Sopron had so many historic buildings that I found it difficult to differentiate between them. This turned out to be as true in memory as it was at the time of my visit. The city left me with indelible impressions, but very few of these were of its most notable churches, homes and other buildings. Instead my visit to the city left me with only the vaguest memories of its historic treasures. It was a case where there were so many that it was hard to separate them in my mind. Just trying to see and understand everything was a bit withering. Of course, I relied on a guidebook at the beginning of my visit, but then instinct took over. This led to a wide range of memorable experiences which had more to do with the people of Sopron than its buildings. The city’s historic structures are now but a distant memory, while a handful of people have become central to the way I remember my visit.
A Reinforcement Of Loneliness – Going Solo
Several of these memories were related to the place where I stayed. Strangely enough I cannot recall much about what my room looked like or the evenings I spent there. What I do remember is how the hostess gave me a discount card for a restaurant just a couple of doors down from the pension. She told me the food was excellent and inquired on multiple occasions whether I had taken the opportunity to eat there. Each time my reply was negative. This elicited a look from her that spoke of disappointment, irritation and impatience. Followed by yet another mention of how wonderful the restaurant was. Her annoying pleas made me less likely to eat at there. I am always suspicious of the hard sell, especially when another country. The fact that I am not a gourmand was the main reason I did not partake of the offer. Good food and fine dining is lost on me. Traveling solo makes me less rather than more likely to sit down by myself at a restaurant. All this would do for me is reinforce my loneliness.
Despite my reticence for dining out I did have one of the most memorable meals of my life in Sopron. And like all good meals for me, it was not so much the quality of the food, as the ambiance of the restaurant. The evening after returning from Esterhaza Palace in Fertod I spent some time in Szechenyi ter (Szechenyi square), availing myself of photo opportunities at the towering statue of Istvan Szechenyi which stood at one end of this rather slender, rectangular square. From the square, I wandered down one of the nearby streets looking for a place to eat. I was searching for somewhere that was informal, any type of casual dining would do. My main hope was to avoid the type of fried fast food that is one of America’s worst exports to the rest of the world. What I needed was something relatively quick, affordable and tasty.
Lighting Up The Night – The Happiest Chef In Sopron
As dusk began to turn to darkness I noticed a well-lit building by the name of Bella Italia Pizzeria. A small awning hung over the door, done up in the tricolors of Italy, which also happen to be the exact same three colors that can be found on the Hungarian flag. The lights inside glowed radiant and warm. I was magnetically drawn to the entrance. Inside I found a single man at work. He was older with a big smile on his face which was very un-Hungarian. The stoicism shown strangers by most Magyars is something I had long since gotten used to. It could be said that Hungarians keep to themselves. They often meet smiles with quizzical expressions. It is my understanding that they find overt friendliness to be a symptom of both superficiality and stupidity. That feeling did not exist in this man, who greeted me with a heartfelt hello.
He was in the process of tossing dough around as though it were a football and making it spin like a basketball. He looked to be enjoying himself as much as his work. I selected a pizza and watched him immediately begin to whip the dough into shape. In less than twenty minutes, he produced a thin crust pie that was delicious. My satisfaction became all the greater when I watched him in action filling another order. He put on quite the performance for a four person family that included two young sons. Their presence made the pizza chef even more dramatic and charismatic. The two boys watched in fascination as he began tossing the dough high in the air, making it flip and flop, this way and that. He never came close to dropping the dough, but that did not stop the youngsters from gasping at his feats of aerial dough throwing. He was a dramatist hidden behind the counter of a provincial pizzeria. A true professional who had had found his calling through the art of performance. He was a chef and a showman. I have never forgotten his face or the fascination shown to him by that family. That moment did more than anything to frame my opinion of Sopron as an outstanding city.
Memory Bank – People & The Power Of Memory
I had come to Sopron, just as I had come to Gyor, Sarvar and Szombathely, looking to explore the city’s history and architecture, but it was the people I met who made the greatest impression upon me. Besides the pension proprietress and the pizza chef in Sopron, there was the young male trainee behind the front desk at my hotel in Gyor who made everything a mistake. I saw in him, so much of myself on the first week of a new job. There was also the man in his 30’s, who while standing beside me at the train station in Sarvar asked if I had a Hungarian girlfriend in town. What else would bring an American to Sarvar on a weekday morning? He was still there despite a good job in IT (he teleworked) because he needed to take care of his parents. And then there was the sports fanatic in the train station in Szombathely who had newspapers sprawled across a large desk. I did not believe that all those papers could be his, until he reminded me that they were. I had made the mistake of trying to read one. The man, like all the other people I met, made an impression on me. No mention of him or them will ever be found in a guidebook. They now exist only in my memory.