Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!

I got back from Tenerife to find Budapest in the grip of cold, nasty, rainy weather. I had turned the heat off in my flat while I was away, and it took a full day before I could move from my bed to the bathroom without removing my overcoat. For the next six weeks or so I just huddled inside and avoided the cold. I did manage to make it to the annual Burns supper at the Caledonia Pub this year. I also attended a sad funeral for one of Budapest’s longest-running Irish bars, Beckett’s. They were forced to close after 20 years due to local politics, lease problems, etc.
As I sat at the bar, drinking my local beer – they had run out of Guinness hours before I arrived - the place filled up and I couldn’t help but reminisce about my first few years in Budapest, which I mostly spent propping up the bar at Beckett’s. Images kept flashing before my eyes, unbidden, but strong and clear nonetheless: Tesco Tim, Helene from Norway, Friday night bands and dance parties, Stuart singing with his band, Keith Andrew’s three daughters singing with their band (The Andrews Sisters!), lots of Guinness, my very first visit to this bar (when I tried out my newly-learned Hungarian only to find out that the bartenders were from Sweden and didn’t speak Hungarian!), Norwegian medical students, strange urinals, rugby matches and a general atmosphere of fun and happiness I was surprised to find in Central Europe.
At that time I lived only two blocks away from Beckett’s and it was the best place in town for many years. Then, as things happen, the town changed and more and more theme bars opened in Budapest and the crowds started drifting away from Beckett’s to other venues. We can only hope Beckett’s managers will try and find a new location and open another great Irish bar, still needed in town.
The Six Nations rugby kicked off on February 1st, and filled up several weekends through the middle of March. There were a couple of karaoke nights at the Janis Pub, some birthday dinners and finally it was March and time to go to Mohács.
On March 2, Sunday, one of my acquaintances in the Irish Hungarian Business Circle set up a day trip to the town of Mohács (Mo–hatch), in southern Hungary, to visit the Busójárás festival. This festival is held each year at the end of the Carnival season ("Farsang"), with its final day the day before Ash Wednesday. The celebration features Busós (people wearing traditional masks) and includes folk music, masquerading, parades and dancing. Busójárás (literally, “Busó-walking” and pronounced ‘boo-sho-yahr-ahsh’) lasts six days and is followed by the Kisfarsang (Little Farsang) carnival, with the biggest celebration, Farsang vasárnap (Farsang Sunday) on the seventh Sunday before Easter Sunday. Whew! The celebration then ends with the Farsangtemetés (the Burial of Farsang) on the following Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras).
According to the most popular legend, people from Mohács fled the town to live in the nearby swamps and woods to avoid Ottoman (Turkish) troops. One night an old man appeared and told the refugees to make scary masks and then go back to the town and make lots of noise, thus scaring the Turkish troops away. Apparently the Turks were easily spooked. In an older, less popular story, the busós are scaring away not the Turks, but Winter itself. For anyone interested in the history and traditions surrounding this festival, there is plenty of information on the Internet.
Whatever the legend, this annual celebration brings people from all over Hungary and Croatia to party and to celebrate the end of Old Man Winter with a humungous bonfire, burning a large straw man and saying goodbye to the nasty weather and welcoming spring and fertility back to the world.
We left Budapest around 8 AM and drove south for a couple of hours. Our first stop was the battlefield in Mohács, a memorial to the brave Hungarians who were defeated by the Turks in 1526. Hungarians have long memories.
Then it was on to the town of Mohács itself and the End-of-Winter Festival. Our group of fifteen hardy revelers, mostly expats, set off into the center of town and I was quickly separated from the rest, going my own way, as usual. I spent the day following the crowds to the various event sites, like the Crossing of the Danube in Large Ferry Boats, the Sinking of Old Man Winter’s Coffin in the river and, of course, at the very end, the Burning of the Straw Man to say goodbye to Old Man Winter.
The busós were out in force all day, adults and kids. They circulated among the crowds of people, teaming up on the women and engaging them in a sort of dual hug in which they jumped up and down with the poor girl trapped in between them. Some busós carried large wooden phallic symbols around with them, the better to tease the women. Naturally, all of these activities relate to ancient fertility rites, celebrating the coming of spring. The women took it in stride – at least the ones who had been there before – and everyone had a jolly old time. To ensure an even better growing season (for crops and babies), the busós also threw flour on the head of some young women, who were, as you might imagine, thrilled to be singled out for such an honor.
Anyway, I strolled and wandered and ate (sausages, freshly-made mini-donuts, a large, thick tortilla sandwich filled with meat and cheese and sour cream and all sorts of other low-cal goodies) and drank (beer, wine, palinka, more beer, a little more wine and just a touch more beer) and joined the happy crowd taking pictures of the busós and the bonfire and whatever else I could find that looked interesting. It’s one of those events at which you just can’t stop taking pictures, there’s so much to see and do.
After the sinking of Old Man Winter’s coffin in the middle of the Danube, we all walked back to the main square and had another beer or two and watched as the straw man was set up at the top of the funeral pyre and set ablaze. And did he ever burn! Wonderful. A fitting sendoff to winter – and we can but hope spring is not too far behind.
The bonfire died down a little before 6 PM, so I started wending my way back toward where we were to meet our van and driver and guide István at 7 PM. I’d spotted a nice cozy little bar on the main street when we first arrived in town, and figured I could while away the next hour or so with a couple of beers for the road. Since it started to rain, my idea seemed even better. I found the bar, The Public House, and walked in the door and found 11 of my 15 tour group already sheltering from the rain and quaffing their beers and wine. Great minds still think alike. We left a voicemail message for István, telling him we might be a little late. Around 7:15 or so he sent an emissary to find us and herd us back to the van, as our driver wanted to get home. Since it had been a stellar day, we hustled back without too much prodding.
We still had another couple of hours of drive time before getting home, and Mary Murphy, Organizer Extraordinaire, decided we should maintain our already high level of alcohol-induced revelry, so she had us playing games and singing most of the way home. It was a truly fun and entertaining day and we all thanked István profusely for his arranging it. Hope we can do another trip sometime in the near future.
And for me? Watch this space for my next adventure: Skopje, Macedonia. Blog should appear early April. Ta Ta For Now!