We drove a ‘back door’ border crossing into Hungary at Pince because our Slovenian motorway vignette had expired after 7 days, but it was only a short 5 mile journey on a sunny Sunday morning along the backroads from Lendava.
Passing the rusty and barbed wire gate, now rather incongruously standing at the side of the open road, we bounced onto uneven and potholed tarmac.
Border crossings in the European Union, unremarkable now in the absence of checkpoints and bureaucracy, are always of interest concerning the road condition which varies greatly between countries.
After a wobbly start the local road soon smoothed into a newly laid and marked highway, with cycle paths on either side and clear signage banning tractors, scooters and pony-and-trap from its use.
Electricity, telephone and broadband wires swung heavily from communist-era concrete posts which also served as street lighting, and nesting sites for storks.
Low slung and often ramshackle-looking houses lined the one street villages, but peeking behind them revealed long well-kept vegetable gardens and small holdings, stretching out into the arable fields of wheat and barley.
It was a very enjoyable drive to Nagykanizsa, an elegant town baking in midday heat on Pentecost Sunday. It was a holiday weekend in Hungary, which for the first time this year also made Good Friday a national holiday.
In an increasingly secular country this is an interesting move and brings the annual total of bank holidays to eleven. On this, Hungary would seem to be rivalling the French!
Nagykanizsa’s main industry is light bulb manufacture, and we cycled through its industrial outskirts passed the many closed factories. It also has a lively dental tourism industry so we weren’t surprised to see the many private practices lining the grand central square.
Like many of Hungary’s towns it sported striking Secession era (art nouveau) buildings amid baroque and much later utilitarian architecture.
Our overnight stop was at a family campsite outside the town and run by charming Bonita, who spoke to us in German and it was clear the old school phrases were going to have to been dusted off.
Hungary has a long German tradition going back to its decimation by Mongols in the 13th century and gradual re-population by Germans, Italians and Jews. Conquered and partitioned by the Ottoman Turks, it was eventually reunified by the Austrian Hapsburg Empire in 1699 and colonised with… more Germans.
Today’s travellers in Hungary are largely Germanic and Dutch and being English we were immediately a novelty, but were very warmly welcomed.