I have organised a Warm Showers host tonight in Szeged so pack camp, do a few hours work, chat with my new friend and head out to explore the city. I am meeting Donat (my Warm Showers host) at 2pm so have a couple of hours to kill in town.
Szeged has some cool statues and I walk around admiring them. There are beautiful ladies, handsome men, fierce warriors and (I think) inspirational leaders. I am quite a fan of city statues so enjoy checking them out. I won’t bore you with photos of all of them though. Just the ones I like the best (does anyone else wish they had a body like the guy with the flag?).
I go to the museum because it is showing a WWI exhibition. Now I will be honest, I don’t know what side Hungary took in that conflict but I have learned that Hungary was right in the thick of the battles with it being the main link between the East and the West. Thought I did have a read on Wikipedia and see that Hungary was on the losing side, which makes sense given the country’s history as I have been told it by Hungarians while here. Anyway, the exhibition is small but excellent. While there are no English language translations for the stories, I can feel a deep sense of loss and sadness in the display; just as I have in all the war exhibitions I’ve visited. It shows that human life is human life no matter what flag is sewn on the soldier’s arm. Within the display there is a dark room with sandbags lining the walkway. A “man” with a machine gun holds the highest position and “heads” are popping up from trenches around the room. As I walk past the machine gun it starts to “fire” and a video display shows bombs going off and flashes from gun fire. It’s the best interactive WWI exhibit I’ve seen and, thankfully, the closest I have been to a trench. I leave deeply moved by the experience.
Back outside I visit the Heroes’ Gate, which was erected for the men who fought in WWI. The paintings inside the gate are amazing.
I have a craving for beef and know that this meat is almost impossible to buy in Hungary at a reasonable price. But there is a McDonalds in the city centre and it has free fast wifi. So I buy lunch and call home (the wonders of Viber mean I can call home for free when I have wifi and the time difference allows). There is a group of men sitting at a table across the street drinking beer. They are dressed in super hero and Star Wars costumes. After finishing a round of beer they stand up, walk into the square and take positions. I first think they are just posing but then they capture an unsuspecting pair of girls. The girls don’t seem scared … they seem to be laughing along. A battle of good versus evil ensues with Superman the last hero standing and the other characters all laying on the ground after many “thuds” and “biffs” and “bams” are thrown their way (it’s all pulled punches not real violence). I reckon this sort of laugh should occur more often. The men then return to their table, order another round, drink it and repeat the display further down the street.
I meet Donat outside the city hall. He’s a young guy just 19 years old and I can’t help but feel like an old man. He’s oozes cool and confidence. I met him through Warm Showers and he offered to host me for the night. Donat has just completed a month long cycle tour through Europe so he understands exactly what a cyclist needs.
After taking me to his family’s home so I can dump my bike he takes me out to see Szeged. We walk through the main street, check out his university campus, eat cake and ice cream, and visit the big cathedral. The exterior is being renovated so it doesn’t make a pretty photo just now but inside it is fabulous.
We return to Donat’s home and meet his parents. His mother doesn’t speak English but has a way about her that means it doesn’t matter. She’s friendly, smiling and thoughtful. Donat translates as she asks me about my trip, my life and my plans. Donat’s father speaks English. He seems shy with speaking English at first but soon warms up. Later I will also meet Donat’s sister but she is at work right now.
Donat’s mother suggests that we go to the nearby thermal baths. They are in a grand old building. Donat and I spend a few hours soaking in baths of different temperatures. This is definitely the way to go. I wish we had baths like this at home. But then again, I’d never get anything done because I’d always be there soaking in the warm water.
We end the night by eating pizza for dinner and watching a movie at Donat’s house. It’s so relaxing. I am grateful to them for their hospitality. I see a different side of Hungary than the one I have learned about from those who are struggling. This is the generous, more comfortable and confident side of the country. One that ought not be ignored or forgotten.
I fall asleep in my own private room feeling relaxed, welcomed and content.