50th anniversary trip to Hungary

It’s done, I’ve booked the rail journey and hotels en route to Hungary which I first visited 50 years ago. I shall be staying with the friend I first met during that trip and his wife, spending time at Lake Balaton as well as Budapest.
I’ll be travelling by rail on this occasion. In 1963 I took a night flight to Vienna traveling on by rail to Budapest. The flight in a British European Airways Viscount with lightening flashing across the pitch black night was not to be forgotten as we approached Vienna. My arrival at an unearthly hour in the morning meant I couldn’t get into the hotel until after desperately trying to attract attention. I managed a short rest before going to explore Vienna which I walked around in a daze. With my face swollen and distorted by insect bites I tried to make the most of only a few hours here. It’s always an insect that gets in a first welcome to Austria: horse flies and assortments have been my earlier and later experience.
The Danube beckoned so I thought I’d walk to see its wondrous blue. It turned out to be miles away in an area of heavy industry. This was reflected in a grey hue. I was able to spend more time on the return with trips to Schonbrunn and a performance of Die Fledermaus out at a theatre in the Vienna Woods if I remember correctly.
The train to Budapest was drawn by a huge black steam monster belching out smoke with soot that settled in hair and clothing. I needed to get to my hotel, the Beke (Peace) if I remember in Lenin Korut. Budapest at this time remained scarred from events of 1956. It was the distinctive and unique Hungarian culture, particularly food and music which had lured me here. I was also interested in the Socialist countries of Eastern Europe. I had first experienced these in 1961 during in a trip that took in Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany as well as the Soviet Union.
After a few rather lonely days in Budapest I moved onto Balatonfoldvar on Lake Balaton. Still not knowing how to make the best use of my stay I headed for the local tourist office. I found an interesting musical event taking place in the grounds of the Festetics Castle at Keszthely where a Haydn oratorio was to be performed by the railway choir. Problem was I couldn’t get back afterwards. I hadn’t noticed someone else in the room had been listening in. “Come with me” he suggested, “I have relations living there and they will put you up for the night.” The young man introduced himself as Egon who was a doctor in the Hungarian army. This year I am taking an engraved tankard commemoration 50 years of friendship.
We travelled to Kesthely by boat crossing over to the volcanic hill of Badacsony covered in vines. There we filled lemonade bottles to the brim with the beautiful local white wine. It was very hot and the wine was very welcome.
It was a wonderful experience to be invited into a home in a rural village. I stayed the night in the home of a friend nearby. I remember next morning I was suffering from a upset tummy, something that will happen with a change of water and diet. Why I remember this particularly I can’t say! Somehow I managed and we returned to Foldvar by train.
Egon introduced me to a few of his friends. One of them was a music student. It was the music of Bartok and Kodaly, together with Hungarian food, that drew me to Hungary in the first place, not just its political complexion. People I met were not very sympathetic to the imposition of a Communist government particularly after the repression of the Budapest uprising. The three of us walked around Foldvar humming Hungarian folk tunes, some of which I knew from Bartok’s piano music. We sat out late into the night drinking local wines, discussing music and politics among other things.
Another excursion was to the abbey on the Tihany Peninsula high on a hill.
Egon, Tihany (1963)
Egon, Tihany (1963).
John, Tihany (1963)
John, Tihany (1963).
Since 1963 I have met with Egon in many and varied places. He visited England where he stayed with my parents at their house at 45 Cedar Park Road in Enfield where I was born. In 1966 we met up again in Poland along with his friend Miklos. In 1971 I drove to Hungary with my wife in a Ford Escort painted a newly promoted metallic silver-grey. The heat of the sun in Hungary stripped the paintwork! Egon found us accommodation on Roszadom (Hill of Roses) in Buda by kicking a friend out of his home. On that occasion we visited Kaposvar, Egon’s home town, where his parents and grandmother continued to live. It was a grand home with large rooms and high ceilings, a cool respite from the intense heat. We travelled to Pecs, a city once taken over by Turkish invaders with the mosque now converted to a church. We first met with Kinga, Egon’s wife-to-be at Fertod, the Esterhazy Palace where Haydn spent much of his time. We stayed for a concert of music for piano, string quartet and girls’ choir with music by Haydn, Bartok and Kodaly.
Another excursion was to Visegrad on the Danube at the border with then Czechoslovakia. This remains a favourite place. We returned to Budapest by steamer taking in Szentendre, an artistic paradise close to Budapest.
On another occasion our families both met in Yugoslavia. This was before the turmoil and break up. Both of us had families with a boy and girl each. We returned to Hungary in I think 1986 as a family staying in the family apartment in Pest and then at their holiday home at Balatonboglar. Since then we have holidayed together in England. Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

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