Monday, January 14, 2008

Al's Hungary for Adventure

After seeing and doing so many great things in America, Al decided it was about time he returned to the Old World for a spell. One par avion sticker later he found himself in Hungary, a humble Central European country renowned for its goulash and its discovery of the Rubik's cube.

It was a busy week for Paul, Al's host in Hungary, as another special guest was also arriving, the lovely Gayle Bowerman of Baltimore, Maryland. The three of them started their exploration of Hungary in Budapest.

Al and the famous Danube River in Budapest. Budapest promotes itself as the "Pearl of the Danube" and indeed the Danube is an important part of Europe. Stretching from Germany all the way to the Black Sea through many major cities, this river was once the longtime border of the Roman Empire and currently flows through or along ten nations.

Gayle and Al pose in front of the lions that guard the Szechenyi Bridge. This bridge was the first permanent bridge across the Danube linking the then separate cities of Buda and Pest, an important step towards the becoming the city it is today. The lions appear not to have tongues, and rumor has it that the architect of the bridge was so mocked for this that his shame drove to to jump from his bridge into the Danube, but not, of course, without first firing off a biting rebuttal to his critics: "Your wife should have a tongue just as my lions have, and woe will be unto you!" Zing!

Al in front of St Steven's Cathedral. Saint Steven ("Istvan") was Hungary's first king who, in 1000AD, turned them from a brutal pagan horde into a respectable Christian Kingdom that would subsequently be overrun by a number of other brutal hordes over the next thousand years. Still, St Steven is a big deal in Hungary and you can see his right hand in a special tomb in this cathedral. It's icky.

After all of the sightseeing this genius decided to sample the celebrated Budapest cafe culture and enjoy a piece of Dobosz torta, a sweet Hungarian specialty.

Remarking "That went straight to my thighs, I feel like such a sow," Al decided to walk of some of that rich cake with a stroll through Margaret Island. Al, Gayle, and Paul agreed that Margaret Island is one of Budapest's best treasures. Just a short walk from the excitement of the city's most bustling centers, this mile-long island in the Danube is quite literally an island of calm amidst the big-city mayhem.

Al with the Gothic revivalist style Hungarian Parliament building behind him. This building is one of the most distinctive trademarks of Budapest and happens to be the third largest Parliament building in the world. Even a genius like Al couldn't figure out why a country of Hungary's modest stature needed such a huge Parliament.

Al in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Though Hungary is proud of its contributions to the sciences such as the discovery of Vitamin C the invention of lunar radar (what is that?), Al was unimpressed and felt that he would gain more from sampling some more fattening Hungarian food.

Eventually our explorers left the big city and returned to Paul's home in Szentes, a sleep town in the Southeast part of the country. Al and Gayle relaxed at home while Paul was busy enlightening the youth. Then, on Thursday, they all got together with Szentes' other resident American, Taylor, to celebrate Thanksgiving. Taylor was kind enough to put a lot of time and effort into looking up traditional recipes and obtaining all of the ingredients so a real Thanksgiving feast was had.

Al oversees the preparation of our special meal with precise formulas for seasoning, berating Taylor with remarks such as "Unlike space and time, the amount of chicken broth in good stuffing is NOT relative."

Gayle, Al, and Taylor sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal fit for the finest pilgrims.

After the feast we decided to relax with some fine Hungarian wines and spirits. Al, in honor of one of his adopted nation's most important celebrations, probably overindulged a little bit but that's all I'll say. What happens in Hungary stays in Hungary.

Soon Gayle had to return to the States but Al stayed in Szentes for some quiet and relaxation. Below are a few pics of Szentes in the winter, which Al called home for a couple of weeks.

The halcyon Kurca River. Al remarked "Yeah, that's pretty" *yawn*

The city's main square with it's tiny Christmas market.

View from Taylor's apartment

One weekend Al accompanied Paul and Taylor on a little trip up to the North to a city called Eger. Eger is known today for it's wine, Egri Bikaver, which literally means bull's blood. Apparently the castle at Eger was one of the most difficult places in Europe for the Turks to conquer and the Hungarian fighters drank large quantities of the local red wine to keep themselves going. The Turks saw their red beards and thought they were drinking blood, hence the name.

Al outside of Eger castle's walls. In one of the proudest moments of Hungarian military history, a force of 2,000 Hungarians fended off more than 80,000 Turks in 1552, temporarily halting the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks returned with even more forces soon, however, and ravaged the Eger area and the rest of Hungary with a good old raping and pillaging spree and subsequently ruled the country for 150 years.

Al with the city scape of Eger as seen from the ramparts of the castle.

Paul and Al bundled up but still happy to be in Eger.

The cold weather in Eger was uniquely intense but Al, Taylor and Paul kept themselves warm with the ubiquitous spiced hot wine and a hearty meal of spicy paprika stew and traditional stuffed cabbage before returning back to Szentes. Once there, Paul and Al packed up for their next adventure: Turkey! Szia!

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