Sopron wasn't easy. Getting there was but getting a place to stay was not, nor was communicating. No hostels are listed on hostelworld.com. Only one is listed in my guidebook. It is four km. out of town and I'd prefer to stay in town. I stopped in at the tourist information office where the girl's English was decent and got a listing of accommodations and a map. Turns out her's was about the only decent English in this town. I walked to three guesthouses where doorbells went unanswered
. I walked back to the tourist office to find out about busses to the hostel listed out of town. The directions were poor and I could not find the number 3 bus. By this time I had walked five or six kms. and my shoulders and back were killing me and I was sweating buckets. I found a nice little pension near the bus station but it was far too expensive. Strangely this place was not particularly foreign-tourist friendly. (There is only one internet café in town.) Little English is spoken, which is fine. I don't expect everyone to speak my language but I could not get direction. Exasperated, exhausted and frustrated, I was ready to get on the train and go straight on to Vienna. But my resolve to continue my pilgrimage to Esterhazy Palace was too strong. I went back to the information office and told the girl that maybe I shouldn't have come to Sopron. She picked up the phone and got me a room at the local HI Hostel about a 10 minute walk away. Why didn't she do that in the first place? At the front desk of the hostel was the only other person I came across during two days in there who could speak English. Finally, over three hours after arriving, I could put my pack down. This was actually one of the worst travel days I had had in all these months on the road.
Sopron is another of many quaint and picturesque towns with gorgeous old town centres dotting the countryside
. There is more English spoken in Laos. German is the number two language here as it is only a few kms. from the border of Austria and most tourists originate there. Most of the time they assumed I was Austrian and would start off with German or they'd ask, 'Duetch?' Only the occasional menu was available in English, otherwise menus were surprisingly difficult to decifer. It's not a big deal. I've been through plenty of that sort of thing. It's easy enough to get by. It's like a strange cultural experience, the language barrier without the accompanying foreign feel. Apart from the old town, it felt kinda like suburban 'anywhere'. The people weren't particularly smiley or friendly. I had an early night.
A fresh new day and it was off the Esterhazy Palace. By asking very direct questions during my last of three visits to the tourist office yesterday, I got clear and concise directions. Still, reading the bus schedules was no easy task. Two smart Japanese women now living in Chicago, Yuko and Rumi, also had trouble. The three of us got it figured and by somewhere around noon we were at the palace and ready to start our tour-in Hungarian. The English tour was two hours away. It was a bluebird day and although the palace looked great, it was really just another palace.
Of interest though is that originally the Esterhazy family was only minor nobility and rose in status when Miklos Esterhazy (1583-1645) married a couple of rich widows (at the same time?) who were with the Hadsburgs, a powerful Hungarian family and this resulted in his being elevated to a count. He was a benevolent and spent huge sums on the arts. Haydn was the resident maestro at the palace for many years. The family's art collection was massive
. Eventually the place was abandoned and left empty, I think round about the end of the 19th century. During the WWII it was used as a military outpost and command centre by the Germans. Before and after photographs illustrate what a remarkable restoration took place. Prince Albert, another well known and much loved Saskatchewan city was named after the prince of Hungary during the Miklos' time. And that was it.
After the tour I enjoyed a delicious lunch of fried cauliflower and salad at the surprisingly reasonably priced restaurant across the street. (In fact, prices were lower here than they had typically been in Budapest.) I spent the remainder of the day back in Sopron's old town. Really it's a nice spot. There's a lake nearby and many excellent bike paths. One could easily spend a couple of days out of here cycling around the countryside and enjoying the scenery.
Next up-Vienna and a rendezvous with my laptop.
My sister was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan. We spent five very important years there. I knew the town was named after some nobleman or other from somewhere in this part of the world. I found him. Near the charming and scenic town of Sopron, home to one of Hungary's better beers, Soproni, in the village of Fertod, is the monument to the country's most famous dynasty, the Esterhazy Palace.