Wednesday 19th July- Driving over the Danube
We're blitzing our way through Europe! Today we added countries eight and nine to our total; Slovakia and Hungary. Our original itinerary was to drive eleven hours from Prague to a town in Romania called Hunedoara. If our Panda had an amazing V6 engine we'd absolutely be sticking to this original plan, however, she doesn't and is struggling so an eleven hour drive would have definitely turned into 14 hours. Alas we have chosen to stay the night in beautiful Budapest! There's not much complaint against that. It means we will need to add a day to our itinerary and therefore eat into the five days we had spare at the end of the journey, but avoiding a 14 hour drive seemed the most sensible plan.
We checked out of our Prague hotel and were glad to find that James hadn't been charged for sleeping on the floor. They didn't want a pick a fight with us Aussies.
The team was keen to explore beautiful Prague so dumped our big bags in the car and walked 25mis to the main square. Haylee's been using an incredible app called Maps.Me which had been recommended from teams of 'ole. It works offline and identifies restaurants and landmarks in the area. We discovered the calm before the storm in the main square, hardly any tourists and a great view of the clock tower which had been attacked by disgusting scaffolding. A bit unfortunate for photos. Around the bend we discovered our breakfast for the day, donuts with ice cream inside. A national delicacy. Food in belly we then walked over the famous Charles bridge and continued on to the Lennon wall for a few happy snaps. Pat used his über expensive camera to get some great single shots of us before we returned to look for James who had wandered off, as James does. We discovered that the storm had well and truly hit the main square upon returning at 11am,. Hundreds of tourists had converged to watch the clock do its thing on the hour. The bells started chiming and the little skeleton pulled his cord next to the clock face. The crowd had of course all pulled out their cameras and phones to stare at the clock through a screen. We could barely move, after lots of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' the clock finished and we pushed through the crowd to walk back in the boiling heat to our car. We had a bit of difficulty paying for our carpark ticket as it didn't want to take our 200 Czech notes. The bloke who services the machine happened to be there as we had our troubles and assisted us.
We drove out of Prague hitting a traffic jam. A young guy pulled up in the lane next to us, James gave him a "how ya going?" He asked, "are you driving to Mongolia?" We replied yes! "I know about this trip you do to Mongolia, because I will be doing it too." He explained that he isn't doing the rally but in 3 weeks will be driving with a friend to Mongolia so he knows all about the Mongol Rally. As we crept along at a snails pace he kept chatting to us. "How long will you take?" "Five weeks we hope!" "I will be doing the journey in a 20 year old car. I wish you the best of luck guys, you know this will be an incredibly difficult trip, I really wish you all the luck!" He drove off in his incredibly large 4wd; a vehicle swap would have been awesome.
An hour later we found ourselves stuck in a major traffic jam, not the best situation as we were sitting in the boiling heat with no air con. Natalie and Haylee have resorted to using the enormous Aussie flag we have as a window curtain to avoid sunburn. Having no air conditioning means our windows are constantly open. It's great to get some air flow however means we get all sorts of country smells going through the car. Some of them are fantastic fresh smells of the fields! The rest are some other kind of pong that is most definitely not freshly cut grass.
We had a team in a green micra whizz past us on the highway at one point. Obviously their weight wasn't anything to rival our Panda and they could get above 110km/hr. Always nice though to see another team and know that we're geographically closer than we thought. Twenty minutes later we were the team whizzing past another which felt quite good! We came up behind the team Polish My Sausage, they're driving an awesome Polish sausage van that looks like a red fire truck. We gave them a friendly beep and a wave and promptly zoomed past.
We drove into the capital of Slovakia (Bucharest) at 5pm. A beautiful castle sits on the hill as you drive over the main city bridge. We'd heard from other teams on the rally Whatsapp group that there was a good traditional restaurant in town so endeavoured to find it. We must have some sort of parking guardian angel looking over us because we managed to get a spot 20 metres down from the entrance of the place. The food was meaty, heavy and had all the flavours of Slovakia packed into the plate. We were all quite sun kissed so excuse the photos of our tomato faces. Following dinner we returned to the car to find a young Malaysian chef standing near it. "You from Australia?" "Yes! We're all from Sydney". "I am from St Leonard's" he replied. He explained he moved to Slovakia in 2011 and now works in a Malaysian restaurant there. He's not keen on going back home though, he really enjoys it in Slovakia. We explained our big trip to him and he wished us luck.
We purchased our vignette as we drove into Hungary and finally started our two hour drive to Budapest. It was late in the evening as we entered Budapest, our Panda was taken over the Danube where we had a beautiful view of Parliament House all lit up. The city was lively and full of contiki tour groups hitting up the pubs. Our parking guardian angel once again helped us out with a doorstop park directly in front of our hotel. Some nice blokes came over to let us know we'd actually parked in a disabled spot and the fine is massive, we hadn't noticed the painted symbol on the road and thanked them. There was another open space two places down so we moved there. We strapped down everything on the roof of the car so no one could possibly wedge it out, we weren't going to risk any drunken groups taking our things.
We were living in luxury that evening! A two bedroom apartment with kitchen, living room and balcony, all for only $27 per person. The first thing we did? Washed our clothes in the kitchen sink of course! "Am I still a man if I wash my clothes in the sink while drinking a beer?" James was reassured that, yes, he was definitely still a man. After doing some washing we strung up lines all over the apartment to hang our clothes, no shame in showing our clean underwear to each other. Finally, a rest on the couch with a beer and sleep to top off the evening.