An Interesting Visit to Hungary.

Over the years, we have made two trips to Hungary. I must say that I enjoyed both visits immensely, although each was very different from the other.

On our first trip, Hungary was part of the Russian sphere of influence. People were friendly, but there were more than a few remnants of the socialist influence—that is to say, of the Russian occupation.

My wife had lived in Hungary for a year a decade earlier and gave the experience mixed reviews. Apparently she had crossed swords a few times with an officious woman who managed the building in which my wife’s very modest apartment was located. 

The apartment received only intermittent steam heat during the frigid Hungarian winters and when Paula presumed to complain that ice was forming in a pitcher of water on her kitchen table, she was marked as “a complainer”. Apparently, on at least three occasions, the unpleasant woman who managed the building announced, “I have reported you UP!”

On both our visits, we entered Hungary by train from Vienna.  The first time,  the train stopped well short of the station where a contingent of soldiers literally surrounded the train, while two of them entered each rail car and proceeded slowly down the aisle. One  had a clipboard with a sheaf of papers,  the other carried a submachine gun.

When they reached our compartment, the first soldier gestured for us to step out into the aisle. He then entered our compartment and, stepping on the seat, pushed open a ceiling panel and peered into the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof of the rail car.

Finally satisfied that no one was hiding in our compartment, the soldier gestured that we could return to our accommodations. As I was starting to re-enter the compartment, he held up his hand to stop me and said quietly, “Porno?  Playboy?”

I shook my head, No and, clearly disappointed, the two young soldiers moved off down the aisle to the next compartment.

Outside, in the meantime, another soldier was walking the length of the train with a mirror on the end of a long pole, which he used to make sure no one was clinging to the underside of the rail car.

Our second visit to Hungary was perhaps 8 or 10 years later. The Russians had left the country—thanks, I believe, to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Once again, the train stopped short of the station and a uniformed soldier boarded our rail car. This time, however, his purpose was to formally welcome us to his country and give us a brochure listing places to go and things to do in Budapest.

On our second afternoon in Budapest, we went shopping in the city’s wonderful open market. As we strolled among large tables piled high with beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables, Paula selected three choice peppers which she handed to the woman who was in charge of that section of the market.

The lady started to wrap the peppers in a sheet of a newspaper, but she stopped and shook her head. Then she replaced one of the beautiful peppers with a smaller, less attractive one.  A reminder, it would seem, that no one—not even a visiting American tourist, was entitled to take only the best of something. It was, I thought, an interesting glimpse into the daily lives of former eastern bloc citizens.