Wednesday, September 27: Early this morning, we pack our bags and head out to the tram stop on a main road in Budapest; from there, we take the tram to Budapest Keleti Railway Terminal and buy our tickets for the 9:10 train to Sopron, Hungary, on the border of Austria. The ticket salesperson doesn’t tell us to which platform we should go, so we stand with a crowd of people studying an electronic board, all in Hungarian, trying to make sense of things. As we’re waiting, we run into John, the jolly Irishman we met in Esztergom when we took the cruise up the Danube. He has been staying in Budapest for a week and taking day trips out to the countryside, and today he’s going to a town we haven’t heard of. Since he’s taken the train already, he helps us figure out the proper platform.
We say our goodbyes to John, thinking what a pleasure it was to have met him, even if only briefly. We board the train, settling into seats #85 and #86, on car #142. We take off at 9:10, hoping we’re on the right train.
At one stop not far along the line, some local folks come to our compartment, looking at us questioningly and pointing to their tickets. The conductor comes along to resolve the issue and we find we should be in car #141 rather than 142. So we pull our bags from the overhead and lug them to the next car, where we take our seats among a group of friendly ladies.
There’s an electronic board in the compartment that lists the stops along the way, and Sopron doesn’t show. We have some discussion of this with a friendly Hungarian woman who speaks English. She and her mother, wearing dark glasses, are returning to their home in Sopron after the mother had cataract surgery in Budapest. She assures us we’re on the right train, even though the board doesn’t list it. After a bit, she seems to wonder about our destination herself, and she asks the conductor about it when he comes by. The story is that the train will split at some point, and some of the cars will go to Sopron and others will peel off in an unknown direction.
This nice lady walks out of the Sopron train station with us when we arrive at 11:38 a.m.; she directs us down one of the main streets in Sopron, Malyas Kiraly; she points and tells us to keep walking until we find the Pannonia Hotel, our lodging for the night. It’s nearly a mile walk, but before long, we find the hotel. It’s too early to check in, but we store our bags and head out to the Inner Town to find Forum Pizzeria where we can eat lunch.
At Forum Pizzeria, we enjoy a pizza and a glass of wine. Mike has a beer. I don’t often drink wine in the afternoon as it makes me sleepy, but we feel in a celebratory mood having successfully navigated our way from one town in Hungary to another.
After lunch, we make our way to the main square, called Fő tér. Along the way, we pass some interesting doorways, flower boxes, Roman ruins, bookstores and colorful cafes.
We return to the Pannonia Hotel to check in and we also check out the spa, which we hope to visit later.
We decide we’ll make a quick detour outside the Inner Town to visit a ruined Orthodox Synagogue and Holocaust memorial. The synagogue is boarded up and in disrepair, but I love ruins.
Construction began in 1891 according to plans by Janos Schiller. Until 1944, it was used as a house of worship. Then it belonged to the local ghetto. According to Lonely Planet Hungary, a plaque says that “‘1640 martyrs’ were taken from here to Auschwitz on 5 July 1944.” We don’t see that plaque ourselves.
In 2004, it was declared a historic monument.
The Holocaust Memorial, a sculpture of jackets with the Star of David and a pile of shoes, was built in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Sopron. The work of Laszlo Kutas symbolizes the undressing room at the entrance to the gas chambers, according to a plaque we do find near the site.
Returning to the Inner Town, we make our way to the main square and the Firewatch Tower.
The Goat Church, on the south side of Fő tér, is a mostly Gothic church originally built in the late 13th century. It gets its name from a legend that the church was built thanks to the treasure dug up by a goat.
In front of the church is the 1701 Trinity Column, an example of a “plague pillar” in Hungary, erected by two Sopron residents to celebrate the end of the plague at the end of the 17th century.
The church has a mostly Baroque interior with a red-marble pulpit in the center of the south aisle. It dates from the 15th century.
We walk a bit more around the Inner Town, admiring the colorful architecture and the fancy carved doors.
If it were a nicer day, we’d certainly be enticed by the outdoor cafes along the way.
We then go inside the Firewatch Tower to climb the 60 meters to the top. The tower guards watched the area and signaled a fire’s position with lanterns at night and colored flags in daytime, according to Budapest.com.
Lonely Planet Hungary says it was used by trumpeters to warn of fire, mark the hour, and watch for salespeople trying to smuggle in non-Sopron wine. The 2-meter thick square base was built on a Roman gate from the 12th century and the cylindrical middle and Baroque balcony are from the 16th century.
The Firewatch Tower is the symbol of allegiance from 1921, celebrating a referendum in which Sopron and eight neighboring villages expressed their wish to remain part of Hungary (instead of Austria), according to Budapest.com.
When we finally climb the 200 steps to the top, we have a tremendous view of Sopron and the Lövér Hills to the southwest. Supposedly, one can see the Austrian Alps to the west, but we can’t see them on this overcast day.
Near the Town Hall, we find the love locks that seem to be present everywhere these days.
Behind the Town Hall are the Roman ruins. Sopron was once an important town along the Amber Road, the ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from the coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.
The most important sights of the mosaic-like “Archeological Park” in Scarbantia are the town fortifications, Roman roads, the Forum and the Amphitheatre.
The Forum of Scarbantia was completed according to typical Italian patterns in the mid-2nd century A.D. during the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), although the stone buildings were made under Traianus (98-117) and Hadrianus (117-138).
We walk a bit more around Sopron’s Inner Town, a great deal of which seems to be under construction or renovation.
Our last stop is the Old Synagogue, built at the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th; it contains two rooms, one for men and one for women. According to the Soproni Muzeum website, it was a tabernacle, an assembly hall and a school also. The Jews living here dealt with trade and finance and were not really rich people although they managed to build up this Gothic-styled synagogue, which is fairly unique in Central Europe.
According to Lonely Planet Hungary, the Jews were evicted from Sopron in 1526 after being accused of plotting with the Turks.
The two centers of the synagogue are the Torah niche and the pulpit, or “bima.” The niche is richly decorated with bunches of grapes and leaves in natural colors on the stone frames and pediment. The stained glass windows around the top of the room seem oddly out-of-place. The inscriptions on the walls date from 1490.
Finally, we walk back through the Inner Town to rest in our hotel a bit before finding a place for dinner.
While relaxing in our room, Mike researches a good restaurant and finds one outside the Inner Town called Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem. It’s a long walk southwest, past the train station. The reviews are so good that we decide we’ll take the trek. We pass through the parts of town where the locals live, enjoying the flower shops and parks along the way.
Our walk takes us past churches, parks, colorful buildings and statues.
We finally arrive at Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem, or Hunting Horn Guest-House and Restaurant, a pension and restaurant run by a husband and wife, Mr. And Mrs. Bausz.
We are the first ones to arrive and Mr. Bausz greets us warmly, speaking fluent English.
We enjoy our meal here so much! Not only is the food delicious, but the owner is super friendly and attentive to our every need. He also keeps bringing us wines to taste, and by the end of the meal, we have tasted at least five wines from the Sopron Road of Wine. The whole time, I’m needlessly worried that we will be charged for these numerous wine tastings, and with every glass he pours, I imagine Hungarian Forints being added to our bill!
For appetizers, Mike orders the cream soup of the day, and I get stuffed cabbage. At least I finally get my stuffed cabbage before leaving Hungary, and it is spectacular! Mike has Pike perch fillet with parsley potatoes and I have chicken paprika with home-made gnocchi. Each bite is like heaven. We both enjoy delicious pastry desserts with ice cream.
When we get our bill, we are shocked, but NOT by its exorbitance. I can’t believe after ordering one glass of wine each, appetizers, desserts, and dinner, plus tasting five different wines, our meal is only 31.96 euros, or about $38!!
This restaurant is a two-person operation, with the wife doing all the cooking and the husband serving. After dinner, we ask the wonderful owners of Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem if we can take a picture of them. They are happy to oblige. I am still in shock over the bill and I tell them they need to charge more money!!
Walking back to our hotel, we pass a playful SOPRON sign. The church is all lit up.
When we return, we have just enough time to squeeze in a half-hour visit to the spa before it closes. We sit in a hot tub with a couple going to town kissing and rubbing against each other. I’m thinking, “Get a room!” But it is quite entertaining.
Tomorrow, we’ll head to Vienna. It’s only an hour away, but this time we’ve arranged a driver. After our easy and cheap trip to Sopron this morning, we should have had more confidence and just taken a bus or train!
Steps today: 16,851 (7.14 miles).