Hungary

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I drove straight to Budapest from Hallstatt.  It was a 5 hour drive, and I saw some pretty country, especially on the Austrian side.  Once I hit Hungary it seemed all the trees had been cut down and everything looked rather trashed and dismal.

My notes to myself – not for public consumption:   I must come back again and again because my teeth and roots are being reabsorbed into bone and aren’t taren’t coming out when he extracts teeth so hes’ not sure whether he can put an implant in or whether it will be infected = turns out he couldn’t get enough bone in the very back to put in an implant, which is not that surprising given that the tooth had been a deceased and infected for years before it finally broke and I had it pulled.  So I had continued to lose bone over time and had been watching the tooth per the past 5 years ofr so -in any case, it’s been really cold in Budapest, and rainy for the first 3 days I was here.  I scored two more parking tickets as well.   Before my Friday appointment I drove to Vacs for the day, a lovely medieval city on the bend of the Danube where it turns from east-west to north-south.  I walked through the old square and streets, strolled along the mighty river, and came upon a lovely museum which displayed the history of the city and of the crypt that was discovered below the house when renovations were carried out in the 1990s.

I drove directly to my appointment after going to the Citroen dealer to get the replacement part (engine cover), which they miraculously had.  I was late, and parked near the Mercur Hotel, suspecting that I’d either get a ticket or worse get my car booted again.   I lucked out with only the former. Dr. Windisch extracted the tooth as planned, but said that there wasn’t enough bone and that the tissue mix was such that he wanted to wait till May to put in an implant.  Afterwards I limped to Tim’s by car, and exhausted, after getting the keys and depositing my clothes in the wash, did house chores, heading to bed relatively early at 10pm.  Next day I headed to Vacs (see above), on the way back to Buda Castle, closed but enjoyed the sunset thinking of going to Normafa but ran out of time – then headed to dentist’s again and then to Tim’s.  My cheek got really injured being pulled on by instrument, so when tooth extracted I had a wound.  Then 2 days later he drilled to find a spot to put implant in back but bone wasn’t strong enough, and he perforated sinus cavity.  Because of scleroderma he stopped and called it a day.  He said we could do a candaliever bridge on 2 teeth extending to the first molar behind, but not the second.  He was sorry

Because I had to be out of the flat by 8:30am Friday am because Tim had friends coming, I decided after dropping my things at his girlfriend’s place (Naz – Turkish), I headed to Vacs afterwards, arriving around 11:30 am (see above).   Saturday Esztergom – got a late start to Esztergom as I joined Naz and her mother for breakfast, as well as visiting with them late the night before.  It was nice to be around people that wanted to talk with me and were nice.  Very warm people.  The Turkish are like that.

The road to Esztergom was really pretty.  I liked it right away, and felt like I was going to more of the Hungary that I had imagined in my mind.  Much of Hungary, like other parts of Eastern Europe, seems in some ways like a ruined wasteland to me.  There are hints of former glory, but mostly it seems that almost everything is broken and destroyed, with perhaps 1 percent of the infrastructure (roads, buildings, electricity) working.  Maybe 5 percent.  Roads take 10 or 20 years to complete, and one or two places seem to have been chosen as Potemkin villages, coated with fresh coats of paint and having at least one cafe that is open and serving food even on Sundays.  Lake Balaton is one of those places, though it appears to have been a resort for many years, and thus mostly rests on its former glory, with little recent improvements.

In any case, Esztergom was charming.  Located on the Danube and connected to Slovakia by a bridge destroyed in 1945 and only rebuilt in 2002 with EU money (that tells you something about the poverty here).  In any case, I lucked out and my visit coincided with a wine fair, which was simultaneously being held in Budapest in Hero’s Square and which I’d happened upon the night before.  I had fallen in love with several woolly (literally) stuffed animals made of sheep’s wool and cashmere but didn’t have money to buy them.  I’d promised to come back the next morning, Saturday, but ran into the worst traffic snarl I’d yet seen on my trip.  Apparently there was a marathon going on that weekend, in addition to the wine festival, and traffic was at a standstill. I persisted and tried to find parking but struck out there and got yelled at by a security guard in front of a consulate who said that the parking was only for dignitaries (didn’t he know that I was one?).  I finally had given up in disgust and thus had a late start to Esztergom, plus I stopped at a Tesco and successfully replaced my car charger and bought a suitcase to hold all my purchases for the return flight.

I loved Esztergom.  I walked along narrow streets of old houses to the market square and main church square, then turned and followed growing crowds of people along a small canal.  There I discovered some lovely booths of truly homemade goods, and purchased some corn husk crafts (a nativity scene out of all natural materials, a Hungarian star, and several figurines).  Then I found a guy selling traditional Bolivian hats, of which I’d lost several, including my favourite made of baby alpaca that I spied on a homeless person in Santa Cruz (where it had fallen out of my pocket).  I should have offered him money for it but wasn’t quick enough on the uptake.  Maybe I’ll get another chance.

I asked “Hablas espanol?” and he said “Claro que si”.  Then we talked for a while in Spanish about how he had arrived in Hungary.  He was from La Paz Bolivia and had arrived in Vienna, Austria 20 some years before.  He had married a Hungarian woman later and emigrated to Budapest, where he said the people were warmer and he felt more at home.  Plus he had made the acquaintance of a large group of folks from Central and South America.  He said he now feels at home here when I asked whether he will ever return to live in Bolivia.  He said that as long as he is working, he’ll stay in Hungary.  He sings Spanish songs and has some upcoming gigs, and emailed me links to his songs.  He was really warm and said that I should look him up next time I was in the country.  As he put it, Latinos are like keys.  They/he is connected to a much bigger community, and knowing one is like knowing many.  I felt lucky to have made his acquaintance and bought 2 hats and a pair of wool slippers.  Ready for winter conditions.

I continued to walk along the canal path, and bought some handicrafts made of corn husks.  At another booth that sold leather, I eyed a casual coin purse with a strap.  The vendor couldn’t speak English, so a young man from a neighboring booth translated for us.   Tamas and his girlfriend Janka, selling ceramics at the neighboring booth, were very kind, and we ended up talking for a few hours.  I told them my plans to go to some historical towns in Hungary and they strongly suggested that I visit their town of Pecs in southern Hungary.  I ended up doing so and having a really nice time with them exploring the town.  I wanted to walk across the bridge to Slovakia, where there was apparently another wine festival.  I didn’t realise there was another festival till I had returned to Esztergom, and it was too far to walk back. I walked along the Danube under the archdiocese and castle wall to the old town of Esztergom and cemetery, then up through the town to the cathedral.  It was as high on the inside as a fortress, rennovated in a gothic style, and I reeled looking up at the towers and high arches.  Some people had bought tickets to go up to the altar area, but I stayed in the main gallery.   Then I headed to the castle, though very little of the original building was left.  It was mostly reconstructed.

I made my way back to the festival, bid goodbye to my new friends, and headed back to Budapest Hero’s Square for a wine festival taking place just outside the picturesque castle on the lake.  As I said, I was in love with several wooly stuffed animals and crossed my fingers that the vendors were still there.  They were and I gave them the money and selected my favorites, changing one lamb for another.  I had a really nice conversation with Zoltan, a very kind young man who developed a disability that paralyzed his right side and made him unable to pursue his passion of animal husbandry and farming.  He had studied in Denmark and the US, and spoke with sad nostalgia about his experience working with animals in both countries.  He was helping his boss, a lovely woman who is heading up the non profit organization for developmentally disabled youth and adults who had made the stuffed animals.  They invited me to explore Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary.  I thanked them both and made tentative plans to come after my last dentist appointment on Wednesday the following week.

I went back to Naz’s flat where I was staying as an airbnb client and had a nice dinner with Naz, Tim (whom I had stayed with via airbnb most of the time I was in Budapest), Naz’s mom out from Izmir for a 2 week visit, and Naz’s godparents, a funny brother/sister team from Istanbul.  Ilnur, her mom, made a wonderful Turkish meal complete with gozleme, lokum, kofta, and other delicacies, and I ate till I was stuffed.  Tim had made gluwein, a kind of German mulled wine drunk mainly at the Christmas markets, and Naz had plenty of raki on hand.  I tried a little of both and was very happy to be with kind people. It meant a lot to me to be around people who seemed to care about me, and my heart felt happy.  I went to bed and slept in, waking late and headed to Lake Balaton.  I had to be back Tuesday at 2pm, so I had 2 days to get there and back and explore. I was surprised at the good condition of the highway to the lake.  I had gotten used to fairly dilipadated roads and was surprised that this one was so well-cared for.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, as most of the wealthy people in Hungary own summer homes on the lake.  I’m sure they get what they want in terms of infrastructure and the like.  I drove to the north side of the lake and explored the towns in the vicinity, especially enjoying the old buildings.  After a few hours I drove to Balatonfüred to stroll through the park grounds of the Anna Grand Hotel and admire the other lovely manor homes in the area.  I visited the summer house of Jokai, the most famous Hungarian author of the 19th century.  Due to his tuberculosis, he and his wife relocated to Lake Balaton in the summers, seeking the clean lake air.  They continued to come over the next 20 years, only stopping when his wife died because the memory of being at the house was too painful without her.

I stayed as late as I could, then headed to Tihany, a small village on a hill nearby that had been a Benedictine monastery in centuries past (and still houses a monastery).  It was dark by the time I arrived, but I’d been told to go there to appreciate both the natural beauty and the cultural richness of the village dwellings.  I saw a small restaurant and was tempted to try their goulasz, and ended up going in.  I ordered gulyas and peach juice and was so happy I had stopped there.  I had a really nice conversation with the waiter David, who apologised for not knowing enough words in English.  I understood him well and apologised for not speaking Hungarian.  I always feel guilty when I speak little or none of the language of the country I’m in.  I need to make more of an effort.

David told me about the history of the mud-brick stuccoed home.  It had been a fisherman’s house, and had at one time been home to 15 people, a 6 person family in one half and 9 person family in the other.  The present owner had connected the two rooms and done some remodelling to make it the cozy domicile it is today.  He had been a gardener in the past but needed extra work and decided to convert his home into a resturant.  He and his wife still live on the 2nd floor.  They warm up meals in the outdoor adobe stove that I saw in the courtyard.  In the past, the entire meal would have been cooked in the outdoor stove, but with so many patrons, they’d never be able to serve people.  Thus they cook it in the kitchen and then warm it up in the stove.  Nice touch.  Half way through the meal I’d heard a honk and knew it was because I’d parked on the incredibly narrow 1 lane street outside the restaurant.  I’d popped outside and sure enough a couple was impatiently waiting for me to back up.  I did, quickly, and found another spot down below.  It had seemed deserted when I had parked an hour before.

I told him about my father’s death. It came up because he had lost his father recently, and to cancer, and I was saying that I really regreted not having been with my dad when he died.  I’m sort of haunted by it, actually.  It’s a long story but basically he was in Colorado and I in California, and when I got word that he was in his last days, my uncle booked a plane before me and my dad and step mother told me that they could only handle one guest at a time.  I knew my dad would die in the next few days, and that I wouldn’t get to see him.  So I did my best to send him as much love and support as I could.  I went to Purissima Redwoods, a lovely primordial park, and asked the majestic redwoods to cradle and support him.  The last 2 nights of his life I had the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had that I was with him saying goodbye.  Talking about my dad I started to cry.  I’ve been extremely alone, and sometimes lonely, on this trip, particularly for the last 2 months.  My tears were mostly from remorse at not seeing my dad when he died.

David was as supportive as he could be given that his English was limited and my Hungarian nonexistent.  When I got my coat to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug.  I was very touched, and walked into the night feeling like I had a friend.  I had scouted out a potential camping spot before dinner but it was in a turnout on the side of the road next to town and I wasn’t sure it was such a good choice.  So I made my way to the lakeside and found a large turnout, setting up my tent in the back.  As usual, I made sure cars couldn’t see me coming from either direction.  I heard the usual animals prowling around in the wood before I finally convinced myself to fall asleep.

Next morning I had a short time before heading to stay with my new friends in Pécs.  I woke at 9am and quickly packed, then hiked up to Tihany through a private path filled with brambles and weeds.  Yuck.  My newly purchased sweater cape, which I found at a thrift store in Landsberg, Germany, was full of brambles.  It reminded me of my aunt Pauline, my mom’s second oldest sister, who loved to sew and made herself a striking cape which I had admired on one of my visits to Massachusettes.  I walked around the church, which was closed, and took some photos of the lovely thatched rooves and rounded dormer-like high windows.  The houses reminded me of what I imagined as hobbit houses. Very cozy.  I had to use the toilet and finally found a cafe where I could have a nosh and use the facilities.  I did both, then wandered back to my car on a thorn-free path, and headed back to Balatonfüred.  I walked through the esplanade and park near Anna Grand Hotel’s and breathed in the fresh lake air.  It was a fairly sunny day and I was happy to be exploring such a pretty part of Hungary.  At 11:30am I got on the road toward Pecs, as I’d said I’d arrive around 2:30pm.

What a scenic drive!  For the entire 3 hours I drove through rolling hills dotted with forests and small rural villages bordered by corn and hay fields.  I arrived in Pécs at 2:30 on the nose and found my way to my friends’ flat.  They live a short walk from the medieval walled city up a hill.  What a place!  And kind people.  I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. After consuming one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted (Tamas was kind enough to share his chicken soup recipe with me), we took a 10 minute walk down the hill and they showed me the town center. Since 1853, Zsolnay Porcelánmanufaktúra Zrt (Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer) has played an important role in Pecs, producing ornamental and utilitarian porcelain, ceramics, and stoneware items including tiles, toilets and sinks, and insulators. They invented eosin glazing process and pyrogranite (fire-proof) ceramics.  So much of the town is covered in their lovely tiles, including the rooves of many buildings, the facades of the county hall and post office, as well as several fountains in the city center.

I was bowled over by the beauty of this southern town. Maybe it was because I’d been in Budapest for weeks and been staying in an area of town known for its seedy environs. I later found out that in 1998 Pécs received the UNESCO prize Cities for peace for maintaining the cultures of the minorities, and also for its tolerant and helping attitude toward refugees of the Yugoslav Wars. In 2007 it was awarded second place (in the category of cities between 75,000 and 200,000 inhabitants) in the Livable Cities LivCom Awards.  So it wasn’t just me who was in love with this city.  I was so heartened to see a place in Hungary where the majority of inhabitants seemed to have a good quality of life.  We walked back near dark and had a lovely evening, complete with watching 2 episodes of Family Guy.  As I hadn’t watched any movies or TV since April, it was a rare treat.

I drove to Budapest next morning as I had a consultation with a hair implant surgeon. I’d been contemplating an eyebrow implant.  The surgeon seemed imperious and wasn’t very helpful.  I asked whether they could do less for a lower price, but he said that 2500 Euro was their fee.  He assured me it was much cheaper than other places.  I left his office and headed to park near my dentist, with whom I had an apointment at 5pm.  I saw Vicky, another dentist who works with Dr. Windisch.  She’s remarkably cheerful and talented, speaking 3 languages (and not just any 3) fluently.  As grew up in Kosice, Slovakian was her first language.  Her father was Hungarian, and by the age of 11 she was fluent in Hungarian.  Then she learned English in her late teens.  She checked the wound and said it looked good.  I left and headed back home to Tim’s place.  It was nice to get in by 6:30pm, and I had 3 good hours to answer emails and catch up on my blog.

Next morning I headed to Visegrad, as I’d planned to spend every day somewhere other than Budapest.  I stopped in a small village 5 or so miles south, and walked around, getting a feel for the place and enjoying the feel of a very small town.  The houses were old, a cobbled lane led to the main church, and kids were playing in the outdoor school yard.  The school building was new and impressively built.  I’ve noticed in Hungary that school buildings are either stately and historical or new and well-built.  Either way, it seems to reflect the importance of education here. I drove on to Visegrad, and stopped for gas.  Yikes.  I’d forgotten that I was low and the empty light had come on miles before. After a fill up, I headed up the hill to the castle, the hallmark of the town.  It looms ominously on a bluff overlooking the Danube, and was one of the best fortified castles in Hungary.

The town of Visegrád was first mentioned in 1009 as a county town and the chief town of an archdeaconry. After the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1242, the town was rebuilt in a slightly different location to the south. King Charles I of Hungary made Visegrád, his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. In 1335, Charles hosted at Visegrád a two-month congress with the Bohemian king, John of Luxembourg, and the Polish king, Casimir III. The meeting was crucial in creating a peace between the three kingdoms and securing an alliance between Poland and Hungary against Habsburg Austria. Charles held another congress in 1338.  The site contains the remains of the Early Renaissance summer palace of King Mattias Corvinus of Hungary and the medieval citadel.  Visegrád (Vyšehrad) is of Slavic origin, meaning acropolis, literary “the upper castle” or “the upper settlement”.

Little of the castle remains.  There is a “hall of wax” with wax figures representing a feast between the Bohemian, Polish, and Hungarian kings and their courts who came together in 1335 for a congress to settle their differences and find a way around the Habsburg monarchy.  The ramparts and walls stand, but most of the interior has been gutted.  One room showed scenes a traditional hunting scene and a make-shift forest dining room fit for a king.  According to my friend, there are many traditions surrounding killing an animal, especially one’s first kill. At that time, the hunter is hit three times with a stick by his godfather, whom he has chosen from the hunters.  On the first the godfather says Ï accept  you as a hunter in the name of St. Hubertus, on the second, I accept you as a hunter in the name of the real Hungarian hunters, I accept you as a (wild hog, deer, pheasant) and may the goddess Diana favor you and may the leaves that you use on the wound of the animal be worn on your hat.

My notes continued: last dentist appointment was disappointed and told the doctor made June appointments then visitedNaz and her mom for last time her grandma had been in a coma while her mom was visiting very scared couldn’t sleep  next day headed for Pécs arrived around 230 after booking a flight for next year and making reservation at Colors Hostel for next June and August  Janka was waiting we walked downtown Tamàs was in budapest also filming  Janka had time at airport with gyrocopter it was Thursday  she ed preparing for 50 anniversary in Pécsvarad festival fri to sun  I got ticket to zsolnay cultural Center and spent 2 days I saw it thurs and part Friday  hadn’t Planned on staying so long but festival and traditional grape harvest dances and music was too tempting sat I joined Tamàs after getting ticket to cathedral and lapidarium and in Bataapa wheee there was a festival with dance group golden pheasant very friendly man was teacher and Tamàs filmed for the village went to pecavarad on way back and then back to write  didn’t do blog till Sunday pm finally after vishops residence tour sun am then festival and 3 hours dancing then back at 4pm for 2 hours to treasury and lap  they got home late 9pm after packing up Eva’s ceramics and I wrote and sorted maps and tourist papers and tried to plan wher to go next bad weather a week of rain to come not sure whether Croatia or Slovenia or skip to Italy to avoid the bad weather left at 930 am n

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