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March 2014

The colours of Pécs: the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter

My favourite place in probably the whole city of Pécs is the Zsolnay Quarter. Indeed, it is one of the most colourful, cheerful and kindly relaxing place (with human beings around) in which I have ever been.

The Zsolnay Quarter used to be the “headquarter” of the factory (19th century) that produced some of the finest porcelains in the world, namely the Zsolnay ceramics, and that the City of Pécs decided to convert into the incredibly cool cultural area it is today. The high-class brochure I got from the info-point, decorated with the omnipresent logo of the shimmering cow, presents this area as “Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, the miracle of Pécs.” I’m not quite sure if it’s a miracle but surely this place seems to be coming out of a pop-up book about fairies!

Apparently, it is one of the biggest cultural complexes in Central and Eastern Europe. It has been restored quite recently, in 2010, most probably in occasion of the nomination of Pécs as European Capital of Culture, and now it hosts the Bobita puppet theatre, several art galleries, the planetarium, exhibition halls, cafés, restaurants, playgrounds and the Faculty of Music, Art and Design. All the buildings are extremely colourful, with the typical roofs in ceramic tiles, and they are immersed in lovely gardens, among flowers and super-decorated fountains.

The best thing of this fairy tale-like place? It’s only a 10 min walk from the city centre!

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Remembering the Revolution – Part 2

Some pictures from yesterday’s celebrations!

Above: Hungarian traditional dresses. On the right: monument to national poet and hero Sándor Petőfi

Hussars in Kossuth tér
Hussars in Kossuth tér

Remembering the Revolution

This morning I checked my mail box and found something very strange, or at least strange for me as an Italian. The City had me delivered a flyer as a reminder of the approaching national holiday, namely March 15 in memory of the war for independence against the Habsburg rule. It struck me as very unusual, since back in Italy we don’t get such reminders. Actually, we are barely taught social studies and many people don’t even know the meaning behind our own national holidays. I guess it perfectly explains one of the reasons why, generally speaking, Italian people are quite ignorant about the history of their country and are not so patriotic… 

Anyway, contrarily to Italy, Hungary does take pride in its culture, traditions and history (even when they lose and this used to happen quite often). It’s interesting to know that here they have three national holidays: on August 20th they celebrate Saint King Stephen (yes, he was a king and a saint, very cool!) and the foundation of Hungary, on October 23rd they rejoyce for the victory over the Communist regime in 1956 and March is dedicated to the memory of the War of Independence against Austria in 1848. Even more interesting is the fact that, though they rebelled along with probably half of Europe at that time, theirs was a short victory, since Austria, with the aid of Russia, conquered Hungary back the following year. I can feel a certain sympathy with Hungarian people, since Northern Italy was under the Austrians too, did revolt against the Habsburg Empire in 1848 too and did fail miserably too. I have to admit, a quite envy their spirit! 

The riots started in Budapest, where poet Sándor Petőfi is said to have inflamed people with his speech, the National Song (Nemzeti dal) and “motivated” them to rebel.

On your feet, Magyar, the homeland calls!
The time is here, now or never!
Shall we be slaves or free?
This is the question, choose your answer! –
By the God of the Hungarians
We vow,
We vow, that we will be slaves
No longer!
[…]
The Magyar name will be great again,
Worthy of its old, great honor;
Which the centuries smeared on it,
We will wash away the shame!
By the God of the Hungarians
We vow,
We vow, that we will be slaves
No longer!

Very inspiring, isn’t it? In fact I think Hungarians might have won if it wasn’t that Austria joined forces with Russia and well, you just don’t go against Russia.

This is my brief explanation of this national holiday, I have no idea what it’s written word by word on my leaflet but the pictures are nice and though I can’t read, it makes me curious about it. The City’s strategy works and I’m a little less ignorant! (thanks also to my lovely colleague who always “translate” for me and Wikipedia, of course!). Now, like a kid, let’s enjoy the colouring section! 😀

For those who wants to know a little more: this national festivity is not celebrated just in Hungary but by Hungarians in general, which means by the Hungarian minorities present in Eastern Europe and especially in Transylvania (now officially Romania, but until the end of the WWI was still part of Hungary). As I was searching for more information about it, I came across an article from the Economist that I would like to share. Only one comment: way to go Hungary, hanging the Szeklèr flag in plain sight on the Parliament!

From: The Economist
From: The Economist

Pècs, pearl of the Mecsek

Szecheny ter
Szecheny ter
City park
City park

And here we are with the long-awaited first post on Pécs. Joke of the title aside (it copies the touristic slogan for Budapest everywhere adverstised as the pearl of the Danube), Pécs really is a beautiful city. It is the fifth largest city of Hungary, set in the “deep south,” a melting-pot of cultures and religions (Christian, Jewish and Islamic) and, more recently, best known for winning the title of 2010 European capital of Culture.

To summarise it in few lines, here they are famous for wine (the Mediterranean climate indeed helps a lot!), beer, the spectacular Zsolnay porcelain (remember last post with Hugh Jackman in Budapest? Yes, it’s true, they love pottery!) and pride themselves in having the oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in Hungary. Stay “tuned” for more posts coming up on specific aspects on this wonderful city (especially food!).

In the meantime, to stay on the topic of video like in the previous post, here’s a couple of documentaries on Pécs, officially approved and distributed (?) for all kind of audiences by the PTE (University of Pécs). Actually, they are good! 😀

More useful info here

The Demons’ Parade, Mohacs’s Busojaras

Mohacs is a small city south of Hungary famous for the annual winter celebrations called Busojaras. As the festival takes place the same week we celebrate carnival, it has come to be identified as such. However, its origins can be traced back to quite a few centuries ago.

Busojaras used to be a festival of the Šokci Croatian minority of Mohacs, which dressed up as monsters, with sheepskin costumes (very fluffy actually!) and horned creepy masks made out of wood. However, nowadays Busojaras has become the carnival of the whole village of Mohacs, that is to say that the entire Hungarian majority is more than happy to participate in this event. Busos, this is the name of the monsters, traditionally arrive by canoes from the river Danube and invade the city scaring people (mainly tourists) with ratchets, bats, and rakes, all very nicely decorated with paprika (of course! After all, this is Hungary!), the traditional Busojaras doughs (very small doughnuts), cowbells and sheep’s skulls.

The main event of the festival takes place on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In this occasion all the Busos gather in Mohacs for a big parade around the village, which culminates with a procession to the banks of the Danube where the funeral to winter is held. The Busos carry a coffin (representing the death of winter) and set it afloat to be swallowed in the waters. The celebrations ends with a huge bonfire built using Christmas trees (symbols of the past year), that is lit by the Busos in the main square, with traditional Croatian and Serbian dancing, and deliciously accompanied by Kürtőskalács (the famous Hungarian chimney cakes. So good with cacao and coconuts!), doughs, Langos, palinka, mulled wine and…I could go on and on! 

Though now Busojaras has become the official Farsang of Mohacs (carnival), this celebrations has older pagan roots, probably linked to fertility rites. But the celebration as it is today originates in the 17th century. The legend has it that during the fights against the Turks soldiers and villagers in Mohacs decided to employ a peculiar way to drive away the invaders. They dressed up as monsters using sheep fur and wooden masks painted with blood and, coming from the Danube at night,they scared away the Turks. Apparently it worked and this is why, since then, the people of Mohacs keep celebrating this fantastic festival. 

It’s easy to get to Mohacs by bus. From Pécs it takes only one hour (800 HUF more or less). During the Busojaras they usually schedule more rides than the usual, but be aware that they are crammed anyway. The Carnival’s program can be found here (updated every year).

Hungary through its ads

A post about Pécs is indeed long overdue. We started with Budapest, Vienna, even the Mecsek mountains/hills, but what about the city we’re living in this year? So we promise you’ll have it, a series of posts entirely dedicated to Pécs!

But before getting to the real deal that it the wonderful city of Pécs, I would like to introduce you to Hungary through an interesting selection of tourism commercials promoted by the government. As a matter of fact, they are…let’s say, peculiar! I was researching Romania, for our upcoming trip to Transylvania, and I came across this article, from which I’ll quote the part related to Hungary:

Just about every East European country has a travel ministry that is naively willing to pay for positive advertising – Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland are really no different than Romania in this. In East Europe, sadly, all media and journalism is seen as up for sale […]. All of the post communist former Ost-Bloc countries have huge inferiority complexes which are addressed by vast ego-building overcompensation, usually in the form of Culture Ministry tourist campaigns extolling the amazing qualities that the given country can offer. Dracula! Peasants! More Dracula! (Hungary has tried just about everything. We are all waiting to see if they will try sellling Hungary as a ski and surf paradise next.)

This guy, or whoever s/he is who writes, has a point (I will re-post in English some of the articles I wrote about the incredible Nationalistic and patriotic feelings of the Hungarians). They already have decided to call the hills “mountains,” they might as well be planning to declare the Balaton Lake the new and most fashionable SEA resort of 2014! 😛

I don’t mean to be offensive towards Hungary, especially because I love living here. I just think that, to any foreigner, these ads could be a very funny and interesting introduction to this beautiful country! Probably if the Italian ministry for tourism had the same sense of humour, he would have prepared a couple of posters of Pompei with some inviting slogans such as “you, tourist, come and visit Pompei before it disappears for good!” (some context for those who are not Italian: when it comes to education, culture, arts, restoration works etc… the Italian government is always penniless!). But back to Hungary!

1) With a cheesy background song that goes “I believe you’re all I need to see” and “you’re my dream, my fantasy,” we have the inventors of the Rubik’s cube: Think Hungary. More than Expected

 

2) Gotohungary: Size isn’t everything!   😀

 

 

3) Study in Hungary!  A wonderful video made for the Hungarian National Tourist Office in New York, to promote studying in Hungary showing from the very first images young people dancing in clubs and hugging inside the thermal baths 😀 Their interpretation of what “intercultural skills and competence” might be 🙂 [see the video’s description! And, btw, I love studying in Hungary!]

 

 

4) Hungarian Tourism Zrt. Spend your vacation in Hungary!  The best pop-up book ever!!! [And my favourite ad]

 

 

5) Hungary: A Love for Life, where Tinkerbell-meets-Nyan Cat shows you the best of Hungary

 

 

And let us end with something that is NOT sponsored by the government but that I find hilarious (Hugh Jackman in Budapest). And makes me wonder, why the Hungarians get Wolverine to advertise the tea and we don’t?

 

 

Next time from Hungary to Pécs 🙂

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