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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Pitch in Vienna
5th Jun 2006 - 10th Jun 2006
Hungarian men are tougher than I am

I've decided to make my titles more pithy. Let me know how I'm doing.
Keith, being an arty sort, made us go to two art exhibitions in Vienna. One was the museum of architecture; I'm not an expert in the field but a lot of the pictures they had on display of postwar Hungarian architecture looked rather like council estates, which Keith confirmed was true. The other was the museum of Modern Art, which had only two floors open due to an exhibition being prepared but which we could at least visit for a discount price. One of the floors had mostly bits of household rubbish stuck onto boards and mounted onto the walls, and the other had photos and videos of people covered in blood and animal innards masturbating.

For Keith's final evening with us we'd arranged to meet Mike Bailey. I'd like to casually introduce him as "a friend of mine who lives in Vienna" but actually I haven't seen him since we both graduated from the same university so, in the words of Ford Prefect, he's just this guy, you know? But, crucially, this guy has lived in Vienna for several years. Mike generously used his Vienna insider knowledge to take us to a bar whose staff didn't know any German and which only had menus in English, and then introduce us to one of his local Vienese friends, who turned out to be a British ex-pat. Actually we had a rather jolly evening, and I'll be delighted to entertain him if he arrives in Seattle looking for an authentic ex-pat night out.

One great highlight of the evening was getting rid of my brother Keith, who left on the 23:30 sleeper without his trousers. I believe he was wearing a spare pair.

The following morning (I forget which days are which), we departed Vienna for Slovakia. Back in 2003, myself and a chap named Andy Arden headed south in November to climb the highest mountain in Poland. To cut a long story short, we spent a week trying and then gave up and went home. Not one to leave unfinished business, I returned in July 2004 with the great majority of my family (Andy was busy at home making his own family), reassured by the fact that in summer the climb was a simple afternoon walk. After three hours of pissing rain on that particular afternoon, the family expedition also gave up. Now Rysy actually lies exactly on the border between Poland and Slovakia, so having had the Polish side defeat me more times than was strictly necessary, I thought the Slovakian side might open up some fine opportunities for summit-bagging.

All this found Kiki and myself standing at the bottom of the Slovakian side of Rysy yesterday morning, wondering how on earth there could be so much snow on the top in June. There are actually two huts on the way up on the Slovak side - one near the bottom, and one near the top - and we were immensely reassured to discover that they were both open. I can tell you now that the lower hut serves a splendid Goulash, and that the upper hut is manned only by crazed snow-monsters. The climb was certainly doable but the only people we saw ahead of us turned around, and eventually at around 1950m we gave up too. Kiki had fallen in one too many deep portions of snow and my offer of an ice axe was met with an appropriately chilly response. Had we been actually staying in the higher hut, Chata Pod Rysmi, I suspect we'd have pressed on but as it was we had to get all the way back to the bottom to collect the car and the weather was steadily getting worse. The locals protested that they'd never seen quite this much snow in June, which made me wonder for a brief second whether perhaps there was some sort of deity looking down on us who'd popped "stop Chris Rae climbing Rysy" high on his list of objectives. Only a brief second.

The campsite we were staying at, near Poprad, had a rather curious poster boasting "The smallest mountains in Europe!", no doubt created just to humble me further. It also had a rather tatty hotel which had apparently been damaged badly by storms in 2003, along with a lot of the rest of the campsite. These storms must have been quite something - all around the area were completely uprooted trees and flattened areas of vegetation, even now. They appeared to be in the proces of burning a lot of the uprooted tree stumps but the devastation was still extraordinary. It reminded me a great deal of photographs I'd seen of the Tanguska Event (oh for the Internet, to check the name of the thing) where it's thought than an asteriod exploded in mid-air above a largely uninhabited area of Russia in the 19th century (check century on Google, someone) and caused utter devastation of an area around the size of, erm, Wales or something. Or maybe Ealing. Either way, this campsite will for me hold the tender memory of being the first place that Kiki had a go at driving the car. Apart fro reversing and a brief confusion about which ones the accelerator and brake were, it all went rather well. If it were America, she'd have her licence.

Slovakian roads are unlikely to be envied by any other country in Europe. The Hungarians make a point of showing how much richer they are than the Slovakians by sticking a great big new shiny bit of tarmac right on their side of the Slovakian border. No doubt they sit at the border control giggling at the tourists zooming off the Hungarian super-highway onto the Slovakian pothole-fest. The Slovakians retain a certain sense of aloof dignity by allowing the men on their pedestrian crossing signs to wear a rather fetching trilby.

We're in Hungary to meet Joana, my sister, who's joining us in Budapest for the next section of our trip. Where this goes is rather up in the air - we were hoping to head to Romania and then south through Bulgarian or perhaps Serbia, but a last-minute check of the car insurance reveals that pretty much anything in that direction is completely out of the question, so we are now thinking of heading to Venice and getting the overnight ferry to Patra, in the Peloponese south of Athens. Watch this space, I suppose, thought you'll probably find out a week late.

Shortly after arriving in Hungary we discovered that we're actually within spitting distance (depending on your physiology) of Kekes, the highest mountain in Hungary. It's not really all that high, there's a road all the way to the top of it and a millitary installation right on top. We drove up the road, hiked up the rest and took the obligatory summit photographs. Fortunately it was raining as we got out of the car, so at least we were wearing our waterproofs to make it look marginally more difficult.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The Hungarian men. Whilst standing outside the caravan in my waterproofs pondering how rainy and cold it still was, four teenage Hungarian gentlemen raced past me towards the showers wearing just their underpants. I did my best impression of a one-man round of applause, and they shouted something back to me in Hungarian. I like to imagine it was something akin to "woohoo!" but I'm not entirely sure.

Next: Book Review: Lolita (Vladimiar Nabokov)
Previous: Mozart in Salzburg, The Ice Cave, Toilet blocks, Boating, Buggying and Drautal Flitzer

Diary Photos

Pitch in Vienna

Slovakian town

Pitch in Slovakia

Sign shortage in Slovakia

Rysy just off shot to the right

Kiki`s summer holiday

Rysy, and the third-time defeated

Kiki driving


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