12 Hungary, Slovakia

HUNGARY September 1999

After suffering the Slavic languages, Hungarian seemed to be even worse. However, after the deadpan Slavic people, the Hungarians seemed to react more spontaneously. The last Soviet troops had left Hungary in 1991 but the economy had been liberalised under socialism long before. From the border there were many advertisements and modern buildings.

Szepasszonyvolgy, which means “The valley of the beautiful women” lies outside the historic town of Eger, where wine cellars have been dug into the hills. We tasted some awful stuff in some of the caves. Eventually found the famous “Bull’s blood” (Egri Bikaver) worthy of it’s fame. Nearby we admired the beautiful thoroughbreds on the Lippizaner studfarm.


The Great Plain of Hungary has the lore of the shepherds and their unique animals: nonius horses, long horned grey cattle and racka sheep. We spent two days on a prairie farm where they put on a spectacular horse show for tourists. One rider was standing on two horses and holding three more in front on long reigns, i.e. ‘riding’ five horses simultaneously at full gallop!The tourist facilities around the large Lake Balaton are well developed and attract thousands of holidaymakers in summer. We joined 300+ German motorhomes in a campsite next to Thermal Lake Gyogy-to. This five-hectare lake has a spring that disgorges 80 million litres of water a day at 33oC. . Then it was blissful total immersion for hours.

In Budapest we parked at Romai Camping with swimming pool and washing machines. It also had trashcans. Garbage disposal is a problem for the traveller. In undeveloped areas there aren’t any dustbins. In sophisticated towns you need a training course to learn what goes into which container.

It was nice to be able to talk to people again. We met two Americans who had cycled half the world and 4 British women in two campers. A French couple invited us for some port. They were in a new Peugeot panel van. The elegant yellow boudoir inside had a large ornate mirror flanked by long candlesticks.

We went into the city by riverboat and by train. Budapest straddles a curve of the Danube River. Buda is the hilly part with the castle and other medieval palaces and churches. Across the river is Pest with the magnificent parliament building, state opera and the commercial development. The Internet café we used had 35 brand new computers. The pedestrian areas pass many restaurants and souvenir shops with colourful embroidery and suede-like cloth made from mushrooms! We entered an attractive restaurant and ordered ghulash soup and paprika chicken; then we noticed the place was called “Fatal”! We survived to enjoy the evening. At night the spires and domes are illuminated and the bridges are garlands of lights reflected in the river.

At a museum there was a fascinating exhibition called: “Sound”. One could hear the sounds of Edison’s and Bell’s sound apparatus as you approached the display. One could, at the touch of a button, listen to the voices of actors and singers of the past, or hear extracts from historic speeches. In the evening we attended an excellent folk dancing concert where especially the boot-slapping men showed off their talent.

Szentendre, just north of Budapest was our last stop in Hungary. It is a quaint artists’ colony on the Danube Bend. The narrow streets with art galleries, handicraft shops and street cafes attract lots of visitors. We went to the most delightful Kovacs gallery of ceramic art. (We unfortunately missed the Hungarian Impressionist gallery and the marzipan museum).


Europe’s youngest country emerged in 1993 from 74 years of junior partnership in Czechoslovakia. Bratislava, the capital, on the Danube, has an attractive historic centre with pedestrian streets. In the museum of wine production in the old town hall, we saw displays of our favourite Slovakian drink: Hubert champagne. The Internet place was in the 19th Century National Museum building which also has a charming Old Vienna style coffee shop.

The campsite was on the lake and we shared our “braai” with an Ozzy backpacker.We found an “Auto sklo”(auto glass) firm, run from a pub, and Jan could fit new front windows.

The 27-km long granite massif of the Tatra Mountains has many peaks over 2500 metres. A day’s hike along a stream with waterfalls was enjoyable. It was high tourist season but the good tourist infrastructure seemed to cope with the thousands in hiking gear. The area is also popular for skiing but we heard that queues at ski lifts are long and that equipment is not of the best standard.

We drove through Austria in a day and stocked up with food in Czech for our planned stay in more expensive Germany.

Dipli “used up” another hub drive flange just before the Czech/Germany border.

GERMANY (again) Sep/Oct. 1999

We were in the eastern part of Germany, which used to be the DDR. (We remembered how we had once driven into East Berlin with our small Citroen. There were many security checks by armed Russian soldiers and we had been rather apprehensive then.) Now the Eastern part was catching up fast with Western Germany, but still has a long way to go to overcome the mind-set of two generations under Communist rule.

Before the “business only” phase, we went to Dresden, on the Elbe river.

It had been destroyed by Anglo-American air raids on 13 Feb. 1945. 700 000 bombs were dropped. 18 million cubic meters of rubble had to be removed. Over 100 000 people died in that one night. (More than in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki). It took 14 days to reduce the bodies to ash. Many of the Baroque buildings, like the splendid Zwinger pavilion, have been rebuilt.

The large Protestant church and castle are under reconstruction for the city’s 800th birthday in 2006. In the Gruenes Gewoelbe we saw the most amazing collection of treasures gathered by the sovereigns of Saxony. There is a display of marvels worked by watchmakers, gold and silversmiths and especially jewellers. Many beautiful objects encrusted with pearls, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and made from quartz crystal, jasper, agate, ivory and fine porcelain. (We think it is even better than the Habsburg collection in Vienna’s Neuburg).

New axles

Jan had replaced 7 rear hub drive flanges, 10 rear and 3 front side shafts & swivel balls in 57 000 km. For future travel it was therefore essential that the axles be strengthened. At the Sahara club meeting in June, Jan had seen a Robur truck. So we headed for the factory in Zittau, 100km East of Dresden on the Polish border in the corner with Czech.

The design engineer listened to Dipli’s story and agreed that the axle conversion would be possible in principle. For two full days he and Jan studied drawings and measurements and considered possibilities. They eventually decided on a combination. The axles can carry 2400kg in front; (with a 2x safety factor;) and at the rear 3100kg, (with a 3x safety factor). The design load is thus exactly matched to Dipli’s gross mass of 5500kg; but with at least a double safety margin! It would mean changing 16” to 20” rims & tyres. Wheel radius 50mm bigger; so also the diff height. Front suspension would thus require modification but all spring positions will remain the same. Mounting points on axles would alter. The LR steering linkage will remain, but Robur track rod mountings would have to be modified to attach the drag link. The Robur brake system is a dual circuit, which brakes the front and rear independently. To retain the double controls (for Dipli to be both LHD & RHD), Jan has to make a mechanical interface between the two Landrover brake master cylinder hydraulic circuits and the Robur master cylinder/booster unit. The prop shafts would also be special interface units. The LR has 6 grease points; but will now have 18!

The Robur factory was making 10 000 trucks a year when Germany was unified. The West German auditors had commanded the closure of the factory (to favour Mercedes?) and the work force was reduced from 3 000 to 15. They now manufacture and assemble only spares for the many vehicles still on the road in Eastern Europe and Russia.

We parked on the factory premises for almost three weeks. Jan watched the full assembly and dismantling procedures for the axles and noted what special tools were needed. From the Parts & Workshop Manuals obtained, he then compiled the spare parts list. The engineer said that in 30 years at Robur he had never seen a broken side shaft (but we still took two!) Fortunately L could walk, up to 6km each day, to Internet café and shops. Nothing in English to read anywhere. It was a major headache to work out how to get the new 700kg load to the, as yet, unknown port. Eventually the complete axles (in 3 sections each) and all the other parts could be fitted inside the Camper or on top. Dipli looked like a 6-funnelled steamer with the large rims on the roof! (And felt as cumbersome too; now being over 6000kg).We were carefully heading towards Rotterdam, 1000km away. Fortunately smooth Autobahn. Suddenly we decided to turn North to Bremerhaven. It was Saturday afternoon, near Hannover and we thought we would briefly say “Hi” to the parents of our friend, Bernd in SA. Before we knew it, we were parked in the driveway and received such kind, warm hospitality from a lovely couple. Their charming daughter and friend added to the delightful company. We attended a typical rural pumpkin festival and a stallion parade (which had up to13-horse carriage teams).

In the renaissance town of Celle they took us to a beer pub with great atmosphere. We enjoyed long glasses of draft beer and pear schnapps in little stemmed glasses with lids.

We had to tear ourselves away from the cotton wool to drive to the cold and windy unknown of Bremerhaven. Unusual for harbours, we could easily drive into the port area. Shipping agent offices were surrounded by millions of parked new cars arriving and going; by roll-on roll-off ferry. (The reason why we came here). We soon realised that there were many agents for few shipping lines. Yet there were rates to compare. In between there was major repacking in our motorhome to hide the valuable and irreplaceables from possible theft, to select the luggage for air travel, to identify and label each spare part and to start compiling the photo albums.

We had easy parking near the Internet café and Karstad department store. Twice a week there was a fresh produce street market on our doorstep. We searched for a ‘bargain basement’ flight to Johannesburg, which would synchronise with a constantly changing shipping schedule, once we had found a suitable ferry to Durban. Shipping rates varied greatly; the cheapest RoRo rate was 40% less than the highest container flat rack rate and a whole range in between.

We packed the most valuable items in secret compartments and Jan barricaded Dipli with sand ladders over the windows and between the cab and rear. The keys had to remain in the ignition when we handed the vehicle over on the quay.

Our friends came to fetch us from Bremerhaven and took us to Hannover airport the next day.

Our daughters welcomed us and soon laid on a braai. Wonderful reunion with friends soon after.

The ship took 30 days from Bremerhaven to Durban. The clearing agent was slow to start the paper work and we had to wait two days in Durban to get the vehicle. Only the spotlights were missing. Fortunately no problems with customs. The batteries were flat, as the starting instructions, which Jan had carefully posted on the dash board had been disregarded.

The grossly overloaded Dipli made it back to Randburg and was soon in the operating theatre for the double axle transplant operation.

Back to 0 Contents