Bathing in caves and Eating Wendy

Day 11: 28 July 2004

Wednesday. I wake sometime in the middle of the night – 3:30 maybe – and go back to sleep – then again at 7 – aghh my alarm! It’s switched off? I get up anyway and sit for a while to write my novel on the veranda whilst the rain continues to fall, steadily and heavily; and Shakira, plays and rolls on the concrete, going crazy out of the rain.

Plan B then. We breakfast – brought out to us on the veranda because the Transylvanians who stayed over after last night’s party are still sleeping. Imre joins us, cast out from the main room too. We are to abandon ideas of work and Imre will drive some of us to the cave baths of Termál Borlangf�rd� on the outskirts of Misolc. However, only Imre’s van is available today and so only eight of us can go. Helen (who is still feeling under the weather), Jessica (who hasn’t got a costume), and Claire volunteer to stay behind. In the end Attila drives his car so can take Claire and Jessica. Helen opts to stay behind and catch up on some of her BTCV paperwork. And thus another expedition begins…

Gabor drives the green monster to a nearby shop/service station just beyond Kelemer, where he deposits his passengers and drives away. Waiting in Imre’s van or perusing the shelves of the little shop, stocking up on chocolate and paprika, and some candy bars with the same cottage cheese filling as the cakes on the night. We buy.

Still none the wiser as to what is going on or how we are getting to the thermal pool, eventually René – Atilla’s girlfriend – arrives and we continue our journey.

Raining still in Misolc, we pay our 1700 HUF and enter the bath complex, change in funny double-sided cubicles which you have to pass through to get to the lockers with their electronic tags, and to gain access to the pool. The entrance blends seamlessly through a vaulted roof into a cave entrance from which spread out tunnels, twisting and turning, some disappear up into the hillside above. It is like being in the caves of yesterday but from the water below. There are water spouts, back passages, and a planetarium/echo chamber. We try the outside pool, and the hot tubs. We do another circuit of the caves and find some new ones.

I am with Steven, Jessica, Louise and Judy when we decide that it is lunchtime. Returning to our lockers for towels and money – we find the complex cafeterias – a basic affair selling the usual hot dogs, pizzas and the like along with more interesting Hungarian dishes. The queue though is appallingly long, and although it is not desperately long when we join it we are still stood waiting in our swimming costumes and towels for a full half hour.

And when we do finally emerge at the other end there are a scarce few tables for the number of people. I practise a precarious balancing act with my tray on Jessica’s while she disappears outside to find some more chairs. Steven, Louise and Judith meanwhile find a wall by a central fountain to perch on, and so when Jessica returns with five chairs stacked we perch on multiple chairs and guard them protectively from people who could perfectly well go outside and find their own but who are too lazy to do so.

After lunch, Louise caves in to indulgence and has a full massage to rid herself of the aches and pains of scything and bringing in the hay. The rest of us take another turn around the cave system, finding yet unfound sections – although I am disappointed to discover that Section 28, though clearly marked on the map, is mysteriously unavailable.

Jessica, Judy and myself avail ourselves of the powerful back massaging waterfalls that gush from the rock walls. All too soon, the time comes to shower, change and leave this unique place of relaxation. Louise returns to us enlivened from her massage, and we gather again outside the entrance and wait for Attila and René.

Back at the van we take advantage of most of being here and an awning over a table to sign Helen’s T-shirt – a thank you present from the gang. Back on the road in Imre’s van we persuade him to stop at the big Tesco’s, obstensively for ice cream. In fact, as Zoë, Ewan, Louise, Judy, Jessica and myself run across the car park to the vast, cavenous, shopping mall of a Tesco’s, we are hunting out bottles of whisky for the Hungarians and for Francoise. What we find within, along with the sought after whisky, are bags of paprika, sweets, random items of the Hungarian Tesco Value range, is a shop so vast that one isle is actually for the sale of new cars, with the various models lined up if – if not stacked high…

Arriving back at Gömörszőlős we find the textile festival and Hungarian dancing in full swing. Heading into the (now) Dance Hall we are swept onto the floor and into the dancing without delay. Breaking out after the first set I find the Wendy ghoulash in the large kettle across the yard and settle back to enjoy…

And then more dancing; starting slow they get faster and faster, and yet faster, until we are a mass of dancing feet, in time with the next one until we get out of step and then it is near to impossible to get back in step.

There is a rush of excitement when we get it right and finish in time. When the last dance is up we applaud the musicians and call out loudly, Vislat! – a couple more gypsy dances are returned to us in return, but then all too soon they are going.

Irene, a villager who lives in the last house on the road of Gömörszőlős moves into talk to us. She turns out to be an amazing lady, one time professional dancer, she claims to have not spoken English in 40 years! Our mouths drop. But it is so good we exclaim; how can it be so good? It turns out that she can speak many languages. In fact she learnt to speak whichever language was the ruling power at the time.

She also tells of the “Margaret Connection” to the UK and Scotland in particular, and of how the Lady Margaret chapel within Edinburgh castle is dedicated to her. We don’t understand exactly what she is wanting, but we eventually figure out that there is an alter covering in this chapel with a Hungarian weave, but that it is is not correct in either size or style. She want to make a correct one and send it to them, but she doesn’t know the size.

We agree to help, if we can. Zoë takes charge of finding out the exact details, and Jessica, who is going to Edinburgh in September will visit the chapel to take measurements. If for some reason she can’t do it, the details are to be passed to me in order that I can arrange for one of my Edinburgh colleagues to take on the task. As Irene gathers up her papers and her photos we make arrangements to go her house tomorrow afternoon.

Fetching the tables back in from outside and wiping them down from the rain, we set about heating up the meal that has been left for us to reheat. Following our meal we wash up, even though it is not strictly necessary for us to do so; and the diary writers settle down to write up the day’s adventures. I pass my journal round for addresses – although when it gets to Zoë and Leonie they take the opportunity to augment the words with details.

The conversation turns eventually to a discussion about what BTCV could do to promote their holidays. Zoë, with her marketing hat on has many ideas, but the key one’s seems to be to include testimonials of people who have done the holidays and get full page articles along with ads published in The Guardian and The Observer.

Praying for better weather for tomorrow’s last working day we head to bed, somewhere approaching half past midnight or one o’clock…

Day Twelve: Bailing hay, burning trousers, and dancing into the night…