A Visit to Székesfehérvár

This weekend we made our second trip out of Kaposvar.  The first was to Pecs, a couple weekends ago.  This time we decided to head in a new direction.  Actually, it was basically toward Budapest so it wasn’t a completely new direction.

Jester overlooking the medieval square of Szekesfehervar

Székesfehérvár is a city of over 100,000 and is rich with history while not being overly packed with tourists.  Actually, in the short time we were there (24 hours) I didn’t see anyone who looked like a tourist…unless you count the group receiving a guided tour who we passed as we were leaving.  So let’s say few tourists.

I went down to the train station after class Friday to purchase our tickets, mainly because I imagine someday I will get to a train station and the ticket office will be closed for the day.  I think I’m over it now, because even the tiny stations I have been to had someone on duty.  And, I deciphered a sign today stating that the ticket office (or jegypenztar) is closed from 0:00 to 3:30 every day.  I think I am safe!

Our plan is always to take the quicker train, given a choice. And an online search of the train website shows you that between any two destinations there is at least one quicker option and a way slower (as in 2 or 3 times as long) option.  We opted for the route with 2 changes, one of them being an Intercity Train. These are the nicer trains, with restaurant cars, and reserved seats which cost approx. 70 cents US extra.  We took the standard train from Kaposvar to Dombovar, about 45 minutes away.  There we needed to get on the IC toward our next transfer at a town called Sarbogard. Did I mention the powers that be scheduled these trains with a layover time of about 5 minutes at each transfer.  Let’s do some foreshadowing!……The IC (I’m paying extra because it’s faster) train arrived 12 minutes late and reached Sarbogard 19 minutes late.  Of course we arrived and our final connection was long gone.  “No problem,” I think to myself, “there must be another train to Székesfehérvár soon.”  So I check the schedule in the station.  Nope, try every two hours.

By the look of the train station, this is a city of 50 people.  We figured we mind as well leave the train station and at least get some exercise and see a new place.  I think we were just going to wander for a few minutes but ended up wandering for an hour.  In that hour, we walked by a resort-looking hotel, walked at least a half-mile down the road out of town before seeing a “You need to U-turn to get back to Tesco” sign.  In the process of wandering back toward the train station (we initially turned left when we should have turned right) two ladies cheerfully helped guide us to Tesco.  Today, I added ” elnézést” ( excuse me) to my working vocabulary.  At Tesco we got some snacks for lunch and made our way back to the train station.  We ate in the train station at some lunch tables clearly made for superhuman giants…see Kellie’s blog for a photo.  Eventually our train came, a laughable one-car gas-powered (not electric) train which goes back and forth over the 50 minute journey between Sarbogard and Székesfehérvár.  Interestingly the train seemed to go very slow, and when the train would occasionally slow to a crawl, the engineer would come to a bench near us, remove the seat, and bleed the air from what must be the break fluid tank (gas? transmission fluid?) located just below the seat. Then he would head back into the cabin and hit the gas, so to speak, until it slowed again.

We found a hotel based on travel reviews and price.  Vadaszkurt Panzio was one of the few listed in our Lonely Planet book, and is #1 on tripadvisor, even thought it only had a few reviews.  Best of all, a double ensuite was only $48 US. When we got there, we were handed our room key. And when we got to our room…let’s say I think they upgraded us.  We were in a corner room, and upon entering we saw a tiny kitchen area, a modern bathroom (with shower!) and a cute living room. We also saw stairs up to a full-size loft bedroom.  I would love to be living in a place like this, if the kitchen was more substantial.  Again, Kellie posted pics of the room.

After a short rest, we walked over to the lecsó festival which we knew was taking place on the main street.  But we didn’t know there would be over 500 groups making it in little cauldrons over little campfires in the street.

Lots of people!

What great smells!  lecsó is a stewed mix of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and maybe some other secret ingredients.  We walked down the street with our typical lack of confidence in how to approach the situation.  Are we supposed to walk up to a group and ask for a bowl of their creation? Do we buy some kind of prepaid-tickets, like some wine festivals do?  Do we purchase one bowl which we can get refilled anywhere?  So, we decided to eat at the Lángos stand, enjoying it for the first time with sour cream and cheese instead of fruit jam.  It was unbelievably good!  Afterward we kept walking, and eventually I decided to be brave.  My actual though to myself was, “On Monday, the kids are going to ask what I did this weekend.  I will tell them I went [3 hours] to a  lecsó festival.  They’ll ask if I liked it, and I will be a complete loser if I have to respond that I didn’t actually try any.” So I went up to one cauldron, to a friendly looking guy who I saw give a bowl to someone else who walked up (that was the key).  Through some communication that was partly verbal, partly non-, but very friendly, I was given a bowl with a large scoop of his lecsó.  Great stuff!  Kellie posted a pic of our bowl of lecsó, but here is a photo of the chef and his creation which we sampled:

 We wandered to the performance stage and watched a few minutes of a couple doing what I thought was a silly audition for one of those “I’ve got talent” reality shows.  The following performance was a Spanish-inspired band called Vodku band, which I really liked.

After some more wandering, and some gelato(!) we headed down the main street where a weekend market was happening. As we passed the city theater, we noticed a crowd gathered around the stage set up in the road.  Today is the opening of the theater season, and the first performance is either Wizard of Oz or something related to it.  The cast was doing performances and script readings on the stage.  After the following performance (apparently by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys) I am sure it “something related to Wizard of Oz and not the actual thing.

Finally, we went back to the room.  I think we both took naps and then went out for dinner later.  We went to a German-styled restaurant/pub/beer garden which was oddly very quiet for a Saturday night.  I had the Weiner Schnitzel and a Paulaner Salvator (Paulaner’s dark 8% alcohol beer).  It was all very filling and tasty.

We checked out Sunday morning at 10am, decided we would just wander the historical area, take pictures, get coffee, and head to the train station when we were ready.

Main Street

Site of 30 Coronations and 15 Burials of Ancient Hungarian Kings and Queens

Medieval Neighborhood

Street Artwork

Our return train trip was a similar type of itinerary as yesterday’s but today trains were basically on time.  Actually one was early—I was shocked! We got back to Kaposvar around 3pm and went for an earlier dinner at the pizza place which seems to be our favorite place in town.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s only a 5 minute walk from our place, and I believe it is open at least to midnight.  We had a comfortable time relaxing in the pizza place, near the wood-fired stove and the server recognizes us now. Two full salads, a 32cm pizza, a large beer, and two cappuccinos cost just about $16 US…I love it!

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