When we asked people what they would recommend we see and do in Budapest, one particular name came up again and again – Szentendre. It’s not strictly IN Budapest, being 15km beyond the northernmost metro station, but it doesn’t take long to get there, so it is a nice day trip.
“Budapest is not the real Hungary,” said one friend. “You have to get out of the city to see the real Hungary.”
The night before we went to Szentendre, we went to a meet-up of international travellers, and met Sarah (from Germany, living in Switzerland) and Adrian (from Albania, living in Italy), who were also planning to visit Szentendre the next day. We decided to travel there together.
When we arrived at the metro station ten minutes before the departure time of the HÉV (a small train which extends the rail network beyond the metro), we discovered that there was a very long queue to buy tickets, and the tickets were not available from the automatic machines. Fortunately, Sarah had arrived twenty minutes before the departure time, and was already half-way along the queue.
A few requests for a “front urge”, as we used to call it in primary school, and she managed to secure four tickets, with one minute left to dash to the platform and board the train.
Szentendre (St Andrew) was founded in the 9th century, when the Hungarian settlers refurbished Roman ruins in the area and occupied the Roman fort. The current town centre was built in the 12th century, but the town was almost completely depopulated when the Turks invaded. Settlers started arriving after the Turks were expelled, and by the 19th century it was a thriving town again.
One of the first things we saw was The World’s Smallest Church. There was barely room inside for one person, so the priest would have been saying Mass entirely for his own benefit. OK, maybe there are smaller churches – we invite people to send photos!
The next thing we saw was a Braille map of the town. This 3D model had Braille street names on it, although we are not sure how much use that would be to an actual blind person, when the street signs weren’t in Braille, and were often above head height. It was a cute idea, though.
Everything in the town was a mix of ancient and modern. Cobbled streets and neon signs, Roman walls and “No Entry” signs, historic churches and cafes selling Coca Cola.
Sarah and Adrian had heard that Szentendre had better lángos than anywhere in Budapest, so we agreed to do one circuit of the town centre and then seek out the legendary lángos.
Tom was fascinated by all the narrow, cobbled passageways and stairways between the buildings. The town is on a hill, so there are buildings on many different levels.
We admired the main church, which is now Serbian Orthodox, but declined to pay a fee to look at the inside.
After a bit of detouring, and almost falling prey to a competing, more touristy lángos stand, we finally located the recommended stall in a tiny side alleyway.
The lángos was absolutely as advertised – light, crispy, soft in the middle, and not too oily. We had the traditional sour cream and shredded cheese, but Sarah, who doesn’t really like sour cream, had Nutella. Liquid Nutella on a piping hot not-too-sweet doughnut – messy, but oh, so good …
There are more photos of Szentendre here: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.619188791513211.1073741922.294546480644112
After lunch, it was time to head off to Skanzen, five or ten kilometres out of town. Skanzen is a national park, and within the national park is an “open air museum”. Buildings of historical note have been transported here from all over Hungary.
In the first house, a lovely lady was baking gingerbread and cinnamon cookies. They weren’t for sale, though, which just seemed like a cruel tease.
There was a windmill, and farm buildings with real live farm animals. The bull was Not A Happy Camper, and tried to hit Tom in the head with a horn. Then again, it was feeding time, and his feed had not yet arrived. Even Tom is grumpy in those circumstances.
Adrian pointed out some walnut trees. We had no idea that walnuts grow inside green fruity things. We would starve to death if we tried to live off the land in a northern latitude!
One thing in Skanzen which hasn’t been relocated is the Roman ruin. It was here all along, It is a huge villa, one of the largest in Hungary, with 52 rooms. Jenny would have liked to spend more time exploring it, but the nice man on the motorcycle came by to tell us the park was closing.
We only had an hour and a half in Skanzen, because our lunch had been quite late and it closes at 5pm. Nonetheless, we saw a lot of it, and enjoyed it greatly.
We took a lot of photos! You can see them here: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.619191344846289.1073741923.294546480644112