Monday, June 11, 2007

Day Eleven – Sunday, June 10 – Budapest to Samobor, CR

In spite of good intentions, we got a late start, with a bit of extra sleep and a slow moving morning which involved some spot-drying of yesterday’s washed laundry (thank you, Marriott hotel hair dryer!), zapping off a few emails, grabbing online directions from (due to the lack of Nuvi guidance in Hungary and Croatia) and blah, blah, blah. We finally rolled out of the hotel at around 11:00AM for a bit more Budapest sightseeing.

But first, it was a return to our local, neighborhood McCafe, where we again partook of one of America’s greatest contributions to Hungarian culture. We walked to the Vörösmarty Tér (square) and took Metro Line 1 from to City Park. This turned out to be our only trip on the Budapest Metro, the subject of a very quirky and funny movie called Kontrol which we had rented on DVD as part of our pre-trip cinematic research (another bit of Paul’s obsession not detailed in the pre-trip posting). As it turns out, the Metro Line 1, which runs under Andrassy Boulevard is the oldest subway in continental Europe (I believe the London subway pre-dates it, however)…and it had that look, to be honest: low ceilings, tiny stations, short trains, etc.

At City Park, we witnessed a Hungarian version of an “art & wine festival” complete with wine tasting, booths of hand-made stuff (stained glass, leather goods, scented candles, wooden toys and burl wood furniture – all the usual) and musicians – in this case a medieval era trio with hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, and a primitive cello/bass that was whacked with a stick. There were some great looking sausages and other meats being grilled but having just eaten, we had to pass.

After wandering in the park, we continued to walk back via Andrassy Ut, saw Hero’s Square and got caught in sudden rain storm. We ducked into the Metro for a one station trip and then went to the “House of Terror” museum at 60 Andrassy Ut. The House of Terror is so named because it was used as the headquarters of two different organizations that were responsible for inflicting terror on the citizenry on behalf of successive authoritarian regimes. During WWII, the building was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, which was local Hungarian Nazi adjunct, and was called the “House of Loyalty.” The tests of loyalty could get very extreme.

After the war, Hungary fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, and 60 Andrassy became the headquarters of the AVO and its successor the AVH, the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB. As the USSR strengthened its domination of Hungary, the building, with its the underground prison cells was used for interrogations and executions.

Like our visit to Dachau, this exhibit was very emotional and thought provoking. It is amazing to realize the power of intimidation and political manipulation and the ability of people to be sucked into – or willing allow themselves to become part of – such a system. And although it’s a major stretch to compare Nazi Germany or Communist Hungary to the US in 2007, it still serves as a reminder of how important it is to be diligent in not allowing our government to exploit or manipulate crises or limit civil liberties in the name of “special circumstances.” The slippery slope, and all...

We took the Metro back to the hotel, bought a bit of the local peach brandy and a few munchies for the road, headed out of town. Not enough time in Budapest. We left a little after 3:00PM and drove to Samobor, making pretty good time. Our one stop along the way was at the last McDonald’s in Hungary to use up our remaining HUFs (Hungarian Florints) on a "McFarm," the local specialty (double pork patty burger). Pretty good! A bunch of Hungarians, with their kids on a Sunday at McDonald’s looks pretty much like a group of Americans at a McDonalds, except the design of this restaurant was nicer and most of the people were slimmer than the average Americans. One thing Annette and I had noticed in Hungary and Austria was that while there are plenty of mobile phones in use, they seem to be used for communication rather than a ubiquitous “lifestyle appliance” like we had seen in Spain and some other places where it seems that almost everyone is either talking or texting on their phone all the time!

We arrived at the Livadic Hotel at around 7:45PM. Samobor is a small town about 20 km out of Zagreb -- which we zipped by on the freeway without seeing. Our hotel was right on the town square, and our top (3rd) floor room complete with large wooden beams and a rather elaborate toilet, faced the square.
Samobor is largely a weekend or day-trip destination for Croatians from Zagreb or environs, and is famous for its local crème
pastry, kremsnite. As it turned out, when arrived, a Kremsnite Festival was underway in the square overlooked by our room, complete with a small stage (featuring a backdrop with a picture of the pastry) for singers and jugglers, and some stalls selling local wares. The open air restaurants were serving hundreds of people kremsnite, coffee, beer and ice cream, but as we walked around we didn’t see a single person eating anything that resembled dinner. Having done a quick walking tour of the central area of the town, without a single “non-desert” sighting, we went back to the hotel where they recommended a restaurant down the street.

The Samoborska Klet (Trg kralja Tomislava 7) was tucked back away from the square, and we were the ONLY people eating dinner at 8:15PM (though another couple did show up eventually). In Budapest, people had eaten on the late side (for example on the first night, we had been seated in a booth with the understanding that we needed to be done by 10:00PM because the table was needed for a dinner reservation). We speculated that perhaps on Sundays in Samobor, the tradition is for a late afternoon/early evening supper in order to allow plenty of time for pastry eating and hanging out.

We relished our semi-exclusive run of the outdoor seating area, and had some wonderful grilled meats (a flank steak stuffed with ham and cheese, and grilled veal scallops in a fabulous brown creamy sauce with garlic and herbs), gnocchi and grilled veggies. When we got back out to the square around 10:00, the crowd had thinned out and the entertainment was long gone, but we enjoyed a couple of pieces of the kremsnite and were not disappointed!

With a big day ahead of us, we headed directly to bed on full stomachs – not recommended by medical professionals, but quite satisfying nonetheless.

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