Swan in the road

Trash talk

We went looking for holly the other day, down by the lake. It was glorious – one of those magical brisk winter days when the sun plays hide-and-seek and the fields are half-planted, half-ploughed. The wind couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do and for a few seconds, we were caught in a leaf storm as it whipped through the trees trying to tear the last of their leaves from them. They fought a good fight.

leaf storm

The colours were of the stuff no artist could capture. In one spot – a narrow neck of water between the fields and the island – Kányavári sziget – the water was trying to freeze. It was humbling to see the broad rough water in the distance to the right, the little ripples by the shore and then in between, the still, glass-like effect of ice in the making. Such is the multifaceted power of nature.

Kis-Balaton icing over

Kis-Balaton icing over

It’s recycling week in the village. On Thursday, we can leave out our paper and plastic for pick-up along with the regular rubbish, so I grabbed a yellow bag (plastics) just in case we happened across any litter on our walk and we set off. We decided to drive to Hídveg and then walk the bike path back to the island. But I missed the turn. And I’m glad I did, because there, in the middle of the road on the bridge, as brazen as you like, was a massive swan. He was busy cleaning his feathers, standing on one leg, neck turned under, oblivious to us. I crawled closer waiting for him to look up. And he did. And then he went back to what he was doing. I beeped the horn. He looked at me again, this time in disdain as if to say, get real, I’m busy. I drove slowly around him to the right and he did move, ever so slightly to the other side of the road. I turned around to come back and faced him again. But this time, he wasn’t going anywhere. No way. Not moving. It was a first for me. I’ve seen elephants, cows, chickens, monkeys, dogs, horses, donkeys, pheasants, deer, moose, pigs – you name it – but this was my first road-hogging swan.

Swan in the road

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

On our walk, we found the usual flurry of litter – plastic water bottles, beer cans, sandwich wrappers, and the remnants of black plastic bags. I had to concentrate on my breathing to avoid getting really pissed off at the people who’d so carelessly trashed the place. I’m really making an effort to reduce the stress in my life and to stay the anxiety, but it’s a struggle when inconsiderate, thoughtless people, make it so difficult. Seriously! I was blaming the cyclists who use this path until himself (a cyclist) reasoned that they’d be unlikely to carry 1.5L bottles. Okay, so not the MAMILs but the tourist pedallers then. But it doesn’t much matter who did it, it simply shouldn’t be done.

A new addition to the litany of litter is the wet wipe. Duh, people, these don’t disintegrate in the rain. They’re not biodegradable. You shouldn’t even flush the ones that say they’re flushable. Remember back when plastic bags were free and the world’s collective environmental consciousness was comatose? You’d see bags hanging on trees like ornaments. So plentiful were there that at times it looked as if they were a fruit. Well, now that we’re doing better with our bags, the latest foliage is the wet wipe. Don’t worry – I had my litter gloves on. We almost filled our large plastic bag – I stopped counting at 20 bottles and as many wet wipes and am still wondering where the second sandal is and why I found just one sleeve of a faux-leather jacket. At one stage I wondered what number I’d call if I found a body.

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

As we walked towards the lake, I saw this big piece of pipe, just sitting there. That nearly set me off completely. Whatever about thoughtlessly casting aside a water bottle or answering nature’s call and leaving the wet wipe behind, carrying stuff into the woods to deliberately dispose of it – that’s a hanging offence in my world. But himself, ever rational, pointed to the end of the pipe that was buried underground and suggested it was part of some irrigation system using water from the lake. Alright, I suppose, but it looked ugly and out of place and upset my sense of being.

If you’re out and about walking round the Kis-Balaton, or anywhere really, think about taking a rubbish bag with you. Picking up after others isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but don’t think of them, think the critters who could do without eating or getting ensnared in our waste.

Years ago, Mother Patrick, a nun who taught us in primary school, asked us how long it would take to sweep the streets of Paris. We guessed days, weeks, months even. She said 10 minutes – 10 minutes if everyone swept outside their own doorstep. The countryside doesn’t have doorsteps. It has visitors. Be a sweeper. Make a difference.

Thai food

2018 Grateful 9

I like to eat out, to go out for dinner, to have a long lazy lunch. I am a great fan of early morning breakfast meetings. I like my food. I like the occasion of it all. But eating out day after day? After a month away, the novelty soon wore off. The menus all looked the same. Rice. Noodles. Coconut. Chicken. Beef. Shrimp. When JS told us we were going for pizza on a Friday in Chiang Rai, I baulked. It was early days. We weren’t even two weeks into our four-week stay and I was still appreciating the difference in Thai food. Pizza? How bloody American! But I went. And I enjoyed. Immensely.

Yes, you can find your French and your Italian, even on small islands like Koh Yao Noi. You can find pizza joints and steak hangouts in the bigger cities, too. But you have to look for them. And look hard. I’m sure if you had a kitchen you could get creative with the local market offer and turn out some nice dishes sans rice or noodles. But after a month of sameness, I began to appreciate what I regularly take for granted.

I live in a diverse part of the world. Ireland more so than Hungary, perhaps. Yet in both countries, I can find pretty much any kind of ethnic food I crave. Supermarkets offer all sorts of ingredients from all over. I’m not restricted to rice and noodles. I don’t think I’ve really ever appreciated the breadth of choice that’s on my doorstep and the contributions that migrants have made to the culinary offer here and beyond. When they move, they bring with them part of their home country. Speciality shops open to serve the growing communities and the local fan base eager to try their dishes benefits.

When we landed in Budapest on a Friday afternoon, my first port of call was to KFC. Yep. Fine dining it ain’t but there’s a comfort that comes in a bucket of wings that far outweighs their nutritional value. It’s my go-to food when I need to be wrapped in a hug of familiarity. For the next few days, I was all about Hungarian stalwarts, thanks to some lovely chicken and bean dishes cooked up by the inimitable ZsG. The first day back in the village, it was pork ribs from the travelling butcher, something I’d been craving on my travels. I was back to normal. All was good.

But then, oddly, when it came to inviting friends to dinner, I wanted to cook Thai. I’d been to the Asian shop near Fővám tér and stocked up on the myriad ingredients needed to do the recipes justice. I had my notes from my time with P in Chiang Rai and the cookbook from the class I took in Chiang Mai. I was set. And while I didn’t think my Lad Na tasted quite the same as P’s, they liked it. In deference to their tastes, I’d substituted sweet Thai basil for spicy Thai basil in my Pad Kra Prao (making it something else entirely) and it was delish. Thai cooking is all about flavours. A teaspoon of this, a tablespoon of that, and more of the other. Sugar is used to temper the spice. Sweet and sour work well together. There’s a balance to it all. 

I’m grateful this week that I could have a taste of Thailand at home in a small Hungarian village with four people, from four different countries sitting to the table. That’s my world.

motorbike in Thailand

2018 Grateful 11

I’ve never been so grateful to have faith, to believe in my God. I needed Him this week more than I have in a long time.

Sitting on the back of our Thai motorbike, I was reminded of a book I read many years ago, when living in California: God on a Harley. High literature it ain’t. The hunking-up of Jesus (just call me Joe) didn’t sit too well with me. But I remember that for all its kitschiness, it repeated the basic tenets of good living.

  • Live in the moment
  • Take care of yourself so that you can then take care of others
  • Don’t build walls
  • Be real
  • Everything is possible
  • Keep it flowing – if you get/have then give

This week, in Thailand, I read Barry Dunning’s account of how religion is waning in the west and waxing in the east. From my experience over the past month or so, Thailand has a very active religious population. Compared to the half-empty pews of Irish churches, temples and mosques are relatively full. One argument in the comments section noted that the richer we become, the less need we have of religion. I wonder.

Surveys and census tell us that an increasing number of young people say they have no religion. I find that incredibly sad. If I had no faith, no god, to whom would I turn in times of crisis? In whom would I trust? I need to believe and while I recognise that this isn’t for everyone, it is very much the case for me. Call it what you will. Disparage me. Think me mad. But I’d be lost without my faith.

On Koh Yao Noi, the only feasible way to get around is by motorbike. Each day, we’d take off, somewhere. Himself would drive. It’s been on his bucket list for a while. I’d ride pillion, hanging on for dear life, repeating my mantra – Oh most Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in Thee. I mantra’d myself into a fugue and thanked the good lord every time we arrived at our destination unscathed. We only ditched it once. No harm done.

Other drivers. Other bikes. Flash rains. Potholes. Muddy patches. Ruts in the road. Old machines. Old-lady racers. None of these made for a relaxing journey. Relinquishing control didn’t help either. But then, I’ve been so scatty lately that I didn’t have much faith in my hand-eye coordination and I didn’t want to drive myself.

Although helmets are mandated by law, few locals wear them. Few tourists, either. But I insisted. We might be puttering along way under the speed limit being overtaken by 10-year-old veterans, often three or four on the one bike, but I had to have a helmet. Last month’s concussion is too recent to have been forgotten.

I know I was being selfish. Himself wanted to release his inner ‘Easy Rider’. It can’t have been easy for him to see the kids whizz by but thankfully, he’s not one to care much about what others think of him. So each day, for a couple of hours, I’d stay home and let him away, to go as fast as he liked, to lay flat turning those corners, and be lighter on the brakes going down those steep hills. I’d stay home, praying that he’d come back in one piece and trying to decide if I’d bring back his body or just cremate him if he didn’t.

He felt better. I felt better. And I’m sure God was having a right laugh, used as He is to riding a Harley.

Santiburi, Chiang Rai, visitor or tourist

2018 Grateful 13

I’ve been trying to figure out how long it’s been, he said. Seventeen years, I replied. Almost to the week, I added. Mad really.

Having bumbled around Bangkok, assimilated Ayutthaya, and cooked in Chiang Mai, we arrived in Chiang Rai earlier this week as visitors rather than tourists. And there’s a difference.

Visitor or tourist?

As tourists, we’re at the mercy of guidebooks, search engines, and guest reviews. We read other peoples thoughts on what to do and where to go not knowing if we share similar tastes or ideals or are complete opposites. We make educated guesses as to what we’d like to do and see based on the experiences of others. Perhaps we’re guided by a Top 10 list of things to do or Top 10 list of things to avoid. Perhaps we’re simply into ticking boxes, taking photographs, and then tweeting the world to let them know what we’ve been up to.

Our meals are usually taken with our fellow tourist(s). Our conversations revolve around what we’ve done today and what we’d like to do tomorrow. We become each other’s world. Our phones, giving us audible directions, betray us as strangers. The maps that we fold and unfold mark us as tourists. We’re on a mission of sorts, a mission to see and do and record that same seeing and the doing.

But when we visit friends, even friends we haven’t seen in 17 years, we’re visitors, not tourists. We share their days, their routines. We see places not on the tourist route, places locals go, like a tiny Thai restaurant that only opens on Fridays to serve fresh pizza until they run out. Or a local pub owned by an ex-copper, where you bring your own whisky and buy your soda there. Or a small shop, packed with handmade traditional skirts and shirts and teas and all sorts, where fair trade is a fair deal. We get the inside scoop on protocols and preferences. We get to hear about life and living and how cultures mix and mingle. We get to relax, knowing that if we don’t get to see it this time, we have a bigger reason to return.

So much has changed in both our lives in the years since we last met in Valdez, Alaska. There’s a constant catch-up going on that involves rather than excludes our partners. Backstories become part of the explanations. A mutual appreciation grows. I came to meet one friend and will leave with two. Evening meals have turned into cooking lessons for me. I’ve Pad Thai down, and Lad Ka, too. We will, of course, reciprocate their hospitality when they visit Europe. I’ll need to brush up on my pörkölt and my csirke paprikás and learn a little more about Hungary’s history so that I do the country justice. I’m already looking forward to having them stay.  

So, visitor or tourist? Well, I enjoy travelling. And I enjoy being a tourist. But I prefer being a visitor. This week, I’m incredibly grateful to J&P for being so generous with their home, their time, and their knowledge of all things Thai. Kapun ka.

2018 Grateful 21

Sometime last year I booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran play in Warsaw. I knew nothing of his music. I thought Galway Girl was a song he covered rather than wrote. But the hype that surrounded the announcement of his European Tour – which by the way sold out in record time with extra nights added in a number of cities, including Warsaw – made me curious. And I had friends in Warsaw whom I hadn’t see in a long time so it all worked out.

Fast forward through the intervening months and it came time to book train tickets and make the trip. My friends, in the meantime, had absconded to Zanzibar and had it been easy to sell the tickets, I’d have done so. But our names were on them. And transferring them to someone else had to be done in person – so I’d have to go to Warsaw anyway. So we went.

The National Stadium (PGE Narodowy) is a massive venue, holding some 58,145 (official for football matches) / 56,826 (UEFA capacity) / 72,900 (concerts) punters. The back half of the seating wasn’t open but the floor was rammed with teenagers who had queued since 1 pm for a 5 pm admission and an 8.45pm appearance. They wanted to be up front and centre. Us? We had seated tickets in the rafters and were in no rush anywhere.

Had I done my homework, I’d have known his stage time was 8.45 to 11 pm. I incorrectly assumed he’d appear at 8 pm (it was a Sunday night), so we got there about 7.30 pm in time to catch the last of his warm-up acts, a gal by the name of Anne-Marie. To give the girl her due, she can carry a tune. But when she brought out the vodka (Polish of course) to do shots with her band to mark the end of a very successful tour, I was less than impressed. Really? With a multitude of impressionable teens in the audience, what was the message? Cool to do shots? Okay, I know they’re probably all drinking anyway, but I’m of the mind that stars with a young following have a responsibility to show some decent example. Yep – I was one of the oldest there.

When our boy Ed didn’t show to my schedule, I started to get a tad upset. And when he eventually sauntered on, without a care in the world, I was on the verge of seething. But then he started to play.

Now, as regular readers will know, I can’t hold a tune to save my life so I’m won’t even begin to comment on how good, bad, or indifferent he is as a musician. But as an entertainer, he has it nailed. Just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, coupled with some funny insights in to the 2% of the audience that were there under duress (reluctant boyfriends and super dads) endeared him to my cynical self. The guy has class. And he described me to a T. We’re quite alike apparently when we’re at gigs. Ed and me. Everything goes on in our heads – not a hint of enjoyment shows on the outside. But, hey, anyone who can quieten a crowd of 72k screaming teens gets my vote for audience control.

The National Stadium doesn’t have the greatest sound system in the world – either that or Ed’s diction is a tad off. Some of the lyrics were difficult to make out but the crowd didn’t seem to care. They sang along. Every word. Every single word. Except for that one quiet song when he told them to sssh. And I think it was during that song (whatever it was) that some young lad up in front got down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend. It takes all sorts.

Ed Sheeran Concert WarsawCigarette lighters are a thing of the past. Now it’s flashlights on mobile phones. And the Warsaw lot were organised enough to have white lights on the top tier and red ones on the lower one – creating a waving Polish flag. The flashlight effect was given a flickering look by holding up sheets of white A4 paper in front of their phones. From my vantage point, it was quite spectacular (ok, so not everyone was in on it, but it did look great). When he had them wave and pump their arms, the mosh pit looked like a sea of worms. For a minute, I felt queasy.

Knowing Poniatowski bridge (Most Poniatowskiego) over the Vistula River would be closed before the gig ended and that 72 000+ people would flood out of the stadium starting from when he played his last song, we left early. Just two songs early, mind you, but that didn’t stop the wave of sympathy from the young ones. No matter. The music was so loud, Ed followed us across the bridge towards the Centre so we missed nothing but the hassle.

I enjoyed it. Our Ed’s done well for himself. I like the fact that his first support band were some Polish friends he’d roomed with when he was 18. I like that he’s engaged to his high-school sweetheart. And I like the fact that it’s him, his guitar, and his customised looping machine that makes all the noise. Everything we heard, he assured us, was live. The bit about him being homeless has been exaggerated. In his book, he explains:

There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song Homeless and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’

I caught Jamie Fox talking about him on the Graham Norton Show. And I liked his story, too.

It worked out well. It was a fitting end to a good weekend. I won’t be buying a CD or downloading him any time soon, but I will be in danger of singing along. For a young fellah who struggled like many others to make his mark on the world, the boy’s done good. And he’s still a nice lad. Lots to be grateful for there.

 

 

Wedding in the Algarve

2018 Grateful 25

I’ve been to a fair few Irish weddings in my time and there’s a sameness to the proceedings that seems to be favoured. A pattern. A few scoops in a bar close to the church beforehand where everyone gets together before heading to the ceremony. Then the meet and greet in the churchyard with a subsequent meet and dissect afterwards. Didn’t the bride look amazing? Wasn’t the priest just great? Did you see what so-and-so was wearing?  Then it’s off to the hotel for the wedding breakfast, the reception. Usually there’s a drinks reception in the grounds, weather permitting followed by the traditional wedding fare: Soup or prawn cocktail followed by a choice of beef or salmon (no doubt the inspiration behind the name of the racehorse who won the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2004 and was three-time winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup). Dessert might be baked Alaska or even profiteroles. Then tea and coffee to go with the wedding cake. The wedding band would get everyone on the dancefloor after the speeches and the DJ would kick off the afters, when those not invited to the main event would show up for the hooley … and the cocktail sausages. The party would no doubt continue in the resident’s bar till the wee hours, making breakfast the next morning a rather turgid affair. And then we’d all be gone. Home to send in the rolls of film and wait two weeks to check the photos.

Give or take a few details and menu choices, this format is pretty standard, even today. But Irish weddings in Portugal? They’re of a different sort.

We turfed up in Burgau late Thursday afternoon. It was our first time in the Algarve and we’d taken our time getting here, driving down from Malaga across Andalusia. Most of the wedding party were staying in Praia da Luz, a few short miles from our fishing village. That evening, the bride’s parents hosted a BBQ in the villa they’d rented for the duration. [It’s on the market for a cool €4.5 million, and the mosquitos are included at no extra cost.]  Some two years earlier, many of the same crowd had been at another family wedding in Portugal, so it was a case of remembering names and faces and putting them both together. After that, it was as if the two intervening years morphed into a matter of weeks. What a pleasant change it makes to catch up with people at weddings rather than at funerals. Most of those there were making a holiday out of it, using the wedding as the focal point and then doing their own thing before or after. That’s one of the many plusses of getting married abroad. It’s a natural sift – those who really want to be there make the journey.

Igreja da Luz de Lagos

Photo: Steve Jacobs

On Saturday, Kelly’s Pub was the meeting point from 12.30 with the ceremony set to start at 1.30 in Igreja da Luz de Lagos, just around the corner. The yellow-and-white facade was set off beautiful by the Portugese sun and the photo opportunities, no longer obstructed by the trampoline set that usually lives in the churchyard, were many. The style was quite something with a couple of the lads wearing rigouts that might net them a prize at the Galway Races.

The local priest was an animated chap, not at all backward about coming forward. The bride, nearly 30 minutes late in arriving (only so many hairdryers can be run at the one time, ladies), came in for some good-natured rebukes as did we, the congregation, who were far too chatty for his churchiness: music or chat, he said, not both. Fair play though – he gave a great homily, with a humourous lesson for us all, something akin to my bullet theory.

Once upon a time, David went calling on Melissa. He knocked on the door.
She asked ‘Who is it?’
He anwered ‘It’s me.’ Nothing happened. She didn’t open the door as he expected.
Somewhat disconcerted, he knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
And again he anwered ‘It’s me.’ But still she didn’t open the door.
Now, David, being a smart lad, figured that giving the same answer would in all likelihood get the same result. So he decided to change his approach.
He knocked again.
And again she asked ‘Who is it?’
But this time he anwered ‘It’s you.’ And the door opened…

Padre José Manuel Pacheco reminded us that the secret to a successful relationship is that each puts the other’s happiness before their own. [As an aside, apparently 15/16 of the weddings he has slated this year are foreign (mainly Irish and English) with only one Portuguese. Church weddings, it would seem, are no longer that fashionable in Portugal. It was surprising at first but then even in our village of Burgau, you’d be hard pushed to find a local native who seem to have given over their space to French, English, Irish, and Dutch.]

The newly married couple exited to the La Bamba played by String Quartet Solutions with the rest of us in tow. Waiting outside were glasses of champagne with strawberries. Again, the photos. And the oohs and aahs. And all the emotion that goes with seeing a couple so obviously well matched start out on a journey that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. They’re a well-balanced couple, who like their champagne, their Hendicks gin, and their Dominoes pizza. And they have a sense of humour – true Dubs, the entire wedding party was decked out in the GAA blue of the Dublin team.

Wedding in the Algarve

Then it was off to Quinta dos Vales wine estate for the reception. The place is a relatively new winery, with the first vines planted in the 1980s and the first wines sold commercially in 2003. Today, it’s a winery, a sculpture garden, an event venue, and a place to stay. Mixing and mingling in the courtyard gardens before the breakfast, we were serenaded by a fab sax player, entertained by the variety of sculptures on display, and libated with champers and white sangria. I was particularly taken with the wooden furniture made from wine barrels, tooled by the hands of Serhiy Khomyak. One of his benches is now on my lotto list. Parasols were provided to sheild the fair Irish skins from the sun and with the fairly breezy day we had, more than one passing reference was made to Mary Poppins.

Wedding in the Algarve

The breakfast was a far cry from the traditional Irish fare with a selection of local meats and cheeses to start with followed by a choice of fish/meat/veg, and topped off by a selection of traditional desserts. ‘Twas a lovely take on a taster menu complemented by wines from the estate. The wedding cake was a cheesecake – 10 wheels of various cheeses stacked in a tower. A brilliant idea – one to be shamelessly nicked.

Weddings are a funny thing, when you think of it – a meeting of the ages, with the aunts and uncles and friends of the parents, then the friends of the bride and groom, and then their nieces and nephews. The band had their work cut out for them to cater for all tastes and styles. They were great craic. The photographers were kept busy as the jivers took to the floor with a dash and the kids did the Floss (a dance banned recently by one school in the UK).

By all accounts, the party went on till early morning. Long gone are the days when I’d be amongst the last ones standing. It then continued the following day in Praia da Luz at the Ocean Villas resort where a fully catered BBQ with an open bar and a roast pig on a spit worked the miracle cure a lot of people needed. The park, overlooking the ocean, was a perfect setting for the culmination of a perfect weekend.

Wedding in the Algarve

Wedding in the Algarve

This wedding was perhaps the first time I was conscious that I’ve graduated the oldies – the friends of parents. My staying power certainly ain’t what it used to be, although I can still give a night a good run for its money. But when I’m reminded in conversation that they’re only 23 or 25 or 27 or 30 and realise that had I taken a different path, I could have kids that age, I see tomorrow in a different light.  And while I might have, on occasion, spoken with the voice of experience, I was also reminded of things I don’t want to forget.

The young lad who mislaid his passport on Thursday and had decided not to ruin his weekend by stressing about it. He’d deal with it when he got to the airport on Monday, he said. Fair play, I thought, as I flashed back to the meltdown I had when I lost my passport in Las Palmas a few years back. The young lady who worked as a healthcare worker with dementia patients has a book of advice and empathy in her for those new to the illness. If my mind ever fails me, I hope I have a nurse like her. The newly graduated teacher soon to start their first job and full of ideas to imbue the Irish language with new life and make it a language their students choose to learn.  If I had kids, I’d want them to go to their school.

Many of the couples I met had been together since they were 15, or 18, or 21. Ten years and more. They’d known each other since they were infants. They were sure and certain and comfortable in their relationships. The older couples had an energy and a molliness that was enviable. Some of the stories are best left unwritten. After a long weekend of sun, sea, and spirited singing, I came away with a renewed optimism for tomorrow and a rejuvenated faith in the sacrament of marriage.

And for this, I’m truly grateful.

For more on the Grateful series.

For more on the trip across Andalusia.

 

 

 

 

Festetics Palace Hungary

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I have a newfound respect for homemakers, those who don’t venture into the world of paid work but rather stay home, keep house, and look after their families. I’m not talking about the wealthy, tennis-playing, charity-championing socialites who’ve probably never lifted anything heavier than a Hermes Birkin bag (the one by Japanese designer Ginza Tanaka has a whopping $1.9 million price-tag). I’m talking about the likes of her-next-door; she who works every hour God sends tending to her crops, her vegetables, her chickens…and her ageing mother. It’s damned hard work for very little return (if you’re counting the forints). She ageless – not because she looks amazing but because I can’t put an age on her. She’s seen the better part of at least sixty summers, but I could be wrong on that. She’s an authority on all things rural and the other day popped in to give me an in-the-garden lesson on weeds. She’d seen me looking at the flowerbed wondering what to pull.

My cider vinegar hasn’t exploded. My walnut and zucchini bread was a hit with my weekend visitors. And all things cherry are still being enjoyed. And while the cuts on my fingers have just about healed, the callouses live on.

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a tad obsessive about the garden and what it produces. Given my druthers, I’d stay here all summer, experimenting with jams and juices and trying to find the sweet spot in the oven  – that minute between just done and done burnt. But I need to be careful. I’m an introvert. People require energy that sometimes I find difficult to muster. And if I give in to my natural inclination, l mightn’t talk to anyone (other than himself) from one end of the week to the next. So when I have visitors, I get out. I show them around. I go do stuff.

This weekend, we hit the market at Hévíz again, I was seriously attracted to a statue of Our Lady but my friends, practised marketers themselves, said that the 100 000 ft ($360/€312) the chap wanted for it was ridiculous; 15 000 ft would have been more reasonable. And, they said, it wasn’t 100 years old either. I’d done as I always do – I’d fixed a price that I’d have been prepared to pay for it before I asked how much it was. I’d 30 000 ft in my head. It was still there as we left. But I did spot a very unusual picture of Jesus and Mary. Unusual because he looks remarkably young – a teenager even. And she looks all of the 17 years she was when she gave birth. [The crucifix I was given by a mate who inherited it with his flat – it creeped him out.]

Jesus and Mary

Heart of Jesus, through Mary thy Kingdom come

From there we went to Keszthely, to see the ceramic studio of Szalay Imré. This master potter is famous for his tiled stoves. Such is his reach that a ceramics chap in Melbourne, Australia, has been working on introducing the traditional Hungarian stove down under. In our rather disposable world, littered as it is with cheap, mass-produced tat from China and Turkey, it’s great to see such traditional crafts becoming more and more popular. We have two chimneys, neither of which is in a room we want a stove. But if we can figure out a workaround for the winter garden, perhaps we could have one there.

Szalay Imré Hungarian tiled stove

Szalay Imré Hungarian ceramic tiles

We had the dogs with us, so we popped into Festetics Palace for a wander around the gardens. This Baroque palace began its life back in the mid-1700s and is really quite something. Such is its understated grandeur that it forces you back in time to think of days when it was a single-family residence and what life must have been like back then. [Upstairs. I’d have been upstairs.]

The last family members to reside in the Festetics Palace were Tassilo II’s son, George III (1882-1941) and his family. His wife, the Polish Countess Maria Haugwitz and their son, George IV (1940- ) left the palace in 1944.

We toured it a couple of years ago and I must dig out the photos. That was in the dead of winter. This time, we had the glorious sunshine of the Hungarian summer.

Festetics palace keszthely

Festetics Festetics palace keszthely

The view from the front lawn, though, is less than inspiring. Maria must have been long gone or else I’m sure she’d have lodged an objection to the monument to Communist architecture that drags the palace into the twenty-first century.

Grounds of Festetics Palace

I hadn’t appreciated the grounds before. They’re beautiful. And curiously, the occasional stone marker tells of trees planted by various heads of state from around the world. The one that grabbed me was a tree planted in 2004 by the then president of Vietnam. The Google translation I found of the event calls the tree in question ‘a sad lollipop’. Another calls it ‘a sad lizard’. Whatever it is, it’s a szomorú vörösfenyőt in Hungarian.

Festetics Palace Hungary

Festetics Palace Keszthely

The views of the palace vary – I had little trouble deciding what I would have done with my days, had I been in residence. Leisurely mornings reading under my choice of tree. Or perhaps taking tea in my choice of drawing room. Then planning the menu with the cook and deciding what I’d wear to dinner that evening. I might have spent some time in the library checking some random fact or other. Or even brought out my watercolours and tried to capture the house I called home. And this really was someone’s home in the last 80 years. How times have changed. I wonder what George IV is doing these days? Born in 1940, he’d be nearly 80. Curious minds want to know.

It was a busy week and a busier weekend. For the company of those who take me out of myself, I’m grateful.

Next week, I leave. We’re taking a road trip through Spain and Portugal, so this blog will be pretty quiet. If you want to come along, subscribe to email notifications of my travels from www.anyexcusetotravel.com. If not, I’ll see you when I get back.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 47

Ah, no! Seriously, Tibor? Monday? Say it isn’t so! That was me on Thursday morning. We’d arrived down to the village the previous evening to find the house freezing. It was 5 degrees in the kitchen and there wasn’t a gux out of the boiler. Thinking we might have missed a simple reset button or perhaps needed to do something embarrassingly obvious to everyone but us, we called our go-to guy and then the boiler lad. Neither could help.

Tibor came to check it out on Thursday and said it was beyond resuscitation. A new one was called for. And it wouldn’t arrive till Monday. So four more days of being damn cold, with the lovelies due to visit on Friday for the weekend and no heat, no hot water.

Himself was called back to Budapest and I could have gone, too. But it says a lot about village life when I’d rather be here, freezing my ass off and nipping over to the neighbours for a hot shower, than in the flat in Budapest with every modern convenience at my fingertips. I spent Thursday evening on the couch with a hot water bottle and a blanket watching Season 2 of Doc Martin. Szilvi, she who gives a great home massage, arrived on Friday lunchtime as arranged and we managed to have a brief conversation. A bojler elromlott. Nincs melegünk. Nincs meleg víz. At least my Hungarian vocabulary is expanding; the silver lining in this particular cloud.

Undeterred, the lovelies came anyway on Friday evening after work, armed with heaters and thermals and the makings of some whiskey cocktails for that inner warmth. The kitchen got up as high as 13.4 degrees at one stage. We’d borrowed a noisy industrial heater and had the oven going full blast. For a brief moment, I was warm. Friday night, wrapped in winter woollies, as we sat around the kitchen table making the best of it, I gave silent thanks for the friends I’ve been blessed with. No complaints. No moans. Not one.

The next day, we headed over to Dobrovnik in Slovenia, for a walk in the healing forest. We had the place practically to ourselves. There was snow on the ground and a bite in the air. It was beautiful. I spent time at my four stations and came away feeling tired but content.

Healing forest Dobrovik Slovenia

A stop-off at Vadászcsárda (Hunters’ Inn) in Zalacsány on the way home topped off a lovely day and got me ready for Season 3 of Doc Martin.

Tomorrow, the heating will be fixed. My creature comforts will be restored. And another glorious week will begin. This day last week I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Malta. Seven days later, I’m back from mass, hatted and scarfed and wrapped in a blanket, waiting for a chap to come quote for a télikert, a winter garden (the Hungarian term for a conservatory). If there’s any money left over after buying the new boiler, it might just be my next project.

 

 

Zala Springs

2017 Grateful 4

I’m lazy. I can be very lazy. And sometimes my CBA attitude has a price. I’d heard tell of Zala Spings, the golf course complex that opened near the village back in 2015. It’s just off the main road to Zalaegerszeg and if you’re heading to the thermal spa at Kehida and take the back road through Zalacsány, you’ll see it, too.

I noticed it last winter but wasn’t at all impressed. It looked like a poor attempt at emulating the K Club, or Mount Juliet, two rather spectacular golf courses in Ireland. I’ll fess up. I was feeling a tad superior wondering how Hungary could ever compete with Ireland or Scotland when it came to golf courses – the tradition just wasn’t there. But, of course, the competition was only in my head. It happens sometimes.

Friends in the village had told me that their recent visitors had been to dinner there and while a little pricey, they said they were impressed. I pooh-poohed. Impressed with the food maybe, but the course? Nah.

Of the visitors we’ve had to date, none has been a golfer. We’ve passed the golf club numerous times and have never ventured in. Until yesterday. And I was wrong. Yep. Wrong. The place has potential. It ranks as No. 1 in the list of 100 golf courses in Hungary and has had some interesting reviews.

Zala SpringsFirst of all, it’s not a golf club, it’s a golf resort. Situated about 2 hours drive from Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna, it’s a prime location for golfers who like their style or timeshare travellers who want to spend 4 weeks a year on what could well be (become) a championship golf course (five Par 5 holes and lots of water hazards would make for a challenging round of golf). The 2-4-bedroom apartments are ready to move in to and judging from the site plan we saw, lots more are to be built, assuming there’s a demand. The website isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you buy the apartment and then they rent it for you or whether you just buy a time share. But either way, if you’re in Zala country, it would be quite the place to stay.

Green fees will set you back about €60 but it seems you can buy a day pass which presumably will let you play all day for a few euro more. The Pro shop is a tad on the expensive side, possibly catering to the fat pockets of golfers on tour. The entrance is quite impressive and the airiness of the clubhouse is rather lovely. Yep – I was definitely wrong.

Their New Years offer is a steal – overnight stay, gala dinner, dancing till dawn, all the wine and champers you can tipple, and then breakfast the next for under €100 per person sharing. An attractive proposition but I’m not sure I’m ready to mix with the country club set just yet.

Still, it taught me something, a lesson I’m grateful for: I need to rein in my dismissiveness until I’ve actually checked whatever it is out in person. Lord only know what else I’ve been missing. I really must visit that Doll museum in Keszthely.

 

 

Still unpacking

Nearly ten years after I first posted on this blog, I’m still unpacking. That might lead you to believe that I have an incredible amount of stuff, moxie loads of things I’ve acquired over the years. I haven’t. Not really. I regularly purge and rid myself of the tat I mistook for taste. But these purges are less frequent these days, as I prefer to spend my money on experiences.

A friend visiting the village recently, commented on the range of things in the house, things I’ve brought back from my travels – art, books, stuff – that are now on display. I hadn’t given much thought to it, until today.

I’ve just finished painting the guest room – the ensuite with the balcony. Funny how this isn’t exactly what people imagine when you mention living in a rural village in Hungary where the butcher has just done his weekly run through the village and I didn’t have time to stop him. I slept through the breadman’s run this morning, too.

The house came with a lot of pine (ugh) furniture and it’ll be a few years before I have the wherewithal to change it. Likewise, the pitched ceiling in the guest room, is also a pine job – and having painted the upstairs landing (and taken two weeks to do it) I can’t summon the energy to tackle a ceiling of this size. Hence the white curtains and bedspread with their gold thread, woven in a village in Romania and laced together by a lovely old néni I met in Káptalantóti at the Sunday market, Liliomkert, in the good company of MI.

I noticed as I was putting stuff back, that almost everything has memories. The orange blanket I bought on the first of many trips to visit the lovelies B*C in Haarlem, the Netherlands. (I still think that Bloomendahl beach is one of Europe’s undiscovered gems.) The carved Buddha I bought on my first trip to visit the inimitable S&D in Hawaii. It’s a home from home, a place I know I’ll be welcomed and fed. The throw I brought back from Valdez some 16 years ago – it still has a label on it. (It’ll make a lovely lap cover for visitors wanting to enjoy a morning cuppa or an evening cocktail on the terrace – village life ain’t boring, it’s just laid back). The friends I made in that small Alaskan town live all over the world today, and we’re still in touch. You can’t get warmer than that. The blown glass dish we bought in Croatia this summer, on holiday with the intrepid J-Gs. The old biscuit tin or the copy of the Vogue cover I picked up at my favourite market in Bath, in the company of one of my favourite women in the world, the amazing MC. The cross-stitched cloth I found on my first road-trip to Eastern Hungary with the lovely KG. A bronze candle holder that my sis-in-law brought me back from Spain for my birthday. A José Fuster watercolour that screamed at me in Cuba. Even the duvet set has memories of a year spent in Oxford.

There’s new old stuff, too. The tapestry I bought on an online forum that turns out to have been stitched by a friend’s grandmother about 100 years ago. The tin figure of Our Lady that I found in an old wardrobe. A First Communion certificate dated 1948 from a child of a few owners back. Embroidered doilies that I found in a drawer. It all ties together nicely – in my head at least.

But it’s not about the stuff. I could have dressed that room in 10 minutes, had I had a mind to. They’re not just things – they’re hooks on which I hang sheathes of memories that warm me, keep me safe, and make me smile. I’d like to get new bedside lamps. I have a picture in my mind of what I’d like – they’re on my market-hunt list. They’ll have stories of their own. I’d like to get some new furniture or do something with what I inherited. But I’m in no great rush. Something will come to mind, when the time is right. Today, I’m just enjoying the trip back in time.