[First Hungarian impressions in cute little Sopron = here.]
I was rather skeptical about my Sopron hostess. I know maybe I’m not the most open-minded person, but maybe I’m overly careful just to stay safe, and you can’t blame me too much for that.
Probably a couple of weeks ago she wrote me a message to invite me. She didn’t have a profile photo and not much more description, basically only something like “I don’t know what to write here now,” and she had no references. Granted, I also started with no references – one’s got to start somewhere sometime, right? –, and she actually did have a photo, except that she misplaced it in the profile and I failed to see that. But aside from all these, I wasn’t very sure partly because, in her invitation message (not a formal “Couch Request” form), there’s a proviso: “[as long as] you don’t bring home ‘easy girls.’”
Although at that time I was having trouble finding Slovakian hosts (and eventually found only one in Trencin) and no less difficulty finding any sort of inexpensive accommodation in Hungary (I have to say a thousand thanks to my Hungarian Walking Encyclopedia, i.e. Istvan in Vac – he really helped a lot), none of the above made me feel inclined to bunk (sorry, the official word is “surf”) at this hostess’ place, and I replied to her, saying that if she takes a closer look at my profile, she would understand that it’s rather unlikely I would bring home “easy girls.”
(How about “difficult girls”? maybe that could be a good idea.)
I am not sure whether she figured that out by reading my profile, but she wrote back saying she understood and would like me to come. And there’s a request: she and her husband would like me to cook a “traditional Taiwanese dish.” While I was definitely not trying to be mean or difficult, I told her my cooking is so bad that it’d be more like an insult. Hey folks, this is true! “Unless there’s proper dumpling skin, ground meat, and cabbage or a particular type of leek.” I added this also. With all due honesty, I’m really a bad cook, and I should really not do anything to ruin the name of Taiwan, namely the miraculous foodie paradise – even if this is a fact largely unknown to many Westerners.
The thing is that as time passed (and maybe I was dealing with the family stuff and hiked my arse off), I started to feel that this is a young woman (26-year-old – that’s pretty young) is one of those nice people who happen not to think 26 hours a day. Not everyone needs to be like you, Mister Reisende, and being like you is definitely not a very good nor healthy thing indeed! But yet another thing I noticed is that her English is limited – she mentioned that she needed to check the dictionary [a lot] to read my email, so “be patient,” she wrote. Well, language barrier – that I can rise above.
As soon as I arrived in Bratislava I checked the SLOVAKIAN website of train/bus, but when I checked the HUNGARIAN train website the search results were VERY different: in the latter I would need to change a lot more times, and I was a bit concerned. In the end it seems I should trust (contrary to my treasured Cicmany experiences, that is) the Slovakian website. Two options: I can
Leave at ca. 7.40am and arrive at 10.38; two changes are involved; or
Leave sometime past 10; aside from two changes, I also have to walk from one train station in Vienna to another.
For the second option I’ll arrive almost at noon, and my hostess Edit offers to pick me up (with a big smile). If I go for the first option, since her delicatessen shop doesn’t close until 1pm on the weekend, I’ll have to walk to her shop. But later she offered something really nice: she would leave a map at a bookstore right beside the train station, and I can even put my luggage there for free. THAT is really beyond nice.
The train ticket to Sopron isn’t exactly cheap; I guess that’s because (a) the combination involves Austria, and (b) two of the three legs of the journey are international. Good news is that I only have to buy one ticket instead of buying three tickets in three different stations.
But once I got on the first train I have no complaints: aside from the lovely light-blue interior, the train has AIR-CONTIONING. That’s right, repeat after me: AIR-COND-ION-ING. Real air-conditioning, with cold air! And there’re even plugs for computers. (No wi-fi, though; not that it matters.) Although before soon I found out that the air-conditioning soon makes it difficult for my skin to breathe as normally as it should, at least I don’t have to sweat. (What was beyond me, then, was that several young simple-minded Slovak TOOK OFF THEIR SHIRTS and blabbered a lot, laughing out loud. Oh well never mind. AIR-COND-ION-ING. That’s the key word.)
It was before I reached the first Viennese station I thought I was rather dumb not to stay in Vienna for a couple of days. But anyway.
During the two latter legs of the train journey I heard a lot of German spoken around me – with an Austrian accent, of course. One could feel that it’s really a different world, even though I’m sure many tourists in either Slovakia or Hungary are from German-speaking countries. The last train is an old regional train, and neither of the two latter trains have air-cons. It got quite hot, but by this stage I guess I’ve gotten reasonably used to all this heat.
On the wall of the small underground passage of Sopron Train Station, the advertisements are all in German. Obviously it’s true when LP says many Austrians come for cheap dental and enjoy Kuchen und Kaffee before and after.
The train is small and worn, but as I randomly/ cautiously chose a woman in front of the train station, she answered me most cordially in English. And the flowers right in front of the station are just lovely. Oh, how nice! My first stop in Hungary!
I soon discovered that Sopron is even smaller than I thought. It wasn’t that easy to find Tourist Info even though I have the address – basically the sign is designed in a very low-profile manner. (I needed to wander into a tiny four-star hotel-restaurant first, where a most kind lady immediately presented me with a free map.) The small fat lady at Tourist Info turns out to speak English (rather unexpectedly) and was utterly kind and helpful – she gave me a number of lovely pamphlets as soon as I mentioned the name of Fertőd and Szombathely, and she didn’t hesitate a second before checking buses and trains for me before writing everything down preciously carefully and precisely. Simply amazing service. She even smiled at my “köszönöm” (thank you).
As for Edit, she emerged as a young lady with shiny blond air and as shiny smile in a light white outfit. We went to her place, and we and her waiter husband had lunch before he had to leave to work in the restaurant. She speaks more English than German, and he speaks more German than English, and my German sucks these days, so it wasn’t exactly easy; I opted for simple English – enunciating every word slowly and precisely, and sometimes switching to the little German I have left, since her husband with big curly hair paid attention most patiently and cordially.
Oh, and there’re also a small cat (keen to attack) and a pet rat (I think it’s a guinea pig, prone to gnaw).
We enjoyed some simple soup (with canned beans and chopped carrots), some fine stew with bread, and later Edit’s father arrived – this refined gentleman bid me “Ni Hao,” conversed in mostly very clear and fluent English, showed curiosity about whether Taiwan is independent, and at one point complimented how good my English is.
After chilling out a bit Edit took me for biking. The bike seat kept tilting back and forth and recalled my Olsztyn ride, but we biked a lot despite of that, first seeing the old town (including the inside of Old Synagogue, something I’m never interested in). We were to visit a tea house she likes, (and on the way a hobo tried to sell her eggs,) but it was closed, so we (didn’t go to a “newly built” castle and) biked directly to a place for a bird view of the city, as well as trying some fried snack and a traditional dessert.
(Edit also wanted to buy my pink bling-bling t-shirt, since there’s a rabbit on it, and her (older) sister “is the rabbit,” while Edit and her husband are respectively “the cat” and “the bear.”)
When we finally went home, I thought it was time to rest, but Edit kept me waiting outside for quite some time, and then emerged with a basket. “It’s a surprise,” she said, and then took me for biking for another 40 or 60 minutes. After lots of gentle up- and downhill, we arrived at an artificial lake, and then she presented me with the surprise: a bottle of regional rosé.
Well, that wasn’t a bad idea, even though the setting sun was blazing, and someone was playing lots of horrendously kitschy songs on the other side of the lake.
When we got home Edit asked whether I’d like to eat something, and I told her no. It was hot, and I don’t mind skipping a dinner. Before going to bed, however, she had to leave: she got bitten by a spider yesterday, and her swollen foot got increasingly more painful, so she left shortly after 10pm for a checkup.
火車：Bratislava – Sopron：38.1EUR
Old Synagogue= 800HUF