Another Close Call

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

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today there was just one stop on my list, Szeged. I was staying about a half-hour outside of the city, part way between that city and yesterday's stop of Kecskemet, and from looking at the guidebook, I though Szeged might take most of the day. In Pécs I met a woman from Hong Kong who didn't care for Szeged, but since I had a car, I didn't mind taking a chance on the city.

My visit did not start smoothly. There were no parking machines or garages. Instead, the city used parking vouchers sold at magazine kiosks, but there was no info posted on the parking signs about where to get the magic voucher. Or maybe there was, but the signs were Hungarian-only. To compound my confusion, the English wording on the voucher after I actually got one was ambiguous as to whether you needed one pass per hour to park in the "green zone" or whether you could only park for one hour in the "green zone" before moving your car. The system almost seemed to be designed to keep tourists away from the city as, judging by people's dashboards, residents were able to buy a long-term vouchers and forgo the short-term vouchers altogether. I ended up just grabbing a spot and going to the tourist info center, where I learned how to buy the vouchers.

When I returned to my car to put the ticket on my dashboard, I noticed a pair of male "meter maids" going down the aisle writing tickets. I saw them ticket a car, but I got my parking voucher into mine before they reached it. Reading the voucher, I noticed there were three color zones in the city, and the same voucher could be used for an hour in the "green zone" (where I was), two in the yellow, or four in the blue. I decided to move my car to a blue zone if I found one in my walk (which I later did, just outside of the main tourist area).

So, with one hour of parking, I decided to start with the synagogue because closed in the middle of the day. I've seen some impressive neolog synagogues in Hungary, but the Szeged synagogue was the biggest and most elaborately decorated. In fact, the interior could easily have been confused with some of the Christian basilicas I've seen. It was built starting in 1900, and its construction took three years, replacing a previous synagogue.

After moving my car, the first museum I went to was the Ferenc Móra Museum. My guidebook talked about impressive sounding archeological exhibits of Avar and Samaritan culture, but I've found Lonely Planet has difficulty distinguishing between permanent and temporary exhibitions. There were no cultural exhibits of any kind to be found, not even Hungarian (although the last may have been in a large section closed for renovation). Instead, I saw a few mediocre painting galleries, a recreation of an old pharmacy, a ho-hum natural history exhibit, and a more entertaining insect room featuring live butterflies.

Exiting the museum, I started my requisite stroll around town. While Szeged's parking and museums had thus far left me unimpressed, the city did have some top-notch 19th architecture with the usual mix of classicist, revival, and art nouveau buildings. Unfortunately, like some of the other towns I've been in, they had stuck a big stage and giant set of bleachers in their main square, so I couldn't get a good view of the massive "Votive Cathedral" erected by the town after an 1879 flood. I don't know why they placed the stage like they did. They left the half of the square behind the bleachers open. If they'd just moved them back, the front of the church would have been viewable. The inside was good too, but I would have liked a clear view of the outside.

By this time, it was approaching four hours, so I went to the kiosk to buy another voucher and moved my car to a two-hour zone near a vegetarian restaurant, Agni, which I had read about in my guidebook. I had a mushroom stew (tomato base) with paprika and cream, and potatoes with rosemary. It may have been the best meal I've had on the trip. I would definitely go back the next time I find myself in south-eastern Hungary.

I stayed in town for an early dinner because I wanted to go to the Pick Salami and Paprika Museum, which was only open in the late afternoon. The museum was mainly a history of the Pick company with a few cursory overviews of salami and paprika production, as well as some mannequins performing a few of the steps. This was fine with me as the details of salami making were probably best left unknown to the masses. I did learn about the "main stabber", the "guts cleaner" and the "groping women". The latter removed the final bits of bone from the meat.

There were also "fun facts" like Austria bought the most salami between WWI and WWII, but the title shifted to Czechoslovakia in Communist times, and paprika has more vitamin C than citrus fruit. One of the posters discussed the Spanish paprika scandal of the 1890's when paprika from Spain, which was "cheaper, darker but not better than the Szeged paprika as far as essential oil content is concerned", was used to stretch pure Szeged paprika. There was even a hint of the general Hungarian bitterness over the country's partition following WWI. One of the signs talked about how salami production became more difficult at that time as parts of Hungary that had been the main hog sources became foreign lands.

The museum tour included a salami sample, 10% off at the factory store, and one postcard with free postage. We'll see if that includes the US as I dropped mine in the box.

With my second parking voucher now expired for the one- and two-hour zones, I decided to head out of town with just one brief stop. In a one-hour zone, I had seen a couple of interesting buildings I wanted to get pictures of. At first I thought I'd just pull over and take them through my car window, but once I stopped, I decided I wanted a better angle, so I jumped out of my car for a minute, which became more like five as I saw another building further down, then just one more, and before I knew it, I had walked a block away from my car.

At that point, I turned around just in time to notice the "meter maids" standing near my car. I sprinted down the block, taking my camera back out of my pocket as I approached my car. When I got to the door, I looked confused and stared at the meter maids. One of them said something to me in Hungarian. I then explained, in English, that I had just gotten out for a second to take a picture of a building, pointing alternately to the building and my camera. My thoughts were a) if they spoke English, maybe they'd be nice, and b) if they didn't, jabbering incoherently worked on the traffic cop in Croatia.

I was getting ready to show them the picture on my camera when one of them said "parking ticket". At that point, I thought the jig was up, but then they just wandered away. I guess he was saying my parking ticket, aka parking voucher, was expired. From the car I saw ticketed earlier, I know they actually leave a physical ticket instead of mailing you one, so I'm pretty sure I'm in the clear, but it was a very close call. I've now almost (well hopefully almost) gotten a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, and a ticket for taking a toll road without a vignette. I should to add a ticket budget when planning my next trip...

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