May 2022: I came to eastern Europe to complete the last countries I have left in Europe. I picked Budapest, Hungary as a starting point. I have wanted to visit Hungary for a long time. Historically it is fascinating with so many layers. The Romans were once in Hungary until being driven out by the barbaric hordes under Atila the Hun. Then there was the Mongol and Ottoman invasions, which have all left their legacies. Then Hungary became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which fought with Germany against western Europe in World War I and then again with Nazi Germany in World WarII. Most recently, Hungary was absorbed into the Eastern Block of communist Soviet Union and remained communist until 1990 when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Now Hungary is a sovereign country and has joined NATO. 

I began my trip In Budapest, where I rented a car and immediately began driving to the small town of Veszprem about 100 miles to the west towards Lake Balaton. My goal was to stay in Veszprem and use it as a base to visit a ruined barracks in nearby Hajmáskér, an abandoned Castle like fortress with a fascinating history, and then continue on exploring the countryside of Hungary until crossing the Danube River in Slovakia, where I will drive along the Slovakian side of the Danube until eventually crossing back into Hungary via Esztergom and finishing in Budapest. I had 2 nights/3 days to do this trip before departing by flight to the Baltics to finish my trip visiting Lithuania and Estonia. 

History of Hajmáskér Barracks

One of my favotie parts of traveling to Eastern Europe is that there are so many old, and abandoned buildings that are accesible to the public. Hungary is no exception to this. After some research of Hungary I doscovered maybe the most interesting abandoned building that I could ever hope to explore-the Hajmáskér Barracks. The barracks were built in the 1800’s by the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph I and were used to house troops and artillery. Later in World War I it was used as a prison, and in World War II as a base by the Nazis. After World War II it was used as a base by the Soviets up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. 

Map showing my route. The Hajmáskér Barracks location is identified by the red pin

The drive from Budapest to Vezprem took me a few hours and was mostly uneventful with the exception of the truck that decided to suddenly drive up dangerously close to my tail when I was on a winding freeway off ramp dangerously close to me while blasting its horn. I think I am an assertive and not overly cautious driver, but I am not reckless and some of the drivers on Hungarian roads I discovered were both impatient and aggressive.  

I arrived in Vezprem late in the day. I stayed in a small inn shaped like a castle with a roadside bar and cafe that seemed to serve mostly truck drivers. I was the only guest in the hotel and after a beer and some local food, I decided to try and get some sleep before driving the short distance of 10 miles to Hajmáskér Barracks at 3am in the morning. The barracks are located in the village of Hajmáskér and I imagined it was probably illegal to enter them, so I wanted to visit them before sunrise to remain more discrete. I knew from my research beforehand that just outside of the barracks are two rows of communist era bloc apartments that are lived in and during day light the residents there could easily report me to the authorities. Besides old, ruined buildings are always more fun in the dark. That is when the ghosts come out. 

Exploring the Ruins of Hajmáskér Barracks

After barely sleeping at night, I set off at 3am walking down the creaky hallway of the inn before walking through the lobby where motion senser lights came on treating me to the ghastly sight of an un-covered naked man sleeping spread eagle on the couch. I didn’t linger and hurried out of there.

The road to Hajmáskér is small, quiet leading through farming fields and old cottages. It wasn’t hard to find the barracks. They were huge and situated just off of the main road in town. I parked a little way away from the barracks to try and keep under the radar and I set off to the main entrance located just below a huge tower. It was 4am and most people in the communist era bloc apartments nearby were sleeping. A fence at the entrance was broken leaving a small entrance into the main structure of the barracks. I entered into a series of dark and creepy corridors. There were lots of graffiti and evidence of vandalism, broken glass, and the building immediately appeared to be crumbling and unstable in areas. I was weary to go into any rooms where I could be cornered. In my experience in eastern Europe, many abandoned buildings become occupied by gypsy people, and I didn’t want to inadvertently stumble across anyone living in the structure. After some looking around with my flashlight, I didn’t find anyone. The building seemed empty with the exception of the cliche black cat that jumped out of the darkness towards me.

I had read that there were Soviet era newspapers discarded on the floor of some rooms among other artifacts and I hoped to find some of these. But for me being alone in such a dark, creepy place, I was more interested in staying alert in case anyone or anything tried to sneak up on me. 

 Hajmáskér Barracks

The barracks are more like a series of towers and 4 story structures that form into a huge rectangle with an open courtyard in the middle. The courtyard has become a wild and tangled overgrown forest with a few footpaths leading through spider webs and thorn bushes transecting the different buildings. The forest is so thick that you can barely see where you are going, and the forest remained pitch dark well after sunrise. For the next few hours, I crawled through windows, carefully climbed crumbling stairwells and through other unstable sections of the barracks. Once the sun came up and I noticed people starting to stir in the apartment buildings nearby, I decided to leave to avoid being noticed and potentially reported to the police. 

The theatre room where movies and live performances were once held

Dark aboding corridors with one room’s entrance spray painted over the entrance -Demons inside

Dark, aboding corridor

Not sure what this building was but it was completely sealed closed so I couldn’t get in. 

Barrack Buildings

Crumbling rooftop

Top floor of one of the buildings

Theatre

View of tower from courtyard

Main tower

Main tower

Barracks with tower view

Driving Across the Hungarian Countryside to Slovakia 

I’ve often thought that the best way to explore a country is to rent a car and hit the rural roads. These are where you find the most surpising and un-visited places. Plus the people in rural areas always tend to be more genuine. I drove across Hungary visiting small cobblestone stone villages, among random hilltop castles. The weather was great, it was Spring timeand the air fresh and frields green. Life was great!

Countryside village home

Hilltop castle

World War I Memorial

Interesting that in Hungary, many small towns had World War I memorial statues usually standing in churchyards but there were no World War II memorials. The reason for this I surmised was because the Hungarian government was an ally of Nazi Germany in World War II and the country is attempting to forget this part of its past.

I also passed signs commemorating World War I battlefields, as well as random communist era looking buildings some industrial others looking like collective farms.

Even though I was on relaced quiet country single lane roads, other drivers would aggresively pass me sometimes or pass other cars in front of me almost pushing me off the road into a tree.

 

Most people I met in in this area of Hungary spoke very little English and I found that when people approached me, they assumed I was Hungarian, and they would start speaking to me in Hungarian.

Crossing the Danube River Into Slavakia

Slovakia was my 2nd new country on the trip. Slovakia, once combined with the Czech Republic during communist times as Czechoslovakia, broke apart after the fall of communist and became its own county. Today there are many old communist buildings compared to what I saw in Hungary. Slovakia also seemed to operate at a slower more relaxed pace and even the drivers were less aggressive. I crossed the Danube River from Hungary into Komárno, Slovakia. While in Slovakia I drove very slowly through the countryside along the banks of Danube stopping frequently to explore villages, hike along the forest, now blooming with flowers in Spring and also to visit random communist era buildings. Eventually I crossed back over into Hungary over the Danube River bridge to Esztergom before heading back to Budapest, where I spent the night. 

Komárno, Slovakia

Old River Fort in Komárno, Slovakia that was never taken not even by the Ottomans

Ruined Communist Era Collective Farm

Old Growth Forest along Danube River

Abandoned factory made of bricks

Danube River

Danube River

Candles, lanterns and gifts were scattered along the banks of the Danube River brought by local people and presented as offerings. 

Huge communist era towers

Esztergom

Budapest

After an exhausting afternoon of driving the rental car from Esztergom to Budapest on single lane busy roads with aggressive tailgating drivers, I finally arrived in Budapest. I purposedly booked a hotel on the outskirts so that I wouldn’t need to drive into the inner city and deal with the madness of trying to find parking. From my hotel I took a taxi to the old city along the banks of the Danube. from there I wandered endlessly exploring the streets of Budapest taking in the sights and sounds of the city. The highlight was the sunset cruise on the Danube River. For only 30$, which included a few cocktails, me and a handful of other tourists traveled down the Danube on a small cruise boat. I had my own couch sofa on the deck from which to enjoy the view of one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in Europe. 

Budapest Parliament Building Along Danube River-simply stunning

Locals Relaxing on the Danube River Bridge

Old Brick Building 

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