Wednesday, June 25, 2014

MARGITSZIGET ISLAND - Day 9 traveler's art blog by North Carolina Painter Sue Scoggins

Back in the city for a soft landing, I made a visit to Margitsziget Island.  It's like New York's Central Park and right in the middle of the Danube across from the apartment.  At times, I can hear the music and sounds of little children at play.  There is a zoo, a Hungarian bath, an exclusive hotel and spa at the far end, and acres of gardens, fields and walkways.

So often I've wondered where all the children were.  This is the city and for the first few days, I hardly ever saw any children.  Well, I found them.  Hundreds of them.  I found families, couples both young and old, men reading books, girls sunbathing, European tourists,  old women walking old women, people riding bikes, kids riding scooters.....

The main attraction was around the dancing water fountain.  I didn't know it would dance.  But, I found a little empty bench nearby, sat down with my ink pencils and pad, thinking it would be a good place to do some sketching.  Little by little I noticed a group of school boys with soccer balls and backpacks come and sit in a row on the curb in front of me.  A grandmother came with her two year old sitting in a stroller.  Three young girls, in their tattered jean shorts, sat with their feet in the fountain.  People were happily anticipating something special.

All of a sudden, with a cling and a clash, the loudspeaker came on with symphonies of classical music and the fountain started dancing.  I couldn't sit.  I had to rise up!  The music was wonderful and  the energy all around became electric.  The sound of water slapping to the downbeat made my heart pound, mommies and babies swirled in dance steps around the sidewalk and daddies took pictures of little girls climbing the huge Hungarian trees.

I spent the whole day there.  I couldn't leave.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

10 DAYS IN HUNGARY - Day 8- WINEMAKERS a travelers art blog by North Carolina Painter Sue Scoggins

Two to speak of.  (A long post.)

Winery One.  Tokaj.  One happy family!

Who would have thought one year ago that I would be in the Hungarian hills of the Tokaj wine region chatting away with the winemaker and this daughter.

I wandered into the tasting room of the old stone house on the hill, alone.  In Hungarian, "Do you want to do a tasting?"  I gestured yes and said, "I don't speak Hungarian." held up my fingers, "just a little." "Ah.  English, then." she said and brought out 4 bottles of wine. After she explained about the first dry white, she poured and asked "Are you traveling alone?" I told her I was, that my husband passed away some months ago and that I was visiting friends.  The petite little employee, washing the glasses would turn and smile and occasionally laugh when I would talk.  We soon became fast friends and found ourselves laughing at everything while we tried to speak each other's language.  "I like you." she said.  "You are kindly."  I laughed and said, "You are kindly, too."

Many of the houses are built over wine cellars and the wineries are family run businesses.  The cellars are aged old stone with mold growing on them and go deep down into the ground.  Some have long tables and benches for events or private tastings.
Kata, Gyula and Ivette

The winemaker's daughter, Kata

By now,  I was on my third glass, (very small glasses)

"Ah.  Papa!" A man with silver white hair, tanned skin and piercing blue eyes walked in.  He came over to the counter, smiled, and began to speak in Hungarian.  He did not speak one word of English.  Totally unfair!  In Hungarian, said, "She is an American.  An artist.  Why don't you take her to meet the artist down the street."  He responded with a shake of the head and waited while we finished the tasting then brought out a special bottle, with no label, poured, sipped and eagerly waited for my response.  "Very sweet!  Yo!"  Then we took a mini tour of the town.

 Definitely, I want to send them a small painting once I get back home.

Winery Two.   Back in Mad.

Julie had prearranged a private wine tasting with a small vineyard in Mad.  This little winery only produces 5000 bottles a year and cannot be purchased in the United States.

After walking the backroads of Mad.  After the cemetery.  After the Synagogue.  After the lonely cow and the Russian woman picking flowers we found our place.

The winery was run by a soft spoken young man who was in control of the vines. We met him at his house and helped him carry his basket full of chutney, cheese, herbs and freshly baked almond cake across the street to the winery.

He unlocked the massive doors to the winery and showed us his garden where he grew just about every kind of herb imaginable.  His girlfriend was the vegetable and herb expert.  He set a simple table and we placed the "goods" there.  I set the cake down and he dressed it with edible flowers.

He had such a gentle spirit and was so knowledgable, not only on wines, but on classical music, every day things...we sat and chatted for two hours.  His English was perfect.  He was quite proud of his beautiful wines, in a humble sort of way, and reserved the best for last.  Down in the cellar he went and came back with a sample straight out of the barrel...a special taste for us.

Monday, June 23, 2014

10 DAYS IN HUNGARY - Day 7 THE KEEPER OF THE KEYS a traveling art blog by North Carolina Painter, Sue Scoggins

"The keeper of the keys", I call him.    In English, Barnibosht. He spelled his name on the back of a sheet of paper for me, but I could not decipher it. 

When we got off the train in Mad (pronounced Mod), little did I know what a treasure was in store. I can hardly speak of it and really hesitate to write about it because words cannot do it justice.

We wandered into this little Hungarian wine town, which from afar, looked like cute little red tile roofs clustered in the rows of vineyards in the Tokaj wine region. Very rural, lined with stone walls and crumbling buildings from the 1700's, we wandered its streets amongst the barking dogs, lonely cow, occasional woman picking from her garden of white daisies and men drinking wine on benches.  Russian, Slovakian, Hungarians.

A meeting had been arranged to meet a man who had the keys to the Jewish Synagogue, which was lost in World War II, and is now closed to the public. We had his address and walked to his side yard.  It was a gray day and we were strangers, but he quietly (he did not speak a word of English) walked us up the hill past what looked to be a old Jewish seminary.  Sitting in the field behind his house was an unassuming white stucco church.  He opened the door.

When we entered the synagogue we were silent.  There we were, in a place that had been active decades ago.  Destroyed and restored. In Hungarian, with hand gestures and a kind smile, Barnibosht tried to explain the history of the synagogue. He pointed to a wall where the names of those killed at Auschwitz were inscribed. There were 800 Jews who lived in Mad at the time of World War II.  Now there are zero.

On the main floor of the synagogue was where the men sat.  The platform in the center was where the Rabbi would speak and the blue curtain was where the Scrolls were viewed. The women sat upstairs so as not to distract the men. He took us into the room where some artifacts were on display when  a young couple just happened to walk in; tourists from Budapest.  Jewish.  The young girl graciously became our translator.  Barnibosht, Catholic, told us how when he was a little boy, his father worked for a Jewish winemaker.  He had a lot of Jewish playmates and all of them are now gone. He devoted his last 50 years to preserving their memory by showing the synagogue to visitors who come through. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

10 DAYS IN HUNGARY - Day 6 - TRAIN TO TOKAJ a traveller's art blog by North Carolina Painter, Sue Scoggins

Train travel was east to the Village of Tokaj, near the Slovakia and Ukranian border.  Track 2. Depart 1:35.

Our train to Tokaj, with green plush velvet seating, was full. This was the Rozsa inner city line and we had reserved seats.  Young, old, ladies with pearls, students with backpacks, mother and babies...we all had our seats..and our techi devices.  As soon as the train pulled away from the station the devices went on, in unison, like the click, click of cigarette lighters in the back of planes after take off 30 years ago in the states.

Within 20 minutes the conductor, in his blue suit and side pack, began punching tickets.  Julie had put me in charge of all three of our tickets. (little did she know that my "test anxiety" can pop up when you least expect it.)  I had the tickets firmly held in my hands so that I wouldn't have to go searching in my little pouch.  However, the conductor, in Hungarian hand gestures, told us "you'll have to get off in Szerencs and catch a bus because something is wrong with the tracks." I immediately started fumbling for the little white piece of paper amongst my receipts where the ticket clerk wrote down all the towns we would be traveling though: Fuzesbony, Miskok, Szerencs, then Tokaj.  Found it!  Szerencs, the next to the last stop.

The country side was not unlike the states; the lush green farmland of North Carolina, striped with yellow ochre wheat fields of Kansas, with a backdrop of California hills, all under the big skies of Montana.  Little red tile roofs sprinkled in clusters like confetti every so often indicated little villages, most with a church and a soccer field.  There was no graffiti or commercial signage that I could see.  That was left in the city.

Never-lest travel tip.  Never make friends with a thief lest you find yourself penniless.
                                   Consider making reservations if your want to have a seat.

When we arrived in Szerencs, the bus was waiting to take us to Tokaj or beyond.  Then we had another 20 minute walk (which became 45 minutes because we didn't know where we were going) to Bone Vendeghaz Borozo Tokaj, Bethlehem G.u. 20, our B&B for the next two nights.  Our modest but spotless accommodations were 200 meters from the town square in the village center and were run by a charming young family who lived next door.  We found it by the green umbrellas just outside its doors on the sidewalk.

Friday, June 20, 2014

10 Days in Hungary - Day 5 Heaven - an art travel blog by North Carolina Painter Sue Scoggins

Why do I get such anxiety when it comes to saying thank you, in Hungarian, to someone new?  At Panini, the little cafe around the corner, I've become acquainted with the little girl behind the counter. She always greets me with a smile and I return her greeting with, "jo napot kenava."  It practically rolls off my tongue with ease.  This morning I tried a new coffee shop, one that deems itself "the coffee specialist", the Madal Cafe.  The moment I walked in, I began to get confused...Jo (yo) ADD brain stopped..immediately I thought "good".  That's what Jo in good day (napot, the t is silent)...accept I couldn't remember "napot". Oh's test anxiety! The hip coffee specialist behind the counter just patiently looked at me while I struggled to at least get out the word, "hi".  Bon!  (such a dork!)

Not wanting to order an Americano (which is a diluted expresso in a larger cup), I attempted to describe an expresso with just a little bit of water.  He got out a tiny spoon and began to measure how high I wanted the liquid in the cup to be.  I'm thinking...not too high to be a big cup...yet not so low that it's pure expresso...a shot.  Why do I have to complicate things so much?  At this point I gave up and just let the coffee specialist do it for me.  Then he asked me to go sit and he will serve me.  Ok.  I can do that.

Next. This image was taken from inside tram # 6.  She stands at the tram stop, holding her rug in the midst of the crowd every day.  It was 9am.

With no agenda, I hopped off the yellow tram #6 at Octogon, walked down Andrassy, a main street, toward Hero's Square, a major park and tourist attraction. Within a few blocks I found myself intrigued by the little side streets.  One by one, I'd look to the left and wonder what's down there, look  to the right and wonder what's down there, then I actually turned left on Szenyei Merse.  I don't know why, I just did.  A few sparse shops were beginning to open their doors, I'd peek in but didn't stop.   On the corner was a bakery where I got my pastry for the day, a long twisted and flaky stick with an unexpected slight taste of ham and cheese.

As I meandered the side streets I came upon some old, what looked to be, ruins of statues all toppled over behind a wrought iron fence. I began to photograph them when I noticed wooden scaffolding, molds, iron and various sheets of torn plastic.  Perhaps this was the back of an art museum and this is where they restore old relics, I thought.

I followed the fence line around the corner and could see hidden sculpture relics all along the overgrown paths.  At this point I could see empty classrooms, obvious studios, empty of students but full of cans and brushes and tables and stand up easels.  I had found an art school!  At the gate opening, I saw a guard who spoke English.  Even though there was a chain across the entrance, I asked if I could walk around inside.  "Yes.  Today, yes." in his Hungarian accent.

I had entered an oasis of art inspiration.  I was in heaven!  Truly the highlight of the day.

The remainder of the day was spent viewing the Gabor Kovacs Art Collection of Hungarian artists, which has to be the best exhibit of fine art that I've ever seen and well worth the admission price; followed by lunch at the Turkish cafe next to the Embassy of the Republic of Macedonia.  Why did I go there?  Why not?   (I'll write about that one once the Hookah smoke clears.)

Tomorrow, it's out of the city and into the country side, by train, to the little village of Tokaj in northern Hungary.  We'll be spending the weekend at the vineyards where the famous Tokaj wines are produced.
Vaszary, Janos
Interiors with Red Chest

Sandor Nyilasy
Rowing on a Lake

Karoly Marko the Elder
St. Paul Shipwrecked on Malta

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

10 DAYS IN HUNGARY - DAY 4 NEIGHBORHOODS - a traveling art blog by North Carolina Painter Sue Scoggins

For some reason I've never been a "sight seeing" type of girl.  The past few days have been spent briefly touring the top tourist attractions in the city with all the restored architecture and marvelous art.  Hours and hours could be spent studying each sight and all it's history.  I'll leave that to all the travel websites out there. Honestly, I'd rather "experience."

More interesting to me are the people: what they do, where they come from, what's their story.  The good thing about living with a local is that I get to experience what the every day Hungarian does in the city.  One thing for one notices what anyone wears. In fact, it looks as if people put on whatever happens to be hanging on the doorknob or bedpost.  Just throw it on in a different order.  It could be hot pink leggings, white heals and t-shirt, or a long dress, oversized sweatshirt and crocs with socks.  Anything goes. For me, that's cool.  No one feels bad about how they look. Anyone dressed in "cute" would definitely look like a tourist.  And speaking of clothing:  NEVER LEST TRAVEL TIP #4.  Never go into a Jewish Synagogue with in a sleeveless top lest you have to wear paper towels on your shoulders.

Today's neighborhood visit was to Ujpest (pronounced ooo-i-pesh), which is a middle class working neighborhood not too far from here.  Each neighborhood in the city has it's own market.  The goal today was to visit the market.  It began with a ride on the blue line subway; a very old subway reminiscent of the communist era.  Rows and rows of communist block housing line the streets.  Buildings were built after WWII when the Russians came into Hungary and defeated the Nazis.  Communism took over the government and people were brought into the city to work in factories.  You either worked or went to jail.  Everybody worked.  (not a bad concept....accept the "jail" part.)  Most every job was paid the same.  Most every one lived in government owned  housing. These buildings were built with elevator shafts that serviced only two apartments at a time.  The communists designed things in a way to keep the peoples communication and grouping together at a minimum.  Many of the buildings are still bullet riddled  from WWII and the 1956 peoples uprising against communism.

At the neighborhood square was a church, a park, a few restaurants, and the market.  Look at this market!  I wanted to buy something from every farmer.  The one that endeared me, however, was the butcher and his son.  The butcher did not speak English but his son did.  Of course, I had no idea what I was buying, but I felt I had to in order to get their picture.  At first, they were shy...but once I took interest in the salami, I had their attention.  The little boy would translate for me.  Still....I think I ended up buying "horse". I said, "PICK" on the label.  So I did.  After leaving them, I wandered over to the "beer" corner.  Figured, "if I buy it, they will come. " And they did.  Two elder gentlemen walked up and bought their beer and stood, drenched in their hand waiving conversation.  A couple came.  And gentleman came.  The last one smiled with his toothless grin and began, with a rapid, enthusiastic stream of conversation.  NO CLUE what language.  I asked "English?"  Obviously not.  He smiled.  Kept talking...I heard "deutsche"a few times. I asked.."German?" "Dutch?" "Slovak?""Hungarian?"  No.  He did not associate with any of them.  I continued to pick and pull at words...he did too.  I would laugh.  He would sheepishly grin.  Then we groaned.  Eventually, we gave up and sipped at our beer.

Today's HIGHLIGHT.  Watching this security guard gently and respectfully escort this lost little women down the sidewalk.

Writing this, I am back now at Brios, the cafe around the corner from where I'm staying.  The World Cup is about to begin.  Australia is about to play the Netherlands.  The screen is on now and people are beginning to sit down.  One thing I noticed back in Ujpest was that, in the town square, was a huge screen with chairs.  The square was filled with a large sand box, ping pong tables, huge chess boards and checker sets..all set up for the kids while the parents watched the soccer game.  It was clearly a neighborhood event.  The World Cup.  The World Cup is in neighborhoods everywhere.  Even Hungarian neighborhoods.

10 DAYS IN HUNGARY - DAY 3 ON MY OWN - a traveling art blog by North Carolina Artist Sue Scoggins

Today, I was on my own. Yellow trams 2, 4, 6 and Bus 16.  That's all I needed to remember.

The day began with a trip to the Buda Hills to a little French bakery, La Table.  The #6 tram took me almost to it's doorstep. The plan was to be there around eight o'clock so that I could leisurely sit, sip expresso, read and write.  No one was there accept the baker in his white coat and the waitress behind the counter. I greeted them with a J(Y)o no pote.  (so I could sound all Hungarian) Then ordered an Americano, which is an expresso with a little bit of water.   Coffee is served in paper cups around here.  Come to think of it...I don't see much litter either.  Hmmm. For two hours I sat, sipped, and wrote as Europeans would come, sit, and go.

When finished, I walked the neighborhood and ended up..NO!  At a MALL!  For this non-shopper, a mall was the last place that I wanted to go.  But, if you recall, I have a blister problem.  (So junior high!)  I thought maybe I'd find a pair of shoes that neither touched my heals nor my toes.  Ha!  So into this mall, I went. old world view of Budapest was crushed.  There I found cell phone stores, tech stores screaming out the words MAC and SONY in bold florescent lights.  Help!  Get out!  Get out!  Then I couldn't find my way out.  Seriously, this mall consisted of TWO six story buildings.

Once out, I calmed my beating heart, took a long breath and saw the stop where I had gotten off.  This is a big city, the New York of Hungary, with lots of traffic. Anything goes.  Bikes, tiny cars, scooters, wheel chairs, walkers...all a free for all, take life at your own risk, kind of thing.  Lazing around is non existent.  It's all about alert and intent.

I crossed the tram tracks and the 5 way intersection, then headed up the hill to the castle and Matthias Chapel that was surrounded by a huge stone wall with it's steps to the top. I strolled those streets to get myself back into ancient days and found a little cafe.  (why do I always look for cafes?)

It's not until you are on your own that you realize some of the necessities of life.  Pen and paper.
NEVER LEST TIP #3.  Solo travel. Never leave home without a pen and paper lest your IPAD run out of battery and you end up sitting, twiddling your thumbs and counting old stones at a sidewalk cafe.

At this cafe, I sat, twiddling for a little bit and listening to all the languages around me.  I ordered water and a table red wine, and a pen and paper.  The only English speaking customers had just left and the French family left too.  That left me with the ..I'm not sure...German?  Swedish?..  all I know is that I didn't understand a word.  So I pretended like I was a travel writer, totally focused on the experience of the day.  If I put on my sunglasses I could even look more "focused."

One thing I've found so far is that European people are intent.  Intent on where they are going and what they are saying.   They walk with their head down and make very little eye contact.  Unlike we Southerners who yell across the room and throw our arms around even the newest acquaintance. So I sat writing and listening and wondering, after a watching all these beautiful pizzas and bowls of goulash being served, why I hadn't been served.  Oh!  I never ordered.  (Remember.  The wait staff will not bother you unless they are summoned.)  "Goulash, please."  Another thing I've noticed is that people slowly nurse their food and drink for hours.  Whether it is expresso or wine..the liquid lowers in the glass very slowly.  No "BIG GULPS" around here.

The family sitting next to me, parents and "twenty something" son, is actually conversing like adults who like and respect and want to learn from each other.  Imagine that?  (No iPhones on the table.)  And the little waitress....she is running her smiling face around each table with a humble and servant style of exhausting energy.  I love her!

My last stop before heading back to Pest (Pesh) was at a little side street gallery.  There were very few people in the streets, it was as if they were my own.  In the gallery I noticed an artists' paintings that I had seen in several galleries.  I struck up a conversation with Ka'lma'n, the gallery agent, and after a while I mentioned I was a painter.  He said in broken English, "Really, I am an painter too." We became instant friends.  I asked to see some of his work and he pulled out a BOOK.  Head low and humble, he showed me his paintings and, in a shy tone, "I was famous.  Sold at Christies...all over Europe, everywhere."  He had painted since he was a child.  There it's HIGHLIGHT....we talked for an hour about art, techniques, and how the government pulled funding for artists and that now he worked selling other artists work and didn't have time to paint.  I could not get over how winsome and gracious he was.  I want to go back for lessons.

Now..on to bus 16 and home.