22 December - Family Reunion

We were up at 07:00 today, as we had a full-day planned.  We got packed, and met downstairs around 08:15 to check out and meet our guide for the day, Petra.  We’d contacted her via Tours by Locals, and she’d arranged a full-day tour to conform to a bunch of disparate things we wanted to see.  We were slated to visit Lake Balaton, Veszprem (where Crystal’s great-grandfather had lived), and Nyul (where there was a winery with some folks that might be related to Crystal’s family), among other things.

But our first stop was an ATM.  Petra explained that certain ATMs had better exchange rates for withdrawals, so she had our driver - Zoltan - take us to one of the “good ones” on the Buda side.  We learned some four letter words, which coincidentally were four letters.  We heard about the local gossip regarding an alleged gay orgy with conservative politicians during the pandemic, a guy on a boat with hookers and cocaine (and a hole in his sock, which seemingly got the most attention), and more.  We heard that many of the Ukrainian refugees that entered Hungary at the beginning of the war have now left - either going elsewhere in the EU, or returning to western Ukraine once that was believed to be safe enough.  Petra also gave us the abbreviated history of Hungary, which got us most of the way to Lake Balaton.

It was very foggy in the Balaton area, and we couldn’t even make out the lake.  We got to the winery (Skrabski Winery) a bit late, but made up for lost time by just drinking our wines faster.  We met Gabriel (Gabor) who told us about his winery, and got us started with a bottle of Öreg Tőkék Olaszrizlingje, a very tasty white wine.  Gabriel told us that the winery has only 4 permanent employees.  He said there are no plans to expand since cost increases would likely match any income increases, so better to just leave well-enough alone.  We had two different white wines outside, and then maybe 2-3 more inside, plus one red, and then - finally - one last white outside.  We think he was trying to get us to taste every single one of his wines, which we gladly would have, but we had other places to visit.

Our next stop was by the edge of the lake, where we finally could see the water.  A couple giant swans came by, figuring or hoping we had bread for them.  Once they got close to the shore, and realized we had nothing for them, they immediately turned around and headed off.  We then went back to the van to head north to Veszprem.  Once in town, we got out to see one of the main squares, which had a small Christmas Market.  We took a short walk around town, and candidly there wasn’t a ton to see.  But, thinking about it, if you’re visiting places that former relatives emigrated from, generally it’s not going to be from places with tons of things to see and do.  We saw some miniature statues created by a local artist, one of which had a tiny crocheted scarf in the colors of the Ukraine flag.

We had snow between Veszprem and Nyul, and several people (mainly Heidi and Clarita) took naps here and there.  Petra was discussing with Dewey her way of making beigli, and specifically where to put the egg whites.  Christmas Eve was in two days, and Petra told us that she made the best beigli in her family, and was going to be cooking it the morning of the 24th.  As we arrived in Nyul, Petra told us that Nyul seems to have bad luck find it.  Pretty much any battle, war, natural disaster, plague, etc. happened to impact Nyul, and it’s stayed relatively downtrodden because of that.

Petra chose that we visit Madarász vendégház for lunch.  Dewey thought they might have eaten there in 1999, but it had been so long that he wasn’t sure.  The restaurant was largely empty, and they had a large table set out for us in one of the brighter rooms.  To start with, Crystal, Dewey, and Tom ordered a pumpkin soup, Heidi and Clarita ordered a mushroom soup, and Justin got a bean goulash that was so thick he could stand his spoon straight up in it.  For our main courses, Heidi and Crystal ordered the mangalica steak, Dewey and Tom ordered the pork cutlet (in the “style of Nyul”, whatever that meant), and Justin and Clarita ordered the Pál-Péter Schnitzel, which was described as “we lay a slice of smoked ham onto the meat, bread it, then fry it.  Then we layer basil, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese on top of it with grated parmesan and bake it in the oven.”  Everything was excellent, and we thanked Petra for finding us such an excellent restaurant.

From the restaurant, it was a short drive to the Szemenyei winery.  Dewey’s Uncle, Steve, visited the winery back in the mid-90s, and thought there might be a chance that the Szemenyeis were related.  We told this to Petra, and she’d relayed it to the winery earlier today.  When we arrived, we found out that just in Nyul there are 3 different unrelated Szemenyei families, so while the name isn’t common by any means, it’s not unique either.  When we arrived we were greeted by Peter and his daughter (we think, not sure).  Petra translated between them and us.  To our surprise, the patriarch, Gyula, ignored his strict bed rest orders to come say hi for a few minutes.  [It looked like perhaps he’d just had a hip replacement.]  He told us he remembered meeting Uncle Steve, and even if we weren’t actually family, we were family, and that they’d treat us like family.  That was extremely kind of him to say.  He wished everyone a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year, then went back to bed.

Peter then spoke to us some more, indicating that everyone in the family is an engineer of some sort (sounded familiar, maybe we were related after all).  Peter is a master building machinist, and indeed is in charge of grading exams for others who want their certifications.  To that end, when we went into the garage to see something wine related, several of us fixated on his badass VW (maybe a Scirocco Type R?), which he said was exceedingly rare.  We saw some more of their winery but eventually we had to say our goodbyes such that we could get to the train station in Gyor on time.  

We’d passed through Gyor on the train before, as it’s one of the stops between Budapest and Vienna, but we’d never been in the town or at the station.  The town seemed much larger than Nyul.  The ticket window was closed, so Crystal had to buy tickets on her OBB app.  But, for whatever reason, she couldn’t purchase more than 5 tickets at a time, so she bought 5 and then bought 1 more.  We all walked over to Platform 2 and waited for our train to arrive.  Dewey helped Justin fill the water bottle with some wine we’d purchased earlier in the day.  We were glad to see that we had another train wine convert.

It was an easy ride from Gyor to Vienna, and we enjoyed the wine, some snacks, some of the remaining nuts that Dewey received on his birthday in Salzburg, and people read or played games on their phones.  At the Vienna HBF train station, we followed the signs to the U1 subway line, meandering through the station, down some escalators, but eventually getting there, and without having to go outside.  For whatever reason, on the Metro we had to buy 5 tickets and 1 ticket again.  Everyone put on their masks to get on the subway, since we had read that they were (theoretically) required for public transit in Vienna.

We went a couple stops on the U1 before popping up at Stephansplatz, right next to a Christmas Market, a huge Christmas tree, and of course St Stephen’s Cathedral.  From there it was an easy walk east to our Airbnb, less than 10 minutes.  It was way warmer outside than in Hungary, even though we hadn’t seemingly traveled that far.  At the Airbnb, the elevator was tiny, so Justin and Tom used the stairs.  Even though we booked our place through Airbnb, it sure seemed like a hotel, and had the name Appartement-Hotel.  We were on the fifth floor, facing west, and all of our rooms had views of St Stephen’s.

After checking in, Dewey and Clarita called it a day, but we went out with Heid and Tom to Pisco Latinbar, which we’d visited on Christmas Day in 2018 and 2019.  We tried to visit last year, but they were closed the days we were in Vienna, so Justin had waited 3 years for this.  Crystal ordered a pisco sour, and the others ordered maracuya sours.  Tom and Heidi left after one round to go get some doner kebabs, but we stayed.  Justin spoke briefly with the owner, who did remember us after hearing we’d come on Christmas back in 2018 and 2019 (and tried to come last year).  Justin asked if he could choose a song to play on the AV system, and the owner said yes, so Justin chose “El Dia De Mi Suerte” by Hector Lavoe.  We were having a great time, but we were very tired, as it had been quite a long day, and so we headed back to the hotel after the second round.

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