It was sometime between going to the completely wrong (and opposite) district in Budapest to drop off Barnus (who would have thought there would be TWO Barackfa utcas in one Hungarian city), and discovering the bad-news traffic inching along the highway just outside of the city, that we decided to just go to Szeged instead of Croatia. Granted, it wasn’t the best planning to leave the city at noon on Friday and try to go to another country, but since the trip was only supposed to take five hours, we figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. We’d be at the sea by dinner!, we said. No. We wouldn’t. And since it took over an hour just go a handful of kilometers after finally dropping off Barnabás at the dog hotel, Györgyi and I held an emergency plan-change meeting in the Trapista cheese aisle in District XXI’s mega Auchan. We decided to make sandwiches in the car, reprogram the GPS, and head to Szeged instead.
And it turned out to be a great decision. One of Györgyi’s apartments next to the Tisza river was vacant, since her German tenant, Iris, just graduated Medical school and moved back to Germany last Monday. So, we had a great place to stay right in the center of town. Our main goal for the weekend was to go swimming, get some sun, and eat as much Szeged-style fish soup as our stomaches could hold. And we accomplished it all.
On Friday night we ate at Kiskőrössy Halászcsárda (contact info below). I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures, but I was so hungry that I didn’t even think to snap any. Except for this next one, and that’s only because Györgyi let the waiter put a bib on her. I mean seriously, folks, how much can go wrong with a little cauldron of fish soup?
We had an appetizer, which was battered and fried fish cheeks. And they still had the bones and the gills and everything on them. But if you’ve never had fish cheeks before, and you probably haven’t in America since in America it’s a part of the fish that gets thrown away (only in America do they throw away the best bit), you should know that it is the sweetest part of the fish. Fatty and sweet. Nothing better.
And our main course was fish soup.
It’s a specialty of the region, and I don’t know the exact ingredients, but basically it’s fresh fish (pieces of catfish and carp) with veggies and paprika and served scalding hot in a cauldron. Love it! On the side they give you hot peppers and classic fresh Hungarian white bread.
After dinner, we went to the main square, which is closed to all car traffic, and is filled with cafes and people. I could seriously live the rest of my life in this square. We sat at the oldest and most famous cafe in Szeged: Virág Cukrászda and Györgyi finally was able to get her celebratory birthday ice cream. Very fancy indead.
Throughout the year, Szeged has been a constant comfort to me. It’s so much more quiet than Budapest, and even though I love the big, European city, there is nothing better (especially for the heart of a simple, Midwestern gal like me) than to go to a small town that still has all of the best qualities of a European city: people talking and laughing the night away in a old, beautiful square, drinking coffee and wine, eating cakes and gelato, all while the old fountains rumble in the background. Yes, you can feel among the history of Europe when you’re in Budapest and you see all of the famous monuments and bridges and castles. But when you go to the small towns, you can really start to feel like you belong there.
After we left the confectionary, we decided to go for a nightswim. During the day, the Sportuszoda is basically closed to the public, because it is where the water polo guys train (Hungarians won the Olympic gold medal afterall, so, we’ll forgive them for stepping on the toes of people like us who want to swim a few laps and then go have a cappuccino at the cafe). But the pool opens for nightswimming after 8pm until 11pm (on weekdays). Since it was Friday, we decided to go at 10, and though all of the lanes were full, there weren’t more than two people in each. We swam for almost 45 minutes, and under the warm, night air and rising moon, it was such a peaceful experience. By the end of the hour, we were the last ones left in the pool. We sort of floated our last lap back to the start and I have to say it was one of the best experiences I’ve had here so far. It’s always the simple things.
And the most magical thing– the apartment is one corner from the Dóm Square, which is transformed in the summer to the open air theater. Since it rained lightly for about an hour, the operett Cigányszerelem (Gypsy Love) was delayed, and didn’t finish until well after midnight. I fell asleep that night to the sounds of the soprano’s melody meandering slowly from the square to the surrounding streets.
Tomorrow: a post and some pictures of the wild (and odd) archery fair at Ópusztaszer. And a little bit more fish soup.
Kiskőrössy Halászcsárda (yes, they take reservations)
6727 Szeged, Felső-Tisza-part