Part two in a rambling travelogue/diary recording a couple of weeks of travelling in April 2017, with one camera and only black and white film.
Bratislava, SK to Orosháza, HU. 383km
After a fine breakfast, made finer by views of the UFO bridge, it was time for our all too brief stay in Bratislava to end and for us to get back on the road south.
Not far out of the city, we crossed into Hungary and the scenery became flatter, the skies darker. Heavy rain turned to heavy, settling snow and by the time we hit the Budapest ringroad, we were driving in a full-on blizzard. We sought refuge in a service station and joined the bemused locals who had enjoyed 25ºC the previous week.
When the weather abated, we continued along mile after kilometer of straight, flat motorway, surrounded by farmland for as far as the eye could see. Just short of our turn off the motorway and onto minor roads, we stopped for food and I had my first Hungarian goulash, of beans rather than meat. It was excellent!
Getting used to having no common language was odd. It still felt like Poland and of course I was with a Polish family, but it was me, the English speaker that was more likely to be understood by the locals.
Throughout the two days spent travelling, Emily had been great. Despite being a two year-old bundle of energy and inquisitiveness, she was super-well behaved and we only had to resort to Peppa Pig videos on a couple of occasions.
Excitement grew as we got closer to our destination. G, her mum and sister had made this journey many times before, but not for 15 years. As we passed through the small, rural villages they talked about how nothing had changed. Apart from the weather. Whenever they visited Hungary, it’d always been red hot. Today, the snow had cleared, but the rain still beat down.
We finally arrived and the two families were re-united. Their story goes back more than 30 years. Both were on camping holidays in Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast, popular with many residents of the eastern block. One evening, my mother-in-law had forgotten her scourer and washing up liquid. She improvised and used sand and seawater instead to clean the pan. A Hungarian woman saw her plight and offered her cleaning supplies. Despite not speaking a common language apart from rusty Russian learned in school, they became friends. They met again in subsequent years and then visited each others homes. Both families had children of similar ages and the friendship lasted until the children grew older and stopped holidaying with their parents. G had tracked down one of the Hungarian boys and arranged this meeting.
The hospitality that I enjoy so often in Poland seems to be similar in Hungary – nothing was too much trouble and the meals we were given were all superb. Hearty, healthy and home cooked.
Over the next couple of days, we spent most of our time avoiding the unseasonably bad weather and hiding out in a thermal spa resort in nearby Gyopārosfurdō. The cough and cold that I’d had in the few days before travelling was beginning to turn into something more hardcore (eventually flourishing into a sinus infection).
I took a couple of brief opportunities to get out in the sleet and explore the town. Hungary seems to be better off than the more familiar Poland. For me at least, this meant less photographic opportunities. And the headache was limiting any creativity.
Friday 21st April – Szeged, Hungary
The girls were up and out early, excited to return to the pools. I ate breakfast and slumped in front of the TV, waiting for the painkillers to ease the ‘bastard behind the eyes’.
I decided eventually that having come this far, and being unlikely to return, I should get off my arse and go and see stuff.
Szeged is Hungary’s third city, famous for its university and its sunny climate – it was an easy 60km drive away. It’s a pretty place, on a bend in the Tisza (or Tisa), a tributary of the Danube and another of central Europe’s major rivers.
I parked up and took a stroll around the centre and again got the feeling that Hungary was similar to Poland in many ways but a decade ahead of it in terms of redevelopment after the neglect of the post-Communist era. Its streets were neat and tidy and the people friendly and courteous.
I made for the city’s main tourist attraction – The Votive Church and Cathedral of Our Lady of Hungary. It lies on Dóm square beside the Dömötör tower and is surrounded by busts and statues of the city’s nobility, from centuries ago, through to those of the last 50 years.
I realised that after walking for a couple of hours around the city, I was flagging. Normally I can wander all day, burning through film, but today, the drugs and the infection were doing battle in my nostrils and it was taking its toll…
On the way back to our rented house, I crossed the Tisa again. I noticed a handsome railway box bridge running parallel and thought I’d investigate. I travelled down a side road and then onto a muddy track towards the bridge. At some point I realised how difficult it might get if the car were to become stranded in the mud. We were a long way from home with no kind of recovery cover and in a very obscure Korean car. I parked up and continued to the bridge on foot.
As I got onto the deck of the bridge, a plaque presumably marked the death of someone who had jumped from it in the past. The memorial seemed to have been positioned (I guessed) to warn people against walking across the bridge and so I took it as a sign and turned back.
This was my last evening in Hungary and once again, we were treated to a feast of local venison stew. I felt terrible.
Next morning, my original plan was to head to Budapest to explore for a day before catching a flight back to the UK in the evening. Knowing that I’d be driving for much of the following day as I travelled up to Newcastle, I played safe. And so rather than seeing one of the world’s most beautiful cities for the first time, I stayed in bed, getting up only in time for the two hour drive to the airport.
As the plane took off and I looked down on the famous chain bridge and castle and got my last view of the Danube, I felt like I had lemonade fizzing in my sinuses.
On the train back to Leicester from Luton, surrounded by sweary Chelsea football fans returning from their FA Cup semi-final victory, I grumpily wondered if the trip had been worth the expense, as I’d been so limited in what I could do. Maybe I’d have been better off staying home and getting well before my Scotland trip.
But I thought about the time that I’d spent with my daughter and family, the magnificent sight of the Danube and brief introductions I’d had to Bratislava and Szeged, and realised that these experiences were priceless.
All pictures were taken on a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron-M ASPH, using HP5+ developed in Ilford Ilfotec DD-X before being scanned at home.