22nd-25th June. Bratislava to Budapest

We waved goodbye to Eliska and departed from the marina  Bratislava bright(?) and early.

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Saying goodbye in Bratislava

Our destination was Komarno, about 100km and one lock away. The Gabcikovo lock is at the end of a long canal section after a lake and as mentioned before, can be difficult in the wrong wind conditions. However, on this particular day, there was not a breath of wind and we made it to the lock by around 11am (brilliant planning -Cy). The lake and canal section prior to the lock are not the most exciting, but in the sunshine and calm water, it was pleasant enough.

The lock is larger again than the ones we had been through, but the lights indicating which chamber to use were clear, so we headed for the left hand chamber and made fast in the waiting area.

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Approach to Gabcikovo lock

I called the lock on the radio and was advised that it would be around a 45 minute wait. During this time, a large vessel came into range on the AIS, so we knew we would have to wait for that to arrive. However, to our surprise the gates opened and the lights went green before she arrived; the large vessels are (nearly) always let in first. But a green light is a green light, so in we went. We soon discovered the reason for being allowed in first. A Slovakian official appeared on the lock side to check our documentation. He certainly looked the part, with aviator sunglasses, a crisp white shirt with epaulettes and moustache. He scrutinised and photographed relevant paperwork in a very official and unsmiling fashion. There was then a bit of confusion as he repeatedly explained to us, in German, that we were on a canal section of the Danube and advised us of the VHF channel and emergency phone number. It took quite a while for us to grasp this. It was a bit odd as we were close to the end of the canal and had already used the correct channel to contact the lock. We dutifully nodded sagely and thanked him for the information. By the time this was done, the pushtow was on its approach.

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Pushtow coming into the lock next to us -gulp!

We were both a little nervous at the prospect of it coming into the lock alongside us, but we needn’t have worried. The lock is 30m wide and the barge glided in effortlessly and parked on the other side. No mean feet with all that momentum and the skipper driving from the little wheelhouse at the back!

We left the lock just after 1pm, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful but hot. We pulled into the harbour at Komarno just after 5 and headed to the yacht club. This is right at the far end of the harbour, past the commercial section which still has shipyards for building and repairs. We noticed a small marina and fuel dock much closer to the entrance and decided to top up with diesel on the way out in the morning.

We eventually got going the next day at around 11:30, after doing a shop at Tesco. I had no idea that Tesco have a presence in Slovakia but it was a good sized store so we were able to get what we needed.

The fuel dock spotted the previous day was deserted when we tied to it, so I walked up to the yard to investigate. Cy seems to disappear at moments like these and find “very important jobs that must be done right now…”. Eventually I found someone who explained that we would need to wait while he called his boss. About 10 minutes later, the boss arrived. He was a young guy called Adrian and we chatted for a while. He had spent a couple of years living in Dublin before returning to the family business. He explained his plans to extend the marina facility over the next couple of years, after refuelling, we wished him luck in his venture and departed.

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Adrian at the fuel dock

It took us about four hours to reach our next port of call, Esztergom in Hungary. It is an impressive place to approach as the Basilica stands high over the Danube, the weather was hot and sunny as usual and we were afforded a spectacular view.

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Arriving at Esztergom

It was also quite breezy which made the manoeuvre into the narrow harbour entrance a bit tricky, but as usual, Cy did an excellent job. It was just as well I had phoned ahead, otherwise with the width of Doris, I suspect we would have been turned away. As it was, Atilla, harbourmaster-extraordinaire , managed to accommodate us.

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The restaurant attached to the marina is clearly a popular spot and there were boats coming and going all the time. Somehow or other, space was made for everyone. Our initial plan was to stay for one night, but after a brief foray to town to get cash (we drank our 1st beer before realising we would need Forints, not the Euros we had!) we decided to ask if it was possible to stay for two instead. Being the weekend, there were lots of boats expected and Doris was in the way a bit, however, after a bit of a think and shuffle around of boats, Atilla agreed to us staying on. It was a lovely gesture as he had to shuffle boats (including ours while we were out) all weekend long to make his previous bookings work around us.

The restaurant served fantastic looking burgers, including a veggie one, so we splashed out and ate there. After such a treat, it seemed a good idea to walk it off, so a stroll along the riverbank was in order. There was a small festival going on nearby so we lurked outside the fence for a while enjoying the music. It had been another good day.

The daytime temperatures have been steadily getter hotter, so an early start the following morning seemed like the best option for climbing up to the Basilica. It was marvellous and well worth the early start. We arrived at the Basilica at 8am, just as it opened, well before any other visitors.

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Esztergom Basilica

At one time, Esztergom was the capital of Hungary and the Basilica contains important relics, also the stories of some of the more recent martyrs were a sobering reminder of more recent historical events. After the Basilica, we walked around the surrounding area and viewpoints although it was already becoming hotter and busier.

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Enjoying the view

We noticed that the castle had an open air theatre and that there was a production in the evening of ‘The Little Prince’. An interesting, if incomprehensible, cultural experience maybe?

After the Basilica, we climbed a hill opposite to check out a much smaller church, but the temperature was starting to beat us, so we scuttled back to Doris and the shade of the harbour. The afternoon soon vanished and the evening arrived. Emboldened by a couple of beers, we decided to go to the theatre after all. What we hadn’t grasped from the poster that it was a production by a local scout group, so we were the only members of the audience not related to one of the performers. To be fair, it wasn’t bad, but not good enough to stop us legging it during the interval!

Sunday 25th arrived and we were heading from Esztergom to Budapest. We had spent a week in Budapest in 2011 and were very much looking forward to seeing the city again. First we had to get out of Esztergom and turn around in the narrow channel. We were at the end of the pontoon which was the easiest place for us to get out from, however, there was a large vessel parked stern-to on the end so Cy had to swing out and round that first. After a nice chat with the Slovakian owner of the boat who gave us a couple of cans of beer for our journey, we prepared to leave. Our departure drew quite a crowd and all the guys looked suitably impressed as Cy left the pontoon sideways, reversed past the Slovakian boat and turned around. Easy!

We passed the fortress on the hill at Visegrad during the course of the morning, which we had visited on our trip in 2011, and arrived into the Wiking Yacht Club, Budapest at around 2pm. As the water levels are so low at the moment, we ran aground trying to get into the main part of the marina and had to tie up on an outer dock instead. This was fine, but quite susceptible to movement from passing boats, which is preferable to getting stuck! All of the to-ing and fro-ing took a while, so it was early evening before we headed out. Budapest has a brilliant public transport system with metro, trams and buses, all very well connected and lots of good information to help you navigate it.

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Armed with our 24 hour passes, we decided to check out a couple of spots we remembered from our previous visit. We were delighted to see our favourite cafe had not changed and were able to relocate the building with the apartment where we had stayed.

Trams had been suspended over the Liberty Bridge as there was a bridge festival going on, so we wandered through and headed to the other side of town.

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On Liberty Bridge

From here we made our way towards Heroes Square, which looked spectacular in the drizzly twilight.

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Heroes Square

A bit of a mooch around the park and past the archaeological museum led to an important discovery for us. We had frequently heard animal noises at night, which we had assumed were a type of bird, however, in the moat around the museum, we could just make out several frogs sitting on lily pads shouting. Mystery solved. By this time, it was getting late and as we were a bit dubious about being able to get back into the boatyard, we decided to call it a night.

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