When I wake up, I see that the day is a reflection of the night: we are truly at the edge of town. Rectilinear concrete apartment buildings spread away from us towards the distance where a huge UFO-shaped water tower looms over everything.
Veki has long lamented that she can't grow a beard, because they are the trademark of wisdom, knowledge, and expertise. Though I'm not a fan of receiving gifts and never quite know what gifts to give people, I do have people constantly in mind in case I find a good gift. So it was easy, when I found a beard eraser in Ireland, to grab it up.
Having breakfasted, we make another claustrophobic trip in the elevator and head outside. In an apartment building just a down the road we find a bike shop which has been squeezed into an empty space which may have once been a garage door, or may just be a cavity designed for little shops like this. The inside is spare, concrete, and a little chilly… and filled with bicycle parts. In the background a decent-looking laptop is squirting tunes into speakers—another clash of modernity and the recent past. The bike mechanic's a young man with a friendly smile wearing a parka and jeans. His hands are a mass of oil from the chain he's working on, but the jeans are immaculate. He's repaired Veki's bike and thus she's brought him a bag of cookies.
Across the road we go up Szeged's only hill. On the way, between lobbing snowballs at me (it's good to be with a friend!), Veki explains that local lore claims that mighty Hungarians of the past are buried beneath the hill. But she's noticed the suspicious and unusual presence of a lake (now covered with odd ice formations from its fountains) directly next to the hill.
Because it's me, we head for the nearest of several towers which loom over Szeged. This one looks like it has elevators and external viewing platforms. Veki tells me she's become so used to them that she's rather forgotten about trying to go inside. But for me, even the most boring aspects of Szeged are interesting.
We come around the side of a compound with high fences bordering a dank woods and discover that although the tower does have doors on this side, it doesn't look like they've been opened in years. Masses of graffiti obscure them and work their way up the tower about as high as a teenager with a spray can can jump.
Undaunted, we continue around the building. It now has a ledge on the outside above which is a long strip of lit-up windows. I climb onto the ledge and poke my head up to look through the windows. Below me is a room full of big shop tools with a garage door at the far side by which two men are talking; I duck back down before they see me.
And now we have completely our circuit of the building and there's nothing to do but head inside and ask. The security man seems to know what we're there for and says, in response to our query, that he can't take us up. The tower, he says, is used to store stuff, though Veki says he seems unsure about this because the variant of “stuff” which he uses is general and could apply to anything. It could equally well mean that the tower is filled with communications electronics, or houses an evil scientist. Leaving, we cross over to the metro line and head towards the city center as night descends. (There's only a thirty minute gap between these two photos.)
We'd been to the market earlier, but now we discover a second one. This is longer, with more stalls. At the far end Veki excited pulls me in the direction of a baker selling Lángos. We walk away with sour cream-infused cheese smeared around our mouths; it's delicious, and I could eat it every day, but then I would have serious health problems.
Leaving the market behind, we walk through a central square and listen to a small choir sing what I presume to be carols.
Nearby, a statue depicts Hungarians in various epic poses. When I first met Veki it seemed as though every time we met she pointed out something that Hungarians had invented: boots, ball point pens, car engines, yoghurt, and more. I could never tell if she was serious, but it was great publicity of Hungary. Now, when I met Hungarians I have that in the back of my mind and, when I read Hungarian, I mentally add a kind of heroic lilt which comes off as been like something out of an Italian opera. The statues do little to change my perceptions.
“Pogácsa!”, they say.
After the market, we head in to a shopping mall, thinking that perhaps we'll watch “The Hobbit”. I turns out that there is no theatre in the mall, so our search is in vain. But it's still nice to see this side of Hungary. If we hadn't stopped in my visions of the country would be coloured entirely of Communist-era apartment buildings and quaint Christmas markets. The bustle of life, modernity, and consumerism is somewhat shocking, but also energizing and a reminder that though outward appearances count, they must be taken with grains of salt.