Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Back in Budapest

My parents arrived in Transylvania on Friday morning and I have hardly had time to check my email never mind think about blogging.

It is a long, long trip from Kansas to the land of pine trees, mineral water, and kurtos kalach. They have been troopers, however. This morning we arrived back in Budapest via overnight train. In the couchette to our right was a film crew from England (including Jeremy Daniels--whose passport was confused with one of ours at the border), who had just finished shooting a film in Romania. On our right, a group of folk singers/story tellers from Hungary. My family took up an entire couchette.

Saturday and Sunday were spent on the pot-holed roads between villages and bigger cities in Transylvania. We visited a region famous for its salt mines, partially because my hometown in Kansas also has salt mines. We thought it would make for an interesting parallel view of the two cultures. We took a bus down into the mines for a few hours tour.

The mines we visited were huge caverns used here for health and recreation. It is considered therapeutic for those with respiratory problems to spend hours down inside the mines breathing the air which is certainly pollen free. None of us noticed an air ventilation system. No fire escapes. After the 1.5 kilometer bus ride down into the mine, we descended about 200 wooden steps. The experience was eerie. The mine is now equipped with picnic tables, swings, ping pong tables, and room for badminton. There is a church and a museum. And, of course, a coffee bar. (Other parts of the mine are still in working condition.)

After leaving the mines we spent the afternoon in nearby Szovata, a resort town with a salty-water lake. The lake is filled with bobbing heads due to the buoyancy of the water. We didn't float ourselves; instead we enjoyed a long, long lunch on a patio near the lake.

We fed my parents all the local foods we love: cheeses, cakes, fresh fruits and vegetables, mushrooms taken down from the mountains, micc (a kind of grilled meat), kurtos kalach, etc.

We took them up into the mountains around Csik to look at land we might want to buy. We drank Csiki beer on the main street and people watched. (We kept the gypsies at arm's length.)

We played with grandma's new puppy, Bodza.

On Monday we visited the church at Csiksomlyo, famous for its miraculous Virgin Mary statue.

We ate Grandma’s lunch at 1 pm everyday—roka mushrooms paprikas or chicken paprikas, puliszka, or potatoes, or perhaps sheep’s milk cheese and always enough perfectly ripe watermelon to feed an army.

Thanks be to God, the heat wave broke before we arrived in Budapest today. We are all happily ensconced in our castle district residences, most of us sleeping off lunch and rich servings of cake.

Things observed during this trip to Transylvania:

1. Roads in Transylvania are not just for cars--expect hay-loaded horse carts, motorcycles, bikes, old ladies walking, hitchhikers, train crossings operated by hand, hand-picked berries or mushrooms for sale, trucks, and the occasional grazing cow.

2. Kansas and Transylvania have more in common than you might expect.

3. Poverty does not equal danger or violence.

4. Language barriers can be overcome by walking a puppy on the street.

5. Poverty does not equal lack of education.

6. "Decarbonated" does not mean no carbonation when looking for water with no gas.

7. If you are willing to give your last piece of pizza to a beggar woman, do not feel shocked or offended when she walks two steps away and shares it with her son right before your eyes.

8. Transylvania and Budapest--not handicap accessible.

9. Puppies are worth it.

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