Along the Danube in Hungary

June 14.  I woke to find Luis scraping paint off his window frames. He has big plans to repaint his house, winterize the windows, clear furniture to expose the chimney, and plant a vegetable garden.  I made a chicken soup with carrots, onions, potatoes, garlic, and corn.  We ate this for days to come. I had a dental appointment that afternoon, and wasn’t sure how early I needed to leave.  I left about 1:30 after exploring a town in the mountains, and made my appointment with half an hour to spare.  I parked and sat in the waiting room of Dr Windisch.  The surgery went very well.  He was putting an implant in a place where he’d extracted a tooth in the fall.  I had parked hurriedly in the only place I could find, and was worried about coming back to a big fine (the sign threatened 5,000 to 50,000 HUF). I crossed the river to the Buda side and parked below the castle where I spent the next few hours walking around the medieval town and using google to translate all the plaques.  As my friend Tamas had pointed out, Google Translate is terrible at Hungarian.  He was right.  I walked into a huge building following a couple of people, which appeared to be the department of historical preservation.  I read as many of the signs as I could to try to understand its purpose.  And listened to young people singing.  Then I wandered back to the old town, coming upon a lovely veranda on the town wall looking at Pest. There I sat with two scoops of Fragola ice cream, which I had discovered in Pecs. After a rest, I headed back to Luis’ cabin, to be greeted by fireflies and stars.  A good day.

June 15.  I had the day to myself.  Luis and I talked some, and I wrote for a while.  I’ve been writing my blog on my phone using an iWerkz keyboard. It wasn’t ideal but better than nothing, although I had a laptop. WIFI was scarce.  I decided to drive up into the hills and find the pool that Luis had mentioned, as well as explore a bit of Slovakia. I found a hotel deep in the forest, which I couldn’t imagine anyone finding. Nevertheless it seemed quite popular.  And there, to my surprise, was the waveless pool.  I would have to try it another time. I asked the reception for information and decided that I might stay there in the future.  At 68 Euros per night, it was affordable.  Not cheap, especially not if I did it all the time.  Just driving was expensive.  Between toll roads, diesel, vignettes, and parking tickets, I was spending about 700 USD/month.  Not including the car rental, which came out to 20 USD/day since I was renting the car for almost 6 months.

I found a nice hiking trail and set off.  I didn’t plan for the steep, slick drop off about 20 minutes in, and slipped and fell on my butt.  I was wearing flip flops because my feet were still hurting, so I turned back and drove a different way.  And crossed a river into Slovakia.  It was funny.  I stopped at the border and a man on a bicycle who was riding behind me waved me through.  He impatiently gestured that I should keep going.  I was trying to be a good citizen by stopping but apparently that wasn’t necessary.  I spent a couple of hours driving through Slovakian fields of grain.  The heat was oppressive and I felt like falling asleep.  Was it the surgeries, the cold I was fighting, or the heat?  Who knows.  I kept driving, got out in one town and walked around.  And asked to use a bathroom.  I like to see what towns look like, on the ground.  But it was getting late in the day, so I plugged in Luis’s address and HERE guided me back on the other side of the mountain.

I stopped in Vac and walked around, remembering this pretty town from last fall.  I admired the cathedral, church, synagogue, and most importantly, the path along the Danube.  It was another hot day as I watched the gaggle of teens, the ferry crossing to Szentendre, and people eating ice cream.  The power of suggestion.  I wasn’t hungry but I decided to get an ice cream.  I sat and watched the river lazily flowing along, and wondered what a river cruise along the Danube would be like.  My mom and Bob had done one to the Black Sea and loved it, and I thought it was probably because of how kind the staff were.  Hungarians are actually really warm.  I’ve revised my opinion from last year. On the way back home, I decided to head along the Danube west toward Szob.  What a pretty stretch of river!  I resolved to come back and explore in more detail.  I drove home, greeted by the fireflies and stars.  Again.  Happy night!

June 16. I awoke groggy, thinking I’d slept till 12:30pm.  It turned out to only be 9:45am, and I ended up spending most of the morning getting to know Luis better.  We feasted on cazuela and watermelon and he told me about life in Bolivia, about his values and ethics of loving the land, and his Quechua and Amari blood, both indigenous to Bolivia, and how his father was a body guard for the President of Bolivia who had been assassinated by the CIA for resisting the imperialist hegemonic policies of the US.  Luis had studied agronomy in school but didn’t finish.  He felt that the environment was the most important thing and tried to defend it, but found most of his school mates lackluster on the subject.  I understood his pain about having cut the branches of the fir trees lining the walkway to his home.  He cried for a month over it.  Reminded me of crying about the two trees that I had asked Cyro to cut in the back yard.  I regretted that for months. We are kindred spirits, Luis and I.  It was nice to be in the home of a fellow tree lover.

I decided to explore the part of Kismaros along the Danube.  The villages in this area were settled by Swabian Germans from the area of Ulm and Wittenburg in the 1700s at the behest of Maria Theresa after the plague had decimated the local Hungarian population.  The Swabs had poled from Germany along the Danube in flat bottom raft-type boats carrying all their earthly possessions, and settled along the river, cultivating the land, brewing beer, and making wine. They had also settled in and around Pecs in southern Hungary, as I’d found out at the salame festival in Feked.

The Kismaros cultural center had an exposition of wooden dioramas demonstrating traditional Swab village life, as well of dolls in traditional Swabish dress.  I walked along the main street, getting a glimpses of daily life as I passed houses and yards.  I found a great herb store and bought an onion, garlic, and echinacea syrup, grape fruit seed extract, and olive leaf spray for my throat, as well as lavender flower tea and lentils.  I felt quite a bit better after using them.

I headed to Nagymaros, the adjacent village across the river from Visegrad. There I looked in the cathedral and walked around the main square for a few minutes.  I was afraid I’d be late and didn’t stop at the cherry and fruit stand as I made my way to my dental appointment in Budapest.  As it was, I arrived right at 2:55pm and parked in the 5,000 to 50,000 HUF fine zone.  Dr. Windisch didn’t come in for another half hour, so I sat listening to Gwenn Hinkel’s pre-trip inducion to get into a more relaxed state.  I need all the help I can get, as I really don’t like dental surgery.  But I’m pretty pain tolerant, so normally it’s okay.  Because of my scleroderma, however, my mouth is particularly tight, and the use of a clamp to keep my mouth open is very painful.

After a successful surgery (he put in another implant, as I had hoped), I headed to the Mercur Hotel and caught up on my blog.  It’s hard writing on the phone keyboard, as I can’t delete or cut and paste.  I find my writing suffers quite a bit, and that I benefit from finding a computer and pecking away for a few hours.  I headed back around 10pm, after the commute rush, and had an easy drive home.  As usual I enjoyed the fireflies, which seem to be active from a bit after dusk to 10 or so.  I have since learned that they are Lampryis noctiluca beetles, and that the males fly while the females appear to be a kind of glow worm.  They glow as part of a mating ritual in June and July, basically to find one another, according to a naturalist I spoke with in Kiralyret, part of the Borzsony forest.

June 17. I awoke and told Luis about the Swabian festivities that were going to take place that morning and afternoon in Kismaros.  I showed him the flyer (in Hungarian) and he told me there would be a parade from 10:30 to 11:30, followed by dancing from 2 to 4 and a jazz concert in the evening.  Excited, I rushed down the hill and caught the tail end of the parade, with a few people filtering into the cultural center wearing their German togs.  People were selling homemade artesenal crafts, and I bought a hand cut and dipped candle, some really good red currant jam, tea, dried apples, elderberry flower syrup, and a stuffed animal bear and rabbit.  I was a happy camper!  I set off for Nagymaros and resolved to return to Kismaros around 2pm to catch the mostly German song and dance performances.

I explored Nagymaros, first walking along the Danube (I saw a wedding party at the ferry dock), then going inland.  I drove to the highest point and admired the villas that had been built with a view of the castle in Visegrad, then descended and explored the low lands.  I came upon an interesting building which was a bit run down but whose eaves, roof, and gate displayed beautiful wood carving.  As I took photos, a man within shouted “hallo” with obvious displeasure.  I was tempted to run but instead stood my ground. He approached and said something in Hungarian.  I explained that I admired the building’s architecture and showed him the photos.  He suddenly smiled disarmingly and started speaking Italian to me.  I said I spoke some, and he invited me inside.  We walked through the courtyard and into the inn.  Inside was a lovely tiled stove, long wooden tables, hunting trophies of rams, deer, antelope, and some African ungulates (he said they were from Namibia), and lots of hunting hats.  His hunting dog followed him dutifully, and because I was apparently a friend, didn’t so much as bark at me (the dog’s head came up to waist).  He offered me schnapps, which turned out to be palinka (homemade fruit brandy), and we sat down.  He spoke to me in broken Italian, and I attempted not to answer in Spanish.  Then he was joined by 2 friends, and they proceeded to drink toasts (I made a weak attempt to join them but couldn’t match their brisk downing of shots), getting more animated as they drank.  The home owner was getting particularly excited, and explained in a few words that he was telling a story about Hungarian problems.

He seemed intent on castigating the man who was working for him, and made disparaging remarks to me and his friends, indicating that the worker was an alcoholic.  It appeared to me that the man speaking was an alcoholic much more than his employee, who was racing around trying to make him happy, and appearing unable to do so.  After about an hour he said he needed to prepare food for his guests, who were sleeping upstairs (I wondered why they were sleeping at 2 in the afternoon), and I thanked him and left.  I hurried back to Kismaros to find that the dancing had already begun.  I videotaped some of the German dances and singing, but found them rather repetitive and boring.  Then a group of Hungarian youth appeared in lovely costumes and proceeded to do some wonderful boot slapping, lively dances.  The girls sang during the dances.  When they finished I asked them about the dances and was told that the boot slapping was done to round up men for soldiering, while the couples dances had references to eroticism and love.  As one young man said to me, those were the most important parts of a Hungarian’s life in the past.  I ate some goulasz and headed out back to Nagymaros, resolving to return later in the evening for the jazz concert Jazzmaros.

I walked down the main street and made friends with a white husky puppy who seemed very sad alone in his garden.  He tried to squeeze his little body under the fence, but I was able to stick my hand through and give him the pets he wanted.  I was enjoying looking at the Danube and the tree-lined path along the river, and continued walking till I found an ice cream place.  Okay, I’d decided I wouldn’t partake, but it was homemade!  And really good.  I ended up making friends with Nora Ven, who was kind enough to talk with me while she was working.  I was struck by her kindness, and spent an hour or so talking to her between customers.  We used google translate to help us communicate.  She called over a local named Peter, who is fluent in English and lives in Nagymaros.  He has a massage business in Budapest as well as renting two rooms of his house for summer tourists.  Apparently Budapest is a popular film location, and he has massaged many American film stars including Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  He said they were both very nice. He explained that Nagymaros has many large fancy buildings because it was a popular holiday resort town for wealthy Budapest bankers in the 1800s.  There was a casino and many fancy etterems (restaurants).  They would send their families here for the summer holidays, to get a dose of nature.  Later in the 1900s, artists moved into Nagymaros and neighboring villages.  He told me that the mysterious hunting lodge where I had drunk a shot of palinka earlier that day had been a brothel, and that there were rumors that some of the parties were still sexual in nature.  Very strange.  I certainly had the feeling that the owner was a charmer, and could be extremely angry.  Reminds me of the some of the relationships I’ve had.  Not surprising that I’ve been taking a break from such engagements.  With friends like those, who needs enemies?

I headed back to Kismaros to listen to jazz. It was about 8:30 and I figured I’d listen for a few minutes and then leave.  When I arrived, I heard a woman speaking Spanish and was shocked.  I asked her where she was from and she said Venezuela.  I told her about my friend Luis with whom I was staying.  She said that there was a small community (count them, 3) of South Americans in her village of Zebegeny.  I then met her husband Francisco, who has been a director of photography for many important Hungarian films, and Vannina, a porteno from Buenos Aires, who married a Hungarian there and followed him to Budapest.  She discovered Zebegeny because her friend Marie invited her to visit.  Maruska, who made a killer venison goulash, was central to the Zebegeny constellation. She and her husband Ender have a canoe and bike rental place along the Danube.  She was a production manager for foreign films in Budapest for more than 20 years, and retired from her film career after a stressful production of the TV series Mars.  I felt lucky to meet such warm and inclusive people.  Francisco and I talked at length about the current political situation in Venezuela, and what happened with Chavez and later Maduro.  He is very worried about the country unravelling in civil war, and recently moved his parents from Caracas to Budapest.  His father is Hungarian and left during the 1956 uprising.  What an enlightening evening!  Maruska offered to show me around Zebegeny.  They all told me that it was the most beautiful village on the Danube, and I resolved to find out for myself.

June 18.  I awoke late, which was good as I needed to rest.  Sleep was the best antidote to the ravages of surgery, and I resolved to stay as low key as possible while restoring my health.  Luis and I spent some time in the morning eating and chatting.  Then I headed to Szukolya, the small village in the mountains above Kismaros, and thoroughly explored it by foot.  I also explored the small cabins, so quaint, that lined the banks of a small stream near Luis’ cabin.  Then I headed to Kiralyret, where everyone parked and walked.  I followed suit, parking and walking around the village.  I discovered a small lake lined with fishermen and walked through the woods, then came back and noticed a very pretty outdoor restaurant called Varhegy Vendgloben.  There were tables near the river, and it appeared that the all you can eat buffet, with goulash, 2 different types of chicken, and soups, rice, potatos, and dessert, was only 2100 HUF, about 8.50 USD.  Wow.  What a deal!  Budapest has gotten really expensive, apparently in the last 2 years in particular.  I’d eaten a small piece of chicken in the center for the same price.

After gorging myself on chicken and sauteed peppers, I headed up another road and discovered an ecology center offering environmental education to kids.  I was a willing victim!  I asked some questions and a young man told me a bit about the history of mining iron ore in the mountains nearby, the water mill which was used to smelt the ore (I videotaped a great model of the mill), and some information about the flora and fauna of the park.  It turns out that there is an endangered lynx in the area (only 2 or 3 inhabit the park area), as well as several insects and plants.  I was really happy to find such a place, and thanked him for his time.  Then I headed up the road and saw a woman gathering equisetum (horse tail).  I wondered whether it was medicinal or for a tea.  I’m assuming the former.  My friends in Pecs had told me that people gathered white garlic in the mountains nearby, and that they also gathered some and made a tincture this year for the first time.  It seems that Hungarians have not lost their connection to the medicinal plants of their past.

I walked to the small train station.  The train, whose tracks run through Kismaros, has many stops in Börzsöny forest.  One such stop is the Szent Orban Forst and Wellness Hotel, the lovely resort with waveless pool in the middle of the forest that I had discovered while driving around a few days before.  Then I drove back along the road to Kismaros, and along the Danube to Zebegeny.  I took a chance and pulled into a place by the river, and saw my friend Ender Ungi from the night before.  He showed me the t-shirt that he had made for people swimming against the current around the small island near their canoe and bike rental place called Depo-Z.  He called Maruska and found out she was just leaving Vac.  He suggested that I explore Zebegeny on foot, and I set out.  Within 5 minutes of entering the charming village, I spied Francisco, walking his father to the train station.  They were in a rush, but I asked to visit with him later.  We never ended up connecting.  I admired the frescoes and stain glass in the church, built by a famous Transylvanian architect in Art Deco style, and walked along the main road out of town and then back on the other side of the river.  I intended to climb the calvary on the hill but didn’t want to keep Maruska waiting, so I headed back to Depo-Z.  We took the dogs and started our historical walk of the village.   She told me about the Swabian males who had been rounded up by the communists after WWII and sent to the gulag in Siberia, never to return.  There were wreath memorials commemorating these members of the community.  Apparently every family from Zebegeny (who weren’t newcomers) had lost at least one family member to the goulags. Maruska said those who remembered were now dying off.

She showed me the spring, and the lovely ecological garden that the children tend, complete with compost, bee and insect hotel, and raised beds.  They had recently won a silver European cities that bloom award for the garden.  Then we walked up along the calvary to the lookout tower, a new wooden building which was quite lovely.  We stood and watched the sun disappear behind a mountain in Slovakia, casting shadows on the beautiful Danube below.  She told me about the Trianon monument next to the lookout, apparently the only one in Hungary that the communists did not take down.  The clever architect who built it was savvy to the practical thinking soviets.  He decided to build a lookout on top of the monument, thinking that they would not want to take down such a useful edifice.  He died before he was able to finish the monument, but his plan succeeded, and the monument stood.  When Hungary regained its freedom in the 1990s, they decided to follow his plans and complete the monument.  Last year, after a controversial battle, they moved the lookout from the monument to the location where we watched the sunset.  For many locals the monument was simply the site of the lookout and didn’t have any other purpose.

We descended and went to a local pub (Squirrel in Hungarian) for hot cocoa and beer (I had the former). Maruska told me of her family’s struggles. She said that historically, a few Hungarians had thrown others under the bus so to speak. She told me her father’s story. His father grew up as a peasant tenant farmer in Eastern Hungary.  While his father was away helping to build the bridge across the Danube in Esztergom, his mother to care for 5 children while walking miles to town to sell vegetables at the market. At the age of 12 he was sent to a manor house in the summer to get out from under foot where he worked for a Hungarian family as a kind of serf. It was still a very feudal society in many ways, with isolated manor houses dotting empty landscape surrounded by fields and wilderness. He was left alone at the manor with nothing to eat for a week while the family left for summer vacation. Luckily it was cherry season so he was able to survive. Imagine leaving a 12 year old with no food! I asked why they would do that.  Maruska said that that’s how people often treated one another.  Families who had more looked down on those who had less. I imagined that the stresses of poverty and war would only exacerbate such behavior.

Maruska felt it was something that Hungarians in particular did to one another.  After WW II, for example, Germany offered to pay to repatriate German immigrants, while Hungary did not. Perhaps that was due in part to Hungary’s utter poverty at that time and the huge reparations they owed. When the communists came in 1945, the lives of her father’s family improved as was true of many poor families under communism.  Her father was given various leadership positions, and eventually became a professor in a police academy. Maruska was the first of the family to receive a college education. She had lived in Moscow for five years studying Russian in her late teens and early 20s. Her feelings about communism were positive because her family had been helped by the Russians, and she had been given opportunities that she otherwise wouldn’t have received. Education was free and excellent, and cultural activities like theater and film were extremely accessible. She remembered going to the cinema and watching films every week. Who knows. All the time spent going to the cinema may have influenced her decision to become a film producer. It didn’t hurt that she spoke English and Russian, and as a result had carved out a niche for herself working on foreign (non Hungarian) films.  I reflected on the Estonian potter I had met a few years before who had had a wonderful experience as a ceramicist during the communist era.  She had been one of the lucky ones, and had access to a huge pottery studio with all the glazes and materials she could ever want.

We walked back to the house and met her husband Endre.  He initially studied geology, but later worked for one of the largest corporations in Hungary as an economist.  He said that geology informed his perspective on life and appreciation for nature.  Vanina, Maruska’s Argentinian friend, said that he is a geologist at heart. The three of us sat and ate salame, cheese, and bread, and talked about their lives.  In 2010, after they met in Budapest, they decided to translocate to a small village.  They looked in Szentendre and other towns near Budapest, but felt that they were becoming bedroom communites and not truly villages.  In this way they found a house in Zebegeny and started anew.  They set up a bike and canoe rental place and Endre began participating in ironmen competitions.  Maruska continued to work as a film producer until a year ago in 2016.  The last series she worked on, Mars, wiped her out.  She wasn’t happy with the production value and felt that the stress was untenable.  A week ago they had hosted soccer teams from Argentina and Norway to stay in their home.  They had 4 kg of traditional Hungarian white bread (about 9 pounds) left over, and Vanina ended up making many cakes using the bread and eggs as thank you gifts for the families that hosted the athletes.  Maruska’s refrigerator was filled to capacity with these cakes.  Endre lent me a map of Borzsony forest, and suggested that I hike to the viewpoint above Zebegeny and a hermit cave.  My eyes began to close and I thanked them for their kindness and returned for Kismaros at 11pm.

June 19. I awoke and finished the soup, dumping the rest on the compost.  I waited for Luis so we could talk for a bit, then headed down to Kismaros. I had an hour or so before having to head to Budapest for my surgery.  At the river side I met Katalin, a lovely woman who has a country house in Kismaros that she purchased 23 years ago after working in the beauty and wellness business in Italy. She moved to Italy with her Italian husband whom she met in Budapest when she was 18 years old and lived there till 2007 when she moved to Austria for 8 years to work for two Wrann luxury hotels. For 20 years until 2007, she lived in a small Tuscan village half way between Florence and Pisa. Apparently Princess Diana and other European nobility had frequented the ski resort in Lech Austria where Katalin had worked.  She returned to Hungary to be with her father, who died 3 years ago, and inherited his flat in Budapest, but prefers her country cabin in the woods.  She told me a bit about her families tragic losses during WWII.  Her paternal grandmother was raped and killed by Russians.  Her father found out when he was 13 and it affected him for the rest of his life.  Her maternal father was Jewish and killed like an animal in Buchinwald, in her words.  His wife ended up losing her mind and lived a tragic life.

We agreed to meet the next day for a swim in the river. I drove less than a mile to the adjacent village Veroce, and parked near a fountain and square honoring Ybl Miklos, who built a wall to protect the village from flooding (it is right on the Danube) in 1889.  Apparently it was the wall was the first of its type along the river.  There is a life size bronze statue of him walking along down the steps toward the river near the wall he built. I had been curious about an ornate grand building since I first drove through the village and decided to explore.  I was in luck as it was open, and I entered to discover a cultural center of sorts, with a library and cafe that appeared closed.  I used the bathroom (this may seem trivial, but finding facilities can be extremely challenging) and admired some large historical photos of the town and building in the 1800s.  Next to the fountain I read a plaque about the nobility preferring the banks of the Danube for their chateaus, and how the king of Poland had built a summer home for his daughter Jadwiga in Veroce.  I wasn’t sure it this was the same Jadwiga who later ruled Poland and Lithuania as queen, one of the high points of Polish history.  I could see why they chose this area of the Danube to build their great homes.

I headed into Budapest for the dreaded surgery.  I had been most scared about this one because the dentist wanted to extract a canine in the lower jaw.  The other lower canine which had been extracted took over an hour to remove, and only after much pain and aggravation.  I asked the dentist to try to save the tooth if he thought it possible.  He cut away both teeth on either side of the site of the extracted tooth from last year, and said that the one in the back was beginning to show signs of re-absorption and would probably need to be removed.  He decided to do some tissue transplants to try to build up the gum of the canine, making it more stable so he could place an implant next to it.  He said that if the tissues didn’t take hold, he’d have to extract the canine.  Two hours later, after cutting tissue from the back of my inner cheek and much manipulation, I staggered out of the dental chair.  I protested him cutting yet a third piece of tissue for the tooth, and the clamp that held my mouth open felt like a kind of sadistic torture from the 1700s.  Because I don’t have the flexibility due to inadequate collagen production in my mouth, it is extremely painful to be stretched.  I felt like a wild animal that had miraculously escaped from a jaw trap, and limped away to lick my wounds.

I met my new American acquaintance at Central Kavehaz, which was quickly becoming my favorite place to hang out.  We sat inside and a pianist tinkled away on the ivories with hits from the likes of Cole Porter and other greats from days of old.  He only had an hour, but we partook in a decadent chocolate pudding kind of dessert, and he told me about the political situation between Central European Univeristy (CEU) and the Hungarian government.  George Soros, the one and only, founded CEU as an American/Hungarian endeavor.  No wonder the Hungarian government is trying to shut it down.  They have become far right since 2010, starting out as a left wing pro-democracy party in 1995.  For example, they are encouraging Hungarian women to have more children with financial incentives to do so, and built a wall to keep Syrians out, whipping up strong anti-immigrant sentiments amongst the populus. David said that there were big protests by CEU students and faculty last year, but once the president of Hungary decided to clamp down on the school, the protests abated, as they knew it would take years of fighting in the courts before knowing the outcome.  Apparently the party currently in power made an alliance with the far right, but then pissed them off.  So the far right party is making an alliance with centrist socialists.  Maybe they’ll succeed in pulling the wool over the electorate’s eyes.

We parted ways and I decided to walk around.  There was a nice breeze.  7pm is a nice time in Budapest if it isn’t too hot.  It was pleasant and I walked to the parliament building, then explored nearby.  There is a huge contingent of police cars and vans on a side street.  I was surprised to see such large numbers and thought it was in response to some kind of protest.  Apparently it is normal, as they are concerned about possible attacks in the parliament, American embassy, and Bank of Hungary all located within a few blocks of each other.  Apparently, a bomb was placed in the Octagon, a large metro subway station in Central Budapest, and killed 2 police within the last year.  No one claimed responsibility but it helped to heighten an already tense climate.

I continued to walk around the city till 9pm, then headed to the Mercur Hotel to work on my blog.  It is a 5 minute walk from my dentist and has 3 computers which are for hotel guests.  I don’t feel guilty about using them unless someone is waiting, in which case I give up my seat. I stayed till 11pm, and ended up helping a Spanish-speaking couple who couldn’t hear their son’s message.  I set up another computer for them and they were able to hear.  It was late when I got home and I was tired.  I didn’t want to wake up Luis so I left the cake I had bought in the car to put it in the refrigerator the next day.

June 20. I awoke around 9am and spent several hours talking with Luis.  He recounted how he had studied agronomy at university in Bolivia for 2 years but had girl problems, so his father had sent him to Buenos Aires to work for some relatives.  Unfortunately they put him in a room with 8 people and treated him like a slave, making him work for 12 to 14 hours per day.  He agitated and started organizing the workers, and his uncle told him to stop.  He said he would leave, and found his way to another job as an apprentice to a leather worker in the city.  He liked this work but found it tedious after years, bending over a sewing machine and squinting under artificial lights.  He applied for a job as a bus driver in Argentina and again asserted himself, as the owners didn’t want to consider him because of his young age.  But he proved himself, and learned how to drive the buses he is driving now in Budapest.

Then he returned to Bolivia, not certain of what to do next.  His father said he wanted him to see the world, and sent him abroad to Zurich to stay with an uncle.  Unfortunately the uncle was in the middle of a messy divorce and didn’t want to host him, so he ended up in a dirty hostel working like a dog.  Then he moved to Vienna for a year and had a similar experience.  He met some musicians there and ended up traveling around Europe for 4 years, singing with the band.  They settled in Bucharest and were treated like celebrities, but the main band member had problems with alcohol and it split the band apart.  Luis had the chance to bring another group from Bolivia, but he declined, and decided to come to Hungary, where he met and fell in love with his wife-to-be.  He was on his way to Switzerland at the time, to be with a woman he’d met.  She had sent him plane tickets and arranged for a place to stay, but he passed on that and married.  After 10 years in what became a lifeless marriage where they rarely did anything together and mostly fought, he separated and began his life alone last year.  He tells me that the people of Hungary seem depressed but it’s only because they don’t have someone special to love them and treat them well.  I think that the effects of both great wars are still reverberating through the population.  I have no further to look than the emotional wounds and PTSD suffered by my father’s family in Poland during WW II.

I had told Katalin I would meet her at 11:30 and was running half an hour late, so texted her.  I finished making a second soup (I had thrown the remains of the first on the compost), and headed down to the river.  There I found Katalin, and we sat and I listened to her life story for an hour or so. She told me how Budapest has changed in the last 2 years.  Prices for everything from food to a place to live and medical and dental services have doubled.  She had plans to retire with the money she had saved but can no longer do so. It reminds me of the situation in the US, where many people who planned to retire at 65.  We took a nice swim.  There is a concrete ramp that goes into the very silty Danube, and I thought about wearing my flip flops into the water so I didn’t puncture my foot on a rock or stick. But she said I’d lose my shoes, so I took my chances.  The bottom was silty and rock studded, so I decided to just start swimming in 2 feet of water.  It’s a trick that I learned in rocky-bottomed lakes and rivers, and it has served me well.  When we got out, she told me about her sleep problems, and I sent her the sleep protocol that I use and sent her links to the supplements in question on  She asked me how to wean herself off her current medications and I suggested consulting a doctor, and also gave her my dear friend Richard Goldberg’s work number.  He is a naturopath and extremely knowledgeable of the most up-to-date research, funny, and supportive.  Just talking to him makes me feel better.

I asked her to see her house, and followed her there.  I admired the renovation she had done on the upstairs bathroom’s flat, which she wanted to rent out.  Her flat was cozy and lined with books from her father’s flat in Budapest.  She has a lovely yard with a large fir tree and many hostas.  A man was coming to remove all the sand bags that had been placed there to keep the water from the street from destroying her plants. I was glad to make her friendship and appreciated her warmth and kindness.  As she had to pick up the worker, I headed to Zebegeny where I planned to hike.

It was too hot for a big hike.  I parked under the trees along the river in Zebegeny and looked at the car thermometer.  95! I went for a short walk towards the lookout, admiring the grass tennis court on the Danube where the owners of the fancy chateau were playing.  They were all in white.  Reminded me of Wimbeldon.  I ran into a class of 6 year olds hiking in the woods, and several couples.  Hungarians love the woods, and are particularly proud of Bozsony forest.  I believe that love of the forest is deep in their ancestral memory.  I decided to drive through town, and did a quick scan of houses.  I drove as far as I could, then hit the forest park, and headed back.  A man stood on the veranda of a restaurant, peering at my car.  I wondered what it would be like to live in a small town in Hungary, and imagined that people would be peering at you for any infraction.  And dogs would of course be barking throughout the day and night.  No, while I fantasized about such a life, I’m sure I’d go crazy after a few weeks.

I drove back to the river’s edge and took the plunge.  The water was cool.  It looked a dirty brown, but I assumed it had been stirred up by the recent rains and was relatively clean in this neck at least.  Cleaner than the Ganges.  I tried to swim out to and around the island and complete the challenge that Ender had told me about.  But the current pulled me strongly down river.  I was tired and didn’t feel like exerting myself, so I just played with swimming against the current to stay in one place.  It was fun, and I imagined that local kids grew up learning to swim against strong currents in such a manner.  I got my travel stories To the Ends of the Earth by Paul Theroux and sat in the shade, reading of his train adventures across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, and Vietnam.  My trip sounded like walk in the park in comparison!  I enjoyed immersing myself in his story, imagining the strange foods and visions he described.  I took another swim, and contemplated swimming to the island after watching 2 guys do it, but decided not to.  I saw Endre briefly, who was walking his dogs before heading to Budapest to receive AirBnB guests at the airport (a free service they offer guests).  I wondered how much work it must be for them to clean the place in between, and pick people up.  An hour drive in one direction at no charge.  Competition for places to stay in Budapest must be fierce.

I decided to climb to the lookout tour (the sun had since set), and then continued walking into the forest.  It was a magical solstice night, which I will write of in my next blog.


3 responses to “Along the Danube in Hungary

  1. great —-look forward to reading—-xoxo/r

    we had a dinner party for our english friends and former housemates—-they are now back in england (i hope).



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