"Úristen!", exclaims Tintin, the globetrotting Belgian adventurer and journalist. "Good God!" in a rare, Hungarian language edition of Hergé's, "The Crab With the Golden Claws". (For some reason, the official English-language translation uses the unlikely anodyne phrase, "What the ...", instead of the literal, more spontaneous and evocative expression I prefer.)
Why start an article on my travels to Hungary with a panel from a volume of "The Adventures of Tintin"? This is all a roundabout way to introduce a bit of clarification as to the title of my post. Tintin may be just as perplexed as are others, as to why the country of Hungary is called by Hungarians themselves, "Magyarország" - literally the Land of the Magyars - and not something like, Hungary? "Hungary" perhaps brings to mind the distant and maligned, warring Mongolian tribal people, The Huns. These horrifying, some have even written, "child-devouring", invading mounted hordes may not understandably rest well with contemporary Hungarian sensibilities. Falsely equating the Hungarian people with the Huns has a long-standing history. Current scholarly understanding of the origins of these enigmatic people however indicates that the two have different beginnings. The predecessors of contemporary Hungarian People - The Magyars, while indeed also an ancient tribal people, hail from the steppes of the Ural Mountains in present-day Russia. What we don't know is if the early Hungarian tribal alliances galloped on their horses from the western or eastern slopes of the Urals. Were the original Hungarian clans therefore European or Asian people? I like to imagine that these wild, adventurous nomads intermingled and hence my ancestors are in fact Eurasians.
And so, I am back in wondrous Magyarország.
In Budapest, I went for a swim amidst the sweltering 42 degree heat. As with many things in Hungary, this dip in the pool was far from ordinary. When I think of "swimming pool", this ornate, grand, cathedral-like ceiling isn't what customarily comes to mind. But here it is, the splendid dome at the entrance of the Széchenyi Baths. Its mix of twenty-one - yes, that's right, 21 - indoor and outdoor thermal pools would make Neptune himself smile with glee!
Victor Vasarely's eye-popping op art pieces are beautifully displayed in the recently renovated, Vasarely Museum in the area of Budapest known as Óbuda.
The Parliament Building on the banks of the Danube is perhaps the most famous of Budapest's many picturesque scenes. Because of its immense popularity, the iconic architectural masterwork can be difficult to visit without an advance purchased entry ticket. I was one of the many who was only able to enjoy the dramatic building from the lovely nearby embankment.
I did not however have any problem checking out the replica in the pretty town of Kesthely, a three hour train ride away at the western end of Lake Balaton. Thing is - this rendition of the Parliament is made of four and a half million snail shells! It took 14 years to complete this fascinatingly odd and obsessive project. The actual building took 17.
My graffiti-covered hotel was a short two blocks away from the elegant Andrássy Út, the very grand UNESCO World Heritage site honored, stately Budapest boulevard. This in fact is part of the very charm of Budapest. Beautifully restored turn of the century architectural gems are often juxtaposed with neglected and bullet-hole ridden derelict buildings - a testament to the long and oppressive Soviet occupation. As many of these aging structures have 'For Sale' signs affixed to them, it is only a short time before new boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants will again emerge from the rubble.
Europe's 2019 summer heatwave was oppressive. Hungary did not escape the smoldering effects of the global climate crisis. Everyone seemed to understand that our collective behaviour was responsible for the unprecedented, dangerous temperatures. While dizzyingly hot, this photo was not taken in Portugal. I stumbled across this pleasing coral pink stucco home with the olive green shutters in Pomáz, a small sleepy town thirty minutes out of Budapest on the HÉV suburban train.
Occasionally travel gives the wayfarer a special and unexpected gift. Literally, serendipity. As I disembarked from the train, I had the unexpected good fortune of meeting-up with someone who had stood next to my father and I in a fading photograph taken decades ago. "And who is this pretty girl?" I asked the woman greeting me at the train station. She looked at the photograph, and in one of those priceless moments said, "It's me!" And so began a fascinating exploration of long forgotten, ancient and far-spreading branches of my family tree. We figured out that her great grand mother and my great grandmother were sisters. Until then I had no real idea of the meaning of the relational term, "second cousin" - never mind meet her!