A long hiatus, and a cave

Pál-völgyi Cave
Dripstone formations in Pál-völgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary. January 28, 2014.

It’s been a long time since I posted—during that time I made some pretty huge life changes, including moving from Colorado to Oregon and applying to graduate school (again)—and I haven’t had a lot of chances to get outdoors or do much photography. But I’m back now, with some not very good camera-phone photos of Pál-völgyi Cave outside Budapest in Hungary, and hopefully I’ll get back into the habit of posting—and finish that Iceland travelogue eventually….

For various reasons, my trip to Budapest was a strange one for me. Although I took my SLR and a point-and-shoot, I mostly used my phone camera, and I can’t say I took any stunning photos—but I had a great time, and they’re certainly good enough for memories.

Most of the trip I spent in the city itself, where pretty much the only wildlife I saw in a rather chilly January was pigeons, but one day a friend and I went to Pál-völgyi Cave (more information in English) at 1025 Budapest, Szépvölgyi út 162, one of the easiest caves to get to from the city, and also the largest in Budapest. It’s part of Duna-Ipoly National Park, one of the most diverse national parks in Hungary. The cave itself stretches over 29 kilometers, and many of the chambers are actually underneath the residential districts of Budapest. The cave is open from 10 a.m. – 4.15 p.m. every day except on Monday, and later in summer. Regular tours start quarter past. Full price tickets cost 1300 forint (~$6 US) per person.

After a short metro and bus ride from the city center, we stopped briefly to warm up and buy tickets for the ~1 hour guided tour through the developed part of the cave, which is relatively easy aside from a bit in the middle involving a ladder and some very steep stairs. This is not a wheelchair-accessible tour, and I’d think twice if you have knee problems.

Outside Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

On the bright side, the temperature in the cave stays about 10 ºC year-round, so in January it was actually an improvement over outside! However, if you want to do the longer, crawling tour through the non-developed part of the cave, I’d probably do it in warmer weather to avoid getting chilled when you emerge.

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

The cave complex is large and labyrinthine, mostly full of dripstone from the thermal waters which formed parts of it, as well as Budapest’s famous thermal baths. It was discovered in 1904 by a farmer looking for a lost sheep, which had fallen into a cave-in. Exploration followed, with some passages opened up with dynamite, and during World War II, the cave was used as an air raid shelter, resulting in damage to many of the formations.

Over 13 kilometers of the cave have been surveyed, and it hosts a population of bats, which were hibernating deeper in the cave when we visited.

Many of the cave formations had been given names, for example a “scorpion” and a “crocodile”:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

This was the first limestone cave I’ve been in—I had never seen stalactites or stalagmites before!

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

Peeking into a narrow crevice:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

I have to confess I paid less attention to the very knowledgeable guide than I should have because I was too busy gawking, but I think these large dents represented gas bubbles of some kind:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

Aragonite crystals, I think:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

Looking up some of the steep stairs midway through:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

And down…

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

But the 500 meters of the short tour is quite developed and artificially lit:

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

Many parts of the cave are wet, and dripstone is still forming. It’s important not to touch the walls, as this can interfere with the process.

Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

And as a lovely bonus, there are fossils, including clams and a sea urchin which I think the guide said was 40 million years old:

Fossil clams

Fossil sea urchin

Of course, I couldn’t leave without petting the adorable cat in the little coffee stand attached to the ticket office:

A cafe cat at Pálvölgyi Cave, Budapest, Hungary

The rest of my photos are up on Flickr, and I’d definitely like to go back someday with a better camera, as well as go back and do the longer tour (probably not at the same time).

Next, I’ll post some photos from the Hungarian Natural History Museum, one of the nicest natural history museums I’ve been to, and then I can say I have if not finished a travelogue for once, at least finished the natural-history-related part of one!

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