Travelling Light

Szeged, Hungary: Up The Water Tower And Into The Zsynagoga

Before we knew it, was time to leave Budapest for Szeged again.

We had a quiet final day in Budapest, doing laundry, making runnung repairs, and preparing the laptop for reinstallation. Yes, we did some of that earlier in the week, too. It takes a lot of preparation.

This tiny church is located in a park near the famous Szeged water tower. It is a Greek Catholic church. We’re not sure how Greek Catholicism differs from catholic Catholicism, but apparently it is close enough that Tom’s very devout father was happy to attend Mass here.

Szeged has many lovely old buildings, and they have generally stood up well to the challenge of being buried 1.5 metres into the ground after the 1879 flood.

We learned on this trip that Szeged is completely surrounded by a dyke – an earth wall which is 3 metres high on the Szeged side, and 5 metres high on the outside. Given how flat Hungary is in this area, it is a very noticeable bump when you drive over it.

Because of this wall, when the Tisza rose 10.6 metres in 2006, the town of Szeged was not inundated. It was completely surrounded, but the water didn’t come inside the dyke. Given that it was built in the early 1900s, after the entire town was raised by 1.5 metres, we count it as one of the engineering feats of the 20th century.

Like Budapest, Szeged also has a pedal bar – you can drink beer and tour the city, as long as you work for it. Healthier than a beer bus!

Between our tourist activities in Szeged, we cooked a meal for the family – a Hungarian/Mexican fusion. We have been making our favourite Mexican salad (tacos without the taco shells) using mushrooms instead of meat, and flavouring the mushrooms with typically Hungarian flavours of paprika and sour cream instead of the Mexican chilli.

As a variation for meat eaters, we also included some kolbasz – Hungarian salami. We couldn’t find avocados anywhere (in Budapest we could get them in the larger Tesco stores), so we had to use a jar of guacamole, which isn’t the same. Nonetheless, it was very popular with the family, and we were even asked for the recipe!

The water tower, at 46 metres high, towers above any other structure in the town, and because the land is so flat in this part of Hungary, you can see for miles across the fields outside the city to some distant hills.

The stairs in the water tower go up through the centre of the water tank. There are quite a lot of stairs to climb, but the view is worth it.

This particular tower is the first ever to be built entirely from reinforced concrete, so it is quite famous. Even the front door is concrete!

Inside the water tower are displays of historical engineering technology, which we would have comprehended better if there were descriptions in English, but we understood things like barometers, galvanometers, and electrical generators. And we recognised Foucault’s Pendulum. It moves quite a lot when the length of the pendulum is over 40 metres!

There was also a display for a private collection of soda water bottles.

No matter what it is, there will be someone, somewhere, who collects it!

After the water tower, the next tourist attraction on our list was the synagogue. Szeged’s is the fourth largest synagogue in the world (Budapest’s is the second largest, so Hungary has two of the four largest synagogues in the world), seating over 1300.

In 1781, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor issued a Decree of Tolerance, protecting Jews from persecution. This is why the area had such a high Jewish population. We say had, because during the White Terror period of German control before and during World War II, almost the entire Jewish population was taken to concentration camps. There are plaques in the Zsynagoga which list the names of the thousands of people from the congregation who were lost at that time.

From a population of over 5000, Szeged’s Jewish community has been reduced to approximately two hundred. The emotional impact of seeing each individual name listed is very strong. Satistics make these events seem remote. Looking at an indidivual name makes the personal tragedy for that family become real.

We are very thankful to Tom’s grandmother for having the courage to emigrate. She was on the last train to leave Hungary before the Russians closed the border, which meant that Tom was born and raised in a country that has never known occupation or genocide. We count ourselves winners in the lottery of life to have grown up in Australia.

Another maintenance task we completed in Szeged was buying new sandals for Jenny. These ones, bought when we first arrived in Malaysia, and repaired with hand-stitched dedication in Chiang Mai, had finally given up the ghost. Yes, that is the floor you can see through the heel of the right sandal!

After looking in a few different stores in Budapest and Szeged, we finally found sandals which were as close as possible in style to the dear departed ones. Let’s see how long these last, being worn every day!

With much sadness, we said goodbye to the family. Some relatives are quite elderly, which is one reason why we made a trip to Europe so early in our travels. We hope to see them again when we come back to Europe in a few years, but you can never be sure.

And then, it was time to board the bus for Serbia …