If you're not in Hungary, you've probably heard about the horrible Toxic Sludge accident. This catasrophic event has killed many Hungarian residents and poisoned the water supplies of everyone downriver. Everyone is talking about it.
If you're in Hungary, you probably don't know there was a Toxic Sludge accident. I was told about it by Americans and the international news media. CNN World is one of my two English speaking channels, and it's constantly warning me about the doom in Hungary.
The interesting part, however, is that my Hungarian friends haven't said a word. If America couldn't talk to me, I wouldn't know there was sludge. Does this mean it's not bad, or am I just out of the loop because it's on the other side of the country?
There's only one way to find out.
Yes, that's right. I headed for the ever Red Toxic Sludge last weekend.
Some of my fellow American teachers live in a town called Pápa, which is about 17 miles from the spill. They had graciously invited me to visit them this weekend and we were all looking forward to it. This was before the catastrophe.
CNN became a constant reminder that my weekend trip could be a bad idea. Then I decided it might be my one and only chance to see Red Sludge. Plus, it can't be that dangerous. Science fiction movies taught me that it's only dangerous if it's green. Problem solved.
I spent Friday in Budapest, because I couldn't leave early enough to make it to Pápa that night. Fortunately, I met some Brazilian guys and went to a club with them. They taught me two very interesting things. First, there's an awesome Portuguese word that can be used for everything (cheers; excuse me; Wow, that girl is beautiful!; etc.). But, I forgot the word, oops. Second, Brazilian guys have a talent for being very quiet and mellow while drinking a few beers. Then, like the flick of a switch, they can just look at a girl and make her fall in love with them. I wish that trick had been the third interesting thing they taught me.
Saturday, I arrived in Pápa. I was greeted at the station and then given a very good tour. Here was the itinerary (Heather and Angie, you suggested it, so you know I have to do this):
First Stop: The grociery store. It's a very fun place to go before you have a chance to set down your heavy backpack.
Second Stop: A church bell tower (after dropping off my bag). I waited until we arrived at the top to mention I'm horribly afraid of heights. It's not that I don't trust them, it's just that many of the wooden steps seemed rotten and moved when you stepped on them. The view was great, but I still didn't get a glimpse of the Toxic Sludge.
Third Stop: A closed museum. According to the hours on the door, it was open. According to the locked door handle, it was closed. I'm very relieved to know that Békéscsaba isn't the only place where posted hours mean nothing.
Fourth Stop: A palace. It looked cool on the outside, and very dirty and run down on the inside. We found a room that you had to pay to get into, so we did. It wasn't a really special room like we thought, it was crappy like the rest (the fee seemed to be a result of the paintings on the wall). In order to get even, we sat on the lion statues out front and took about 4 million pictures.
Fifth Stop: The oldest tree in Hungary. Or maybe it's the biggest tree in Hungary. Or the widest. Or the one most worthy of a plaque in front of it. They've tried asking Hungarians, but as usual, no explanation was given. Maybe it's a traditional tree.
After that, we went back to their flats (if we say "apartment", Hungarians don't know what we mean) for dinner. They put on a very impressive show. They made a massive Mexican style feast. There was one vegetarian, and one who's allergic to gluten and lactose, but this didn't stand in their way.
They functioned like a team of champs, using three kitchens (that I know about). Cookies were baked in an oven with no temperature regulation. Corn tortillas were made from scratch. Chicken was cooked with imported taco seasoning. The list goes on and on.
I decided I wouldn't be able to impress them with the fact that I sometimes put extra toppings on my frozen pizza. I kept that to myself.
We even had some Pálinka, the Hungarian brandy. Not sure what flavor to choose, we went with my students recommendation, plum. Yes that's right, my students told me what kind of liquor I should try. My job is to get them to speak English. If talking about Pálinka gets them to do that, we talk about Pálinka.
They were right, by the way, plum was a good choice. We drank it out of wine glasses. I, being the only guy at a table of four women, was given the biggest glass. Sweet.
The next day, my friend Heather and I went to the neighboring town of Győr. We wanted to see the inside of some churches, but weren't able to. Being Sunday, they were locked and we couldn't get inside. There are things about this country that I'll never understand.
On the plus side, I think we planned out a place to go for our fall break. We were supposed to go to Transylvania as a big group. But, as my Transylvania trips always do, it fell through. I'll wait for more details to be finalized before I explain it, though. You can remain on the edge of your seat.
Now, the spiderwebs. If you know me, you know that I love, love, love Halloween. Therefore, I was very sad to come to a country where it's not celebrated. However, since many of our scary Halloween monsters and their stories come from this region, I thought it would be alright.
It's more than alright. If you're in the United States, you're probably noticing people have decorated houses and store fronts with giant, fake spiderwebs. They make everything look very scary when combined with the changing leaves.
In Hungary, the spiders are decorating. Suddenly, you can't walk down the street without spiderwebs sticking to your face. They're inexplicably strung in places where a spider couldn't possibly build them (for example, across a parking lot). Also, we literally have seen them fall from the sky and land on your head. Who needs those stupid fake ones from the store? This is real Halloween country. Plus, we may or may not be in Transylvania on Halloween...
Now, I would like to thank my friends for their hospitality and company this weekend. I had a great time with some awesome people, and really enjoyed the giant feast they prepared. If you would like to read their blogs, check them out here:
Heather's blog (yes, it looks very familiar, it's just proof that great minds think alike):
Perhaps they will have different stories about their tour guiding skills.
That wraps up my longest post ever. I owed it to you after a few days of not writing anything. I'll try to get some of the pictures here soon.
Remember, when you're watching the news, it's not the Toxic Sludge you have to worry about, it's the mutant spiders who make miraculous webs. Has anyone ever heard of Spider Man? I do have a spider bite...