Another Day, Another German Tour

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Hungary  , Lake Balaton,
Sunday, July 25, 2010

German was definitely the tourism language of Hungary. Most people who spoke English also spoke some German, but there were many Hungarians who spoke German but no English. Oddly, the opposite was true of museum exhibits. Exhibit descriptions tended to be written in Hungarian then English and maybe, but not always, German. It gave me a nice chance to practice my German since Hungarians spoke German more slowly and simply than native speakers. They also spoke standardized German so I didn't encounter any dialect problems like I sometimes run into in German lands.

This morning, I visited Veszprem. When I arrived the night before, it was dark and I was focused on finding my hotel. In the daylight, I could see my hotel was in fact next to the old town, which was situated on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the city. The old town was compact with a few churches and a couple of small museums. It was overcast and a little rainy, so my pictures won't do it justice, but I liked the town for it's size. I think one thing that helped was they had a good tourist brochure, so that got me interested.

The favorite son, or rather daughter, of Veszprem was Queen Gizella. Wife of Hungary's first official king, Stephen, she was reported to have been crowned in the city, which gave Veszprem the nickname "Town of Queens". She funded at least part of the construction of St. Micheal's Cathedral, allegedly the first and oldest cathedral in Hungary, and fell just short of becoming a saint, although none of the town information stated why, possibly there were no miracles attributed to her. Today, there's a small museum and a chapel named in her honor.

The museum contained various objects of church art. It was not the richest collection I've seen on this trip, but there were a few interesting items. One room was filled with similar versions of the same wooden sculpture: Jesus, a cross, and a man with an orb (God?). Scanning the info cards, either most or all of them were by the same artist. Another interesting wooden sculpture was St. Francis receiving stigmata where strings ran from the wounds on his body to the corresponding wounds on a winged figure of Jesus on a cloud.

I bought a combination ticket for the Queen Gizella Museum and two old chapels. One was from at least the early 1000's and contained a relic of part of St. George's skull. It was basically just a few courses of excavated circular foundation, featuring a small girl running in constant circles around the middle. (I don't think she was a permanent feature, but from the reaction of her parents, I got the feeling she did that sort of thing a lot.)

The second chapel, Gizella Chapel dated from the 13th century was far more intact, although it had undergone phases of "improvement" before the most recent attempt to restore it to the original Gothic form. Today, there were Byzantine-style frescoes with four apostles (the remainder of an initial set of 12), and painted rib-vaulting. Restored sections of the room were left unpainted to highlight the authentic areas. It made me think of how great it was to see the church at Hrastovlje from around the same time period but with the entire interior painted as it was in that era. It's too bad more frescoes haven't been restored.

So at that point, I still hasn't taken that German tour I promised in my title. Well there was another large museum in the town, the Archbishop's Palace. It looked for a few minutes like the guide might do the tour in English, but a large group of Germans showed up just before it started. I think the guide still should have gone with English. She looked like a high schooler on summer break and spoke quiet and timid German. I'm positive her English was better than her German, and I know the German speakers on the tour knew English better than I did German.

The interior and furnishings of the building weren't as expensive as Festetics Palace or certainly as in Esterhazy Palace, but I thought they were nicer than the former. For example, the dining room was painted on all four sides to look like an open-air Roman temple. Baby angles were having a garden party. Some were playing music, one was eating corn-on-the-cob and another was jealously guarding a bottle of wine. We even had a VIP on our tour. The bishop himself joined us for a room or two. It turned out the reason you couldn't visit solo was the building was still in use.

After that, it was back in the car and a three hour drive to Pécs. As Pécs was one of this year's three European Capitals of Culture, this continued my habit of unintentionally visiting European Capitals of Culture that I started last year with Vilnius. It was still gray, but now very windy rather than slightly rainy, so I didn't bother to take any pictures (except for one of the fountains proving it was windy), but I'm here for another full day and maybe an extra half if I want it, so I'm sure I'll take plenty.

I started with just a taste of the city before the buildings closed for the night. I went to the Jakovali Hassan Pasha Mosque. The mosque dated from the time of Turkish rule in Hungary (1526-1686). The town claimed it to be the best preserved mosque with minaret in Hungary. It was the first mosque I'd seen in Europe, so I was definitely eager to get to it.

Today, there was a simple single-room prayer area with a few carpets and a pulpit-type structure. Traces of Arabic writing from the Ottoman decor were visible where portions of later stucco had been removed. There was a tiny "museum" section leading up to the mosque itself. Containing just over four items, the main feature of this museum was mirror walls. They gave me a weird sense of vertigo and I spent more time wondering whether I would become nauseous or walk into a wall first, than looking at the exhibits.

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