Rain, a Hungarian train, and I need some coffee

It’s been awhile since my marathon of travel postings. Simply put, I was trying to balance three things at once after spring holiday – getting my next job sorted out (and preparing to do an international move), doing my actual job of teaching the final social justice unit for our grade 7s, and completing grad classes, along with starting the next set of assignments for the summer.

Yep, a hermit I was, and now that summer is here, I’m done with work – all those insidious piles of language-arts-teacher-grading are done, my goods have been packed up and are sitting in port in Shanghai bound for Hong Kong in two months (don’t get me started on shipping internationally – ugh!), and all of my summer grad pre-assignments are finished.

So…what to do? Now that I’m coach-surfing at some colleagues’ apartments – I checked out of my lane house yesterday and don’t have keys officially to any home now – I waded into the nearest Starbucks. I say waded because I think Shanghai is in the middle of monsoon season. We’ve had two days of nearly nonstop pounding rain, and everything is flooded up to my capri pants. We have another day to go, then two “supposedly” sunny days, and then it’s more rain.

Disappointingly enough, I had wanted to spend more time exploring Shanghai and China, but if the last two days’ rain is any indicator, I’ll be exploring museums instead of the great outdoors.

Anyway – now that I’m at Starbucks, drying off, latte in hand (PS – I recommend using the cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla spice shakers to make a deliciously heady latte without sugar and syrup), I’m ready to catch up on my Cambodian and Hungarian adventures, along with weighing in on my last three years in China, which are rapidly coming to a close.

Now, where do I pick up the story of Hungary?

Ah yes. Here we go.

I had to get up very early the next morning in order to make my train to Szeged. It’s a two hour and twenty minute train ride to the home of Pick Salami and Paprika Museum.

So…why Szeged?

I’m a foodie. I don’t claim to be able to make genius food or do microbiology on foams, but I do like my food, I like to cook and bake, and I like nothing else than when I throw things together, season them, and it comes out really good. I became a fan of Xinjiang spices in Xi’An, kampot pepper in Cambodia, fresh-off-the-tree cinnamon in Sri Lanka, and eye-watering Thai chili peppers in Bangkok – of course, I had to visit the home of Hungarian paprika.

On the way to Szeged, I wrangled an entire train car to myself, so the journey was both quiet and scenic. Szeged is in the south, which is the middle of the Hungarian plains. The land was pretty flat for the most part, but it’s beautiful, especially in the middle of spring when the land was still waking up from winter. Brown grasses gradually gave way to bright green sprigs, and birds flitted about in the bushes, looking for a suitable spot for a nest. It’s a renewal and an awakening, and it’s beautiful.

Szeged was the end of the track, so I headed out of the station and immediately hop on a tram to take me to the center of town. I stopped off at the Dóm tér, which was a large square around the Votive Church with busts of notable Hungarian historical figures. Some of them were captured in the most interesting of expressions, I’d say, and I do believe that 99% of them were men. Notable Hungarian women, anyone?

From there, I wandered deeper into town, eventually locating the restaurant where I hoped to have lunch. It was still very early, so I spent the time visiting the Ferenc Móra Museum, where the local history of the area is on display. There was an interesting WWI exhibit – all in Hungarian – but I feel that if art is good, no language is needed to explain it. The upstairs housed a collection of local folk crafts, including blue dye pattenwork, paprika farming, fishing, and embroidered shoes. The area was very active in terms of culture and light industry.

After the museum, I was suitably hungry, so I returned to the restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet – Vendéglő A Régi Hídhoz (At the Old Bridge). Imagine everything you’d want in a local Hungarian/Eastern European restaurant – and you’ll get it here, no lie. Everything is awesomely suited to the area and to nostalgia – from old glass bottles, paintings, to hats and local crafts. The atmosphere is homey and warm, and the waiters were right on it.

I started with liver meatball soup (I do like liver, having grown up with Eastern European influences in my parents/grandparents, though the server really wanted to make sure before I ordered it), a huge local beer, and then the favorite dish of pickled veg. The giant liver meatball was tender and delicious in a dark broth with carrots. Perfect amount of salt and pepper. Perfect.

The main was a massive dish of spicy sausage, onions, mushrooms, pork tenderloin, bacon, thinly-sliced potatoes, and paprika sauce. Oh. My. Word. I went at that dish like nobody’s business.

The server was solicitous and asked if I’d liked everything, and I could barely answer. My mouth was rather full of food. He asked if I was Hungarian (as did almost everyone – that’s the blessing or curse of being from German, Polish, and Czech descent), but I told him no, I was a load of other Eastern European backgrounds. He said that explained why I liked liver and local foods – most people weren’t fans. I told him I blogged about travel and food (though obviously without any regularity), and while it may not be a money-maker, I loved to try new and local foods. Its one of the best ways to learn about culture – especially if someone can explain the cooking processes to me.

Hence my real reason for a visit to Szeged – paprika and salami.

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