I spent a lovely couple of days with *Servas Hosts Emese, Tomas, and their 12 year old daughter Tanka, while staying in their small, efficient flat which is tucked away in the rolling hills of Buda.
One evening we dined on some of Emese’s delicious Hungarian cooking followed by tea and some traditional treats in front of a crackling fire. All the wood they use in their fireplace is found on the ground in the nearby forest or at the home of Tomas’ Mother who lives in the countryside.
This special Servas visit I had with Emese and Tomas brought to mind the stark contrast of experience I had in Hungary with Servas several decades ago when the country was under communist rule. The organization was banned during that time in Hungary. It operated underground. I had been instructed by Servas International never to mention the word “Servas” in writing or in person to any Hungarian Servas Host.
A Servas couple I visited during that time was very careful about not letting anyone know they had a foreign visitor. We never socialized beyond the walls of their small rented flat. Each night I stayed with them they closed all the windows, pulled the blinds down, and then tuned into Voice of America on their radio.
Soon after the Soviet forces withdrew from Hungary, Servas became legal. When I discussed this experience I had with Tomas, he chuckled and said that everything in Hungary was underground then. He proceeded to tell me of the numerous clandestine meetings around town that he knew about when Hungary was a communist state.
Tomas and Emese are happy with many of the changes brought about by the end of the communist state. They are especially pleased that they can now own their own flat, that they can travel freely overseas when the opportunity arises, and that their daughter is able to attend a semi-private alternative middle school.
One morning Emese and I took a walk in the forest near her flat. She pointed out a few things along the dirt path which were the direct result of WWII. A small stone bunker which had been constructed to hide Hungarian soldiers from the enemy was camouflaged among the trees. There was a huge stone in the shape of a lion’s head that used to stick out in the path. The Germans broke off the front part of the head so they could get their vehicles through the path.
Just before the end of our walk where the forest suddenly gave way to the endless grass-covered rolling hills of Buda, we came upon a pile of stones with a cross on top. A fresh rose was jutting out from the stones. Emese said this grave was a tribute to the unknown soldier during WWII. She said it is constantly attended to by local people because they realize the person buried there might be one of their own family members.
Tamas and Emese invited me to join them on an afternoon excursion to visit Tamas’ Mother in Martonvasari, a small town about 30 kilometers outside of Budapest. Tomas spent his childhood there.
Martonvasari is a popular tourist destination for Hungarians because of the Brunszvik Palace, built in 1785, where Beethoven often stayed and composed music. Every summer concerts in his honor are held on the castle grounds on the island in the middle of the lake.
Tomas shared some of his fond childhood memories as we walked around the picturesque, historic town. Tanka loved climbing on the huge branches of centuries-old trees. We enjoyed a traditional Hungarian meal at his Mother’s home before heading back to Budapest.
The country’s politics have changed drastically since the Soviet era, but the spirit of Servas in Hungary, as I experienced it, has not changed. It’s members are still welcoming international Servas travelers with open arms and open hearts – but now without fear.
*Servas is non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers. http://www.Servas.org