Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Monday, June 21, 2010

Szeged, Hungary

Our goal for today is the city of Paprika, Szeged in Hungary. Our anticipation is high, this city received an award as the most progressive Hungarian city and we expect the world. I expect spices and exotic markets. My mind is drifting off as I ride along, thinking of all the new, interesting and unusual things just across the border.
Not long after leaving the town of Zrenjanin in Serbia, we are stopped by two Serbian police officers. I had to be daydreaming because I saw them too late. I know that the Russian style police control is always before or after a city. I should have been more watchful. The older officer, not speaking anything but Serbian, asked for my passport. I asked him for the direction to the next bigger town. He looked at me, shook his head and asked me again for my passport, I smiled and asked him again for the direction to the next town. This back and forth questioning works sometimes but not this time. The young officer stepped forward and in excellent English, asked for my passport and papers for the bike. According to him we were 25 KM over the speed limit and this infraction allows them to issue us a huge ticket and hold our passports and bike papers. We can come back to retrieve our papers and passports after we show up with a receipt from the post office that we paid the fine. This is the Serbian law. He and the older officer would wait there until we come back. So, would I please give him my passport and the papers for the bike?
Now this is a tricky situation, Carol does the smart thing, she keeps totally quiet. I am determined not to separate myself from my passport and papers.
After some talking, I convinced the young man that we were only travelers visiting his beautiful country and that we did not really mean to speed. I told him I did not see the 60 km sign. The normal speed on this kind of highway is 80 km anyhow and we were riding at 85 km, an acceptable speed. I told him we are not in Serbia to race; especially at our age. We are here to learn from the Serbian people and have them take a good look at us, an American and a Canadian etc, etc.
With a nod from the older officer the young officer told us the direction to the next bigger city and we were on our way again. It could have been nasty but it worked out well enough. In general, I really do not try to speed. I sometimes accelerate to a brisk pace outside of town, but in town I go with the local traffic. I respect the wishes of the locals as to what they consider a good speed. Yet once out of town, in the fields, in the woods, I play it safe, too. I do not ride above my abilities or my range of sight. So I feel I did not lie to the officer when I told him that I am just a traveler, passing through his country. Both officers were just doing their job, all worked out well. I am glad they gave us a break. Thanks!
The border crossing into Hungary went without a problem, I had the Insurance papers already from Stefan Knopf and getting money exchanged was easy as well. Entering Szeged, I did my usual thing and asked a taxi driver for a good hotel. With many hand motions we found the hotel he indicated and parked our bikes inside a court yard, safe and away from traffic.
Immediately I noticed the difference in many things in Hungary. I noticed the Hungarian language is difficult. It is not Slavic or German or Latin Based. The language derives from an inner Mongolian/Hindu mix and I cannot read or speak anything, except the word paprika. Prices are expensive. The hotel charges 60 Euros per night incl. breakfast but only after some haggling. Traffic is heavier than in Serbia. The streets seem cleaner, the country as a whole wealthier. Hungary is an EU nation although they still have their own currency, the forint. About 265 forints equal 1 euro. Also I find the Hungarians cunning. When we wanted to put on the air conditioning in our room, the outside temperature was 104 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C) we were told that this would result in an extra charge. Carol paid it since I was fuming and refused to give them any more money.
The town of Szeged is a modern town, nothing romantic about it. No paprika stores, no spice markets, just a pedestrian street like any European city. Many young people are about since it is a university town and yes, the city is thriving. Not in the romantic ways I had in my head but as a small metropolitan city with a good university. Many statues caught my eye. Modern but also older looking sculptures were placed in many conspicuous spots and added to the happy mood of the place. For the romantic in me I want to mention the violin players, playing gypsy music on the streets. This sound is fast and passionate and the melody has a soul and sound unique in this world.
Carol and I took a walk along the Danube River which runs along the University buildings. I was surprised to see so much trash floating in the water. Yet, people swim in this water. A few huge barges were tied together and anchored near shore and created, in the center of these barges a swimming pool. The bridge leading to the barges had fallen into the river on one side and this bridge was just a nuisance to shipping. The collapsed bridge only served as a boom to collect ugly debris. To get to the swimming hole inside the floating barges, a small boat had to be pulled by hand from shore to this floating barge island. The whole if it seemed cumbersome, difficult, not smart and very unsanitary.
Walking past the center hall of the University campus I saw a sign, written in Hungarian, of course, that spelled out that Vitamin C was first derived here and that it was taken from ‘paprika‘. Now it makes sense to me why Szeged is called the Paprika City. It is not because of the selling of spices as I had thought, but for the research in this medical school that yielded an understanding of the effect of vitamins on our bodies and the first extraction of Vitamin C and other Vitamins from certain fruits, vegetables and spices. This University extracted large amounts of Vitamin C from paprika and the name Paprika City stuck. Szeged is a modern city living a modern life. Not like in my mind, a historical relic with an old spice market.
Quote from Wikipedia: Capsicum peppers used for paprika are unusually rich in vitamin C, a fact discovered in 1932 by Hungary's 1937 Nobel prize-winner Albert Szent-Györgyi Much of the vitamin C content is retained in paprika, which contains more vitamin C than lemon juice by weight.
Paprika is also high in other antioxidants, containing about 10% of the level found in açaí berries. Prevalence of nutrients, however, must be balanced against quantities ingested, which are generally negligible for spices.

I learned that Salami, the Hungarian Salami, spicy hot, had its origin here, too. The firm of Pick still makes Salami in a big way. Carol wanted to see their museum but we never made it to the out of town tour and the small museum which only opened from 3 to 6 PM each day.
I had a unique dinner that night, soup made from sour cherries with no pits but sugar added. It was a new experience. Carol found it too sweet; I ate the whole thing, a huge bowl full.

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