In June we went to Romania - we hadn't been back there since
Ceausescu was ousted. We took the train from Budapest and walked up to our hotel from the station. Things at first didn't look quite as improved as we might have hoped - but then it takes a long time to remove all the Communist grot ie horrible badly built blocks of flats et cetera.
And anyway, when I found a market the next morning, I realised life was really dramatically better than it had been. After all, there'd been practically no food available for sale anywhere the last time I'd been in the country - in one shop I'd gone into, there was nothing at all except a small dish on the counter containing a slimy looking piece of something, floating in oil, with a skewer sticking out of it, onto which someone had fixed a nametag. 'Crap', was all it said - not, as one might have thought, a comment about the situation but the Romanian word for 'carp', (although you needed to know that to know that, if you see what I mean).
Looking around in June this year the contrast was amazing. The last time I'd been there you could only have imagined such abundance:
"Arad was about the size of Guildford and, unlike the countryside, I had the impression there of hearing more Magyar than Rumanian in the streets. There were many Hungarian names over the shops and many Jewish and a multitude of ordinary German ones that belonged to Swabian settlers. The place was made famous in Hungarian history by the Austrian execution of 13 Hungarian generals at the end of Kossuth's great rising against Habsburg rule in 1848"
and where now, apart from a huge church, there is little trace of anything Hungarian (someone I know went there with his Hungarian mother in the seventies. She had grown up there but was now American. When she went into the chemist that had been established in her old house and spoke in Hungarian, the man behind the counter went white and hurried her upstairs where he explained that he would get into a great deal of trouble if Hungarian was heard being spoken in his shop. When she went into a newly built, enormous and quite obviously empty hotel, presented her US passport and asked, in Hungarian, for a room, the staff insisted that there were absolutely no rooms free either there or anywhere in the city, and so he and his mother had to sleep that night in their car.)
- and, as always in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, many, many friendly faces appeared. Some may have been a little battered, but they were still in place, attached, in some cases, to rather fine buildings:
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