Burdened with our packs, breakfast (these delicious potato filled pastries I’d had one other morning as well) on our final morning in Croatia was on a railway platform as we waited for our train to Budapest.
I’ve long loved train travel, so this was one leg of our journey I was most certainly looking forward to and it promised to consume our whole day. Our destination. The southern Hungarian city of Szeged.
Sadly there was no direct route for us, so our journey would have us travel north all the way to Budapest before we’d catch another train for the journey back south.
Still, it would give us plenty of time to relax, read and do a bit of people watching.
This was however an important journey (aren’t they all… but seriously), as Szeged was more than just a holiday destination. It is also the birthplace of my grandmother, and it was to meet some of this family (for the 1st time) that was luring me there.
An unusually lengthy border crossing caused us some delay, but by early afternoon, our training was passing “The Sea of Hungary”, Lake Balaton. It was certainly a nice feeling to see for the first time a place that held so many childhood memories for my grandmother!
With the mid 30 degree temperatures outside and no air-conditioning inside, it was only a matter of time before the compartments inside the carriage did heat up. I hatched a cunning plan to sneak to the dining car and snaffle a couple of cold beers. Unfortunately they were not as cold as they could have been, so its relief was minimal so I deferred to plan B, which largely involved standing at the window staring at either the lake, or fields of sunflowers.
That border delay did cause us some problems however, as by the time we pulled in to Budapest, we’d missed not one, but two of our connections to Szeged. That’s the beauty of travel, it’s rarely predictable.
After a hurried scramble through the Metro (we had to change stations) we were eventually on board what was a comfortable (and air conditioned train) which ferried us to Szeged, albeit two hours late.
It’s hard to describe the feeling as you’re about to meet family for the first time (I think I was both nervous and excited at the same time).
After some quick introductions at the station, we were whisked away to the spacious home of Cili & Ferenc with whom we’d be staying for our short time in Szeged. What we hadn’t realised was what awaited was a table fully laden with food. Even though the hour was pushing 10pm, they (this was the family of one of my own mothers cousins) had waited for our arrival before eating.
It was only Ferenc who was the full English speaker amongst them (and my grasp of Hungarian is a few words, but hardly conversational stuff), so the task of translator fell to he, and he performed admirably.
A full feed, a few samples of the local whisky and several beers (mainly Serbian Lav, although we did have a couple of Hungarian Dreher), helped us all understand one another better and before we realised it was 2am well past time for bed.
Despite the late night, we woke early and a day of sightseeing ensued. Down on the great southern plains (near the Serbian & Romanian borders) Szeged is the 3rd largest Hungarian city, it was my grandmother’s home until 1944 when she fled to Germany to avoid the advancing Red Army. When the war concluded, her sisters returned home, whilst she, a 16 year old (and now a newlywed to my now late Popika) opted to stay, ultimately emigrating to Australia in 1949.
Seeing her old home (the actual building) was quite emotional, and being able to see the city she remembers so fondly (as childhood memories often are) was also a real treat.
Not to be outdone by the rest of Europe, it was another incredibly hot day here, so as though they’d taken a leaf out of our own book, after meeting up with some more family in the park, and it wasn’t much past 11am before we were seating sipping on a nice cold beer.
A university town, it was another picturesque city, and in Europe it really seems you aren’t doing it right if your city isn’t either on the ocean or on a river, in this case the river Tisza.
Our last stop on the city tour was the Jewish Synagogue, regarded as the most beautiful in Hungary. It again may strike people as odd, how many times the places we visit are of religious significance, while we are both people with any religious beliefs of our own.
I guess historically the 3 institutions who have had the wealth have been royalty, government and the church (of many faiths), hence their legacies remain in many grand, beautiful buildings.
A dinner had been arranged at a restaurant on the banks of the Tisza, and with the lovely afternoon sun on the water we sat down for a wonderful dinner with some beautiful family I had finally had the opportunity to connect with.
As well as many more photo opportunities, dinner did also supply us with one of our greatest dishes on the trip, Szegedi Halaszle (Szeged Fish Soup). Full of paprika flavour, this dish also packed a punch. A couple of bowls were very nicely washed down with some more cold beer.
Another night of merriment and bonding ensued, and it was with sadness and new fondness (as well as two large Pick Salami’s as a farewell gift) that we left on our train the following day back to Budapest.
It was a train suprisingly full of foreigners, as Szeged had also just finished hosting the world Dragonboat Championships (Australia also had representatives, their team called the Auroras).
I left making a promise to myself and to the family to return, hopefully during the Hungarian winter!