The Hungarian City of Pécs (Pronounced Paytch)
It’s our second day exploring southern Hungary. But this time we are crossing the Danube from Buda into Pest in the south west close to the Croatian border. The Hungarian city of Pécs is pronounced Paytch. In Pest the land becomes more hilly. It is also the largest wine growing area in Hungary and has a medical research facility in Pécs that is developing its own Covid vaccine.
As we speed down the motorway I catch a sign saying “My father is a road worker, his safety is in your hands.” The entry into Pécs is impressive and, despite its history, is now a modern and bustling city. The city was originally settled by Romans and Celts. It endured 150 years of Ottoman occupation, and it now has a heritage of being a multi-ethnic city and rejoices as a European Capital of Culture.
Apart from all this, it is the birthplace of Magdalena’s Mum and where distant cousin Rita now lives. Rita has a Doctorate in Law from Hungary and studied Dutch and Law in Holland. There she met her Dutch/German lawyer husband Frank. T
hey took their freedom of movement option to settle in Hungary with their two sons. The boys learned Hungarian very quickly and are both doing well at school. Therefore that is our first stop: to meet the family, including Barney the Beagle.
The local streets are full of students returning to their various lodgings for the start of the University autumn term.
Frank has reserved a table for lunch at a restaurant halfway up a steep hill. There are glorious views to the south west over the city. I’ve heard that pork is very good in Hungary so choose pork knuckle with sweet potato fries for my main dish.
Oh dear! How was I to know Magdalena had certain ideas about people who eat pork? And she had to sit opposite and watch me enjoy it (the crackling was good though!).
After coffee, Rita and son Marc act as a guide for a tour of the city centre. A thousand years of history surround me, from the first Roman Catholic diocese of 1009, founding of the first University in Hungary 1327, through 160 years of Ottoman rule to 1686. There followed 200 years of relative peace and the 19th century industrial revolution clouded by occupation of different forces.
The main square (Szécheny) brings it all together – an abundance of Turkish architecture (11th and 16th century mosques and baths), the 13th century Cathedral and later County House and City Hall and a wealth of museums.
Something Old, Something New
Pécs is now a very cosmopolitan, modern city, but we still see Hungarian dancers in traditional costumes in the square. And I am fascinated by several “artistic compositions” of hundreds of padlocks locked on framework. Each one locked there forever by a pair of young (and maybe old?) lovers. I take special note of the National Theatre – a possible venue for a Barbershop (a capella) Convention?
We wander through the side streets full of cafes, small shops selling everything from jewellery to some beautiful porcelain called Zsolnay. It decorates some of the city buildings, and it reminds me of the Alhambra in Granada. The Moors’ occupation of Europe left behind a different style of art, new plants and cuisine that will forever be part of European heritage.
We sit at the corner of the square for a drink on a late Sunday afternoon and watch mainly Hungarian families and couples enjoying precious time together. It is already becoming clear to me that Hungarians have to work long hours or have more than one job to give their families a good standard of living.
Meanwhile they have nothing or little to prepare for their retirement. They have endured terrific hardship under, first the Nazis and then the Communists. But they have enjoyed freedom and better economic conditions since 1989.
Fears for the Future
However, there is widespread unease for the future of this country. This is not due to becoming part of the European Union, and evidence is everywhere of the investment made by the EU to improve transportation, open new business and restore cultural heritage.
We come across many billboards showing how many millions of euros the EU has paid to this or that project. How often do you see that in the UK?
The underlying unease is caused by the recent shift in Hungarian politics to the right and to nationalism and decline in human rights and democratic principles. There is absolutely no wish amongst the general public at all levels of society for Hungary to leave the EU.
But there is concern that, if current political trends continue, the EU may threaten to expel Hungary rather than introduce adequate sanctions to persuade the government to move towards an acceptable standard of living conditions for everyone.
… and So to Szelid
Despite the simmering discontent with the current Hungarian government I am beginning to think this is a country I will definitely visit again as there is so much more to see and Pécs, pronounced Paytch, is one of my favorite urban regions. And the countryside is so green compared to my home area of Spain with many areas unspoiled by human development.
We drive back to Lake Szelid in the dark with a bit of reggae to end a very full day. The next part of my adventure takes us to Budapest … well, Buda, then Pest.