I never feel completely confident and settled in a foreign country until I have acquired some coins in the local currency. I’m always worried when I go for my first holiday wee about having to leave a one million Bimbat note as the courtesy payment to the lady who looks after the toilets, or something far too generous as a tip to some poorly paid and undernourished hotel employee who feels obliged to carry my heavy bag twenty metres to my room.
In Veszprém this problem hit me full on when I tried to buy a Pay & Display ticket from the machine in the corner of my chosen car park. Even if you’ve accepted that overpayment with a large note is the only answer, a large note in no use at all when the machine is asking for coins. Despite my continued efforts, the coin slot on the machine refused to accept my 1,000 Forint note (a big one . . . about three quid) so I had to go a wandering and a wondering to get some change.
Looking around at the shops in the immediate vicinity of the car park, I considered buying a packet of industrial strength cigarettes, a Hungarian newspaper, a cabbage, a bath tap or even something I didn’t really need or want, just so that I could get some change but they were all closed, as were the ten or twelve banks that I walked by, just to add to my frustration.
Eventually I found a ladies’ fashion shop that was open for business. I asked the proprietor if she spoke English. She said ‘Yes’ and proceeded to converse in German. However, we did manage to make some progress as we battled on using our limited knowledge of various European languages and the medium of dance.
I asked her where I could get some change. She told me I couldn’t because all of the shops were closed today. She strangely hadn’t noticed that her own shop was open. I asked her how I could pay for a car park ticket. She said that I didn’t need to because all of the shops were closed today so parking was free. Sensing success, I smiled in English but then she scolded me in German for having been so foolish as to not see that this was clearly stated in bold print on the car park ticket machine . . . in Hungarian!
Any Utca (road), my problem was solved and I strode off in my newly acquired sexy little black cocktail dress to explore the old town.
The good thing about everywhere being closed when you’re visiting a medieval town in Central Europe is that when you are taking photographs of the outsides of beautiful old buildings you can see them perfectly without the clutter of tourists wandering about aimlessly and getting in the way. The bad thing about everywhere being closed is that you can’t see the insides of beautiful old buildings. So I wandered by the Town Hall, through Heroes’ Gate, round by the Cathedral and St George’s Chapel, in the warm sunshine passing ten or more intriguing looking museums (all closed) until I reached the great crucifix atop Benedek Hill. Here I sat alone for a while amongst the wild flowers and nettles and breathed in the beauty of Hungary, a land with a troubled past and a place I had never associated with such peace and tranquillity as this.
On the way back I climbed to the top of the Baroque Fire Tower which just happened to be open despite it bearing an uncanny resemblance to a lighthouse which I wouldn’t have thought there was much call for in this landlocked country. From its summit I had outstanding views of the old town centre. If you can’t see the insides of fantastic old buildings it becomes even more important to see them from the outside from as many different angles as possible.
The crowd of people amassed outside of the Cathedral in Veszprém.
I felt the need to celebrate the completion of what had been a successful morning so I sat at a table outside a café in the square opposite the Town Hall surrounded by tulips and with my first glass of Soproni Hungarian beer I washed down a delicious plate of Aki Kapja Tarja which, if my knowledge of the Magyar tongue serves me right, is pig’s clod with three different types of onions. But Jaysus only knows whereabouts on a pig you would find its clod.
I asked the lady in the Tourist Information shop why everywhere was closed. She reprimanded me for making such sweeping generalisations as the Tourist Information shop and one museum about a kilometre away were definitely open. I said sorry, bought one of her postcards to make up for my rudeness and decided it was time for me to leave Veszprém. Had our conversation gone better I would have asked her whereabouts on the body of a pig you would find its clod. Sadly, that will remain forever a mystery.
On my way back to the car park near the dress shop which was open (but I didn’t tell the Tourist Information office lady that) I had a look at the ugly 1960s tower block that stood like a clod amongst sweetmeats in the middle of such a picturesque town and just couldn’t understand why it was there. According to my trusty guidebook it was built by the Communists so that the view of the town would not be dominated by the castle and the cathedral. Their plan had sadly certainly worked.
The tower block was also closed. It must have been a public holiday or something in Veszprém that day.