Our first stop is the university library—my first stop is almost always at a library—followed by a quest for food.
This lands us at Boci Tejivó, which, I'm told, is the only place in Szeged where one can get decent food at the early hours of the morning. Indeed, I find Turos Csusza on the menu: egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, and … bacon.
Preheat oven at 350F. Cook pasta in boiling, lightly-salted water until al dente; drain well. Cook bacon until crisp; crumble it. Stir 2 cups sour cream into noodles, spoon in 12oz cottage cheese. Sprinkle on bacon. Season with salt. Cook in oven 10 minutes or more, until cottage cheese is soft. Note that Hungary doesn't have cottage cheese as such, they use túró, a curdier version of what is called ``farmer's cheese" in the States.
After lunch, we go to the Christmas market, located in front of a giant church somewhere in central Szeged. There are all kinds of stalls filled with wonderful homemade things here, and a maze which Veki says I'm not allowed to walk through: “It wouldn't be fair! You're too tall.”
The best stall, though, belongs to the blacksmith, who's shaping a coat hook as we walk up, pounding it into place with a hammer gripped by muscular fingers an inch thick. He has an assortment of horseshoes, coat hooks, metal roses, bludgeoning weapons, swords, and knives. I consider picking up some knives for Steo, who throws them, but there's something about their appearance, perhaps the ruggedness, the cold ripples of a non-steel metal, or the tiny imperfections, that accentuates their dire nature. I get nervous looking at them and we wander away.
Later in the evening, we repair to the library so Veki can study for an up-coming test. Practically every seat in the library is filled, but there's not even a whisper of noise. Later, Veki tells me that once a while someone will giggle and you can hear it spread like a wave as tension defuses. Her notes, I see, are a mass of cartoons and pictoral diagrams in which every protein and acid is personified and characterized. “Yo! I've got some ATP, let me in!”
A few hours later, we break and spend some few minutes in the library's cafe, staring at Nutella-covered goodness. A train takes us to the outskirts of town where a giant TESCO lurks. It's so large that there are actually other stores inside it. As we walk across a parking lot, we could be anywhere, but it doesn't feel as if we should be here.
I couldn't find a growth map for TESCO, but you can watch the spread of Walmart through the United States below. Inexorably spreading outwards from a central nucleus, a variety of cheap goods all housed under a single convenient roof proved to be an unstoppable combination.
Inside, I feel more positive about things. Since arriving in Hungary, it's been raining and I've been surrounded by aged, somewhat decrepit buildings and people whose clothing generally lacks colour. By contrast, the inside of the TESCO is a sea of colour and bustling activity. The sort of scene that reminds you that just because a country looks tired, it doesn't mean that it is.
As I'm photographing this, a store employee bustles up and speaks at me irritatedly. “He says you can't take pictures in here.”, Veki says. We laugh about what an ineffectual policy this is and walk away from him.
Outside the store, Veki is abnormally quiet and then explains that it's the end of the semester, so she can't provide the level of resources she'd like to as a host. I reply that it's perfectly alright and, for the rest of my visit, there's no tension on this point. Brief acts of clarification and communication work wonders.
Afterwards, we catch the metro line to the very end of its run. And then walk along a row of towering communist-era apartment buildings to the very last building. Beyond the building is the pitch black of a rainy night. Inside, the lobby is even blacker and I follow Veki by the sound of the grocery bags to the elevator. With both of us, the groceries, and our backpacks inside there isn't an ounce of extra space. It's easiest, and more comfortable, just to hug as the elevate grinds its way upwards.
The apartment door, like all home doors I've seen so far in Hungary, has a pretty bad-ass bar to hold it shut against battering rams (?) from the outside. The apartment's small, but comfortable and has been remodeled fairly recently. A building like this, I suppose, is timeless. It will last almost forever, but the insides and windows need gutting once in a while to keep them up to spec. Outside, Szeged is a sweep of lights and haze to one side ending in a sharp line at the shores of an ocean of dark. In the distance, beads of widely-spaced light float along at a slow pace, betraying the distance and orientation of a highway.