Day 1 Arriving in Sopron
Players began gathering in Vienna on various flights and were met by our guide Pieter Zoltan who directed us towards our bus for Sopron. We were served lunch at around 4pm after settling in to our rooms – a 3 course meal, after which a troupe of us went for a walk down to the centre of the town to work up an appetite for dinner at around 8! At least a buffet meant that we could choose a lot or little!
We turned in early as it was also going to be a very long trip tomorrow for a small group of us to pick up the bass end instruments from Miraphone, some 400 km away.
Day 2 Trip to Miraphone
While most of the band went to Ferto Lake for a water trip, a dedicated group of hardy souls set off at 8 for Waldkraiburg to tour the Miraphone factory and collect the lower brass instruments that were being loaned to us.
We were asked to take our passports because of the current flood of Syrian refugees and the consequent closing of many of the borders. In total, the 800 km round trip would take us north of Sopron into Austria (close to Vienna), then west a long way across Austria into Germany. We went through a city on the Austrian side of the border called Braunhaus, which is known principally because it is the birthplace of Hitler. Waldkraiburg is a little east of Munich.
At the first border crossing (Hungary/ Austria), we nervously clutched our passports as the policeman approached the bus. Our driver said ‘musicians from Australia’, and the policeman winced and waved vigorously as if to say get out of here quickly, they might start to play!
Along the way we were afforded a couple of bathroom stops including one at a Landzeit roadside stop. These places are quite a bit different from a typical Aussie road stop, with a huge choice of well prepared and fresh foods, all with an appropriate price tag – and souvenirs of course!
Along the way we shared many stories with our Hungary contact, Aniko from Musik Land, the travel company who is hosting us here. Several of her family members play with the Dorog Band with whom we were performing at some stage of the tour.
After about 5 hours we arrived in Waldkraiberg and were made most welcome. We were first shown the display room, which I can only describe as tuba heaven. Soon we were met by Joseph, a very amiable and well spoken young man who showed us around the factory, starting with raw materials, through cutting metal, moulding it, trimming, soldering and joining, assembling, polishing, washing etc. No production line stuff here but tender crafting. We were told all the workers are musicians. Garry and Bill, both of whom have worked on instruments asked the most questions.
After the tour we were given a drink, and it was time to check out the instruments we were being loaned. Most of the guys had brought their mouthpieces with them. In total 3 basses and two euphoniums were loaned to us.
And so it was time to leave to return to Sopron. We left at around 3.30, arriving back at the Hotel around 9:15
Day 3 Bratislava
The program for today was a trip north into Slovakia, specifically its capital, Bratislava, sitting on the Danube. Our MD was keen to have a rehearsal, which we did so after breakfast – we really needed to get together, not having done so for a couple of weeks on the other side of the world. Besides that, the guys had to get used to their borrowed instruments, and check that all the finger positions were comfortable. Always takes a while to get used to a new instrument, especially a big one!
We set off at around 9.30 am. With a concert scheduled in Balf for 6.00 pm, we had to take all our gear with us, instruments, banners, music stands, uniforms. We were booked into a tour of Bratislava Castle and St Martin’s church at 11.00am. Zoltan was not able to do the guided tour due to a Slovakian ruling about foreigners, so we had a Slovakian Tour guide. She gave us lots of information in a very small amount of time, so it was difficult to take it all in.
This was followed by a walking tour around the streets at a rather fast pace, which some of us found hard going. After the Castle tour it was time for lunch in a restaurant called Zylinder, along a lovely tree lined pedestrian way. Potato soup, pork and mash, and pancake with strawberry coulis!
After a short amount of free time for souvenir shopping, it was time to board the coach for the return journey. There were a few traffic hold ups, which delayed the time we were supposed to arrive in Balf for a rehearsal, set up and change. Instead of getting there at 5, it was more like 5.30, so there was a flurry of activity and only time for a quick re-tune.
The concert went well, the audience being very appreciative, asking for several encores! Finally we had to call a halt, as our dinner and refreshments were waiting for us back at the hotel. It had been a tiring but very enjoyable day!
Day 4 – Day trip to Vienna
We started off around 9 for our day trip to Vienna. Our guide told us along the way that Austria is a wealthier country than Hungary, which is quite evident when you cross from one country to the other. One noticeable part of the landscape in this part of Austria (Bundesland) is the thousands of windmills.
It took about an hour to get to Vienna, and after a quick introduction to the city by bus around the Ringstrasse, we were let off in front of Schonbrunn Palace, the centre/home of the Hapsburg dynasty. This was very large and beautiful but extremely busy, and our guide looked anxious as people wandered off in all directions. Finally, we were given our tickets and walked around using the guided audio tour. Extreme excess was the overall impression of the place, much like Versailles Palace in France. However it was a special treat for us as musicians to walk through the room where Mozart gave his first concert at the age of 6!
After Schonbrunn we were taken to a lunch spot for a traditional Austrian meal. A veal liver dumpling soup was the starter, not a hot favourite for some, then a huge schnitzel with fried potatoes, and a ricotta pastry for dessert. A rather filling!
Next was a walking tour of the old city inside the Ringstrasse, with guide Eva. At the Ringstrasse there used to be a wall, long since knocked down. So many beautiful sumptuous buildings to look at. We went past building after building ending up at the Hapsberg summer residence, now used in part by the Sissy museum and also by the Lipizzaner horse school. And right there in front of the palace were some Roman ruins, discovered while excavating the road for renovations.
Day 5 – Budapest Via Gyor
Time to leave Sopron and head for Budapest. We stopped for a bathroom break at a little cafe (Diana Etterem), needing 100 huf for the privilege. Those who ordered coffee found that the spoon would likely stand upright by itself in the cup! After our brief stop, we were on our way to Gyor, about halfway to Budapest, a rather quiet, clean, and very pretty village, like many of the villages we would see during our stay, with the history and architecture explained in great detail by our tour guide Zoltan Pieter.
We found some stocks to put James in if he misbehaved and saw many beautiful buildings and statues, as well as, of course, the Danube and a bridge crossing it.
Many of the streets are pedestrian-only in the centre, making them ideal for tourist browsing. Right in the middle of town is a lovely square in front of a church with several outside cafes in which to dine. Our lunch was at Szalai Vendeglo before we continued on our journey.
Soon we were in Budapest, receiving our ‘warm hearted welcome with champagne’ and then dinner, a little too soon after lunch, really. Everyone settled themselves into their rooms, explored the facilities of the hotel, and several availed themselves of the bar offerings
Day 6 – Lajosmizse
The weather turned rainy, so our playout at the famous Fisherman’s Bastian was cancelled. Because of the steepness, we were also advised not to even consider visiting today, so the coach took us to an indoor shopping centre as an alternative. After some shopping in the centre, we boarded the coach again, and were taken on a drive around the city, which didn’t look its best in the rain. We were dropped near the restaurant, Bor La Bor for our first Budapest Hungarian lunch:- chicken pancake for starters and chicken schnitzel for seconds. The rain eased a little bit after that, with opportunities for some more sight-seeing from the bus before heading off for our afternoon program, a visit to a location called Lajosmizse.
This is south east of Budapest, where we were treated to a ‘steppe’ program, first being greeted by horsemen, and taken by horse drawn vehicles to sample some apricot brandy (Parlinka), and crackling cake. After that they put on an amazing display of horse riding – great speed, standing on horseback (one foot on two different horses), horse discipline and training (sitting and lying still while whips being cracked – very skilful!
Judith and James won a wine bottle each for knocking a bottle off a pole with a whip, and then we walked around looking at all the animals on the property – farm animals as well as many horses, and some endangered Hungarian sheep. We were also allowed a short ride if we wished.
Some gypsy entertainers then welcomed us into the eating area – a very good violinist, a bass player, and a cymbal player. They played the night away and we had had a very enjoyable afternoon and evening before returning to Budapest
Day 7 – Sturovo
We headed for the flea market this morning for some free shopping time. However, with a concert later in the day, we had to pack the instruments and uniforms onto the bus with us. The flea market was great with lots of local fresh produce downstairs, including, of course, souvenir paprika.
Our next destination was Dorog where we had lunch in Grante Etterem. The tables were arranged very much like wedding tables. We had some lovely potato soup for entree, then a second course of pea soup with a schnitzel on the side, with some sort of bun with poppy seeds.
Passing Esztergom, we drove across the Danube into Slovakia (Sturovo). Because of the rain, our concert venue was being used by some folk whose concert was originally supposed to be outside, and this resulted in a delay for us to get changed and to rehearse. Our organizers came up with a plan to go to different venue to rehearsw and tune, after which we were taken back to the Culture House for our concert. Even on returning they had not finished their event. We watched with interest, however at those participating. There were people dressed in quite majestic regalia, like mayoral robes. It was some sort of ‘wine knights’ event. Some people were presented with a certificate, and one wore a sash for 2015.
Our delayed concert went well. The audience was again appreciative, and we had learned how to handle the encores without doing 6 of them! However, when we got back on the bus we found out that it had no power, so we ended up walking the fairly short distance to the restaurant El Camino, (no more than a km). Actually, a bit of walking was a great idea after all the heavy food and bus travel.
We thought we may have been in for some Spanish food, but it turned out to be more Hungarian traditional – schnitzel, potatoes and pickles.
Day 8 – Esztergom and Dorog
We headed back towards Dorog again today, but this time our destination was Esztergom, on the Hungarian side of the Danube. We had to leave quite early to play a promenade concert at the cathedral. We passed some really interesting buildings, almost Japanese looking, which used to belong to the Russian military!
The cathedral at Esztergom is enormous and we found out that it is the largest church in Hungary. What an absolutely awesome place to play! We were dwarfed by the colonnades around us. We had to wait a little while for a service inside to finish, and when we started playing quite a crowd gathered around us. After packing up, we were given a guided tour inside and around. Inside was spectacular as expected. The organ, currently being refurbished and enlarged (since 1980s) will have 146 pipes when finished. Liszt played the organ in here and some of the original pipes are still in use. There are also several relics of saints on display. We then walked around to the rear of the church, the top of a precipice with a lovely view down to the Danube and the bridge over to Slovakia on the other side.
We were able to walk to our lunch spot as it was basically underneath the cathedral, with the interior design a continuation of inside the church. There were also great explanations of the major wine regions in Hungary explained on the walls. After lunch and a bit of a relax we headed the fairly short distance to Dorog. A bit of a surprise was in store, as the Dorog band was waiting for us when we arrived and played a couple of pieces on the square outside. We were surprised at the colours in their uniforms- similar to ours.
We changed and got ready for a rehearsal with Dorog band, as we were to play a number of pieces with them, with Rae conducting some, and their conductor doing others. The concert proper started at 5. It was quite a cultural experience, the combination of the two bands, two cultures, two languages, with one interpreter. There were also some formal presentations as well…gifts to commemorate our visit. We found out later that the entire concert was recorded and handed to us on DVD, as well as uploaded to youtube.
The culture house itself was quite an elaborate building, and afterwards a lovely spread of food was waiting upstairs for us…and drinks of course. What we didn’t know was that the Dorog band was going to entertain us with several sets of music, which they played for hours. Such stamina after starting in the afternoon when we arrived!
Day 9 – Budapest
With the weather clearing up nicely our morning’s drive around the city allowed us to finally take some better photos of this beautiful place. We headed at last to Fisherman’s Bastian, not for a gig, but for a tourist visit. What a stunning array of buildings with glorious views across to Pest, the Parliament building and of course, the Danube both up and downstream. After a tour and much photography we were taken down to the river for a relaxing hour’s trip up and down, allowing even more photo opportunities. Back off the boat we headed again to Bor La Bor for lunch, with an afternoon free for shopping and sight-seeing in the heart of the city and people wandered off in different directions to do different things.
Next we were taken to Domus Vinorum Borhaz restaurant, basically a wine cellar built in a type of underground cave system right next to St Steven’s church. Oh, if the walls could talk… Tonight’s entertainment was a wine-tasting dinner with vivacious host explaining to us the finer points of the Hungarian wines we were tasting. A 3 piece band gypsy band was also there to entertain us. Mark Ryan surprised us by standing and giving an alternate rendition of ‘Show me the way to go home’
Day 10 – Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton is a long, fairly narrow Lake to the south west of Budapest, and is a popular summer holiday spot for people from Budapest. There appeared to be many accommodation places, cafes and restaurants around, and it was extremely well kept, with beautiful tree lined pathways.
Today’s schedule included a promenade concert on the shore of this beautiful spot. We arrived and unpacked with just enough time for a quick coffee. As it was between seasons, although the weather was beautiful, there weren’t really a lot of people around. a passing schoolboy for a lark said he wanted to conduct the band, and to his surprise, Rae picked something we knew inside out, and let him have a go. He enjoyed it but looked a little sheepish when we just kept on going to the end!
It was the best concert so far, and again in a rather idyllic setting. After the concert we were taken the short distance to Balatan Fured to have lunch at the Borcsa Restaurant. I don’t think there was more than a handful of other patrons, but when we arrived, we filled the place. After another heavy meal, we were happy to go on a guided tour of the small town which included a lovely promenade walk, with points of interest and plaques all explained in great detail.
One of the curious spots was outside a cardiac rehabilitation centre, where there is a well containing water with supposed great health giving properties, and we were invited to partake in a sample. It tasted awful as expected – very metallic.
On the walking tour, some of us noticed a beautiful looking building, like a castle on a high cliff at the other side of the lake. At the time we didn’t know it, but that was our next stop. We piled on the bus, and skirted around the lake to the little village of Tihany. What a beautiful little place. Again, there were only a few other tourists there, but what seemed like hundreds of little shops oriented toward tourists, with hand sewn sheets, tablecloths, scarfs, doilies etc etc, even a lovely little lavender shop.
The building we could see from the other side of the lake was Tihany Abbey, nice enough from the outside, but a bit plain. The contrast inside could not have been greater. It was one of the most ornate and over the top decorated churches we had ever seen. It was an impressive place, but it was also very cold and blowy up on the top of the cliff, so we were glad to get out of the weather and back onto the bus for our return journey
Day 11 – Komarno
Another trip over into Slovakia today to the historic township of Komarno, where the Danube and Vah rivers meet. Today the town is split – the northern half being in Slovakia (Komarno), the biggest, and the southern part on the other side of the Danube, in Hungary (Komarom). It is historically quite important and several items of interest are still here today to see including Klapka Square and the Komarno fortress.
On arriving we were again handed over to a local tour guide (as explained previously, it is against the rules not to use a local tour guide).
First stop was a bathroom break and all the ladies were amused when entering and paying their 10 HUF to be handed a couple of sheets of toilet paper. One or two brave people requested the ration be doubled, and resulted in a lot of hilarious laughter.
The walking tour was quite extensive, and the town is very pretty and well kept. We were shown Klapka Square, the Museum, Town Hall, Courthouse and University.
One quite interesting place was ‘Europe Square’, where the buildings were specifically built to represent the architecture of different countries in Europe. All are shops and cafes hoping to attract the tourist dollars.
Lunch was at Klapka Restaurant. where we were welcomed personally by the owner, and another feast of carbs and meat with few vegetables was presented. I discovered that young James had been eating almost nothing of the included meals, taking his mum after each of these meals in search of whatever fast food restaurant was to be found. During the afternoon, we were given free time to wander. The weather was beautiful, with some people wandering around the township or up to the fortifications. There were a lot of young people around, with it being a University Town.
We left Komarno and travelled toward the south east. We stopped at a place called Tata, an important rail and road junction, and again with quite historic significance, as it was a Roman town and also has archaeological findings dating back long before that. There is a fortress, castle, palace and many other things to look at, but sadly it was just a half hour stop for us. Our stop was near the fortress, which we clambered around for a while before moving on.
We had to keep on schedule, as we were due in the town of Bicske for our final concert of the tour. There wasn’t a huge amount of time, but on arrival we unpacked and set up, with a rather large spread of drinks and nibbles for us to sample. Unfortunately before one plays and instrument, it is usually a bad idea to put a lot in your stomach, and we didn’t really have time anyway.
The concert went well – we seemed to improve with every performance, and we were glad to have it behind us, but sad as well. The locals watching the concert seemed more than happy!
Playing certainly works up an appetite, and the weather was warmish, so most were well and truly ready for a drink by the time we arrived at the Bader Etterem. The mayor of the town was there and thanked us warmly, presenting us with several gifts while we tucked into our dinner. The tour was drawing to an end in a couple of days, but there were still more adventures to come
Day 12 – Budapest
We’ve been staying in Budapest for several days, but most of our excursions have been to somewhere else. Today we would spend entirely in Budapest itself. The sky was a cloudless blue and felt like summer. The bus took us to the famous Heroes Square, the main section containing a large array of statues of the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other national leaders. The square itself is also surrounded by several large buildings including the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s all very imposing and impressive.
We were treated to another history lesson by Zoltan. From Heroes’ Square, we walked a short distance into a nearby park across a bridge where they were setting up for some weekend markets. Some of the stalls were in operation, but a lot weren’t. We were heading towards Vajdahunyad Castle, which is not particularly old (1896), but was designed to copy several landmark buildings from around Hungary. You can see bits of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles in this one location – a bit strange. Part of it looks a little like a Dracula’s castle
The surrounding parkland was very pretty, and the bridge we crossed was over what looked like a large, dry man made lake. We found out that this was used as an ice skating rink in the winter.
After spending some time walking and browsing, we were transported back to the main part of town for an afternoon of free time. Some folk wisely chose to visit one of Budapest’s main attractions – several thermal baths, probably the most famous of which is Gelliart.
Soon it was time to board the bus back for the Hotel (Flamenco), and after dinner we were taken to a famous lookout above the city and the Danube for a view of Budapest by night. It’s a pretty spectacular scene and the one that is frequently shown in travel brochures
Day 13 Szentendre
We drove north to Szentendre, passing at one point a number of Roman ruins. It was a perfect day weather wise, and a lovely day to explore yet another beautiful village on the Danube with a quaint pedestrian precinct. Again, the cobbled walkways were lined with shops aimed at tourists, but it was clean and quiet and a magical place to be.
There was an optional visit to the Pottery museum for those interested, then lunch in the Labirintus Etterem. As the name suggests, it was a bit like a Labyrinth, and we were led upstairs to a loft/ attic where we were seated in a room separate from other patrons. Sadly, we had to leave this beautiful place, with the next stop being Visegrad, a place of great historic and strategic importance further to the north
Visegrad is a small town 40 km north of Budapest where the Danube winds around through the hills and takes a sharp turn. The Romans built a fortress here, but the one that still stands was built by King Bela IV. Here is also the Renaissance palace of King Matthias. We entered at the bottom level, and climbed up several footpaths and stairways, getting a pretty good sense of what it would have been like hundreds of years ago. Inside (King Matthias Museum) were lots of different displays and information panels about Hungary’s history, wars and so on.
We eventually climbed to the top of what is called King Solomon’s Tower, a hexagonal structure from which you have a 360 degree view. From here we could see a bobsled run in the distance. Of course, also, from here we were rewarded by magnificent views of the Danube. For our efforts we were rewarded with a good cup of Bull’s Blood (red wine). Some of us – those getting on a bit found the climbing quite a challenge.
Solomon’s Tower provided us with a perfect backdrop to the medieval display of fighting skills that was presented. It was quite an amusing show, with Rae and someone from another tour group getting to be King and Queen, dressing up accordingly, and being encouraged to play the part. James got to be jester. An eagle impressively flew in across the courtyard and landed on one of the actor’s arms. After the display, the audience were invited to have a go at archery, spear throwing etc. All great entertainment.
Next we were taken back down the hill to the Renaissance restaurant where we were presented with a medieval feast. The place was decked out accordingly, with a guy in costume sitting playing the lute and singing. we were all given cardboard crowns to wear. There was an enormous amount of food and drink provided – it really was a feast!
Toward the end of the meal, the people from Musik Land thanked us for booking our tour through them and presented us with a few gifts. We had planned to do a similar presentation the next day, but in hindsight, this would have been a better time. We had all thoroughly enjoyed our time in Hungary, and thanked them for their hospitality. All the accommodation, travelling, meals and guides had been organised by them, and it had proven to be quite economic for us as well, so we thanked them warmly
Day 14 – End of Tour
And thus the band tour ended. We packed our bags and departed from the Hotel Flamenco bound for Vienna. We stopped for a lunch break at the border between Hungary and Austria, called Hegyeshalom, also not far from the border with Slovakia. it seemed quite barren and flat, with very little of interest to be seen, perhaps because we basically just stopped at a fuel station with an attached cafe.
Nevertherless we were still served with a decent meal, and it was here that the committee had decided to present Zoltan, Norbet and the driver with some thank you cards, plaques and tips, and of course thank them profusely for a wonderful tour.
On to Vienna and our hotel, the One Wien-Westbahnhof, right next to one of the main railway stations in Vienna. From here, people had made various arrangements either to make their way home or to continue touring on their own. It had been another wonderful tour to remember. Farewell Hungary, until next time!
See below for a full image gallery of the tour