With my time in Hungary rapidly coming to an end, my friend Enikö took it upon herself to make sure I didn’t leave without seeing some of the best parts of the country. She’d already taken me for s day to Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Central Europe and known as the Hungarian Sea. During the Soviet occupation it was a prime tourist destination for a number of German and other Eastern European nationals and has retained a lot of it’s “seaside” flavor. Along the north coast are a number of really good wineries and intimate hotels as well as sightseeing stops and plenty of places for water sports. This time, though, we decided to go to Pécs (pronounced Paych) which is a beautiful city to the south of Balaton. It is also where Enikö grew up.
The first thing to see in town is the Mosque of Pasha Qasim. This is a former mosque which has been converted into a Christian Church. It is pretty impressive both inside and out. Inside they have taken the existing architecture and adapted it to a more western usage. Outside, it dominates Széchenyi Square, the main square in town.
The square is beautiful. It’s a wide open area, with well placed statuary and a couple of water features which, on this warm May day, found themselves filled with barefooted high school students taking the day off. Enikö joined in and even got me to take off my shoes and splash for a few minutes.
From there, we had a bite at a horrible little sidewalk cafe which looked good from the outside but was really crap food wise (so bad Enikö sent her soup back – which is NOT something Europeans generally do… EVER!) I had some sort of poultry dish which was edible… but that’s about all I can say for it.
After lunch we headed off to the Necropolis of Sopianae, an underground series of tombs and catacombs which are being excavated. The site is inside a building, with scaffolding and walkways around it so you can see things from all angles. It was very interesting, even if most of it was written in Hungarian. We still ended up having a great time and laughing a lot. Seriously, there’s a lot to make fun of when walking through an ancient tomb (and where were the bodies? There were no bodies!)
A quick stop at Tescos (a large supermarket chain, kinda like Target’s with food) and I picked up a swim suit and a pair of sandals and I was ready for whatever else the weekend had to offer. On the way back, we stopped in a beautiful little village with a small lake. That night we went back to Budapest, met up with Zsolt (Enikö’s boyfriend) and had dinner before crashing.
Saturday morning arrived bright and early and we all went to Enikö’s mom’s place, where we were having lunch… and I was to cook! Well, not cook exactly, but I had been volunteered to make an American dessert for several English students who would also be joining us for lunch. I chose Chocolate Chip Cookies and found a recipe online. Of course, then the problem was finding all of the required ingredients at the local store. Brown sugar was an interesting problem. In the end, though, we ended up with a sheet of one huge cookie (I had spooned the dough with plenty of room to a side, but then I was berated that the dough wouldn’t spread and badgered into placing more dough in the in-between spaces of the lumps I had already placed – my consolation was I got to say “I told you so” when the singular, massive cookie came out of the oven). On the plus side, though, it was delicious!
After lunch, several of us, including Antal, who met up with us, took various forms of public transportations to get to the big bus station to catch a ride to the Etyek Wine Festival. Etyek is a town about 20km from Budapest, known as the Hollywood of Hungary as that’s where the big film studio is. It also shouldn’t take more than a half hour to get to. Unless, of course, you’re part of a huge queue to get to a parking area. Which again, wouldn’t be so bad if we were sitting in an air conditioned car. But when you’re standing on a hot bus for 90 minutes, with a thunderstorm’s worth of humidity just waiting to unleash itself, the ride was not comfortable at all. We finally arrived at the site and the driver let us out… about 3 km away from where the action was actually taking place. So we walked and got in line and finally got our wine glasses and plastic card with our “wine credits” and were finally able to go and taste some wine!
Unlike festivals I’ve been to in the states, which are confined to specific areas with the vendors in nice neat rows, this one took over the entire village. There was lots of good wine, though, and lots of great conversations. The wine was mostly local so it was nice to get a sampling of what was going on in the country around me. And I was hanging out with Antal most of the day, which was handy. Yes, I had taken a wine class at the Freakin Frog and knew a little bit about what I was drinking, Antal was an “amateur” connoisseur and he really knew his stuff. I generally deferred to him and was not once steered wrong. By the end of the night, we were all feeling pretty good.
Naturally, the bus ride home was the same situation only this time, Antal and I ended up near the front of the bus where a VERY drunk guy was trying to talk to the driver. We finally got him to leave the driver alone and instead got him singing very loudly. It was a fun ride to say the least.
I took myself out for dinner when we got back to the city, but was so tired, I was literally falling asleep while waiting for my food. Needless to say, I crashed out and slept very fitfully that night.
Sunday morning, I had coffee with Antal, who is studying to be an English teacher and had done his student teaching at our school in Mezötúr, before meeting up with Enikö and Zsolt and Judit (Enikö’s mom) and heading off to the Szechényi Bath & Spa.
Hungary is known for its spas and thermal baths and Szechényi is one of the more popular and touristy. The other is Gellert, which I never made it to. And it was a special favor to me that we went to Széchenyi since normally, Budapestians don’t go there as it’s overrun with out-of-towners and foreigners. As a Las Vegan, I understand the concept of avoiding the tourist spots, especially on a Sunday, so I was very appreciative of the afternoon.
The facility itself is huge. There are actually medical facilities on-site for patients to make use of the hot water in a healing way. There are three main pools in the atrium area and then a number of side pools, hot tubs, spas, saunas and steam rooms. There are permanent chessboards in the water so you can bathe and exercise your mind at the same time. It’s incredibly relaxing and a perfect way to end a very Hungarian weekend.