomes independent from the Warsaw Pact
  2. Russian army departs
  3. Russian army leaves behind all the older planes from the Cold War - everything before MiG-23
  4. Independent country also finds it has lots of outdated MiGs itself
  5. Independent country updates the airforce, buys modern fighter planes
  6. Former Russian military airports get demilitarized and operate no longer as airports
  7. Nobody knows what to do with all the planes parked there
  8. As the area is already fenced off, someone puts a cash register at the gate and operates it as a museum

The obvious sign of this is a 'museum' that has exclusively military airplanes, all of them essentially the same type (usually a MiG-21 as nobody wants to use them for anything anymore) and a Mi-8 helicopters or two.

So when I looked at the Wiki page for the "Airplane Museum of Szolnok", I did see the list of planes they had included fourteen MiGs and eight of them were MiG 21.

Admittedly, they were different models (F-13, MF, bis, bisAP, PD, R, U, UM), but the differences are minimal.

A proper museum doesn't need more than one MiG 21. If you intentionally build a collection, then you buy one of these and spend the rest of the budget on buying a Mirage, a Starfighter, some Saab and an F-15.

You don't spent it on buying a MiG 21 over and over again.

Inversely, if you have a bunch of MiG 21 planes standing around, it's not really a museum, but a aviation junk yard you charge entrance fee for.

I still like that, but it sets a certain expectation.

Which used to be true - up until three years ago.

Google Earth satellite view still images from the old location of the old museum, about 5 km to the south east of the current one - and that is exactly as expected.

A fenced off area close to a military airport, with lots of leftover planes parked on a field somewhere.

But they then built a proper museum building in the city and moved most of the planes (except for the big transport and passenger planes) to the new location.

So while they still have more MiG 21 than it is sensible, they are now turning it into a 'proper' aviation museum.

Still mostly military (only a couple of civilian glider planes hanging under the ceiling), but adding more variety and looking more like a structured museum than a parking lot for planes.

One of the things they seem to collect now are planes and helicopters with non-standard paint jobs.

This includes the usual cartoon shark looking planes.

Plane with shark mouth Plane with shark mouths

And they have also more elaborate paint jobs.

Camel helicopter Eagle helicopter Eagle helicopter Another eagle helicopter

I can understand a helicopter painted with an eagle design, even if only 'sort-of', as neither look nor flight style of helicopters have much to do with eagles. With the all the little windows, they tend to look more 'spidery' to me and the propeller could be incorporated into the design as 'spider legs'. But eagles are presumably considered more heroic.

But I don't see the point of the camel design. Yes, probably for some kind of desert use, but even then a camel is not the really the toughest and most heroic animal out there. Especially since a sign on the side has a phoenix on it (possibly the name of the squadron or something like that) and the helicopter might have looked a lot cooler with a flaming phoenix on it.

But them, better than military gray.

Of course, they still got the usual stuff outside the main museum building, like the expected line-up of MiGs and the mandatory Mi-8 helicopter.

MiG 21 collection MiG 21 collection Mi 8 helicopter

I almost automatically started looking for the Antonov AN-2, which is another 'standard' plane for aviation museums, but it took me a while to spot it.

While the main building of the museum is custom built, there is an older building on the premises that looks a bit like a former railway station (at least there are still rails beside it). At one end of the building there was a small exhibition of communication and radar equipment.

Radar devices

And rest of the building had an obstacle course in one direction.

Obstacle course

And for the way back, you could climb up some stairs and take a zipline back.

(At least during the summer season - when I was there, the zipline was fenced off. Yet another thing I would have liked to do, but was closed.)

And the zipline does not just start at a platform, but you walk through the fuselage of an Antonov AN-2. So they did have one in the museum, only it was tucked away in the attic.

Antonov AN2

Since they now had a custom built main building, they also had some place for a proper exhibition with rarer and more fragile planes, which you wouldn't just put on the lawn outside, as well as some plane wrecks, information displays and additional material in display cases.

Like a proper museum.

Szolnok aviation museum Szolnok aviation museum Szolnok aviation museum
Szolnok aviation museum Szolnok aviation museum Szolnok aviation museum

So while I only had expected to be looking at a bunch of MiGs in a field somewhere, I unexpectedly pleased with what they were showing.

And I was also surprised when I looked at the info board about this glider plane, as that was designed by Ernő Rubik. It later turned out that this wasn't the Ernő Rubik who invented the Rubik Cube, but his father (seems like the family was good at designing, but not as creative when it came to names).

Rubik Glider

I then wanted to drive on to the Gokart hotel and got lucky on the way.

A sign saying "Go-Kart 4km" next to the road down a side road.

I didn't expect much, but then again, I had nothing much to do, so I took the detour.

And arrived at a go-kart track, tucked in between a couple of fields.

It didn't seem to be open, but it didn't seem to be really closed either.

There was a shack and an elderly couple was doing gardening work.

But there were also a couple of go-kart lined up next to the track.

So I asked and it turned out that the track was indeed open.

I managed to do some go-kart driving in Hungary after all!

The track also had a smart layout, with lots of tight, curvy sections, where you really had to take the corners properly to line up for the next corner. So you had to plan a bit for the proper 'line' and couldn't take each corner 'individually'. There's also a curved bit that can be driven straight and at full speed when you're alone on the track, but an interesting challenge when you are driving against others, as only one kart can go the straight line.

I think they showed me on the display later that I had driven the fastest lap of the day, but that's only because I was probably the only customer. (Due to a lack of common language, communication was done by pointing at things.)

While I was driving, they continued with their gardening and it is a bit strange to drive around a corner when someone is inside the track and cutting flowers.

So the track layout is interesting to drive, it's a relatively long track (820 meters), I had the track all to myself, the price was affordable, it was sunny, and I had fun driving.

Glad that it worked out somehow.

I then wondered why I hadn't planned to drive to that track.

I looked it up on their website later. I had looked at that before, but it said "Opening times: From Spring to Autumn". I had assumed that meant that they close shop sometime in September and had then ignored it in my planning. The only reason why I followed the "Go-Kart 4km" sign was that I hadn't known that it was leading to this specific track.

Lucky me.

I thought I might be double lucky when I arrived at the Gokart Hotel, as when I parked the car, there was the unmistakable sound of go-karts nearby.

Gokart Hotel track Gokart Hotel track

So for a moment I hoped that, maybe due to the good weather, they had extended the season a couple of weeks and I might be able to drive a go-kart on that track as well, but no such luck.

You could use the track only if you brought your own kart. The go-kart rental had closed for the winter two weeks ago.

So I could sit in my hotel room and watch the go-karts go by, but that was all there was to do.

I decided to try for another go-kart track the next day.

My plan was to head for a go-kart track next to a more famous track - the Hungaroring.

The Hungaroring is Hungary's Formula 1 race track, but I already knew that there were no events (like track days or driving experiences) during the time I was in Hungary.

But next to the racing track, they also have a go-kart track on the premises.

It was Monday and I had checked their web page. They gave opening times for all days of the week. And they wouldn't close for the winter until the following weekend.

As a result, I was surprised that the whole place was closed.


Looking at their event calendar later showed that they are open all week for most of the weeks of the year. Except for the last week before the end of the season. There they are open until the penultimate weekend and then close for four days and then open from Friday to Sunday before closing down for the year. Which was quite annoying, as that is the only week during their season where they do this and it is not mentioned on their page with the opening times (only when you know that they are closed and search their web page, you find a small note at a corner stating "In 2019 we are only open on 11.22-24 before winterbreak" - so yes, they announced that somewhere, but it would have saved me some driving and frustration if they had put it next to the opening times - i.e. the place where you go to look whether they are open.)

At least I did do some go-karting the previous day, but that still meant that the ratio of (presumed) go-kart track locations I visited and actual go-kart rides was 7:1. And ziplines versus working ziplines was 2:0.

The number of interesting cave visits was zero as well.

The last times I had been in Hungary, I visited a few caves.

This included some showcaves, but also some caves that were more 'hands on' and required some crawling, some scrambling over rocks and getting dirty.

And there was a three hour 'Adventure Caving' tour in (or, more accurately) under Budapest that I wanted to do. There's a bit of crawling through small tunnels and some scrambling on rocks, but nothing really difficult (people on their picture gallery are not wearing any climbing harnesses, so it's not a technically hard tour).

Really the kind of thing I like to do and that I have done before in Hungary. And they have tours all year round.

But what they also do have is an arbitrary age limit.

So I mailed them before going to Hungary and asked them whether this is a guideline or something they actually enforce (I also mentioned that I did a seven hour climbing tour in a slate mine in Wales two years earlier and other 'tourist level' climbing tours as well), but they insisted that the age limit was fixed and recommended their "Cave Walk Tour" instead, which was "paved and equipped with artificial lighting". And if they had a go-kart track in there, that would be a cool offer. But I really didn't want to visit that - it sounded dull and boring.

I find arbitrary limits annoying. I wouldn't have minded if they made some sort of 'test course' and denied tour participation to people who fail that, even if they had the rule that you have to pay full price even if they deny you the tour. (

For example, on a tour in New Zealand, you were required to jump down one meter backwards with an inflated truck tire into a river. There was a passage later in the cave where you needed to do that, so they needed to check whether you are able to do that to avoid problems later on the tour. Fine by me. And on the slate mine tour in Wales, where I wasn't sure whether I could make it, they took the position that there's nothing really difficult or strenuous on the tour, but it's mainly attitude. So they asked "Do you want to do that?" and once I confirmed that, it was ok by them (and I had, indeed, no problem during the tour).

In general, I find that 'real' tour guides in places that could really be dangerous are much more permissive (though even then I was more than a bit surprised when a guide walked with us on the top of an iceberg - when someone asked "can we go up there", I think everyone expected the answer "No, too dangerous." instead of "Sure, let's go."). It's more the 'guest relation' people on 'tourist attractions' that tend to be spoilsports.

In any case, no cave visit in Hungary this time.

So only the horse ride, the jeep tour and one go-kart track (though a good one!) worked out on this trip.

The only thing left was having a walk along the Danube and do some sightseeing.

Budapest Danube View Budapest Danube View

At least there had been a change since I had been there last time, as they built a new National Theatre that looks a bit like a ship (even the muses look a bit like naval figureheads) and it was an unexpected design.

Budapest National Theatre Budapest National Theatre Budapest National Theatre

There's also a small viewing tower/pyramid nearby, the Ziggurat, with a spiral path to the top. Not a big tourist attraction, but nice to visit.

Budapest Ziggurat Budapest Ziggurat Budapest Ziggurat

And that's it for this trip.

Budapest Danube night view Budapest Danube night view

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