If you have read other portions of our anniversary trip to Hungary, you might recognize the following preamble. Mandy and I were married on March 24, 1985. As our 20th wedding anniversary approached we discussed what we should do to celebrate. Mandy enjoys searching for good deals and planning trips so I gave her the options of me making all the arrangements and surprising her, me making the arrangements but keeping her posted as they progressed or her making the arrangements. She decided that she would like to make the arrangements herself. As we discussed where we should go, I indicated that the most important part of the celebration was for me to be with her. To me, the destination was not as important as long as we were together. I said that I would be happy to get a hotel in Anderson, SC or go anywhere in the world. Mandy appreciated the sentiment but Anderson was not on the short list of potential destinations. She began to investigate the different possibilities and finally decided to go to Budapest, Hungary.
One reason that Mandy decided to make Hungary our destination was because she has family roots there. Both of her maternal grandparents came to the United States from Hungary when they were children. Mandy’s mother is 100% Hungarian and Mandy is 50% Hungarian. To continue with this math and genetics lesson, Ryan and Keryn are each 25% Hungarian and I am 0% Hungarian, as far as I know.
Mandy had hopes that she would have opportunity to meet some of her distant relatives during our visit. About a month or two before our trip, Mandy made an attempt to contact some of these people. She searched the Internet and uncovered a number of names and addresses of possible relatives. She used a translation tool to try to write a letter to them in Hungarian. Mandy found a Hungarian pen pal on the Internet and had been writing to him about our trip. She asked him to look at the letter. After some discussion and encouragement from her pen pal, Mandy decided to write the letter in English with hopes that the recipients would be able to translate it somehow. Time passed as Mandy eagerly awaited a response to one of her letters. Unfortunately, no response arrived. In spite of that, Mandy packed some small tokens from the U.S. in hopes that she could pass them along to any relatives that she might encounter.
After our arrival in Budapest, we spoke often about her relatives. Whenever we had opportunity to meet with someone in Hungary, Mandy usually directed the conversation to her heritage and inquired about the last names of her relatives. Very soon, I began to make some calculations.
Since Mandy’s grandparents came as children, it means that her great-grandparents brought them over here. Her great-grandparents left siblings back in the motherland. To Mandy, these people would be her great-great aunts and uncles. The children of these people would be her third cousins and the first cousins of her grand parents. The next set of children would be in Mandy’s mother’s generation. These people would be Mandy’s fourth cousins and the next set of children would be Mandy’s fifth cousins. The generation equivalent to the age of our children would be Mandy’s sixth cousins and the little babies would potentially be her seventh cousins. If we started our calculations one generation further back to Mandy’s great-great grandparents, we would be starting with the grandparents of Mandy’s grandparents. Going up one generation means also coming down an additional generation so the little baby’s being pushed in carriages by young mothers could potentially be Mandy’s ninth cousins.
With my calculations in order, I was poised for some sarcastic comments for Mandy’s benefit. I began to point out potential relatives that we met on the street in my very dry-sense-of-humor way. As we traveled on the public transportation system, I often examined people’s personal characteristics for potential relatives. Anyone who had light colored hair and eyes was a potential relative. If there was a lull in activity, I would often take the opportunity to nudge Mandy, motion toward a particular person and identify her as a seventh cousin. Mandy was only slightly amused the first four or five times I did this. Throughout the remainder of the trip I continued with my identification of potential relatives, which Mandy simply ignored.
Mandy’s grandmother, Emma Solmas Jastrab, came to the U.S. as a young lass from a town called Miskolc. While Mandy was planning our trip, she decided that she wanted to visit that town and try to find some relatives. Mandy also discovered that there was a famous bathhouse in that town and she desired that we try it out. Our friends who were living in Budapest decided to accompany us on our trip to Miskolc and the bathhouse.
Mandy was excited about the trip to the bath. She researched a number of baths in Hungary and spoke about how much fun it would be for us to visit one. Some of the baths served food while the patrons enjoyed sitting in the warm water. Some of the baths were same gender to allow people the freedom to enjoy the bath in their birthday suits. Some had masseuses to ease the physical manifestation of the stressfulness of life. We spoke about these various possibilities we had and I could tell that Mandy was getting excited about the visit to the bath. I, on the other hand, did not really share Mandy’s enthusiasm for the potential experience. I am a little bashful about getting into my own swimming pool while other people are visiting. The thought of donning my bathing suit and joining a large number of other people in an unpredictable setting was not very enticing.
Mandy’s choice of the bath in Miskolc was partially because of the cave environment that it offered. She thought that I would enjoy exploring the many caves and wading into the variety of pools tucked away in nooks and crannies. While the caves sparked my interest and the exploration sounded tempting, these positive aspects were not strong enough to overcome the resistance related to my lack of desire to go wading with a large number of other people.
Finally, Saturday morning was at hand and we found ourselves preparing to take a trip to Miskolc with Marsha, Jillian and young Sam Southard. Marsha was going to drive so we did not have to determine how to negotiate the public transportation system. We gathered our necessities for the trip. I geared up my fanny pack complete with water bottles, my camera and a snack, which was my daily, standard, operating procedure. Mandy gathered together her bathing suit and a few towels. As we were both working, she reminded me to pack my bathing suit as well. Mandy also included some flower and vegetable seeds to give as gifts just in case we happened to meet some of her relatives. I was certain that we would find a seventh or eighth cousin very easily and would be able to distribute the seeds very quickly. We finally gathered everything that we needed and went to the hotel lobby to wait for the Southards. Unfortunately, I somehow neglected to pack my bathing suit but this fact did not come to mind until we were well on our way to Miscolc.
After a few minutes, the Southards arrived. I was given the opportunity to drive their car while Mandy and Marsha visited with each other. Fortunately, Marsha kept an eye on the road and was able to navigate while she visited. As we drew close to Miskolc, there was an increase in the amount of snow on the ground. The higher elevations were white, indicating that a significant layer of snow still covered the land. We located the bath very easily and approached the entry drive. A young gentleman who appeared to be high school aged signaled for me to roll down my window. He began talking in Hungarian and Jillian responded back in the same language. Jillian stated that he wanted to collect 900 Hun. Fht. as payment for parking. That seemed a bit high but I paid the young man. He then began walking down a hill toward some other cars and pointed to an open place. The parking lot was covered with melting ice with about 2 inches of water covering about 3 inches of ice. The hill that approached the parking area was a bit steep, which caused me to wonder whether I would be able to stop the car easily. Our designated parking spot was against the bank of a small stream.. The stream was about 15 feet wide and the bank leading down to it was about six feet high. There was no barrier or other obstacle to stop the car from skidding on the ice, continuing down the bank and landing in the stream. Of course, as we approached our parking spot, I pointed out the possibility to my passengers, whose anxiety level began to rise slightly. Fortunately, we came to a stop in the designated area and had no difficulty doing so.
We exited the car and slid across the parking area to the walkway that led to the bath. The walk way was about one quarter mile long and led to a circular ticket booth. The bath was about 200 yards beyond the ticket both. The area beyond the ticket booth and in front of the bath appeared to be an elaborate garden system. There were several walkways and a variety of plants that were still waiting to emerge from a long, winter hibernation. Part of the area was under construction for an expansion of the garden and the bath. During our walk to the bath I decided that it was time to share with Mandy that I did not have my bathing suit with me. I was dreading this exchange of information and had postponed its delivery as long as I could. She did not believe me at first. Evidently, her experience with me has resulted in skepticism toward some of my statements. I began by asking her if she had my suit. She responded that she did not have it and that I was supposed to pack it myself. I informed her that I did not have it and that if she did not pack it, then I was there without a bathing suit. We bantered back and forth about who had the responsibility for packing my bathing suit. My continued insistence that I did not have the suit finally overcame her skepticism, which soon turned to disappointment and annoyance.
I really did not want to put on my bathing suit and sit in a pool with a group of strangers so I was not terribly disappointed that my bathing suit was left behind. However, Mandy was very upset with me and I felt awful about it. This was a sullen point in our otherwise very exceptional experience in Hungary. In every other struggle we had, we were together as a team to support one another. In this case, however, I had upset Mandy and not supported her in something that was important to her. To add to the situation, I had been teasing her about her seventh or eighth cousins and she had tired of hearing the bothersome joke. It was clear that I had gone too far and created discord in what should have been a very harmonious time.
We arrived at the ticket booth and paid an inordinate amount of money for entry. We had to pay the same entry fee for me even though I was the cad who was not thoughtful enough to ensure that I had my bathing suit with me. We continued to the main building of the bath without any verbal communication. Fortunately for me, God had blessed me with a wonderful spouse and even after 20 years of a variety of disappointments, I knew that she would soon forgive me and return to her jovial self once again. It would take a little time, however.
Upon entering the bath area, we found ourselves in a large rotunda containing a number of tables and chairs. There were small shops around the periphery that sold food, drink and trinkets. The changing rooms were on the second floor that was accessed via a narrow stairway. After Mandy mentioned something about her disbelief about my lack of a bathing suit, she and the Southards proceeded to the changing room to ready themselves for their bathing experience. I remained behind with the assignment of protecting a few personal items that were not considered necessary in the changing rooms. I located a chair and table and waited for the return of the bathers. A few minutes later, one of them returned to collect the personal items and secure them in a locker that was available in the changing area. Evidently, my irresponsibility with the bathing suit extended to my potential inability to protect the personal items of my companions.
I used the available time to observe the variety of people who traveled to this location in order to enjoy the tantalizing treats of a European cave-bath. There seemed to be three main groups of people wandering through the lobby area. One group consisted of family units with one or two children in their early teens. The parents of this group were in the late 40s to early 50s. A second group consisted of couples whose age ranges suggested that they were likely empty nesters up through more elderly people. The final group consisted of same gender couples of a variety of ages.
The choice of bathing suits by the people in the rotunda was very interesting. The women wore bathing suits that ranged from those that resulted in the wearer being very scantily clad to those that resembled the old-fashioned, full-length bathing suits commonly seen in historic films from early in the last century. Almost without exception, the men wore the small, tight, speedo-type bathing suits, which caused me to shudder at the sight. Most of the people seemed as though they could afford a membership at a local gym, however, it was clear that very few of them took advantage of the opportunities available to them at such an establishment. I also noticed a pattern in the choice of bathing wear. There seemed to be an inverse relationship between the need an individual had to use gym resources and the size of the bathing suit. A greater need for the gym correlated to a smaller and tighter suit that provided greater skin area exposure. If I had packed my loose-fitting, boxer-type bathing suit, I would have been the only person, except for Sam Southard, to make such a choice. I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I did not have a bathing suit with me. My personal modesty that would have caused me to be embarrassed to be seen in some of the outfits I saw was clearly not shared by a majority of the patrons at the bath.
It was some time before I was reunited with my traveling companions who had taken a trip to the changing rooms. There were many people waiting to use the facilities, which resulted in a long line and a delay in their return. I was pleased with the modest choice of bathing wear selected and worn by my companions. It was a refreshing change from what I had observed during my wait for them. Finally, the long-awaited time to enter the bath area had arrived.
I am certain that as dismayed as I was about the way the bathers were adorned, many of them had some perplexing thoughts about my apparel. I was wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans with a rope belt and hiking boots. Around my waist was my fanny pack with two, 1-liter SmartWater bottles in the side holsters of the pack. I had a long-sleeve shirt wrapped around my waist and my blue, hiking hat hanging from the fanny pack. As I walked along, I noticed a number of heads turn in my direction and the distinct impression that people were doing their best to hold back the laughter. I guessed that it was similar to the look on my face just a little earlier but I have to admit that at least everyone else blended into the crowd. I stuck out like a hiker in a bathhouse. Oh, wait; I was a hiker in a bathhouse.
After passing through a series of doors, we found ourselves at a large swimming pool. There were people lounging on a series of ledges on the opposite side of the pool and on a small cement island in the midst of the pool. There was a beach of sorts on one side with a large number of people relaxing and enjoying themselves. On the other side was the entrance to the cave and the direction in which our little group decided to head. I was following the others when I felt someone strike my shoulder. I twisted around to find a young man who appeared to be an official employee with the establishment. He began to speak to me in some language that I guessed was Hungarian and pointed toward the entrance. I must have had a blank look on my face because he began to speak to me in French. The look on my face remained the same and the young man finally said, “German?” with an inquisitive look on his face. I shook my head and responded, “English?” He shook his head and motioned for me to follow him. Before submitting to his request I turned back and attempted to get Mandy’s attention. Of course, she was unaware of my “conversation” with the bath employee so she continued her trek into the recesses of the cave. My first attempt at communication with Mandy was unsuccessful, which forced me to project my voice further. My fourth attempt finally achieved the goal of obtaining her attention but also resulted in garnering the attention of everyone else in the vicinity that paused to learn what was all of the ruckus. I informed Mandy that I was being removed from the premises. She sent yet another disappointed look in my direction and then continued into the cave while shaking her sinking head. I followed the employee back to the rotunda area and noticed a nice trail of mud, which was obviously from my hiking boots. There was just enough moisture on the floor to turn the caked-in dirt to mud and then leave a trail behind me. I had a vision of my returning to this area with bare feet and a mop to clean up the mess I created. Once we returned to the rotunda, I began looking for somewhere to go. The employee, I’ll call him George, motioned for me to follow him. Now, I was a little worried and considered making a run for the exit. Instead, I continued to follow George who opened a door to an office. He reached inside the office door and lifted a box from the floor. He pointed into the box and then pointed at my feet. I was a little embarrassed as I looked at the mud on my feet and glanced back at the trail progressing across the rotunda floor. I noticed a number of other patrons of the bath shake their heads at me in disbelief. Finally, I realized that George had provided me with an assortment of shoe coverings similar to what I wore over my shoes when I participated in the birth of my children. George was not trying to chastise me but was trying to provide me with a way to return to the bath area. Evidently, there had been other visitors to the bath who arrived with muddy shoes and without bathing suits. I accepted George’s offer, slipped my muddy boots into the protector sock and gestured a thank you. George smiled widely and gestured for me to return to the bath. I followed his directions and returned to the cave area to discover the whereabouts of my group. I did not think it was possible, but I now felt even sillier than I did before.
I walked into the cave area where I saw my group head whilst I was being escorted back to the rotunda. I searched one pool but was unable to locate them. I went down another passageway and saw them exiting another pool. I waved to them but they did not notice me. I tried to call for them while avoiding the attention I had drawn earlier but I was not loud enough to make them aware of my presence. I waved some more and felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked back and found that it was the smiling face of none other than my new friend, George. He presented a whistle to me and indicated through gestures that he was willing to blow the whistle on my behalf in order to attract the attention of my group. I glanced back at them and noticed that they had finally spotted me and were walking my way. I waved to George, shook my head and pointed toward the group that was approaching. He nodded with understanding, waved and headed to another part of the cave. That was last time I saw George.
I modeled, with some embellishment, my sporty look to my companions and briefly described the activity that had transpired. They did not seem very interested in my story or my bootees but Mandy wanted to show me what they had discovered during my absence. We explored the maze of passageways in the caves and studied the many pools. Assorted types of colored lights adorned the different pools to provide various forms of ambience for the clientele to enjoy. The pools were created with a wide variety of shapes and sizes to broaden the experience of the visitors. Some pools were small and tucked away to offer an intimate feeling of being secluded in a dark corner of the universe. Others were long and winding to give the sensation of traveling some distance in the endless waters of the deep, complex, underground system. There were a few pools that could only be accessed by diving under a wall and surfacing on the other side. I am sure it was an exhilarating experience for those who remembered to bring swimming wear.
After a brief tour of the caves, I was ready to get out to the wide-open country with fewer people crammed into a relatively small area. The thought of being out where it was a little cooler and would require more clothing on the people around me was also a welcome thought. I had noticed some hills behind the bath and was interested in some exploration. I begged Mandy to grant me leave to go for a walk outside and she accorded me permission.
I departed through the front gate of the bath complex and noticed some trails leading into the hills. The compacted snow on the paths made them easily distinguishable from the nearly pristine snow of the hillside. I headed in that direction and found a path that seemed to go up to the top of the hill and that became my quest. The snow under my feet was very wet and slushy. As I climbed further up the hill, the snow dried out and the slush disappeared. I soon realized that I needed to use a restroom facility. By now, I had traveled too far to return to the bath so I went in search for an appropriate place. I found one and decided to call it, “2.”
At the top of the hill, I discovered a cleared area where a pipeline stretched perpendicular to the path on which I traveled. There was a small, pedestrian bridge over the pipeline so I continued my travels into the wilderness. Before long, I found myself on a street that was snow covered but was only dirt underneath. I strolled along the well-traveled road for a few hundred meters and approached a small house. I was certain that this quaint home belonged to some distant relative of Mandy’s. There were a number of houses in this area and I supposed that all of the occupants were related to Mandy in some way.
Some time had passed since undertaking the walking tour so I overcame my urge to continue exploring and focused my objective on a return to the bath. Of course, I did not want to retrace the same steps I had already taken so I forged a new path. I had noticed some other trails going in different directions so I calculated a course through the woods that would take me to one. I must admit that after about 30 minutes I questioned my sense of direction but was delighted to finally discover a trail. I made my way back to the bridge over the pipeline and looked back in the direction I had just come with a great sense of satisfaction and adventure. After crossing the bridge I decided that I should find another alternate route. This time my confidence in my abilities did not wane and I was able to locate the bath, which I approached from a different direction. When I came to the bath area, I found two dogs near a building. I thought Mandy might enjoy seeing them so I took a picture in case she did not feel inclined to walk over to see them. I also thought that if I showed her a picture of the dogs, then it might soften the ill feelings that I guessed she would still be harboring. I was about 100 yards from the gated entrance to the bath area when a cell phone rang. I was carrying one of the Southard’s phones and the rest of my company had another. They were preparing to exit the gated area and wanted to know my whereabouts. I was very pleased with the timing and informed them that I was just outside the gate.
When we reunited, I could sense just a little tension in the air. I pulled out my camera and shared the image of the two dogs I found. The domesticated beasts tamed the savage beast and tranquility returned, which provided us with a pleasant return to Budapest.