October 3. I didn’t want to leave but had another dental appointment in Budapest the next day, so around 10:30am I bid Paul and Stasia farewell and headed to Babiogorski National Park, where I had a nice walk on a rain-soaked trail. From there I headed to Zuberec, where I’d visited with Monika’s family earlier in the summer, and drove toward Oravice, where I found a small trail and attempted to hike in the forest. Unfortunately the rain made the trail almost impassable, especially when I reached a dirt road. I walked as far as I dared, sinking deep in the mud, then returned to my car and continued. Unfortunately, the rain began in earnest, and a thick cloud cover descended, making the remaining drive back to Zebegeny viewless. I’d hoped to see the beautiful countryside which I’d spied a few days before on my drive up. But no luck. Not only that, but a low tule fog settled on the roadway, and in many places completely obscured my vision. I was afraid I would crash, and I was on tiny road with no lighting. I prayed and drove as carefully as I could, and arrived somehow in Zebegeny at 7:30pm at the Squirrel Inn.
I was going to stay overnight with Maruska and Endre. They had been invited to a palinka (schnops) tasting party at a friend’s, so I accompanied them. We walked to Laszlo and Rosa’s house, two talented artists in their own right. Laszlo learned to the art of violin and cello making in his childhood home of Subotica, Yugoslavia where I’d been a month before. He escaped on bicycle during the war with Croatia in the mid 1990s after receiving his 13th draft letter. His father was in the Philharmonic in town and was a great cello player. Laszlo arrived in Budapest and on the fourth day a notice for Accord Music store blew against his leg. He followed his fate and inquired at the store. They weren’t looking for instrument makers but said he could stay for a week. After three days they hired him. He worked there for four years until the shop closed and then opened a small studio across from the opera house. In January of this year he and Rosa moved to Zebegeny, which he has gotten to know over the years because of hiking in the nearby mountains. Rosa is a weaver and has a floor loom set up in her studio. She makes handbags and other woven items. I don’t tend to like alcohol but tried the palinka made from gooseberry, black currant, raspberry, and grape. Gooseberry was my favorite.
October 4. I awoke early and had a traditional local eggs and bacon breakfast with Maruska, who then left to help some customers who had rented canoes. I got in my car to drive to Budapest for my dental surgery, which I’d been dreading, only to realize that I had a flat tire. Dread! I tried to make my way into the town center, which I just managed, then I asked a guy if he could help me put a spare on. He called someone, and eventually they came, after I asked the shop keeper to call. But we didn’t have the wrench to take off the lug nut, or so we thought. It turned out I did, but didn’t recognize it for what it was. I called Maruska, and she kindly came to my aid. It was a fiasco. Gabor, the vice mayor of Zebegeny, showed up with a crew of three guys, who are municipal workers. They put the spare on, while Gabor and I drove to Szob with the damaged tire to see if it could be repaired. Unfortunately, two large gashes in the side wall made it irreparable. They didn’t have my tire, but could order it for the next day. Gabor wanted to check with another tire place, which took what seemed like hours to find a replacement. In the end they didn’t have one, and I was getting extremely nervous out of fear of missing my upcoming dental surgery. I had called the dentist immediately when I got the flat, and explained that I might be late. I had an appointment for the temporary teeth at 12:30, which I’d missed, and surgery at 3pm. I didn’t want to miss that appointment. I ended up taking the train in to Budapest, and almost forgot the CT scan which was in my car. With 3 minutes till the train arrived I realized that they were in the car, and called Maruska, asking her to get them for me. She did, and I made it. The surgery went as well as could be expected, though it was very painful. He had to drill my tooth out, which took over an hour, because the root had been reabsorbed into the bone as a result of scleroderma.
In any event, I bought some pastries to share with Maruska and Endre and took the train back. Maruska had the bright idea of meeting me in Kismaros, where we accomplished operation bag pickup from Katalin’s. I was sure the neighbors would call the police, as I hopped over the fence in the dark, shining a bright light, and returning 3 different trips with large sacks under my arms. Nettles had grown up all around the wood shed, and I was glad for my sweat pants, which saved my legs from the agony of direct contact with the stinging plants. I placed the key back where Katalin had hidden it, and was relieved that it had been successful. Like many unknowns on this trip, I wasn’t sure whether all would go according to plan. We returned to Zebegeny. I had promised to buy beers for the guys who had changed my tire, and we had set a meeting time of 8pm at the Squirrel Bar. They didn’t show, so I bought Maruska and Endre drinks, and sat down with Jan and Peter, two very nice Dutch men, and Peter’s wife. They live in Zebegeny during the summer and were planning to leave for Holland that week, and wanted to say goodbye to Maruska, who is friends with everyone in this town. Peter has had a long and interesting career in informatics, while Jan regaled us with stories about his adventures on the back of a motorcycle in Tunisia and Bangladesh. We closed the bar, and Endre was particularly drunk. He had been celebrating his new job doing mathematical analytics part time for a friend’s firm. Apparently he worked in this field years before. I’ve only known him as a kayaker and hard-core athlete. Back home, we dug into the pastries. I told them how I’d never heard my grandmother sing Hungarian lullabies or folk songs, though I know she had. They both sang melancholic and beautiful Hungarian folk songs for me. There were tears in all of our eyes.
October 5. I didn’t sleep well the night before and woke up worried. I made a list, and waited till Maruska was gone for 2 hours to organize my bags. It was a big undertaking, and I took a shower, answered emails, used the wifi. At 2:30pm, Maruska came back, and I went to Szob to get the new tire. They were very fast and charged 33,000 HUF (132 USD) for the tire and balancing. I really liked them. They knew their jobs and mostly repaired huge tractor tires. I watched them repairing one the day before and was amazed at how easily they got it off its gigantic rim. I drove back to Maruska and loaded my car, then bid them both farewell. I would miss them. I was planning to spend a few days in Romania and had planned to reach Timisoara that night. But as I left late, I decided to stop in Szeged, where I arrived around 7:15pm. It was a full moon, and I walked along the river, gazing at the pale orb, and looking at he shadows cast on the beautiful old town. As I walked past the main square, I heard polyphonic singing coming from an underground pub. A live band was playing a beautiful and haunting melody, and two women sang amazing harmonies that sounded as if they were one note apart and created a third sound. I stood there, mesmerized, for I don’t know how long, then finally pulled myself away and drove to find a place to camp. There was no forest or open land in the area, and I finally settled for a partially built housing development where I parked and slept in the car for the night. It rained hard that night, and I was glad to be inside.