We didn’t spend much time in Hungary as it turned out, which meant that we didn’t have any local money – which turned out to be Forints. This only became a problem as we navigated our way towards the border with Romania. In keeping with our habit of following relatively minor roads we’d found a small route that took us over one of the only river crossings for miles around. Approaching the crossing we found it was a ferry, rather than a bridge, and the list of charges was pasted up on a notice – all costs expressed in Hungarian Forints. Peering out at the ferry, which was half way over the broad, quiet river we could see a couple of decidedly rustic looking coves piloting it. Neither looked like the sort of chap who’d have a credit card machine in his back pocket, and the chances of them taking Euros were, we judged, slim at best. Executing a flawless three-point turn (we’d had more than our fair share of practice over the past couple of months, thanks to the satnav and its taste for unreliable narratives) we went off in search of an ATM. The closest turned out to be no more than a couple of km away and the bank, which was hidden away off the main road, looked as if it was really someone’s front room in a semi-detached bungalow. Despite that, it coughed up a few thousand Forints when we asked for them and clutching our new found wealth we returned to the ferry place. Kate wisely suggested breaking down one of the 1,000 Forint notes in case the ferry blokes didn’t have enough change to cope with such a large denomination. We managed this by ordering a couple of coffees and a Bounty bar in a tiny roadside cafe that was hosting three generations of a small family. Lacking Hungarian language skills, we resorted to inarticulate Brit abroad mode and engaged in some pointing while saying the English word for what we wanted v e r y s l o w l y as if we were talking to a 2 year old simpleton. The cafe woman responded in the traditional way for foreigners when presented with such a buffoon like approach and served us deftly but with a faintly disapproving frown. Money changed hands and we gained a vast amount of Forint-y change handed over with a more marked air of disapproval. Our punishment was underlined as she nuked up two tiny cups of intensely bitter coffee like stuff in the microwave, before offering us a squeeze of her aerosol cream dispenser if we required white coffee. Shuddering perceptibly we turned down this option before scuttling outside, away from the fascinated multi-generational audience and the forbidding crone behind the bar.
Coffee over, we got back on the road and returned to the ferry site. A quick scan of the wording on the STOP sign failed to come up with any sense so we waited for the return of the ferry with our usual sense of blind optimism.
The ferry itself turned out to be a sort of floating platform with a small wheelhouse on one side and some home made looking ramps that were raised and lowered by one of the ferrymen with the help of a reassuringly large steering wheel sort of device. Grinning, he beckoned us on to his raft. We inched forward cautiously until we were in what we judged to be the middle of what was by now looking more and more like a motorised barn door. Ferryman 2 raised the ramp we’d just used while No 1 gave the engine a brief rev. Raft, van, selves and ferrymen began a majestic slow drift across the silent and oddly still river. With a bit of luck the film clip below might work…
After a few seconds of engine, ferryman 1, with a commendable sense of fuel conservation, turned everything off, allowing us to continue drifting across the river. His junior partner wandered over from his wheel-twirling duties to ask for our fare, which turned out to be 820 Forints. Luckily we had the right change by now so we regained our average standing with Hungarian retailers by handing over precisely the right number of Forints. Number 2 beamed appreciatively, pocketed the dosh and drifted off in the same lackadaisical way as the raft to stand by his twirling wheel, ready to lower the ramps on docking. With a barely noticeable bump the raft nuzzled up against the far bank. Round went the big wheel, down creaked the ramps and off we slowly drove.
That evening’s campsite turned out to be closed, so we spent a grumpy night parked up at the side of the road about 5 km south of the border with Ukraine. Things swiftly took a turn for the better once we’d left our lay-by and found an open campsite no more than 30 km distant. The Babou Maramures campsite was an absolute gem – on the edge of a remote and totally traditional Romanian village, it was run by a couple from the Netherlands who chose to live out here rather than at home. The only other people staying there turned out to be a British couple, Pete and Celia – who Kate knew well from her time at Hereford College of Art. This was an almost infinitely improbable meeting but we didn’t let that get in the way of having a long and mightily enjoyable evening together before they resumed their journey back to Kinnersley in the depths of Herefordshire. As for us, the rural idyll we found ourselves in and the persistently and outstandingly good weather convinced us between them to take the next day off and go nowhere. We’ll resume our travels at the weekend.