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COLUMN: Hungarian treasure hunt leads to local experience



The blooms of several purple violets caught droplets of rain as I casually carried them in a plastic black potter. I was walking leisurely slow behind a family of Hungarians who had done their best to direct me to a street that rhymed with the word future, "Czuczor Utca." It was the only word I could catch from the lady who had sold me the violets 10 minutes before.

Slightly wet, I glanced at the dark, rain and graffiti stained buildings, keeping an eye out for the elusive “Czuczor Utca” that would be posted just above eye level on one of these stone buildings. 

My study abroad trip in Budapest began only a week and a half ago, so navigating the city alone has been quite the challenge.

I had spontaneously found myself in search of the post-office, knowing that if I were to actually send out any postcards, I would need stamps as an incentive. As I made my way closer to the open, misty-air of the Danube River, I realized I was playing a fun street-game of Hungarian treasure hunt. 

Before I’d end up in the river itself, I jay-walked right and found Czuczor Utca, full of brown, yellow, and grey buildings, but no post-office. Glancing at the velvety bunch of purple flowers and sighing, I found a stern but responsible looking old man wearing a black suit and asked him my initial question: “Hol van a postal?” or "Where is the post office?" He recognized my confusion immediately and beckoned that I follow him a ways down the the rain-slicked pavement. Five minutes later, I had my stamps, an appetite and the new-found knowledge that the post-office was only two streets away from my dorm. 

Remembering that the only meal I had eaten during the day was a meager bowl of vanilla yogurt and muesli, or granola, I dashed back to my home-street "Ráday Utca," wondering about the contents sitting in my mini-fridge. The grey of the day had grown darker and many shop windows were lit up, advertising authentic gulyás, a Hungarian soup dish, as well as street-corner pizza. 

Flying on this wave of split-second decision making, I dropped into a bright hole-in-the-wall shop, big enough for a tiny two-window seat bar, a white register and a man slicing circular pieces of salami in a corner. 

“Hogy Vagy,” I called out, or "How are you doing?" 

The balding, thickly mustached man looked up, smiled and welcomed me to his store, Szalámibolt. Before I could even ask what the store offered, Attila — as he introduced himself as later — was warming up a sandwich with some of his best meats and conversing alternatively between English and Hungarian. 

Any chilly depression that I felt from the weather outside melted as Attila offered me samples of mangalica salami, thinly sliced cured ham and shaved pats of creamy yellow cheese. I knew there was a reason I’d be holding off my vegetarianism until I got back to the States. 

As Attila was putting the finishing touches on my spread, I looked around at the little charcuterie, full of jams, dried meats and happy character.

The afternoon’s treasure hunt had led me to warm company and local experience. I felt like I had been invited into something special, just by being alive. 

As I paid and got ready to leave, Attila looked at the bunch of purple flowers in my hand and said, “You know what they say about people who buy flowers? Those people can never be evil.” 

I hope he's right, because I may not be best at keeping my flowers alive in the long run. I know that buying those violets gave that otherwise-cold January evening a simply sweet pick-me-up.

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