Hungary: Exploring a Hidden Ship Cemetery

In Hungary, Travel Guides
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Getaway from Budapest: Ship Cemetery

The heat inside Budapest was mercilessly rising, burning up the turn-of-the-century, darkened houses and bleaching out the scarce shadows from bent trees. And the idea to combine the shelter hunt and curiosity came as we had a conversation with an old sailor. As he was telling us about the golden days of the Danubian river fleet, he mentioned the place where the disposed ships live out their days. “It is a hidden lagoon on Danube, where some of the cargo ships from the socialist times are kept” – the sailor closed an album with the sketches and photos from the history of Hungarian fleet. With my boyfriend we did a research and found the little town, situated only one hour from Budapest by train which served as the keep for the iron creatures. On Google Earth one can see some images of what turned out to be a ship cemetery.

Satellite image of the ship cemetery

Satellite image of the ship cemetery

 

Getting there

The easiest way to get to the place is to take a train Budapest-Szob from a Nyugati railway station, which takes about an hour. The connection between the two stations is very good – trains leave in this direction every hour until 11 p.m. Here you will find a railway timetable. It is also a good idea to take a bike for this trip, since the lagoon has several small peninsulas to discover and has bikeable roads.  Szob – a tidy little town at the Danube bank with the historic downtown organised around the town hall with a clock tower, church and the two pubs. It won’t take longer than 15 minutes to circle it around and find a ferry across the river, which brings rare visitors to the lagoon that belongs to the town Pilismarot. The ferry operates every hour and so we waited for the next one at an open air pub near the river, listening to the stories about legendarily huge pike fish, inhabiting these waters. As soon as we crossed the river, we found the first ships hidden behind the trees in a small bay of the lagoon. It is a good idea to save a map of this area or to use a GPS in order to find the places.

Crossing the river by ferry

Crossing the river by ferry

Steam-punk romance and an old sailor

We decided to bike around the lagoon to find a larger keep, which was visible on satellite images above. After some time of wandering around, we did find a bay with many rusty ships floating in the still waters. This encounter had even stronger steam-punk aesthetics, than one would expect. The anchors torn out of the root were spread around the shore, pieces of iron masts sticking out of the water and some dozen old cargo ships standing still. We came closer and heard classical music sounding from a cabin on one of the ships. There was an old man sitting in a sailor shirt. We came to the river bank and said hello to him across the channel, asking him to let us come over to the ship and look around. He shook his head. Then we asked whether he would like to tell us a story of these ships and his job. It turned out that he’s been guarding the ships for already 20 years, since the change of the socialist system. The ships were designed in the 60s – some of them for shipping cargo, others – to clean river bottoms. However, as it often happened with socialist enterprises, the rush with technological innovation did not prove to be efficient for intended purposes. Thus, in 20 years, the ships appeared to be useless.  The keeper went on and on about the ancient Sumerian roots of Hungarians, as his only pets – a family of quite aggressive swans – circled between us. Even though he admitted that his job is quite romantic and that the little cabin where he lives is equipped better than any hotel whatsoever, he was definitely bored there in a solitary confinement of the ships’ last refuge.

Meeting the guardian of the cemetery

Meeting the guardian of the cemetery

Huge anchor at the shore

Huge anchor at the shore

The sailor takes care of the family of swans

The sailor takes care of the family of swans

Pastoral view of the cemetery

Pastoral view of the cemetery

 

 

Continuing the trip: bike road along the Danube

The colours and shapes of the cemetery resembled the mood of the 1995 movie Waterworld, with bitter-brown rusty shapes sticking out of the vast waters. We looked around for half an hour or so and then left to see the other parts of the lagoon. Small sandy beaches and nobody around, apart from swallows and those aforementioned legendarily big fishes. The river was cool and fresh and gave us energies to continue the trip. We took a ferry back to Szob and found a bike road through the forest along the Danube which goes through the neighboring towns of Zebegeny and Nagymaros, from which we could also take a train to Budapest. Nagymaros is a small town at the Danube bank with narrow cobbled streets. From there it is easy to get another ferry and go to Visegrad to visit an impressive medieval castle at the hill top or stay and relax in a famous patisserie “Edeske Aliz Cukrasz Muhelye” at the street Dózsa György 21.  The evening was approaching –  so we decided to have dinner at a restaurant “Maros Étterem” (address Béla király sétány 1) with a wonderful view on Danube and a summer terrace, where among other things they serve a wonderful traditional Hungarian fish soup with paprika from the local river fishes for a decent price. They serve this dish in a small cauldron with fresh bread. It is possible to have a full dinner for under 3000 HUF (apx. 10 euros) per person.

View of the Danube

View of the Danube

Submerged trees as seen from the bike road along the Danube

Submerged trees as seen from the bike road along the Danube

What to do in the Danube bend region

Depending on your time limits, you can either stay at one of these two towns (Nagymaros or Visegrad) and spend a next day hiking around the hills overlooking an impressive Danube bend or return to Budapest. In the local tourism office you can get a tourist map of hiking trails or spend time on the tiny beaches of the Danube. Another option – is to rent a kayak at Nagymaros for a river excursion. (For instance, you can rent them at “BTZ kajak kenu csónak kölcsönző” Nagymaros, Váci út. 49). These destinations are not well known among tourists, who come to visit Hungary, but remain in the capital for most of the time. But it is the rural Hungary, that has the charm of the Danube, the Tisza, the hills and great plains, something that can be a unique experience for explorers and hunters for curiosities.

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