Last Saturday we had a great trip down the Duna(Danube) to Esztergom. I was the guest of Itsa Matte and Kati Dobos. Itsa planned, organized and insisted on treating me to everything including a slice dobos torte before they put me on the bus for home. Kati got me to all the right places as Itsa is having some foot problems and isn’t comfortable walking. Both of them have been exchange teachers in Spokane and their English is excellent. Itsa could entertain you all day with funny incidents where she misunderstood some aspect of U.S. culture.
Esztergom was the first capital of Hungary and the place where St. Istvan (Stephen I) was crowned. I believe we briefly viewed his hand in the relic room. The main attraction is the 19th century basilica. When we arrived it was filled with tourist and the bishop was conducting mass.
Kati figured out that she and I could climb to the top of the dome while the mass was finishing. There is a narrow granite one-way spiraling stairs straight-up to the dome. A couple of other people had the same idea and it was a continuous line of people all the way up. At one point when the line stopped at a particularly stuffy spot, I thought I was going to have my first panic attack some combination of claustrophobia & agoraphobia. We were stuck in a small high place jammed up with a bunch of people and no air. Luckily the line began moving and the next time we were stuck we were in front of a vent which wasn’t bad at all.
We had a funny thing happen when Kati and I were in the Treasury. Kati said it was announced in the 90’s that if the Treasury at Esztergom were sold it would pay the entire Hungarian national debt. Kati was really enthused to examine all these valuables. Much of the collection is ecclesiastical robes and Kati is quite knowledgeable about the fine embroidery techniques. There are also lots of priestly paraphernalia embellished with jewels & gold filigree. Kati and I were bantering in English of course when the Hungarian guard/guide heard us and sensing Kati’s enthusiasm, he began to try to explain everything to us in his broken English. Sometimes he would have to pause and use his finger to write a number on his hand because he didn’t know how to say the number in English. At some point Kati whispered-“I’m just going to just keep speaking English.” We felt a little guilty; this poor guard followed us through the rather large exhibit struggling to explain everything to us in English which meant he didn’t have a lot of time for the Hungarian visitors. It was a great tour for us though. Kati justified his struggle by explaining it is her mission as a teacher to encourage Hungarians to use English.
One last historical note on Esztergom it is the final resting place of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty who was arrested by the communists and lived in the U.S. embassy for 15 years before fleeing to Austria in 1971. Kati says he is still considered a controversial figure and apparently they are also arguing over the Wikipedia article.