I’m sitting here with my hot water bottle, contemplating. It’s like those pauses in the day you used to take when looking up at the clouds. Or those big think-ins on a Sunday morning when it was just you, your bed and a slow morning. I do this thing with a caster oil pack and my hot water bottle that requires me to be still for a while. And today I’m in no mood to watch Netflix as this happens – I’d rather just think.
Anyhow, while thinking I began to consider road trips – particularly since I’m still making friends with the little blue car we bought – and my mind drifted back in time to my and Zsolt’s very first road trip.
Fade from hot water bottle scene to a bright sunny day in Hungary. We are in a car. I am eating a pastry that looks like a short and wide cinnamon bun while Zsolt is driving.
We were going to Austria, which is snug against the Hungarian boarder. The trip started off with the limp ‘bang’ as the car lost all power just outside of Pecs. It cut out as we began to drive down a hill, and Zsolt pulled it over to the side. We both got out of the car to stand by the side of the road while Zsolt called his father for help. I opened up my brown paper bag and pulled out a second pastry to enjoy.
As it turned out, the wire connected to the battery came off and that is why the car died. Sweet relief, we could still go on our trip to Vienna. One very memorable thing about waiting on the side of the road was this woman who pulled over. . .
Zsolt and Laszlo are hunched over the engine, not having a clue what went wrong but trying to magically fix the car nevertheless, when a car pulls over and out steps this woman. She’s wearing leather. A lot of leather. And it’s yellow. Fixing her driving gloves, she strides over to the group of us by the car engine, and wades in – looking the motor, pointing at things, saying stuff. It’s all in Hungarian – I don’t understand a thing. But she seems confident!
Then Laszlo (Zsolt’s dad) gets a map from the glove compartment, and opens it on the trunk. They all gather around the map, and I am wonder how in the world does a map relate to fixing a car?
It doesn’t! The Yellow leather lady is just lost and needs directions. She had no clue what might be wrong with the car.
Anyhow, eventually a mechanic showed up and everything is fixed up. Zsolt and I head towards Austria, and Laszlo heads back to Pecs for lunch.
Now here is the thing about road trips – they can be stretches of very boring moments, punctuated by wonderful discoveries. Vienna was beautiful without doubt, (parks everywhere) but it wasn’t my favourite part of the experience.
The best part of my first road trip with Zsolt, was the Széchenyi Palace. This is a mansion/mini palace (more mansion than palace) where Zsolt booked us to stay for two nights. It’s right by the border of Hungary and Austria, and very useful for catching the train to Vienna.
When we checked into the palace, the fellow working the front desk said it was his ancestor who used to own the place. And he whipped out a 5000 forint bill and show us a picture of his great great great (I don’t know how many greats) grandfather. The guy on the bill and this dude really did look alike!
How utterly bizarre to know your family once owned all this beautiful property, and had enough status to be featured on national money – and now – after it was stripped away – he remained there to check in passing travellers. It makes me a bit sad, honestly. But in any case, this fellow was very proud of his history.
The Széchenyi Palace was a wonderful discovery. The place was quiet and overlooked by tourists. So it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The hallways absorbed all sound as your walked along them, with thick carpeting and old furniture gobbling up our voices. And the room we stayed in – the room wrapped around you – huge windows – but all dark wood panelling, and a tall bed in dark wood with thick blankets. There was a small hallway with doors on either side that seperated the washroom from the bedroom. At night, to use the loo, you’d find yourself in between rooms, lost in pure pitch black while groping for an ancient light switch. It was the perfect place for ghosts to hang out.
And during the day, after crossing the manicured garden out front, there was this gorgeous walk – it stretched straight out from the palace and far, far, back into what was now a farmer’s field (though I imagine once, before the land was seized by ‘the people’ it was all wooded), a corridor of field lined with tall trees – all the way down to a memorial. This was where the original Széchenyi honoured his wife.
It struck me as fascinating that a grave should be placed so far from the palace, but also very understandable. In walking between the home and the memorial, there is nothing to do except contemplate – to look at the clouds and trees, to look at the stone marker far away, to think and reflect.
What better way to remember someone than to create a passage where all a person can do is remember and reflect?
So that was my first road trip with Zsolt. We made it to Vienna and had a lovely visit. But what I really remember are the unexpected moments, the women in yellow, my cinnamon pastry and this palace where the history seeped from the floors, walls and rooms.
Now we have this little blue car here in Canada. Canada doesn’t hold the mysteries that Europe does, and yet . . . we will see. I hope to be surprised by unexpected discoveries. If nothing else, I’d like another pastry.